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NUA - Trigger Activators! Thumbnail

NUA - Trigger Activators!

Not everyone can participate in the benefits of NUA; but for those who are candidates for it, there are potential stumbling blocks along the way to beware of.

There are multiple trigger events to watch out for during your financial planning in regard to NUAs. 


The goal of the net unrealized appreciation (NUA) tax strategy is to enable a person to pay taxes on the appreciation of company stock formerly in a work plan at long term capital gain rates as opposed to ordinary income rates. The spread between long term capital gains vs. ordinary income could result in a sizable tax savings for those eligible for the strategy.

Without getting too deep into the NUA weeds, if a person has significant appreciation in company stock held in a workplace plan like a 401(k), and if that person hits a particular trigger event, then NUA could be in the cards. (Note that “significant appreciation” is subjective.) Those trigger events are turning age 59 ½, separation from service (not for the self-employed); disability (only for the self-employed), and death.

Once a trigger is hit, an imaginary “NUA eligibility light” is turned on. The account holder does not have to proceed with the NUA strategy immediately. The light will stay on until the trigger is activated. This is where account owners need to tread carefully. A wrong turn or innocent transaction could unintentionally activate the trigger. And if the activated trigger is not addressed by year end, it will be forever lost.

As 2022 comes to a close, it is vitally important for anyone considering the NUA tax strategy who has hit a trigger event to determine whether they have activated that trigger with any subsequent transaction. Here are a few common “trigger activators” that will start your NUA light to flash and require immediate attention if you wish to capitalize on NUA this year.

In-Service Distributions. Do you have access to in-service distributions from your work plan? If you hit an NUA trigger and were planning on leveraging the strategy at some point in the future, a subsequent in-service distribution will activate the trigger and require the NUA process to be completed in that same calendar year. Did you take a distribution to fund a family vacation? To buy a boat? To do anything at all? If so, your NUA trigger will be activated and flashing.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). If you hit an NUA trigger a few years ago and made a concerted effort to avoid activation until you were ready to move forward with the NUA strategy – good for you! But now you are 72. Did the plan automatically send you your first RMD? Trigger activated! Time to act!

72(t) Distributions. Have you been taking consistent 72(t) payments from your work plan? (While rare from a plan, they do exist.) Like RMDs and in-service distributions, 72(t) payments from a plan will activate an NUA trigger just the same.

In-Plan Roth Conversions. Yes, even in-plan Roth conversions can activate an NUA trigger.

For anyone who has hit a trigger event and intends to leverage NUA in a future year, it is imperative to ensure your trigger has not been inadvertently activated. Otherwise, if you fail to act immediately, the trigger (and NUA tax strategy) could be squandered.

By Andy Ives, CFP®, AIF®
IRA Analyst
Ed Slott and Company, LLC

Copyright © 2022, Ed Slott and Company, LLC Reprinted from The Slott Report, 11/16/22, with permission. https://www.irahelp.com/slottreport/nua-%E2%80%93-trigger-activators, Ed Slott and Company, LLC takes no responsibility for the current accuracy of this article. Chris Cordoba, founder of California Retirement Advisors, is a member of Ed Slott's Master Elite IRA Advisor Group.
Investment advisory services offered through Mutual Advisors, LLC DBA California Retirement Advisors, a SEC registered investment adviser. Securities offered through Mutual Securities, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Mutual Securities, Inc. and Mutual Advisors, LLC are affiliated companies. CA Insurance license #0B09076. This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information and provided by California Retirement Advisors. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. California Retirement Advisors, nor any of its members, are tax accountants or legal attorneys and do not provide tax or legal advice. For tax or legal advice, you should consult your tax or legal professional.