Net Unrealized Appreciation and Other Special Tax Rules
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.