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How does Cliff Vesting Work, And What are its Types?

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Created on
May 16, 2023


What’s Inside

Individuals are wholly vested in the employer contributions when they are credited with 3 years of vesting service under a 3-year cliff vesting schedule but are zero per cent vested at all earlier stages. Participants in 2 to 6-year graded vesting become more vested in employer contributions yearly.

Cliff Vesting Meaning

Employees are frequently given stock options as part of their overall remuneration package. Stocks represent a portion of a company's ownership, and providing ownership is a way to incentivise employees. Conversely, a company is unlikely to give an employee stock until they have earned it. That needs time.

Employees are deemed "vested" in an employer benefit plan if they have earned the right to benefit from it. Cliff vesting occurs when an employee gets completely vested on a certain date rather than gradually vesting in increasing amounts over time. Plans typically include a four-year vesting period with a one-year cliff. Upon finishing the cliff period, the employee obtains full benefits.

Understanding Cliff Vesting

Employers may opt to offer various benefits to employees in exchange for their service and loyalty to attract and keep them. Retirement and pension plans, as well as assets such as equity, are examples of these benefits. While any vesting plan must meet baseline standards, most companies will need the employee to demonstrate commitment over time before providing financial advantages in the form of vesting.

Cliff vesting occurs when an employee becomes completely vested in a pension plan. Partial vesting would occur if the employee were 30% vested after three years of service, 20% vested after two years, and 100% vested after ten years. Employees who leave the company before being fully vested in a cliff vesting pension plan will not get any retirement benefits.

Types Of Cliff Vesting

Vesting schedules can be milestone-based, time-based or a combination of the two. Employees can gain equity over time using time-based stock vesting. Employees must stay with the company for at least a year before exercising any options. An employee obtains options or shares through milestone vesting after finishing a specific project or when the company or the employee meets a business goal.

Milestone and time-based vesting are combined in hybrid vesting. Before receiving options or shares, an employee must have been with the company for a specific time and completed a milestone.


Cliff vesting is a method in which employees obtain ownership of all shares of an equity award given by their employer on a specific date rather than getting them in stages. When firms provide their employees stock as part of their remuneration package, they usually do not own the ownership right away but must wait a period of time.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the different types of cliff vesting?

Vesting schedules can be milestone-based, time-based or a combination of the two.

2. What is the maximum cliff vesting period?

Five years is the standard cliff vesting duration. Employees can withdraw or roll over their benefits at the end of the vesting period.


Fi Money is not a bank; it offers banking services through licensed partners and investment services through epiFi Wealth Pvt. Ltd. and its partners. This post is for information only and is not professional financial advice.
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How does Cliff Vesting Work, And What are its Types?


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