We can calculate the total tax due by comparing a total distribution from an IRA versus using net unrealized appreciation. In order to do this, we need to make some simple assumptions as they pertain to tax. Specifically, we will assume the following:

  • Ordinary Income Tax Rates – 33%
  • Long-Term Capital Gains Tax Rate – 15%
  • The chart below further illustrates the details.

Fair Market Value Taxed as Ordinary Income Taxed as Capital Gains Ordinary Income tax (33%) Capital Gains Tax (15%) Total Tax

No NUA $500,000 $500,000 $0 $165,000 $0 $165,000
NUA $500,000 $75,000 $425,000 $24,750 $63,750 $88,500

In a scenario where the entire IRA is distributed and taxed at 33%, the tax liability will be $165,000.

In a scenario using NUA, assuming an immediate sale, the tax liability is $88,500.

In this simple example, net unrealized appreciation saves over $80,000 in taxes!

When This Make Sense

Certainly, it’s easy to make NUA look attractive using a hypothetical illustration as detailed above. So the question remains: “When does this make the most sense?”

There are several times when NUA may make sense:

Highly Appreciated Stock

The bigger the spread between the cost basis and the current market value, the bigger the argument to consider net unrealized appreciation.

Simply put, the larger the capital gain, the larger the opportunity to pay capital gains tax in lieu of ordinary income tax. Paying 15% in lieu of paying 33% can lead to major tax savings.

Large Spread in Tax Brackets

Tax brackets change based on levels of income for both ordinary income tax and capital gains tax. The larger the spread between the two, the greater the opportunity will be to utilize preferential long-term capital gains treatment.

Greater Percentage of Your Account Value

The larger the percentage of your account value, the greater the opportunity will be.

When Seeking to Lower RMDs

Diversification* is a common term that is used when it comes to investing. In short, it simply means don’t have all your eggs in one basket.

As it pertains to retirement planning, diversification can mean having different types of assets in retirement, more specifically, taxable, tax-deferred, and tax free.

Using net unrealized appreciation can be a strategy that takes tax-deferred income and makes it taxable. Since the portion of your assets that is subject to NUA are no longer in an IRA or 401(k), the account value will not be included in the RMD calculation. This transaction has the net effect of lowering RMDs in retirement.

It may also allow for greater tax planning with Social Security and other retirement income distributions.

What It Takes to Qualify

There are many rules for net unrealized appreciation, and they need to be followed explicitly to be sure you receive the benefit you are seeking. Specifically, the rules are as follows:

  • You must distribute your entire account balance from all employer plans within one year.
  • You must take the distribution of company stock as shares.

You must have completed one of the following:

  • Be age 59½
  • Separated from service
  • Death
  • Become totally disabled (if self-employed)

What Now?

If you think net unrealized appreciation is something you would like to consider, it makes sense to speak with an expert who can help you sort through the details so that you can determine how big the spread between the cost basis and fair market value is and how NUA fits into your overall financial plan.

Implemented appropriately, net unrealized appreciation may lower your overall net tax liability, therefore leaving you with more cash in your pocket.

This article has been republished with permission from Daniel Zajac.