Tax Talk: UBIT, Solo 401(ks) and More! – Guest Article with Adam Barr

When investing with Self-Directed IRAs (SDIRAs), understanding your responsibilities is one of the first things you need to make sure you know. In this guest article, CPA Adam Barr shares insight on helpful tax considerations and other helpful knowledge about tax-advantaged accounts. From unrelated business income tax (UBIT) to different special accounts, Adam shares what he’s learned during his time working with SDIRAs. 

Sarah: Thank you for joining me. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Adam: I’m a CPA and I work as a tax manager here at MGA LLP, which is a local Houston accounting firm. We do tax and insurance services and outsource financial accounting for small businesses and the owners of those small businesses, both here in the Houston area and around the country. Even all around the world. My specialty… I’m a tax accountant, so I help a lot of my clients with tax compliance, tax planning and business planning, as well. Part of the reason we’re talking about self-directed IRAs today is that… a number of years ago I accidentally developed this as sort of a specialty. There was a vacuum in the market for CPAs who know a lot about UBTI and filing tax returns for Self-Directed IRAs. I had a little bit of experience in that field due to some clients we already had. It just sort of grew into a specialty, and now I’ve been working with Quest and helping their clients with these types of issues as they come up for the past few years. That’s a bit of who I am and what I do.

Sarah: So, you work with Self-Directed IRAs. When people are looking to begin investing with a Self-Directed IRA, what are some tax considerations, either positive or negative, that they should really be thinking about when getting started?

Adam: Yeah, sure. The positive tax advantage of having an IRA of any kind is that you have a deferral of tax. Most of the time when people are thinking about an IRA or a SDIRA, they’re talking about a traditional IRA, for which you get a tax deduction for putting money into. That allows people to defer some income into the IRA and to earn money on it tax free until they draw it out in retirement. You get a very long horizon of not having to pay tax on this money. What that helps you do is it helps you grow your money faster, because if it’s not being subject to tax and your earnings aren’t being subject to tax on an annual basis, you actually end up with a much higher net return after a long period of time. Then people need to watch out for unrelated business income tax (UBIT), which I think is something we’re going to talk about today, which can be something that people definitely want to consider before they invest in anything in a Self-Directed IRA. Depending on the type of investment, they could end up paying some tax on the income earned by that Self-Directed IRA each year. That changes what they should be expecting in terms of an after-tax investment return. I just think it’s very important that people should think about that and consider what their after tax return will be. That’s a general look at the positive and negative tax considerations related to a SDIRA.

Sarah: You mentioned UBIT. Can you talk a little bit about that? What is it for those that don’t know?

Adam: Absolutely. So, UBTI is unrelated business taxable income, and I’m going to distinguish that from UBIT, which is unrelated business income tax. So, UBIT, unrelated business income tax is the tax that your IRA has to pay on its unrelated business, taxable income or UBTI. So, the UBIT is just the tax on the UBTI. The UBTI is really the more important thing. 

Sarah: Then can you talk about that in more detail?

Adam: Sure. There are two ways in which an IRA can have unrelated business taxable income (UBTI). The first way is if the IRA is operating a trade or business. Now, a trade or business would include flipping houses and selling them for a profit, operating a retail store, or operating a restaurant. There’s any number of things. Anything that’s an operating trade or business, specifically. Not a rental property. Rental property is not considered a trade or business in this respect. In the case that you have an operating business, such as the ones that we just described, all of the income from that activity will be taxable to the IRA as unrelated business taxable income (UBTI). That would be all of the income. Now I’m going to distinguish that from the second scenario. That’s the first way in which an IRA can have UBTI. The second way an IRA can have UBTI is if it has what’s called unrelated debt financed income, which is referred to as UDFI. Unrelated debt financed income is any income that the IRA receives from a debt leveraged asset. A very common example, people will use their IRA to purchase a single family rental property, and they’ll take out a mortgage on the purchase of that property. Let’s just pretend that they take out a mortgage for 75% of the purchase price and their IRA puts up the other 25%. Their IRA will have unrelated debt financed income, because that is a debt leveraged asset. When the IRA earns the rental income from the property and pays the expenses, you’re going to have to take some portion of that as taxable income in the IRA, and the IRA is going to have to pay some tax on that. It depends on the percentage that the property is leveraged. If the rental property is 75% leveraged, as in our example, then roughly 75% of the net operating income of the property will be subject to unrelated business income tax in the IRA. Does that sort of make sense?

Sarah: Absolutely.

Adam: I use the rental property as an example of UDFI, but it can be anything. Anything that you purchased with that, an asset that you purchased with that the income from it will be taxable in the IRA.

Sarah: Perfect. I know I get a lot of people that call in and they’re actually, they’re concerned about it. Is UBIT something that they should be concerned of?

Adam: It’s not a monster hiding under your bed. It’s just something to be considered. I don’t think you should be afraid of it, but you do definitely want to consider it. As I alluded to earlier in our conversation, it affects what I’ll call your after tax return. Just like anything else in life, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. It matters how much you keep. If you’re going to earn rental income and you’re going to pay a little tax, you want to look at your return on your investment as, “what did I earn after paying that tax?” Is that an acceptable rate of return for you? So, I mean, it’s not something to be afraid of, but it’s something to be aware of.  You have to think about, well, if I invest in a debt leveraged asset in my IRA, I’m going to have to pay a little tax and I’m going to have to also get some help with preparing an annual tax filing to report that taxable income to the IRS and pay the tax. There’s a little bit of administrative effort and there’s some costs involved in preparing the return, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea. It still might be a really good investment. You just have to consider it.

Sarah: Let’s move on a bit to the potential accounts that could be exempt from that UBTI. We mentioned it and we discussed what it was, but what if someone wants to just completely avoid it, is that possible?

Adam: In some cases? Yeah. I think you’re talking in the direction of a solo 401(k).

Sarah: You got it. 

Adam: So, the answer is yes, that works depending on your circumstances. Solo 401(k)s have a bit of a loophole under the current tax law that says that they are not subject to the unrelated debt financed income (UDFI) rules. If you use a Solo 401(k) to purchase a debt leveraged asset, then the income from that asset will not be subject to UBTI, and you will not pay any tax and you will not have any form 990T tax return filing requirements. Now, if that same solo 401(k) owns an operating business, whether it’s debt leveraged or not, that is considered trade or business income and would be UBTI and would be subject to tax. So, it depends on the circumstances, but if we’re talking about the classic example of a rental property, such as a syndicated multifamily investment… if you hold that within a solo 401(k), then I would not anticipate there being any tax consequences.

Sarah: Yeah. People call in all the time and they want to open Solo 401(k)s as they are concerned about UBIT and we tell them it’s not something to be too worried about and to speak to a qualified CPA. Or… do you even qualify for solo 401(k)?

Adam: That’s the other big question. You have to be able to have a Solo 401k(). You can’t just make one. Right. You have to either have self-employment income or you have to own your own business or something like that. And you guys are probably pretty familiar with those roles. 

Sarah: Yes, and there are Certified IRA Specialists at Quest that can always answer questions clients may have. So, just to round it out here, do you have any final tips that you would give to people looking to start investing or that may already have an IRA or a 401k? Or anything you’d like to add that maybe I didn’t ask or anything that is important for our readers?

Adam: For some reason, I get a question a lot, so I bring this up every chance I get. I get the question, “well, a Roth IRA is a tax-free IRA. So UBTI doesn’t apply to a Roth IRA, correct?” And I always say that is not correct. UBTI applies to Roth IRAs in exactly the same way it applies to traditional IRAs. I think people get confused, because they think about Roth IRA withdrawals being tax free, and they assume that means UBTI does not apply, but that is not the case. It’s exactly the same rule. Lastly, the best time to start investing for retirement is last year. The second best time is right now. I’m a big proponent of putting away money for the future and utilizing these tax-deferred vehicles to do that. If you’re not sure what you want to invest in, you can still just go ahead and make that IRA contribution now and figure it out later, because you only get one. I always like to think of it this way: You only get one chance to make an IRA contribution. For example, for tax year 2020. If you just say, “I’ll figure it out next year”, then you’ve missed that opportunity forever. Right? Sure, you can make a contribution this year, but you could’ve made a contribution for 2020.

Sarah: That’s a great point to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and share your knowledge with me! This has been very helpful, and I know our readers will benefit greatly from this information! Whether you’re trying to understand UBIT or just want more information about the types of tax-advantaged accounts, feel free to reach out to an IRA Specialists at 855-FUN-IRAs (386.4727). If you’d like to contact Adam Barr for more help, he can be reached at abarr@mgallp.com. To learn more about how to get started investing with a self-directed IRA, schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with an IRA Specialist by clicking HERE.

The Best Alternative Investments That You’ve Never Heard Of

After years of diminishing returns on the stock market, more and more financially savvy people are looking towards alternative investments. But what are alternative investments?

Strictly speaking, these are any investment assets which fall outside of the scope of “traditional” investments such as stocks and bonds. They benefit from being less restricted, allowing investors to choose what, when, and how they invest.

By 2023, it is estimated that the alternative investments market will hit a whopping $14 trillion in size, as more and more people seek to avoid the restraints and disappointing returns of conventional investments.

If you’re looking to invest outside the box, here is a list of alternative investments that you absolutely need to consider in 2020. 

1. Venture Capital 

One of the most popular options for alternative investment funds in 2020 is venture capital or VC. This is essentially when you use your money to invest in a growing company that has long-term potential.

By providing venture capital to a company, you stand to profit from the future growth of that company. This is why Silicon Valley is the world’s epicenter for VC funding, owing to the high number of “unicorn” startups that are based there. 

2. Real Estate

By some measures, real estate is the most popular asset class in the world. In times of market turmoil, real estate has historically proven to be a sound investment. With the right knowledge of high-growth real estate markets, you could yield considerable returns by investing in real estate.

To do so, you could switch out your traditional IRA with a Self-Directed IRA, which removes the restrictions placed on traditional IRAs to allow you to invest in real estate for your retirement. Alternative real estate investment comes in all shapes and sizes, so do your research before committing. 

3. Commodities 

The commodities market is vast and incredibly diverse. This means that you should always consult commodities experts before you consider dipping your toe into this oftentimes volatile market.

Popular commodities include oil, gold, coffee, and steel, and are usually traded on futures markets. If you play your cards right and open a commodities contract at the right time, you could make a substantial profit. 

4. Private Equity 

Private equity is a cornerstone of alternative investment management. In a nutshell, this involves investing in companies that are not publicly traded. This is usually about playing the long game, as you will have to wait for the private equity fund you have invested in to sell your holdings, either as part of an IPO or as a merger or takeover. This can easily take several years, but the returns can be substantial. 

Self-Directed IRA: A Vehicle for Alternative Investments 

No matter what kind of alternative investments appeal to you, it is important to have access to the funding vehicles that actually allow you to make those investments. One effective way to do this is with a self-directed IRA.

Traditional IRAs have strict limitations on how the money in it can be invested. However, a self-directed IRA gives you the power to control how you invest in your future. To learn more about how to get started investing with a self-directed IRA, schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with an IRA Specialist by clicking HERE.

How Real Estate Syndication Works

Real estate syndication is a strategy that investors can use to pool their resources and invest in large real estate projects. 

If you’re looking to invest in large real estate projects but don’t have the funds to get a project started on your own, syndication is a great strategy that you can use to get your foot in the door. 

Here’s what you need to know about real estate syndication:

What is real estate syndication?

Syndication is the process of pooling resources with other investors to invest in a large property or real estate project, such as an apartment complex or a commercial retail development. 

Syndication is not only the process of pooling financial resources, but also intellectual resources in order to make smart decisions about the properties you invest in. In a syndicated relationship, one party invests the money, while another party invests time and labor to find the property and run the day to day operations. 

The party investing the labor in the property is called the sponsor. Sponsors still invest some money, but the amount is much lower than what the investors put in. However, they still get a fair share of the profit. Syndicated partnerships are usually structured as an LLC.

Why get involved in real estate syndication?

Syndication has become much easier in recent years, as investors and sponsors can easily connect online. Crowdfunding has made real estate syndication much more accessible for the average person, because you can contribute relatively small amounts of money to a real estate project that is interesting to you, and reap the benefits accordingly. 

If you have a property that you are interested in, syndication is one of the best ways to get the project off the ground quickly. 

Real estate is a great investment, as it can serve as an excellent source of passive income for a very long time, and doesn’t fluctuate financially the same way that many other types of investments do.

Interested in real estate investing? Talk to the expert team at Quest Trust Company. Quest offers flexible investment account options designed to meet the needs of modern investors.

Steps to set up a solo 401k

Image Credit: http://taxcredits.net/

401k accounts are retirement accounts that are set up and managed by your employer. However, if you are a freelancer or entrepreneur that runs your own business, you may want to set up a 401k just for yourself. 

Many people don’t realize they have this option, but it’s a great way to build up your savings for retirement. Setting up a solo 401k can be tricky at first – here are the basic steps to get started.

Choose a 401k provider

The first step to opening a solo 401k is choosing a provider. Many financial institutions offer solo 401ks to their customers, so they’re fairly easy to find. There are several things to take into account when choosing a 401k provider, but the most important factors are fees and investment options. 

You’ll want to make sure your provider has investment options you like, and that you have enough flexibility when putting your plan together. You should also look for a provider with low fees, as high transaction fees can really add up.

Fill out your application

Once you’ve decided on a provider, you’ll need to work with them to fill out your paperwork and get the account set up. 

You’ll need to fill out your employer kit with a plan adoption agreement for a solo 401k. These are complex and can be confusing to fill out on your own, which is why it’s so important to have a provider you trust walk you through them. 

You will also need to prepare your employee disclosures about your business to send to the IRS for tax purposes.

Open your account

Once you have all of your paperwork filled out, you can set up an account and make contributions as you see fit. Since you are both employer and employee, you can make one sum contribution instead of worrying about employer matching.

When you’re setting up a retirement account, it’s important to make sure you’re working with a reputable financial institution you can trust. 

Quest Trust Company offers an individual 401k as well as many other retirement savings options, including self-directed IRA and Roth IRA accounts. We offer truly self-directed investment options as well as fast processing times and low fees. Contact a financial expert at Quest Trust Company today to set up your account.

How is an IRA Taxed?

No matter what type of IRA you choose, you will eventually pay taxes on it. The question becomes, do you want to pay taxes up front or on the back-end at retirement? If you would rather pay taxes now (for example: you think your tax rate will be lower now than in the future), then a Roth IRA is the way to go. There are income restrictions for qualifying for a Roth, however you can get around this by rolling over funds from a Traditional into a Roth account. If you would rather pay taxes on your distributions upon retirement and enjoy a tax write-off now, then Traditional IRAs are right up your alley. This, of course, is the most simplified explanation. And we all know taxes are a bit more complicated when further investigated.

How Are Roth IRAs Taxed?

With Roth IRAs you don’t get a tax write-off when you make contributions, and you will owe taxes on your contributions based on your income and tax bracket at the time of the contribution. If you qualify for the Saver’s Credit, the amount you owe in taxes may be reduced.

One of the greatest benefits of a Roth IRA is that you do get to pull funds out tax-free under the right conditions. As long as a Roth IRA has been open for 5 years or you are over 59 ½, whichever comes later, you can take distributions on your earnings tax-free. Qualified home purchases and disability requirements also qualify for tax-free status.

If you haven’t had the account for at least 5 years or haven’t reached age 59 ½ yet, you may have to pay a penalty in addition to tax on certain distributions. Distributions on contributions are always penalty free, but not always tax free. Distributions on earnings may be subject to both tax and penalty depending on the circumstances. To learn more about Roth IRA withdrawals, click here.

How Are Traditional IRAs Taxed?

With Traditional IRAs, you can write off your yearly contributions if you meet certain income requirements, but you will owe taxes upon distribution at retirement based on your tax bracket at the time. Traditional IRAs require savers to start taking minimum distributions at age 72 that are based on how much is in the account and your age.

You may also be taxed and fined on Traditional IRA distributions if you withdraw funds before age 59 ½. Just like with Roth IRAs, there are extreme exceptions to this rule. However, one should consider all of the costs, including loss of compounded interest and taxes, before withdrawing early.

To pay taxes required on any qualifying distributions, you will just need to include your contributions and distributions on your yearly tax filing paperwork and use this to figure the amount owed. A tax professional can help you through the process if you are unsure.

One last note on retirement account taxes: You can make a distribution that moves you into a higher tax bracket. If it’s an RMD for a Traditional IRA, you may not have a choice. However, you may want to perform some calculations first to ensure you’re not paying more in taxes than you need to. Always consult your financial advisor before taking any out-of-the-norm distributions.

Tips for Investing Out of State

With an investment like real estate, sometimes it makes more sense to take your money to a different state. Whether the market is slow, stagnant, or just not good in your area, many other places around the country are experiencing amazing growth that’s predicted to last a while. Those who get in on the action now can reap major rewards in just a few short years. Most of us can’t afford two mortgages to make this happen, but we do have available retirement funds at our disposal. Conventional IRAs don’t allow for real estate investments, but Self-Directed IRAs do. Like any investment, real estate investments take education, research, and analysis to increase your chances of coming out ahead. Learn more about how to wisely invest in out-of-state opportunities below.

Learn the Local Laws

Before investing out of state, it’s best to research and understand the local laws pertaining to your investment. If you are planning on investing in a rental property, you may want to check out the tenant-landlord laws in that state. What does the evection process look like and when are tenants liable for damages? Establishing a relationship with a real estate lawyer in that state is also a good idea in the event you need one or have a legal question about your property.

Complete a Market Analysis

Obviously, you will want to investigate the area and understand what the market projections look like in the next five and ten years, or however long you are planning on keeping the investment. Look for previous pricing patterns and learn what new businesses could be driving in jobs for particular areas. What are some of the economic decisions being voted on in the next election and how will they impact your investment? There are dozens of factors at play when it comes to real estate investments, and it’s important to understand most, if not all of them before jumping in. Learn more about Real Estate IRA Rules here.

Narrow Down Your Options

Once you’ve decided on a general area of where to invest, it’s time to choose a specific neighborhood or property. What types of renters does the neighborhood attract? Low income neighborhoods may score you a great deal at first but are more at risk for missed rents or vandalism. Check crime rate statistics and understand how quickly rental properties find qualified tenants in the area. Rural renting can sometimes prove more difficult, which means lost income potential for you.

Analyze Each Property

Just like inspecting your own home before purchasing, you will want to complete a full inspection of your investment as well. Will it need a lot of repairs before any income can be generated from the property? How long will repairs take? Besides initial repairs, it’s also important to be aware of future repairs. How old is the HVAC and water heater? What shape is the roof in and what is the seasonal weather like in the area? Don’t forget to calculate taxes, insurance, and property management costs into the equation as well.

Assemble a Trustworthy Team

Being out of state can be a hinderance when there are emergencies to handle. Having a trustworthy team on the ground can ease your anxieties but will also add to the expense of the investment. Some crucial players you will want to consider for your dream team are real estate attorneys, property managers, contractors, inspectors, insurance providers, and CPAs. Remember, you are essentially hiring them to work for you, so don’t take these decisions lightly. After all, your retirement funds are at stake!

Investing in real estate with a Self-Directed IRA is an exciting adventure no matter where you are. These tips will help you make a smart choice when it comes to choosing the right investment.

Stay Away from These “Self-Dealing” Investments in Your Self-Directed IRA

Self-Dealing” InvestmentsSelf-directed IRAs give you the widest possible range of investment options compared to other tax-advantaged retirement accounts. As compared to an IRA with a traditional custodian, a self-directed IRA with a custodian such as Quest Trust Company allows you to invest in assets such as real estate, private loans, private equity, and precious metals.

As compared to a 401(k), the increased choices you’ll have with a self-directed IRA are even more pronounced. Employer-sponsored 401(k) plans are generally quite limited in terms of investment choice, and you can’t invest in publicly traded stocks or even mutual funds that aren’t offered by the 401(k) plan sponsor.

But this doesn’t mean you have unlimited freedom with investments in your self-directed IRA. For example, you can’t use funds from your account to buy life insurance policies, invest in artwork, or invest in collectible coins. And perhaps more importantly, you can’t use the funds in a self-directed IRA to engage in any transaction that would be considered “self-dealing.”

“Self-dealing” is considered by the IRS to be making any investment that provides a current benefit to the account holder, or engaging in any business or transaction with a “disqualified person” (which include family members such as your parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren or spouse, as well as any corporation, partnership or other legal entity in which the account holder has a controlling interest).

The notion of a current benefit to the account holder is construed broadly. For example, you can purchase real estate with a self-directed IRA, but you can’t engage in any personal use of that property yourself, nor can any disqualified person. This type of use would constitute self-dealing even if you (or the disqualified person) pays fair market value for the rental use of the property.

By the same token, when you make an investment with your self-directed IRA, the asset or investment property you purchase cannot be something that you already own. So if you currently own a piece of real estate as a taxable investment, you can’t sell that property to your self-directed IRA, even if you’re IRA pays fair market value for it. Nor can your account to purchase the property if it’s owned by a disqualified person.

Staying aware of the prohibition on self-dealing with a self-directed IRA is important, because the penalties for noncompliance can be significant. Engaging in such transactions could put the entire set of tax advantages of your account at risk, such that it would no longer be considered a self-directed IRA.

Furthermore, engaging himself dealing could potentially result in the IRS declaring that you have been deemed to take a distribution of the relevant assets from your account. For example, personal use of a vacation home held by your self-directed IRA might lead to that property being forcibly distributed to you individually. If this occurs when you are not yet in retirement, this could trigger a significant current tax liability (depending on the age of your account and whether it is set up as a traditional or Roth account), as well as a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the phone.