The ability to invest in real estate is one of the most common reasons why retirement savers first start becoming interested in the self-directed IRA. An individual retirement account with a self-directed IRA custodian such as Quest Trust Company individuals to out their retirement funds to work in investments that traditional IRA custodians simply wouldn’t allow.
Adding to the desirability of investment real estate for retirement savers is that interest rates on mortgages and other types of borrowing continue to be quite low.
Even if interest rates are low, you may not be able to derive the benefit you hope from borrowing money to buy real estate with your self directed IRA. This is because the tax laws that authorize individual retirement accounts put some limitations on how those accounts may be used. In particular, the activities of IRAs must be related to the fundamental purpose of the account, and that means to make investments. Borrowing money to make investments, however, is called out as an activity that’s at odds with the fundamental investment purpose.
As a result, when an IRA borrows money, the investment gains that result from that borrowing are considered to be unrelated business taxable income (or “UBTI”), which means that you’ll face a current year tax bill because of your investment borrowing. In many cases, this can greatly reduce or even exceed the advantages you gain by taking out a mortgage.
If you choose to borrow money within your self-directed IRA in order to invest in real estate, be sure you are doing so because you are presented with a quality investment opportunity, rather than simply because interest rates are low. You should have a plan for how each piece of property you acquire is going to become a productive part of your portfolio, and your anticipated timeframe for that to occur.
Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean every piece of investment property you acquire needs to be productive right away. “Fixer uppers” are certainly appropriate for investment; just be sure you take into account any repair or remodeling costs into your financial analysis.
Regardless of how you choose to use your self-directed IRA to acquire investment properties, you should have a comprehensive understanding of the costs and fees that come with holding the property. For example, many real estate investors will tell you that as they build larger portfolios of property, they find that their costs on a per property basis tend to decline. This is because they are able to leverage certain economies of scale when it comes to property managers, repair and maintenance professionals, and other types of support they need in maintaining those properties.
Low interest rates can be a factor in deciding whether or not to buy investment real estate with your self-directed IRA, but it should not be the only factor.