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Net Unrealized Appreciation is not subject to the 3.8% surtax

Image courtesy of Matt Banks at

Image courtesy of Matt Banks at

When you take advantage of the Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) treatment for stocks transferred from your employer retirement plan, you need to fully understand the tax treatment both when you transfer the stocks and when you eventually sell the stock.

Stock that you’ve chosen to treat with NUA tax treatment has three potential tax components –

  1. The basis of the stock – this is the original purchase cost of the stock, which is subject to ordinary income tax the year when you transfer the stock from the employer’s plan into your brokerage account.
  2. The Net Unrealized Appreciation – this is the difference in the total value of the stock minus the basis (from #1 above) on the date that you transfer it from your employer’s plan. This amount is not taxable until you sell the stock, and then it is taxed at long-term capital gains rates, no matter how long you’ve owned the stock.
  3. The non-NUA appreciation – this is any gain that has occurred in the value of the stock after you transferred it into the brokerage account, up to the date that you sell the stock.  This amount is taxed at short-term capital gains rates if held less than 1 year after the transfer, or long-term capital gains rates if held more than 1 year.

Here’s an example:

Ed has worked for ABC company for 30 years and will retire this year.  He has built up a 401(k) plan worth $500,000, of which $100,000 is stock in ABC company.  The basis of this stock, which he’s purchased over the years, is $75,000.  Ed wants to take advantage of the NUA provision for treatment of his ABC stock.

Ed transfers the $400,000 balance of his account that is not ABC stock into an IRA.  He then transfers the $100,000 of ABC stock into a brokerage account (non-IRA).  For the year, Ed must include the basis of the ABC stock ($75,000) as ordinary income on his tax return.

Later, when Ed is ready to sell his ABC stock, six months have passed, and the stock has increased in value to $115,000.  Ed sells the stock, and when he files his taxes for that year, he will have long term capital gains of $25,000 of NUA gain, and then short-term capital gains of $15,000 (the gain since he transferred the funds to the brokerage account).  If more than 1 year had passed, the NUA gain and the additional gain would all have been considered long-term capital gains.

In a nutshell, that’s how NUA treatment taxation works. Or rather, how it used to work, but there’s more to it now since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

0.9% Additional Medicare Tax on Earned Income

First of all, the basis amount (#1 above) is subject to ordinary income tax.  This brings up the question – if your income is above the limits as a result of this distribution and newly-recognized ordinary income, will it also be subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income?  The answer is no – this basis is treated as a distribution from your retirement account, and since your contributions were already subject to Medicare taxation, this is not subject to further taxation for Medicare purposes.

3.8% Medicare Surtax on Unearned Income

Secondly, given that upon the sale of the stock you’ll have (potentially) significant unearned income, you might wonder about the new 3.8% Medicare surtax on unearned income – does this apply?  Yes and no.

The “no” applies to the NUA as of the transfer into the taxable brokerage account (#2 from above).  This amount will not be included if you have unearned income that is subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax.

The “yes” applies to the additional capital gains that have occurred in the account since you transferred it to the brokerage account.  This amount can potentially be subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax, if you are otherwise subject to this tax, on top of the capital gains treatment.  From our example above, Ed’s additional gain of $15,000 would have this potential additional tax.

What about a loss?

If you experience a loss after the transfer into the brokerage account (the value becomes less than the basis, in other words) and you subsequently sell the stock, the loss is treated as a long-term capital loss, the same as any other capital transaction.  If the loss was experienced before you distributed the stock from the account – that is, upon the distribution the value of the stock was less than the basis – you may be able to deduct the loss as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, subject to the 2% floor.

One Comment

  1. msolarimas says:

    I like the use of examples to breakdown a somewhat difficult concept. Higher income earners should be aware of the new tax laws that could affect them.

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