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Early exercise
Common questions covered here
What is the difference between statutory and non-statutory stock options?
What are the pros and cons of NSOs?
What are the pros and cons of ISOs?
Can contractors be granted ISOs?

Kinds of stock options

Definition Compensatory stock options come in two flavors, incentive stock options (ISOs) and non-qualifying stock options (NQOs, or NQSOs). Confusingly, lawyers and the IRS use several names for these two kinds of stock options, including statutory stock options and non-statutory stock options (or NSOs), respectively.

In this Guide, we refer to ISOs and NSOs.

TypeAlso called
StatutoryIncentive stock option, ISO
Non-statutoryNon-qualifying stock option, NQO, NQSO, NSO
  • Companies generally decide to give ISOs or NSOs depending on the legal advice they get. It’s rarely up to the employee which they will receive, so it’s best to know about both. There are pros and cons of each from both the recipient’s and the company’s perspective.
  • ISOs are common for employees because they have the possibility of being more favorable from a tax point of view than NSOs.
  • caution ISOs can only be granted to employees (not independent contractors or directors who are not also employees).
  • But ISOs have a number of limitations and conditions and can also create difficult tax consequences.
You’re reading an excerpt from a Holloway Guide.
The Holloway Guide to Equity Compensation
Joshua Levy, Joe Wallin, and over 35 contributors
Over 3 hours and 300 linked resources
Stock options, RSUs, job offers, and taxes—a detailed reference, including hundreds of resources, explained from the ground up and made to be improved over time.