Net Unrealized Appreciation: The Untold Story

If you participate in a 401(k), ESOP, or other qualified retirement plan that lets you invest in your employer’s stock, you need to know about net unrealized appreciation–a simple tax deferral opportunity with an unfortunately complicated name.

When you receive a distribution from your employer’s retirement plan, the distribution is generally taxable to you at ordinary income tax rates. A common way of avoiding immediate taxation is to make a tax-free rollover to a traditional IRA. However, when you ultimately receive distributions from the IRA, they’ll also be taxed at ordinary income tax rates. (Special rules apply to Roth and other after-tax contributions that are generally tax free when distributed.)

But if your distribution includes employer stock (or other employer securities), you may have another option–you may be able to defer paying tax on the portion of your distribution that represents net unrealized appreciation (NUA). You won’t be taxed on the NUA until you sell the stock. What’s more, the NUA will be taxed at long-term capital gains rates–typically much lower than ordinary income tax rates. This strategy can often result in significant tax savings.

What is net unrealized appreciation?

A distribution of employer stock consists of two parts: (1) the cost basis (that is, the value of the stock when it was contributed to, or purchased by, your plan), and (2) any increase in value over the cost basis until the date the stock is distributed to you. This increase in value over basis, fixed at the time the stock is distributed in-kind to you, is the NUA. For example, assume you retire and receive a distribution of employer stock worth $500,000 from your 401(k) plan, and that the cost basis in the stock is $50,000. The $450,000 gain is NUA.

How does it work?

At the time you receive a lump-sum distribution that includes employer stock, you’ll pay ordinary income tax only on the cost basis in the employer securities.

You won’t pay any tax on the NUA until you sell the securities. At that time the NUA is taxed at long-term capital gain rates, no matter how long you’ve held the securities outside of the plan (even if only for a single day). Any appreciation at the time of sale in excess of your NUA is taxed as either short-term or long-term capital gain, depending on how long you’ve held the stock outside the plan.

Using the example above, you would pay ordinary income tax on $50,000, the cost basis, when you receive your distribution. (You may also be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if you’re not age 55 or totally disabled.) Let’s say you sell the stock after ten years, when it’s worth $750,000. At that time, you’ll pay long-term capital gains tax on your NUA ($450,000). You’ll also pay long-term capital gains tax on the additional appreciation ($250,000), since you held the stock for more than one year. Note that since you’ve already paid tax on the $50,000 cost basis, you won’t pay tax on that amount again when you sell the stock.

If your distribution includes cash in addition to the stock, you can either roll the cash over to an IRA or take it as a taxable distribution. And you don’t have to use the NUA strategy for all of your employer stock–you can roll a portion over to an IRA and apply NUA tax treatment to the rest.

What is a lump-sum distribution?

In general, you’re allowed to use these favorable NUA tax rules only if you receive the employer securities as part of a lump-sum distribution. To qualify as a lump-sum distribution, both of the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • It must be a distribution of your entire balance, within a single tax year, from all of your employer’s qualified plans of the same type (that is, all pension plans, all profit-sharing plans, or all stock bonus plans)
  • The distribution must be paid after you reach age 59½, or as a result of your separation from service, or after your death

There is one exception: even if your distribution doesn’t qualify as a lump-sum distribution, any securities distributed from the plan that were purchased with your after-tax (non-Roth) contributions will be eligible for NUA tax treatment.

NUA at a glance
You receive a lump-sum distribution from your 401(k) plan consisting of $500,000 of employer stock. The cost basis is $50,000. You sell the stock 10 years later for $750,000.*
Tax payable at distribution–stock valued at $500,000
Cost basis–$50,000 Taxed at ordinary income rates; 10% early payment penalty tax if you’re not 55 or disabled
NUA–$450,000 Tax deferred until sale of stock
Tax payable at sale–stock valued at $750,000
Cost basis– $50,000 Already taxed at distribution; not taxed again at sale
NUA– $450,000 Taxed at long-term capital gains rates regardless of holding period
Additional appreciation-$250,000 Taxed as long- or short-term capital gain, depending on holding period outside plan (long-term in this example)
*Assumes stock is attributable to your pretax and employer contributions and not after-tax contributions

NUA is for beneficiaries, too

If you die while you still hold employer securities in your retirement plan, your plan beneficiary can also use the NUA tax strategy if he or she receives a lump-sum distribution from the plan. The taxation is generally the same as if you had received the distribution. (The stock doesn’t receive a step-up in basis, even though your beneficiary receives it as a result of your death.)

If you’ve already received a distribution of employer stock, elected NUA tax treatment, and die before you sell the stock, your heir will have to pay long-term capital gains tax on the NUA when he or she sells the stock. However, any appreciation as of the date of your death in excess of NUA will forever escape taxation because, in this case, the stock will receive a step-up in basis. Using our example, if you die when your employer stock is worth $750,000, your heir will receive a step-up in basis for the $250,000 appreciation in excess of NUA at the time of your death. If your heir later sells the stock for $900,000, he or she will pay long-term capital gains tax on the $450,000 of NUA, as well as capital gains tax on any appreciation since your death ($150,000). The $250,000 of appreciation in excess of NUA as of your date of death will be tax free.

Some additional considerations

  • If you want to take advantage of NUA treatment, make sure you don’t roll the stock over to an IRA. That will be irrevocable, and you’ll forever lose the NUA tax opportunity.
  • You can elect not to use the NUA option. In this case, the NUA will be subject to ordinary income tax (and a potential 10% early distribution penalty) at the time you receive the distribution.
  • Stock held in an IRA or employer plan is entitled to significant protection from your creditors. You’ll lose that protection if you hold the stock in a taxable brokerage account.
  • Holding a significant amount of employer stock may not be appropriate for everyone. In some cases, it may make sense to diversify your investments.*
  • Be sure to consider the impact of any applicable state tax laws.

When is it the best choice?

In general, the NUA strategy makes the most sense for individuals who have a large amount of NUA and a relatively small cost basis. However, whether it’s right for you depends on many variables, including your age, your estate planning goals, and anticipated tax rates. In some cases, rolling your distribution over to an IRA may be the better choice. And if you were born before 1936, other special tax rules might apply, making a taxable distribution your best option.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Indexed Annuities

An indexed annuity (IA) is a contract between you and an insurance company. You pay premiums in a lump sum or periodically, and the issuer promises* to pay you some amount in the future. The IA issuer also provides a minimum guaranteed* interest rate on your premiums paid.

With an IA, the interest earnings are tied to the performance of an equity index such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

With an IA, your interest earnings may increase if the market performs well, but if the market performs poorly, your principal is not reduced by market losses. Indexed annuities are generally subject to a lengthy surrender charge period. Most IAs pay a minimum guaranteed* interest rate (e.g., 3%) on a percentage of premium (e.g., 87.5%). However, if the IA doesn’t earn interest greater than the minimum, cashing in the account prior to the end of the surrender period may cause the investor to lose money.

Note, however, that any return, whether guaranteed or not, is only as good as the insurance company that offers it. Both the IA’s principal and its earnings are entirely dependent on the insurer’s ability to meet its financial obligations.

Also, be aware that buyers of IAs are not directly invested in the index or the equities comprising the index. The index is merely the instrument used to measure the gain or loss in the market, and that measurement is used to calculate the interest rate.

*Annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer.

Basics

The first IAs that were introduced worked very simply; the interest rate was determined by computing the difference between the value of the index to which the annuity was linked on the annuity’s issue date and the value of the same index on the annuity’s maturity date. If the difference was negative (i.e., the market performed poorly and the value of the index decreased), interest was calculated using the minimum interest rate. If the difference was positive (i.e., the market performed well and the value of the index increased), the interest rate used was a percentage of the difference–but usually not the entire difference.

Participation rates

The participation rate determines how much of the gain in an index will be imparted to your annuity. For example, if the difference (i.e., gain) in the index is 7% and the participation rate is 90%, then the interest rate is 6.3% (90% of 7%). Participation rates of 70% to 90% are typical. Obviously, the higher the participation rate, the higher the potential return. Participation rates are set and limited by the insurance company.

Indexing methods

The indexing method is the approach used to measure the change in an index. The original method, which measures index values at the beginning and end of the term, is known as the point-to-point or European method. The point-to-point method is the simplest approach, but it fails to consider market fluctuations that occur in between the issue and maturity dates. This can result in unsatisfactory returns if the market declines at the end of the term.

Another approach, known as the high-water-mark or look-back method, looks at the value of the index at certain points during the term, such as annual anniversaries. The highest value of these points is then compared to the date-of-issue value to determine any gain to be credited to the IA.

A third approach, the averaging method, also looks at the value of the index at certain points during the annuity’s term, then uses the average value of these points to compute the difference from either the date-of-issue value or the date-of-maturity value.

The fourth main indexing method is known as the reset or ratcheting method. With this method, start-of-year values are compared to end-of-year values for each year of the annuity’s term. Decreases in the index are ignored, and increases are locked in every year.

How interest is credited to an IA

With some IAs, no interest is credited until the end of the term. With others, a percentage of the interest is vested or credited annually or periodically, which gradually increases as the end of the term nears. Further, some IAs pay simple interest while others pay compound interest. These features are important not only because they affect the amount of your return, but also because having interest vested or credited to your IA periodically instead of at the end of the term increases the likelihood that you’ll receive at least some interest if the market thereafter declines.

Caution: Many IAs have surrender charges, which can be a percentage of the amount withdrawn or a reduction in the interest rate. Further, withdrawals from tax-deferred annuities before age 59½ may be subject to a 10% penalty.

Interest rate cap

Some IAs put an upper limit on the interest rate the annuity will earn. Say, for example, that an IA has an interest rate cap of 6%. If the gain in the index is 7% and the participation rate is 90%, the interest rate will be 6%–not 6.3%.

Asset fee/spread/margin

Some IAs charge an asset fee, also known as spread or margin, which is a percentage that is deducted from the interest rate. The asset fee may replace the participation rate or it may be added to it. For example, if the gain in the index is 7%, the interest rate on an IA with an asset fee of 2% will be 5%. If there is also a 90% participation rate, the interest rate will be 4.5%.

Questions to ask about an IA

  • What is the minimum guaranteed* interest rate?
  • What is the participation rate?
  • What is the indexing method? How does it work? Is there an interest rate cap?
  • Is there an asset fee/spread/margin? Is it in addition to or instead of a participation rate?
  • What is the term?
  • When is interest credited or vested? Is interest compounded?
  • What are the surrender charges? Are there penalties for partial withdrawals?

*Annuity guarantees are subject to the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Are Women Reluctant to Talk About Money?

A new survey says yes. Is it telling the whole story?  

A new study asserts that women feel uncomfortable discussing financial matters. The latest Money FIT Study from Fidelity Investments is generating some conversation within the financial industry. The investment giant commissioned an online poll of 1,542 female participants in its retirement plans, and 80% of the respondents indicated that talking about money matters was “too personal” or “uncomfortable” for them, even if the other party was someone they knew closely.1,2

If this were 1965, this kind of response might seem reasonable … but in 2015?

Keep in mind that this was an online poll. The involved survey firm, Kelton, conducted it with the usual wide parameters. Responses were collected from both retired and working women. Respondents were aged 18 and up.2 

Two other key factoids from the study seem incongruous with this first one. In the same online poll, 92% of the respondents said they wanted to learn more about financial planning within the next year. Additionally, 83% noted that they would like to take more control over their personal finances in the next 12 months. Accomplishing both objectives implies talking about money and personal finance issues.1 

Another positive: female baby boomers seem to have more financial literacy. Digging deeper into the study’s findings, 70% of the boomer women surveyed felt confident about retirement saving and making a retirement transition, compared to 54% of Gen X women and 62% of Gen Y women. Also, 63% of women in this demographic said they knew where to invest; just 48% of Gen X women and 60% of Gen Y women did.1

Why do we see this disconnect in the data? If women want to learn more about money and/or possess reasonable financial knowledge, what accounts for their apparent reluctance to talk about money matters with spouses, partners and friends? Is there a lack of confidence, a fear of seeming ill-informed? Is the topic just boring?

Perhaps the answer to the last two questions is “yes.” The poll asked how likely respondents would be to discuss certain issues with their spouses or partners, and while 78% said they would likely have conversations about health issues, just 65% said they would be likely to chat about investment ideas. Fidelity and Kelton also discovered that 65% of these workplace retirement plan participants aren’t drawing on financial or investment guidance offered as a complement to the plan. In fact, just 47% of these women indicated they would be confident discussing money and investments in the presence of a financial professional.1,2

At the typical company, workers of both genders would rather head out for lunch than set aside a lunch hour for a meeting about “boring financial stuff.” Such a meeting, however, might help them see the big picture of what they need to do for retirement and might motivate them more than any website or article possibly could.

When financial professionals overcome that perception, employees awaken to the opportunity that a workplace retirement plan presents and see its value; the topics of saving and investing become much more compelling. When that perception remains in place, fewer employees ask for guidance and many effectively do not know where to start, and that may promote discomfort and awkwardness in chats about personal financial matters.

Women seem to invest capably whether they like talking about money or not. Fresh data from SigFig (formerly WikiInvest) bears this out. In analyzing 750,000 investment portfolios, SigFig found that the median 2014 net return for a woman investor was 4.7%. For men, it was 4.1%. SigFig also made an even more intriguing discovery: while women tend to invest more conservatively than men prior to age 55, after age 55 they actually allocate a higher percentage of their portfolios to equities than men do.1

The new Fidelity study is a conversation starter, but it might best be taken with a few grains of salt. Structure a multiple-choice survey question (and its answers) two or three different ways and you may get two or three different responses. Your individual response to the challenge of saving, investing and planning for retirement should be a confident one.

Citations.

1 – forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/02/12/money-the-subject-women-dont-want-to-discuss/ [2/12/15]

2 – plansponsor.com/Women_Have_Confidence_Gap_in_Financial_Matters.aspx [2/12/15]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Albert Aizin, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Verizon, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Albert Aizin is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.