So, you are newly retired and thinking about what to do with your employer sponsored 401(k) account. The stock market has gone up quite a bit recently and you’re pleased with the value of your 401(k) (or other employer sponsored account) – especially the value of the company stock in your account. You may be thinking about transferring your 401(k) to an IRA for greater investment flexibility. Before you do, you may want to consider a nifty strategy to potentially save a bundle on income taxes.
The strategy involves the net unrealized appreciation (NUA) on the company stock in your 401(k). In a nutshell, NUA is the difference between the current market value of the company stock and the price originally paid for the stock (cost basis). This NUA may be eligible for favorable capital gains tax treatment when the company stock is sold.
If you roll over your 401(k) account, including the company stock, to an IRA, and then later take distributions from the IRA, the entire distribution (including any company stock) will be subject to income tax at your ordinary income tax rate. That rate could be as high as 39.6% just for federal income taxes depending upon your tax situation.
If, instead of transferring your account balance (including the company stock) to an IRA, you take a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance, including the company stock (sometimes called an “in-kind” distribution), the distribution of the stock will be subject to income taxes, but you will only pay long term capital gains taxes (from 0% to 20%) on the NUA when the stock is sold (you’ll pay taxes at ordinary tax rates on the cost basis portion). If you are able to complete a tax-free rollover of the remainder of the distribution (less the company stock) to an IRA, the amount rolled over escapes income taxation. The NUA strategy will not work if the stock is liquidated inside the 401(k), or rolled over to an IRA.
In order to make the strategy work, you must take an in-kind distribution of the company stock from your company retirement account as part of a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance. The lump sum distribution must follow a “triggering event,” such as retirement or other separation from service, attainment of age 59½, death [yes, the beneficiary of an inherited 401(k) or other employer plan account can take advantage of NUA], or disability. The entire balance of the account must be distributed – you can’t just take an in-kind distribution of the company stock.
For those with appreciated company stock in their 401(k) or other employer-sponsored account, taking advantage of the NUA rules can help save on income taxes when the stock is sold. But like any other income tax saving strategy, especially involving retirement plan distributions, it’s complicated, and it may not work in every situation. So, before you go ahead and transfer your 401(k) account with the company stock to an IRA, sit down and consult with a qualified professional who can help you determine whether the NUA strategy is right for you.
Think the NUA strategy may work for you? Give me a call, I can help.