NUA Allocation Twist – Not as Easy as it Looks

I’ve written much about the Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) treatment for company stock in a 401(k) plan – this is the provision that allows you to pull out company stock as part of a full distribution from the plan and get favorable tax treatment for the gain on the stock.  More about NUA can be found in this article about Net Unrealized Appreciation Treatment.

One of the factors in that article speaks to a special way to allocate the basis (original cost) of the stock.  Specifically, if handled correctly, the ordinary income tax on the NUA move can be minimized or eliminated, and the capital gains treatment maximized.

However. (As you know, there’s always a however in life!)

The problem with this move is that you absolutely must get the 401(k) administrator to go along with your plan – in order to make sure that the 1099R generated by your distribution correctly describes how you’ve allocated the basis.  If not, the strategy depends entirely on your own word and record-keeping, which I personally would not want to have as my only basis if the IRS disagrees with you on the applicability of the law to your actions.

I’ve spoken to quite a few folks who have looked into this, hoping to take advantage of the way I’ve described it and minimize or avoid tax altogether.  It seems that, at least among all those I’ve heard about, 401(k) administrators as a group don’t like to take direction from their participants.

Either that or they don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary (this is the more likely reason, in my opinion).  I can’t say that I blame them – there’s no benefit in it to them.  Even when confronted with the rules and the law that allow this move, I’ve not heard from any that have gone along with it yet.  (If you have gone down this path successfully, please let me know – leave a comment below! I’d love to hear of successes with this component of the law.)

So, unfortunately if you’re hoping to use the special allocation of basis option, I’m in your court, but expect to run into some push-back.  Although the option seems to be completely valid, don’t count on getting to use it.

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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  • It seems to me that someone should have at least gone out for a private letter ruling. However, most of us would rather stay out of the radar of the IRS even when you have all your ducks in line. An audit is always time consuming and gut wrenching. Is this something you might be able to do as a CFP and EA? As you might imagine many of us are quite anxious to take advantage of this. What paragraph in IRS Code specifically states that the rolled portion is “treated as consisting first of the portion that is includible in gross income”? I am certainly willing to take this paragraph to our plan administrator and give it a try.

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