How to Negotiate Your Signing Bonus

By Inyoung Hwang · June 18, 2024 · 11 minute read

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How to Negotiate Your Signing Bonus

Although many people believe that the negotiation process ends once they have accepted a job offer, that’s often not the case. One of the most critical aspects of the negotiation process is negotiating your signing bonus. A signing bonus is a monetary incentive that an employer agrees to pay you. This bonus is meant to entice you to accept the job offer, and is typically negotiable.

It can be beneficial to know the nuances of negotiating a signing bonus to get the most out of your job hunt. If you are offered a signing bonus, be sure to negotiate it to get the most money possible. And even if your initial job offer doesn’t include a signing bonus, it might be worth asking for one.

Understanding Why Companies Offer a Hiring Bonus

Employers aren’t obligated to offer job candidates a hiring bonus, which is sometimes called a signing bonus or sign-on bonus. However, companies may choose to extend this one-time financial benefit to attract new talent, especially in a competitive hiring landscape.

This one-time signing bonus can help an employer close the gap between a candidate’s desired pay and what the company can offer. Additionally, the hiring bonus may compensate a new hire for any benefits the candidate might otherwise miss out on by changing jobs or forgoing other job offers.

Companies may also use a sign-on bonus to incentivize an employee to stay with a company for a certain period of time. If an employee quits within an agreed-upon time after accepting the position, they may be required to pay back the bonus.

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How Signing Bonuses Work

If you’re being considered for a job, the hiring company can include a signing bonus as part of the job offer. You can then decide whether to accept the bonus and the position, attempt to negotiate for a larger sign-on bonus, or walk away from the offer altogether.

Should you accept the offer, the hiring bonus can be paid out to you as a lump sum or as employee stock options. If the company pays the bonus as a lump cash sum, they may pay it out with a first paycheck, or after a specified period, like 90 days.

Like any other bonuses, salary, or wages you receive, a signing bonus is taxable. So you’ll have to report that money on your tax return when you file. If the signing bonus is paid with regular pay, it’s taxed as ordinary income. If it isn’t, then the sign-on bonus is taxed as supplemental wages. For 2024, the supplemental wage tax rate is 22%, which increases to 37% if your bonus exceeds $1 million.

Additionally, bonuses, whether they’re paid when starting a new job or as a year-end bonus, may also be subject to Social Security and Medicare tax as well as state income tax. Employers withhold these taxes and pay them to the IRS for you. So when you get your bonus, you’re getting the net amount, less taxes withheld.

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Average Signing Bonus

The average signing bonus can vary greatly depending on the company, position, and location. In general, signing bonuses may range from $10,000 to more than $50,000 for management and executive positions, while entry and mid-level position hiring bonuses are usually less than $10,000.

But again, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be offered a signing bonus, or that they’ll be pervasive in your given industry.

What Industries Offer the Highest Hiring Bonuses?

The industries that offer the highest hiring bonuses tend to be in the financial and technology sectors.

However, during competitive labor markets, signing bonuses may be offered in various industries that usually don’t offer a bonus. For instance, following the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent labor shortage, industries like healthcare, warehousing, and food and beverage offered substantial hiring bonuses to attract potential employees.

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Pros & Cons of Signing Bonuses

Receiving a sign-on bonus could make a job offer more attractive. But before you sign on the dotted line, it’s helpful to consider the advantages and potential disadvantages of accepting a bonus.

Signing Bonus Pros

A signing bonus could help make up a salary shortfall. If you went into salary negotiations with one number in mind, but the company offered something different, a sign-on bonus could make the compensation package more attractive. While the bonus won’t carry on past your first year of employment, it could give you a nice initial bump in pay that might persuade you to accept the position.

You may be able to use a signing bonus as leverage in job negotiations. When multiple companies make job offers, you could use a signing bonus as a bargaining chip. For instance, if Company A represents your dream employer but Company B is offering a larger bonus, you might be able to use that to persuade Company A to match or beat their offer.

A sign-on bonus could make up for benefits package gaps. Things like sick pay, vacation pay, holiday pay, insurance, and a retirement plan can all enhance an employee benefits package. But if the company you’re interviewing with doesn’t offer as many benefits as you’re hoping to get, a large sign-on bonus could make those shortcomings easier to bear.

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Signing Bonus Cons

Since sign bonuses are taxable as supplemental wages, you might see a temporary bump in your tax liability for the year. You may want to talk to a tax professional about how you could balance that out with 401(k) or IRA contributions, deductions for student loan interest payments, and other tax breaks.

Additionally, changing jobs might mean having to repay the bonus, depending on your contract. Employers can include a clause in your job offer that states if you leave the company within a specific time frame after hiring, you’d have to pay back your sign-on bonus. If you have to pay back a bonus and don’t have cash on hand to do so, that could lead to debt if you have to get a loan to cover the amount owed.

This might cause you to get stuck in a job you don’t love. If your employer requires you to pay back a signing bonus and six months into the job, you realize you hate it, you could be caught in a tough spot financially. Unless you have money to repay the bonus, you might have to tough it out with your employer a little longer until you can change jobs without any repayment obligation.

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Reasons to Negotiate a Signing Bonus

There are several reasons it can be beneficial to negotiate a signing bonus rather than just accept whatever the employer offers.

For one, a signing bonus can help offset the costs of relocating for a new job. Additionally, a signing bonus can help you maintain your current standard of living while you transition to a new city or state. Finally, a signing bonus can allow you to negotiate for other perks and benefits, such as a higher salary, stock options, or a more generous vacation policy.

When Is a Hiring Bonus Negotiated?

A hiring bonus is typically negotiated during the job offer stage after the employer has extended a job offer to the candidate. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and ask for a hiring bonus immediately because that could hurt your chances of getting one. You generally want to wait for the hiring manager to start the conversation.

After receiving your official job offer with your projected salary and benefits, you will be able to gauge your potential bonus opportunity; one rule of thumb is that a hiring bonus is about 10% of your annual salary. And if the hiring manager offers you a bonus initially, you might have an advantage in negotiating for a better one.

Tips on How to Ask for a Signing Bonus

If an employer doesn’t offer a sign-on bonus, you don’t have to assume it’s off the table. It’s at least worth it to make the request since the worst that can happen is they say no.

Here are some tips on how to ask for a signing bonus:

1. Know Your Value to the Company

Before asking for more money, either with a bonus or your regular salary, get clear on what value you can bring to the company. In other words, be prepared to sell the company on why you deserve a signing bonus.

2. Choose a Specific Amount

Having a set number in mind when asking for a bonus can make negotiating easier. Do some research to learn what competitor companies are offering new hires with your skill set and experience. Then use those numbers to determine what size bonus it makes sense to ask for.

3. Make Your Case

Signing bonuses are gaining steam in industries such as technology, engineering, and nursing, where there is more competition for the best job candidates. You are also sometimes in a better position to ask for a signing bonus if the company did not meet the salary you requested when interviewing — a signing bonus is an opportunity to recoup some of that difference. Regardless, it never hurts to consider asking for more money.

Just be sure to do your research first. For instance, perhaps discreetly ask your contacts whether the company might be open to offering a signing bonus, and be sure to do some research online or within your network to see how your job offer stacks up.

4. Split the Difference With Your Salary

One way to potentially have your cake and eat it, too, when it comes to signing bonuses is to use your salary to offset it. Specifically, instead of asking for a large bonus, you could ask for a smaller one while also asking for a bump in pay.

An employer may be more open to paying you an additional $2,000 a year to keep you on the payroll, for instance, versus handing out a $20,000 bonus upfront when there’s no guarantee you might stick around after the first year.

5. Get it in Writing

If a signing bonus wasn’t part of your original job offer, and you’ve negotiated for one, ensure you receive an updated contract with the bonus included.

The agreement should spell out the amount of the bonus, how it will be paid (separate check or part of your regular paycheck), and the terms of the bonus. The contract should note how long you must stay employed at the company to retain your bonus (typically one year).

How to Maximize Your Signing Bonus

After receiving a signing bonus, the next question should be: What do I do with the extra money?

There are several ways you can put a signing bonus to work. For example, if you have credit card debt, your best move might be to pay that off. This could be especially helpful if you have credit cards with high-interest rates.

You could also use a sign-on bonus to eliminate some or all of your remaining student loan debt. But if you’d rather save your bonus, you might refinance your loans and use the bonus money to grow your emergency fund. Having three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved up could be helpful in case you lose your job or get hit with an unexpected bill.

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You might also consider longer-term savings goals, such as buying a car or putting money down on a home. Keeping your money in a savings account that earns a high-interest rate can help you grow your money until you’re ready to use it.

Using Your Bonus for Retirement

If you are caught up with your credit card payments and already have an emergency fund, you might consider investing your bonus for the long-term.

This could be a wise financial move considering that a $5,000 signing bonus isn’t as lucrative as negotiating a $2,000 increase in your annual salary. If you can’t negotiate the higher salary, you can at least use your bonus to invest. Investing can be an excellent way to build wealth over time.

For example, you might use part of the money to open a traditional or Roth IRA. This can help you get a head start on saving for retirement and supplement any money you’re already saving in your employer’s 401(k). And you can also enjoy tax advantages by saving your bonus money in these accounts.

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The Takeaway

There’s a lot to think about when you’re looking for a new job. You want to make sure you find a position you love that will compensate you fairly. So adding another step in the job search process may seem overwhelming. However, asking for and negotiating a signing bonus using the tips above is critical to help you get hired with the bonus you deserve.

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What is a signing bonus?

A signing bonus, also known as a hiring bonus or a sign-on bonus, is a bonus given to employees when they are hired. A company will pay a signing bonus to help entice the employee to accept the job offer.

How can you negotiate your signing bonus?

To negotiate a signing bonus, you should be clear about what you are asking for, be reasonable in your request, and have a backup plan if your initial request is not met. It is also important to remember that the company you are negotiating with likely has a budget for signing bonuses, so be mindful of that when making your request.

What is the average signing bonus?

The average signing bonus depends on several factors, including the company, position, and location. In general, the average hiring bonus for managers and executives may range from $10,000 to more than $50,000. For lower-level employees, a signing bonus may be less than $10,000.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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