How to Maximize the Growth of Your Investment IRA

When starting to plan for retirement, it’s important to start looking into tools that will help make the financial transition into retirement go as smooth as possible. Most people who are looking into ways that they can simplify the retirement process usually turn to an Individual Retirement Account. These are accounts that can have annual contributions, which can be tax deductible. Investments are only taxed when they are withdrawn from the account, but they are taxed in the same way that a regular income is taxed. There are certainly ways that people can get more out of an IRA account, which we will explain below.

The Earlier, The Better

IRAs grow when money is compounded. Investments can usually create more returns by reinvesting. If you give your money more of a chance to go through the cycle of compounding, the better chances of success for your IRA will be. This will allow your money to go through the compounding cycle without the impact of taxes taking over. Read more about this topic in our post How to Save for Retirement in Your 20s, 40s, and 60s.

Don’t Wait Until Tax Day to Contribute

\Waiting until tax day is not a good idea. A lot of people who have IRAs only make contributions to their accounts when their taxes are done. Doing this denies the chance for your IRA to grow as much as possible over the course of the year. A contribution at the beginning of the year gives the IRA a longer time to compound. Instead of making one big contribution, experts recommend putting a small portion of your money into your account throughout the year because it will benefit you most in the future

Specialize by Using your IRA

It’s crucial to set investment goals. Having investment goals will help determine what goes into your account. Experts recommend funds that are trade exchanged because they have low expenses and the other fees aren’t as much as other accounts have proven to be if you’re looking into basic retirement plans. More advanced retirement plans have distribution across many different accounts based on the taxation, also known as an asset location. Bonds that earn an income should be invested into IRAs and other financial gains and assets should be put into accounts that can be taxed.

Not every strategy for stocks is something that can be considered beneficial. It doesn’t just depend on how much you get taxed from each account, but you also have to consider what your personal situation is at the time of investment and how much you are anticipating getting back from your investment. Assets that are considered inefficient are in favor of getting put into an IRA, but other funds, like index funds, should be put into an account that can be taxable. Lower-return funds don’t have a specific end location; they can go anywhere.

IRAs can also be used for way more than what you would expect. People often find themselves investing in many different specialized funds, such as foreign equities, real estate, or investments in stocks that are considered to be small-cap stocks. Speak to your financial advisor about the best course of action for you.

Possible Advantages Of Having More Than One Self-Directed IRA

You’ll often hear the financial advice that you can save time and money by rolling over your various IRAs and 401(k)s from previous employers into a single self-directed IRA. Doing so can help you better manage your retirement nest egg, potentially save on expenses, and provide you with the opportunity to invest in high-priced assets.

And there’s certainly a great deal of truth to that advice. It can often seem difficult to stay completely on top of a single retirement account, let alone multiple accounts.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t circumstances in which you can gain an advantage for yourself by having multiple self-directed IRAs. Let’s take a look at some of those potential advantages.

Better Management of Individual Assets

Because having a self-directed IRA with a custodian such as Quest Trust Company permits you to invest in unique individual assets such as real estate and private equity and debt instruments, there may be instances where you want to hold such assets in a separate account.

For example, if you own a multi-family apartment complex in a self-directed IRA, it might be easier to monitor or evaluate investment performance of that asset if there are no other holdings in the account. After all, consider how the income and expenses for this type of investment, as well as your management obligations, is likely to be significantly more complicated than holding a simple stock investment.

One Roth Self-Directed IRA and One Traditional Self-Directed IRA

Individuals who have variable levels of income from year to year, including those who frequently change jobs, may find themselves able to make deductible contributions to a traditional self-directed IRA in some years, while being ineligible to make such deductible contributions in other years.

These non-deductible contributions could certainly be made to the individual’s traditional self-directed IRA, but a better approach might be to set up a separate Roth self-directed IRA in order to receive those contributions. Because a Roth self-directed IRA has unique advantages over traditional accounts, you may wish to know of these advantages yourself while still having the potential to make deductible contributions to a traditional account.

Further Advantages of a Roth Self-Directed IRA

Having a separate Roth self-directed IRA as well as a traditional account can help you better achieve your various long-term financial goals better than simply having a single IRA. For example, a Roth self-directed IRA is not subject to the IRS rules on required minimum distributions, so if you have two accounts – one Roth account and one traditional cash account – you can use the traditional account to fund your living expenses once you reach retirement, while continuing to let your Roth account grow on a tax-free basis for as long as you choose.

Furthermore, Roth accounts provide a greater level of flexibility when it comes to estate planning, and some individuals use their Roth accounts as a quick and easy way to ensure their loved ones are taken care of after they pass.

Ultimately the decision of whether to have more than one self-directed IRA will depend on your particular financial situation. But many individuals have found that it can be quite valuable.

Do Annuities Have A Place In Your Self-Directed IRA?

Self-directed IRAs are perhaps the most flexible way to save for retirement while still having the opportunity to gain significant tax advantages. There are a wide range of investment options available (including real estate, precious metals, certain oil and gas development interests, private equity and debt instruments, and even private mortgages), all in an account that offers tax-deferred or tax-free growth, and may even offer the opportunity to take a current year deduction for your account contribution.

Because of concerns about income investment yields, some self-directed IRA account owners have begun thinking about purchasing annuities with their self-directed IRA. Let’s take a closer look at whether that type of investment might be right for your account.

What Are Annuities?
Let’s first take a few moments to discuss the structure and key elements of annuities. An annuity is essentially a contract between you and an insurance company, whereby you pay a lump sum of money to the insurance company and they promise to pay you a monthly benefit in return. It can be helpful (although a bit of an oversimplification) to think of purchasing an annuity as similar to purchasing a pension benefit.

Different Types of Annuities
At the outset, it’s important to understand that there are two basic types of annuities; immediate and deferred. Immediate annuities begin to provide you with a monthly benefit immediately after you purchase it, while a deferred annuity will invest your money for you until a point in the future where you begin receiving income payments (which typically occurs during retirement).

But the distinction between deferred and immediate annuities only generally describes the many variations of annuities that are out there. For example, the benefit term for an annuity can be the life of the person who purchases it, or their life plus the life of their spouse, or their life plus a guaranteed term (so that a beneficiary would continue to receive income if the annuity holder dies before the expiration of that guaranteed term).

Suitability to Purchase With a Self-Directed IRA
If you are concerned about being able to count upon a minimum level of income for you and your spouse during retirement, then an immediate annuity might be the perfect solution if you’re at or very close to retirement age. Certain annuities even provide an annual increase in your benefit to help you keep up with inflation. An immediate annuity might also be structured to help you meet your required minimum distribution obligations if you have a traditional self-directed IRA.

On the other hand, purchasing a deferred annuity when you’re relatively young might not be a good investment because you’re essentially locking investment opportunity down to a low investment return.
In short, the answer to the question “do annuities have a place in my self-directed IRA?” is “maybe.” Depending on your needs, the size of your retirement savings, as well as your current age, there may very well be an annuity product that’s a good fit.

Furthermore, the insurance industry is constantly trying to create new products to make sure that everyone’s needs are met, so if there’s not currently an annuity on the market that makes sense for you, there might be one within the next several years.

Self Directed IRA Myths – Groom Law Group

Written by Richard Matta of Groom Law Group

A search of the internet quickly reveals that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites promoting one of the hottest financial concepts – the so-called “self-directed individual retirement account.” These range from sites offering simple “hands off” custody and recordkeeping services, to traditional broker-dealers marketing trading accounts, to promoters of “how to” books, to what amount to little more than modern-day snake-oil sales pitches. Similarly, bookstore shelves are lined with guides to building IRA wealth through nontraditional investments.

Many of these products are quite legitimate, and the sponsors work hard to provide meaningful information to help accountholders distinguish between legally acceptable investment practices and activities that may result in unfavorable tax consequences or, worse, complete loss of the tax-advantaged IRA status. Sometimes it is simply impossible to cover a subject in a comprehensive manner, and the materials warn accountholders to hire knowledgeable counsel. Nonetheless, in the opinion of the author, most of these materials perpetuate certain myths – even among the lawyers – that range from merely incomplete to outright wrong.

Why? In part, because neither the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) – which has jurisdiction over IRAs themselves – nor the Department of Labor (“DOL”) – which has jurisdiction over prohibited transactions – has in the past devoted significant resources to IRA issues, nor have the two agencies devoted much effort to coordinating their views. Thus, while a great deal of learning has developed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”), in connection with qualified retirement plans, in many cases this information has not carried over to IRAs. Until the last few years, most IRAs were small, and were marketed as “retail” products by different channels (and sometimes different financial institutions entirely) from those that dealt with the “institutional” ERISA market.

What are some of these myths? Mainly, they are concepts that have arisen in connection with the establishment of a limited liability company (“LLC”) as a wholly-owned subsidiary of an IRA, for the purpose of making non-traditional investments – what are often called “alternative investments” on the institutional side – i.e., things other than traditional mutual funds, stocks and bonds such as venture capital, real estate, derivatives and the like. These myths include the following, all taken verbatim from various self-directed IRA websites:

There appears to be no question that funding the LLC after the IRA’s initial purchase of shares constitutes a prohibited transaction because the LLC becomes a disqualified entity after funding

Comment: As discussed below, we believe this is simply wrong.

“Once the LLC is funded, you no longer need the custodian to write the checks. The LLC can write its own checks, and since you’re the manager, you have control

Comment: Though this may be the right answer, the author has not seen a single IRS ruling that confirms this is correct in the case of an LLC owned 100% by an IRA. (Where the IRA owns less than 100%, the authorities are somewhat clearer.) The Swanson case, discussed below, emphatically does not support this conclusion. There are good legal reasons why this may be false.

If you and your brother had a company and you owned 49.5%, then your IRA could buy, sell or loan to it without penalty.”

Comment: Wrong – this is a highly risky proposition. Ironically, the DOL advisory opinion most frequently cited as support for the proposition that this is not prohibited actually says that a prohibited transaction is likely to result.

Can I make a loan to my brother, aunt, cousin or stepchild so that they can use the money as a down payment on a home? Yes. According to IRC 4975, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousin and “step relations” are not included in the definition of disqualified persons. Thus any dealings between your IRA and these would not be a prohibited transaction.” (A variation on this is that you can hire your brother to manage real estate owned by your IRA, and pay him a salary with IRA assets.)

Comment: Also wrong. This is related to the prior question about a company owned by the accountholder and his/her brother, and the answer is the same – it very well  could be a prohibited transaction. Getting it wrong means loss of the IRA’s tax exempt status.

Each of these myths is discussed in more detail below.

Several of these concepts derive from Swanson v. Commissioner, 106 T.C. 76 (1996), cited by at least one IRA custodian as a “landmark” decision around which “an entire industry has been built” but which, in the opinion of the author, was much ado about nothing. The IRS raised the wrong arguments and failed to raise the right ones, and the tax court appears to have arrived at the “right” answer only by accident, via a nearly incomprehensible analysis. As discussed below, one key “holding” of the court was not a holding at all, and is also inconsistent with later authorities. Swanson is a weak foundation on which to rest a multi-billion dollar industry.

Myth No. 1: An entity 50% or more owned by an IRA is a disqualified person

The issue here at first blush appears to be rather straightforward. According to the tax court in Swanson (or as best we can understand the court’s reasoning):

Step 1. The IRA accountholder in that case was a fiduciary with respect to his own IRA. As a fiduciary, he was a “disqualified person” with respect to the IRA.

Step 2. The accountholder was also a “beneficiary” of the IRA. As such, he was deemed “beneficially” to own the shares of a corporation that was owned 100% by his IRA.

Step 3. Under the attribution rules of Code section 4975, any corporation owned 50% or more by a disqualified person (directly or indirectly) is also a disqualified person.

Consequently, once the IRA acquired 50% or more of the corporation, any subsequent dealings between the IRA and the corporation would be a prohibited transaction. Straightforward, yes, but erroneous. The court’s analysis rests upon the following constructive ownership rule:

Stock owned, directly or indirectly, by or for a corporation, partnership, estate, or trust shall be considered as being owned proportionately by or for its shareholders, partners, or beneficiaries….

Swanson, 106 T.C. at 86, n. 15 (quoting Code section 267(c)(1)). Because the IRA was a trust, this means that the accountholder, as the trust’s sole beneficiary, was deemed constructively to own stock of any corporation held by his IRA. So far, so good. However, being a beneficiary alone did not make the accountholder a “disqualified person,” and neither would it make the corporation a disqualified person. Rather, the court found the accountholder was a disqualified person because he was a “fiduciary” with respect to his IRA. However – and this is an important but rather subtle point – a fiduciary acting only as such is not a disqualified person. A fiduciary is only a disqualified person when acting in his own interest, or in the interest of other persons, i.e. , “outside” the IRA.

This conclusion was spelled out rather plainly by the Department of Labor only one year after Swanson. And it is the DOL, not the IRS, that has primary jurisdiction to interpret these rules. Specifically, in 1997 DOL issued an advisory opinion to the Financial Institutions Retirement Fund regarding its holding of the stock of a wholly owned corporation named “Pentegra.” DOL Adv. Op. No. 97-23A (Sept. 26, 1997). The plan capitalized Pentegra with $400,000 in exchange for 100% of its stock. The plan’s trustees requested an advisory opinion that subsequent transactions between the plan and Pentegra would not be prohibited transactions. The concern was that because the trustees as plan fiduciaries held legal title to the Pentegra stock, 50% or more of Pentegra’s stock would be deemed “owned” by the trustees, causing Pentegra to become a party in interest and disqualified person with respect to the plan, under the exact same theory that was applied by the court in Swanson. DOL concluded that such ownership would not make Pentegra a party in interest (under ERISA) or disqualified person (under the Code):

Although, pursuant to ERISA section 3(14)(G), plan fiduciaries would hold all the value of Pentegra stock, they would hold such shares on behalf of the plan, not on behalf of themselves or a third party. As explained below, it is the opinion of the Department that, under the circumstances described, such transactions would not be prohibited because, under the terms of the “plan assets/plan investments” regulation (29 C.F.R. 2510.3-101), they would be treated as “intra-plan” transactions rather than transactions between a plan and a party in interest.

It is true that the Pentegra advisory opinion only addressed a 100% owned subsidiary (as did the Swanson case). However, nothing in the opinion suggested that it would not also apply where a plan owns 50% or more, but less than 100%, of the subsidiary entity (the 1980 DOL advisory opinion addressed a single fiduciary owning 100%, but on behalf of multiple plans). However, any remaining doubt was dispelled in a later opinion issued on behalf of Verizon Investment Management Corp. Adv. Op. No. 2003-15A (Nov. 17, 2003). In that case, Verizon set up an investment vehicle for various Verizon plans as well as plans of unaffiliated companies. The Verizon Master Trust, through its bank trustee (a fiduciary), owned more than 50% (but less than 100%) of the fund. Verizon sought confirmation that this ownership would not cause the fund to become a party in interest or disqualified person with respect to the Verizon plans. In confirming this conclusion, DOL noted that:

Consistent with section 3(14) of ERISA, a plan’s ownership of fifty percent or more of a partnership entity will not cause that partnership to become a party in interest with respect to that investing plan. In our view, the application of section 3(14)(G) should not change that result merely because a plan’s interests in a partnership are held by a fiduciary on behalf of the plan. Although [bank fiduciary] would hold more than fifty percent of the value of the [partnership] interests, it would hold such interests on behalf of the Verizon Plans, not on behalf of itself or a third party. As a result, it is the view of the Department that the [partnership] will not be a party in interest with respect to the Verizon Plans. Therefore, transactions between the Verizon Plans and the [partnership], including initial and subsequent contributions to the [partnership] by the Verizon Plans and distributions from the [partnership] to the Verizon Plans, would not be prohibited under section 406(a) of ERISA.

[Emphasis added.] Although the DOL cited only the relevant sections of ERISA, they noted in a footnote that this conclusion also extended to the parallel sections of Code section 4975, and thus it is directly applicable to LLCs or other entities owned by IRAs.

Myth No. 2: Putting your IRA assets into an LLC gives you “checkbook control.”

 Scores of websites tout the “Checkbook IRA LLC” or variations thereon as allowing the accountholder to take control of his or her IRA assets away from the custodian. Under this theory, the IRA accountholder directs the custodian to purchase “shares” (units) of the LLC, opens up a checking account in the name of the LLC, and thereafter simply signs the LLC’s checks without any participation of the custodian.

There are valid legal arguments why this might work if the IRA owns less than 100% of the shares of the LLC (which is a different and more complicated concept), but does it work where the IRA is the sole owner of the LLC? The answer is far from clear. IRS regulations state that an individual retirement account “must be a trust or custodial account” whose assets are “held by a bank” or by an approved non-bank custodian. Proponents of the LLC structure apparently argue that the “assets” of the IRA in this instance are simply the shares of the LLC (which are held by a bank), and that any checking account set up by the LLC belongs to the LLC, not the IRA. This is absolutely true under state law (and has important ramifications in terms of limited liability and asset protection.). But it does not follow that the IRS would agree for tax purposes. In fact, there are good reasons why it may not agree.

A similar issue arises under ERISA, and it is helpful to begin there. Under ERISA, assets of a retirement plan also must be held in trust. DOL has adopted “plan assets” regulations that determine under what circumstances you “look through” an entity (such as an LLC) to determine that its assets are deemed to be assets of a plan. These rules also apply to IRAs. In this case, the rules indicate that when a plan (including an IRA) owns 100% of the shares of an LLC, the LLC’s assets always are deemed to be assets of the plan (they may also sometimes be plan assets even if the plan owns less than 100%). Back to the trust rules – other ERISA regulations expressly state that in the case of a “plan assets” entity such as an LLC, assets held by the LLC (such as a checking account) are exempt from ERISA’s trust requirement.

The IRS has not adopted a similar exemption from the IRA trust/custody requirements. Nonetheless, most practitioners assume that the IRS would apply a similar analysis to IRA investments in plan assets vehicles, and there is certainly evidence that they have not challenged such investments in pooled plan assets funds (hedge funds, for instance).

However, there is a different reason to ask if the IRS would allow checkbook control in the case of a 100% owned LLC. The reason is simple – a single-member LLC that does not elect to be taxed as a corporation 5 is a “disregarded entity” for tax purposes. According to the IRS:

A disregarded entity is [one] that is treated as an entity not separate from its single owner. Its separate existence will be ignored for federal tax purposes unless it elects corporate tax treatment. In other words, for federal tax purposes – and we see no reason why this does not extend to the IRA custody rules – an IRA-owned LLC does not exist. Accordingly, in the eyes of the IRS, assets held in the name of the LLC are no different from any other assets of the IRA, and arguably remain subject to the IRA bank custody requirements.

What is the risk? In theory, the IRS could argue that “checkbook LLC” assets that are controlled by the IRA accountholder have been constructively distributed and are subject to immediate taxation.

Myth No. 3: So long as you own less than 50% of an LLC, you are not prohibited from transacting business between the LLC and your IRA 

In a 1988 advisory opinion, the DOL was asked whether a loan from an IRA to a corporation owned approximately 47% by the IRA accountholder would be a prohibited “lending of money or other extension of credit” under Code section 4975(c)(1)(B). Applying (correctly) the reasoning discussed above under Myth No. 1, the DOL concluded that the IRA accountholder was a “fiduciary” with respect to the IRA, and thus a disqualified person. However, DOL further acknowledged that the corporation was not a disqualified person because the accountholder owned (in his personal, rather than fiduciary, capacity) less than 50% of the corporation’s stock. Accordingly, DOL agreed that the loan was not a prohibited transaction under section 4975(c)(1)(B).

Citing this opinion, more than one website suggests that so long as you keep your ownership in an entity below 50%, you are free to transact business between the entity and your IRA.

However, although it is correct that the transaction was not a prohibited loan, it does not follow that it was not otherwise a prohibited transaction. To the contrary, the last paragraph of the advisory opinion reaches the opposite conclusion:

Accordingly, a prohibited use of plan assets for the benefit of a disqualified person under section 4975(c)(1)(D) or an act of selfdealing under section 4975(c)(1)(E) is likely to result if [the accountholder] directs the IRA to loan funds to the Corporation. [Emphasis added] It is not entirely obvious why DOL was not a bit clearer in pointing out that the applicant did not ask exactly the right question. One possible answer is that while the existence of a prohibited loan essentially is per se a prohibited transaction, whether a transaction involves a “use” of plan assets or “self-dealing” involves an element of subjective intent. However, if you caused your IRA to lend money (or buy, sell or lease assets, or pay fees) to a business in which you have any substantial interest, it is hard to imagine that it is not your intent to derive a personal benefit from the transaction. (Or at least it would be hard to prove.)

In a 2004 decision, the Tax Court concluded that a taxpayer engaged in a prohibited “use” of 401(k) plan assets when he cause the plan to loan money to three entities in which he owned minority interests (roughly 25 to 33%). Rollins v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2004-260 (Nov. 15, 2004). In a 1987 decision, the Second Circuit found (among other things) that the investment of a plan’s assets in a company in which two plan fiduciaries collectively owned approximately 11% (one was also president of the company) was an act of self-dealing. Lowen v. Tower Asset Management, Inc., 829 F.2d 1209 (2d Cir. 1987).

Can these cases be reconciled with Swanson, where the taxpayer caused a corporation he owned “outside” his IRA to pay commissions to a corporation owned by his IRA? Perhaps – one possible difference is that in Swanson the flow of funds was from the taxpayer’s personal account to his IRA, not the other way around. However, we may never know, as it is not clear that either the IRS or the court examined the underlying commission payments in that case except for unrelated business income tax purposes.

Myth No. 4: You are free to loan your IRA assets (sell or buy assets, etc.) to anyone so long as that person is not a disqualified person

 This is a variation on Myth No. 3. The idea seems straightforward enough: if a family member (or corporation, or LLC, etc.) is not a disqualified person, then it is not a prohibited transaction to use your IRA assets to loan money to, or buy property from, or pay a salary to, such person. True, the absence of a disqualified person means that there is no transaction “with” a disqualified person. But, the transaction can also involve “self-dealing,” which is a separate prohibited transaction.

How can it be self-dealing if the benefit flows not to me personally, but to my brother? Because the definition of self-dealing is far broader than is commonly understood. Code section 4975(c)(1)(E) provides that self-dealing means any “act by a disqualified person who is a fiduciary whereby he deals with the income or assets of a plan in his own interest or for his own account .” [Emphasis added.] Regulations adopted pursuant to this rule note that:

These prohibitions [against self-dealing and kickbacks] are imposed upon fiduciaries [such as self-directed IRA accountholders] to deter them from exercising the authority, control or responsibility which makes such persons fiduciaries when they have interests which may conflict with the interests of the plans for which they act. In such cases, the fiduciaries have  interests in the transactions which may affect the exercise of their best judgment as fiduciaries. Thus, a person may not use the authority, control or responsibility which makes such person a fiduciary to cause a plan to pay an additional fee to such person (or to a person in which such fiduciary has an interest which may affect the exercise of such fiduciary’s best judgment as a fiduciary) to provide a service.

Treas. Reg. § 54.4975-6(a)(5). This regulation goes on to say that:

A person in which a fiduciary has an interest which may affect the exercise of such person’s best judgment as a fiduciary includes, for example, a person who is a disqualified person by reason of a relationship with such fiduciary described in section 4975(e)(2)(E), (F), (G), (H), or (I). [That is, certain disqualified persons such as family members and certain businesses in which the person is an owner, officer, director, etc.]

However, the mere fact that a family member or business enterprise is not a disqualified person does not mean that the accountholder does not have an interest in the person that may affect his/her best judgment as a fiduciary. The regulation clearly states that disqualified persons (including certain family members) are examples of persons in which you have an interest that may affect your judgment as a fiduciary. It does not follow that you do not have an interest in your brother, aunt, step-child, etc. DOL in one situation suggested that owning as little as 1.8% of a business was at least relevant to the question of whether a fiduciary had an impermissible interest. At best, some practitioners have suggested that the above regulation might shift the burden of proof from you (to prove you have no interest in a person) to the government (to prove that you do) – it is neither a bright line nor a safe harbor.

If I did make a loan to my brother, how could I prove that I did not have an impermissible personal interest in doing so? Perhaps I could demonstrate that that it was in the best interest of my IRA to make the loan, because he was a good credit risk and had other lenders lined up to make the same loan, or because he agreed to pay a higher-than-market rate of interest and provided excellent collateral. But, is it worth the risk, which could entail loss of the IRA’s tax exemption?

***

 Mr. Matta is a Principal with the Groom Law Group, Chartered. However, the views expressed herein are the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of his firm. The statements contained herein should not be considered legal advice and should not be relied upon by anyone without seeking advice of their own counsel. To comply with U.S. Treasury Regulations, we also inform you that, unless expressly stated otherwise, any tax advice contained in this memorandum is not intended to be used and cannot be used by any taxpayer to avoid penalties under the Internal Revenue Code, and such advice cannot be quoted or referenced to promote or market to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this memorandum.

 

Six Widely Held Untruths About Self Directed IRAs

By H. Quincy Long for Self-Directed Source Blog

There is a lot of confusion over self-directed IRAs and what is and is not possible. In this article we will discuss six of the biggest self-directed IRA myths.

1)      Purchasing anything other than CDs, stocks, mutual funds or annuities is illegal in an IRA.

FALSE! According to the Internal Revenue Code for IRAs, the only disallowed investments are life insurance contracts and in “collectibles”, which are defined by the IRS to include any work of art, any rug or antique, any metal or gem (with certain exceptions for gold, silver, platinum or palladium bullion), any stamp or coin (with certain exceptions for gold, silver, or platinum coins issued by the U.S. or under the laws of any State), any alcoholic beverage, or any other tangible personal property specified by the Secretary of the Treasury (no other property has been specified as of this date).

With so few restrictions contained in the law, almost anything else which can be documented can be purchased in your IRA. A “self-directed” IRA allows any investment not expressly prohibited by law. Common non-traditional investment choices include real estate, both domestic and foreign, options, secured and unsecured notes, including first and second liens against real estate, C corporation stock, precious metals, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, trusts and a whole lot more.

2) Only Roth IRAs can be self-directed.

False. Because of the superior tax-free wealth accumulation in a self-directed Roth IRA, many articles are written on how to use a Roth IRA to invest in non-traditional investments. As a result, it is a surprisingly common misconception that a Roth IRA is the only account that can be self-directed. In fact, there are seven different types of accounts that can be self-directed. They include the 1) Roth IRA, 2) the Traditional IRA, 3) the SEP IRA, 4) the SIMPLE IRA, 5) the Individual 401(k), including the Roth 401(k), 6) the Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA, formerly known as the Education IRA), and 7) the Health Savings Account (HSA). Not only can any of these accounts invest in non-traditional investments as indicated in Myth 1, but they can be combined to purchase a single investment.

3) I don’t qualify for a self-directed Roth or Traditional IRA because I am covered by a retirement plan at work or because I make too much money.

False. Almost anyone can have a self-directed account of some type! Although there are income limits for contributing to a Roth IRA (in 2011 the income limits are $179,000 for a married couple filing jointly and $122,000 for a single person or head of household), having a plan at work does not affect your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, and there is no Roth IRA age limit either. With a Traditional IRA, you or your spouse having a retirement plan at work does affect the deductibility of your contribution, but anyone with earned income who is under age 70 1/2 can contribute to a Traditional IRA. There are no upper income limits for contributing to a Traditional IRA. Also, a Traditional IRA can receive funds from a prior employer’s 401(k) or other qualified plan. Additionally, you may be able to contribute to a Coverdell ESA for your children or grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even my children, if you are so inclined. If you have the right type of health insurance, called a High Deductible Health Plan, you can contribute to an HSA regardless of your income level. With an HSA, you may deduct your contributions to the account and qualified distributions are tax-free forever! It’s the best of both worlds. All of this is in addition to any retirement plan you have at your job or for your self-employed business.

4) If I want to purchase non-traditional investments in an IRA, I must first establish an LLC which will be owned by my IRA.

False. A very popular idea in the marketplace right now is that you can invest your IRA in an LLC where you (the IRA owner) are the manager of the LLC. Effectively you have “checkbook control” of your IRA funds. Providers generally charge thousands of dollars to set up these LLCs and sometimes mislead people into thinking that this is necessary to invest in real estate or other non-traditional investments. This is simply not true. Not only can an IRA hold title to real estate and other non-traditional investments directly with companies such as Entrust Retirement Services, Inc., but having “checkbook control” of your IRA funds through an LLC can lead to many traps for the unwary. Far from protecting your IRA from the prohibited transaction rules, these setups may in fact lead to an inadvertent prohibited transaction, which may cause your IRA to be distributed to you, sometimes with substantial penalties. This is not to say that there are not times when having your IRA make an investment through an LLC is a good idea, especially for asset protection purposes. Nonetheless, you must educate yourself completely as to the rules before deciding on this route. Having a “checkbook control” IRA owned LLC is kind of like skydiving without a parachute – it may be fun on the way down, but eventually you are likely to go SPLAT!

5) Because I have a small IRA and can only contribute $4,000, it’s not worth having a self-directed IRA.

False. Even small accounts can benefit from non-traditional investing. Small accounts can be co-invested with larger accounts owned by you or even others. For example, one recent hard money loan we funded had 10 different accounts participating. The smallest account to participate was for only $1,827.00! There are at least 4 ways you can participate in real estate investment even with a small IRA. First, you can wholesale property.  Simply put the contract in the name of your IRA instead of your name, and have the earnest money come from the IRA. Then, when you assign the contract, the assignment fee goes back into your IRA. Second, you can purchase an option on real estate, which then can be either exercised, assigned to a third party, or canceled for a fee. Third, you can acquire property in your IRA subject to existing financing or using a non-recourse loan from a bank, a hard moneylender, a financial friend or a motivated seller. Realize, however, that profits from debt-financed property in your IRA may incur unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Lastly, as mentioned above, your IRA can partner with other IRA or non-IRA investors.

6) An IRA cannot own a business.

False. A self-directed IRA is an astoundingly flexible wealth building tool, and it can own almost anything, including a business. However, due to the conflict of interest rules you cannot work for a business owned by your IRA and get paid. Some companies have a plan to start a C corporation, adopt a 401(k) plan, roll an IRA into the 401(k) plan and purchase employer securities to effectively start a new business, but this is not a direct investment by the IRA in the business and is fairly expensive to set up. Also, if your IRA owns an interest in a business, either directly or indirectly through a non-taxed entity such as an LLC or partnership, the IRA may owe Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) on its profits from the business. A solution to this problem may be to have the business owned by a C corporation or another taxable entity.

Using Self-Directed IRAs and 401(k)s to Make More Money Now and to Build Your Retirement Wealth for the Future

By H. Quincy Long

Self-directed IRAs and 401(k) plans have been around for more than 25 years, but many people are just now becoming aware of how powerful this idea can be.  There are currently trillions of dollars in retirement plans.  Do you know how to unlock your own retirement funds as well as the retirement funds of those within your circle of influence for real estate related and other non-traditional investments?  Your knowledge of self-directed retirement plans can help make you money now as well as ensuring that you retire in style.

Plans available for self-direction.  A lot of retirement wealth is in traditional IRAs and employer sponsored plans.  If you leave an employer, the funds in the employer plan can be moved into a self-directed traditional IRA.  This includes money rolled over from 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, 457 deferred compensation plans, and the federal thrift savings plan.  Self-employed people may have their own Individual 401(k) plan, which may even include the new Roth 401(k), no matter what their income level.  Other employer sponsored plans which can be self-directed are SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs.

The king of all IRAs when it comes to building tax free wealth is the Roth IRA.  Even if you do not qualify for a Roth IRA due to income limitations currently, in 2010 the income limitation for conversions from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA will be eliminated.  At that point even the very wealthy will be entitled to have a Roth IRA.  This is a great planning opportunity!

How does paying for your child’s education or your health care expenses with tax free income sound?  You can even self-direct a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA), and as long as distributions are for qualified education or health care expenses they are TAX FREE FOREVER.  With an HSA you even get a tax deduction for putting the money in!

Perhaps the best news of all is that you may combine your IRAs and other self-directed plans to make non-traditional investments.  Even better, you can invest your IRAs with other people’s IRAs or even non-IRA money of people you know.  The key element is that you must have your plans administered at a self-directed IRA company like Quest Trust Company, Inc.

Make money now.  We have all heard that knowledge is power.  Your knowledge of self-directed retirement plans can translate into money in your pocket today.  How?  It’s easy!  While it is true that you may not derive a current benefit from your own IRA’s investments, this does not mean that you cannot benefit right now from Other People’s IRAs (OPI).  Simply become knowledgeable about self-directed plans by reading books and attending seminars or workshops, then spread the good news!

Quest has many FREE seminars and workshops to help you and those whose IRAs you want to use to make money for yourself.  There are also numerous books on the market explaining the power of self-directed retirement plans, such as Hubert Bromma’s “Investing in Real Estate With Your IRA and 401(k)” which are selling quickly.  For more information on seminars and workshops in your area, visit the Quest Trust Company website at www.QuestIRA.com.  Even if you don’t have a dime of retirement funds yourself, you can use your knowledge to:

*          Borrow other people’s IRA money to do your deals today

*          Sell real estate, notes or other non-traditional assets to people’s IRAs

*          Make others aware of an opportunity to invest in your business (always be aware of securities laws when raising money)

Anytime you go to a gathering of people, there are most likely millions of dollars available for non-traditional investments in their retirement plans.  It is up to you to let people know about this powerful tool, and how they can take some or all of that anemic money and put it to work in a way that benefits both you and them.  You will look highly intelligent and will inspire confidence with your advanced knowledge.  You owe it to yourself to learn more today.  Quest can help.

Invest your own IRA in what you know best.  With all your knowledge of self-directed IRAs, you will most likely want to invest your own retirement funds in non-traditional investments as well.  What investments do you know the most about?  Almost without exception, you can invest in what you know best with your own IRA.  The law contains very few investment restrictions for retirement plans, but most custodians refuse to allow IRAs to invest in non-traditional investments such as real estate simply because they are not set up to handle them.  Not true with Quest!

Quest self-directed retirement plans are under the same laws as plans at any other custodian or administrator.  We are simply more flexible when it comes to administering non-traditional investments in your IRA or other self-directed plan.  Quest clients have used their retirement plans to purchase all of the following and much more:  real estate, both foreign and domestic, including debt leveraged real estate, real estate options, loans secured by real estate, unsecured loans, limited partnership interests, limited liability company shares, stock in non-publicly traded corporations, land trusts, factored invoices (including factored real estate commissions), tax lien certificates, foreclosure property, joint ventures, oil and gas interests and even race horse colts!  You are limited only by your imagination.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it will not make you wealthy.  Use your knowledge of self-directed IRAs to make money now, to help others build their retirement wealth as well as your own, and to retire in the style and comfort in which you would like to become accustomed.  Contact Quest today!

The Truth About Self-Directed IRAs and Other Accounts

There is a lot of confusion over self-directed IRAs and what is and is not possible.  In this article we will disprove some of the more common self-directed IRA myths.

 

Myth #1 – Purchasing anything other than CDs, stocks, mutual funds or annuities is illegal in an IRA.

Truth:  The only prohibitions contained in the Internal Revenue Code for IRAs are investments in life insurance contracts and in “collectibles”, which are defined to include any work of art, any rug or antique, any metal or gem (with certain exceptions for gold, silver, platinum or palladium bullion), any stamp or coin (with certain exceptions for gold, silver, or platinum coins issued by the United States or under the laws of any State), any alcoholic beverage, or any other tangible personal property specified by the Secretary of the Treasury (no other property has been specified as of this date).

Since there are so few restrictions contained in the law, almost anything else which can be documented can be purchased in your IRA.  A “self-directed” IRA allows any investment not expressly prohibited by law.  Common investment choices include real estate, both domestic and foreign, options, secured and unsecured notes, including first and second liens against real estate, C corporation stock, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, trusts and a whole lot more.

 

Myth #2 – Only Roth IRAs can be self-directed.

Truth: Because of the power of tax free wealth accumulation in a self-directed Roth IRA, many articles are written on how to use a Roth IRA to invest in non-traditional investments.  As a result, it is a surprisingly common misconception that a Roth IRA is the only account which can be self-directed.  In fact, there are seven different types of accounts which can be self-directed.  They are the 1) Roth IRA, 2) the Traditional IRA, 3) the SEP IRA, 4) the SIMPLE IRA, 5) the Individual 401(k), including the Roth 401(k), 6) the Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA, formerly known as the Education IRA), and 7) the Health Savings Account (HSA).  Not only can all of these accounts invest in non-traditional investments as indicated in Myth #1, but they can be combined together to purchase a single investment.

 

Myth #3 – I don’t qualify for a self-directed Roth or Traditional IRA because I am covered by a retirement plan at work or because I make too much money.

Truth: Almost anyone can have a self-directed account of some type.  Although there are income limits for contributing to a Roth IRA (in 2008 the income limits are $169,000 for a married couple filing jointly and $116,000 for a single person or head of household), having a plan at work does not affect your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, and there is no age limit either.  With a Traditional IRA, you or your spouse having a retirement plan at work does affect the deductibility of your contribution, but anyone with earned income who is under age 70 1/2 can contribute to a Traditional IRA.  There are no upper income limits for contributing to a Traditional IRA.  Also, a Traditional IRA can receive funds from a prior employer’s 401(k) or other qualified plan.  Additionally, you may be able to contribute to a Coverdell ESA for your children or grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even my children, if you are so inclined.  If you have the right type of health insurance, called a High Deductible Health Plan, you can contribute to an HSA regardless of your income level.  With an HSA, you may deduct your contributions to the account and qualified distributions are tax free forever!  It’s the best of both worlds.  All of this is in addition to any retirement plan you have at your job or for your self-employed business.

 

Myth #4 – I can’t have a self-directed 401(k) plan for my business because I am self-employed and file a Schedule C for my income.

Truth: You can have a self-directed SEP IRA, a SIMPLE IRA or a 401(k) plan even if you are self-employed and file your income on Schedule C of your personal tax return.  With a SEP IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your net earnings from self-employment (calculated by deducting one-half of your self-employment tax from your net profits as shown on Schedule C) or 25% of your wages from an employer, up to a maximum of $46,000 for 2008.  With the SIMPLE IRA, you can defer up to the first $10,500 of your net earnings from self-employment (calculated by multiplying your net Schedule C income by 0.9235% for SIMPLE IRA purposes), plus an additional $2,500 of your net earnings if you are age 50 by the end of the year, plus you can contribute an additional 3% of your net earnings as an employer contribution.  Beginning in 2002 even self-employed persons are entitled to have their own 401(k) plan.  Better yet, in 2006 the Roth 401(k) was added, allowing even high income earners to contribute after tax dollars into an account where qualified distributions are tax free forever!  With an Individual 401(k) you can defer up to $15,500 (for 2007 and 2008) of your net earnings from self-employment (calculated by deducting one-half of your self-employment tax from your net profits as shown on Schedule C), plus an additional $5,000 of your net earnings if you reach age 50 by the end of the year, plus you can contribute as much as an additional $30,500 based on up to 20% of your net earnings for 2008 (or 25% of your wages from an employer).  This means that a 50 plus year old self-employed person can contribute up to $51,000 for 2008!

 

Myth #5 – Because I have a small IRA and can only contribute $5,000, it’s not worth having a self-directed IRA.

 Truth: Even small balance accounts can participate in non-traditional investing.  Small balance accounts can be co-invested with larger accounts owned by you or even other people.  For example, one recent hard money loan we funded had 10 different accounts participating.  The smallest account to participate was for only $1,827.00!  There are at least 4 ways you can participate in real estate investment even with a small IRA.  First, you can wholesale property.  You simply put the contract in the name of your IRA instead of your name.  The earnest money comes from the IRA.  When you assign the contract, the assignment fee goes back into your IRA.  If using a Roth IRA, this profit is tax-free forever!  Second, you can purchase an option on real estate, which then can be either exercised, assigned to a third party, or canceled for a fee.  Third, you can purchase property in your IRA subject to existing financing or with a non-recourse loan from a bank, a hard money lender, a financial friend or a motivated seller.  Profits from debt-financed property in your IRA may incur unrelated business income tax (UBIT), however.  Finally, as mentioned above, your IRA can be a partner with other IRA or non-IRA investors.

 

 Myth # 6 – If I want to purchase non-traditional investments in an IRA, I must first establish an LLC which will be owned by my IRA.

 Truth: A very popular idea in the marketplace right now is that you can invest your IRA in an LLC where you (the IRA owner) are the manager of the LLC.  Effectively you have “checkbook control” of your IRA funds.  Providers generally charge thousands of dollars to set up these LLCs and sometimes mislead people into thinking that this is necessary to invest in real estate or other non-traditional investments.  This is simply not true.  Not only can an IRA hold title to real estate and other non-traditional investments directly with companies such as Quest Trust Company, Inc., but having “checkbook control” of your IRA funds through an LLC can lead to many traps for the unwary.  Far from protecting your IRA from the prohibited transaction rules, these setups may in fact lead to an inadvertent prohibited transaction, which may cause your IRA to be distributed to you, sometimes with substantial penalties.  This is not to say that there are not times when having your IRA make an investment through an LLC is a good idea, especially for asset protection purposes.  Nonetheless, you must educate yourself completely as to the rules before deciding on this route.  Having a “checkbook control” IRA owned LLC is kind of like skydiving without a parachute – it may be fun on the way down, but eventually you are likely to go SPLAT!

 

Myth #7 – I can borrow money from my IRA to purchase a vacation home for myself.

 Truth: Although the Internal Revenue Code lists very few investment restrictions, certain transactions (as opposed to investments) are considered to be prohibited.  If your IRA enters into a prohibited transaction, there are severe consequences, so it is important to understand what constitutes a prohibited transaction.

Essentially, the prohibited transaction rules were made to discourage disqualified persons from dealing with the assets of the plan in a self-dealing manner, either directly or indirectly. The assets of a plan are to be invested in a manner which benefits the plan itself and not the IRA owner (other than as a beneficiary of the IRA) or any other disqualified person.  Investment transactions are supposed to be on an arms length basis.

As a result of these legal restrictions, a loan from your IRA or staying at a vacation home owned by your IRA, even if fair market rates are paid for interest or rent, would be prohibited.

 

Myth #8 – With a self-directed IRA, I can borrow my IRA funds to purchase real estate and then put all the profits back into the IRA.

 Truth: When real estate or any other asset is purchased within a self-directed IRA, the money never leaves the IRA at all.  Instead, the IRA exchanges cash for the asset, in the same way that an IRA at a brokerage house exchanges cash for shares of stock or a mutual fund.  Therefore, the asset must be held in the name of the IRA.  For example, if Max N. Vestor were to purchase an investment house in his self-directed IRA, the title would be held as “Quest Trust Company, Inc. FBO Max N. Vestor IRA #12345-11.”  Since the IRA owns the asset, all expenses associated with the asset must be paid by the IRA and all profit resulting from that investment belongs to the IRA, including rents received and gains from the sale of the asset.

 

 Myth #9 – If my IRA buys real estate, it must pay all cash for the property.  An IRA cannot buy real estate with debt.

 Truth: An IRA can own debt-financed property, either directly or indirectly through a non-taxed entity such as an LLC or partnership.  Any debt must be non-recourse to the IRA and to any disqualified person.  An IRA may have to pay Unrelated Debt Financed Income Tax (UDFIT) on its profits from debt-financed property.  In general, taxes must be paid on profits from an IRA-owned property that is debt-financed, including profits from the sale or disposition of the property, in the same proportion that it had debt.  For a simplified example, if the IRA puts 50% down, then 50% of its profits above $1,000 will be taxable.  Although at first this sounds terrible, in fact leverage can be an extremely powerful tool in building your retirement wealth.  The same leverage principle applies inside or outside of your IRA – you can do more with debt-financing than you can without it.  One client was able to build her Roth IRA from $3,000 to over $33,000 in less than 4 months even after paying the taxes due by taking over a property subject to a debt and selling the property to another investor!

 

 Myth #10 – An IRA cannot own a business.

 Truth: A self-directed IRA is an amazingly flexible wealth building tool and can own almost anything, including a business.  However, due to the conflict of interest rules you cannot work for a business owned by your IRA and get paid.  Some companies have a plan to start a C corporation, adopt a 401(k) plan, roll an IRA into the 401(k) plan and purchase employer securities to effectively start a new business, but this is not a direct investment by the IRA in the business and is fairly expensive to set up.  Also, if your IRA owns an interest in a business, either directly or indirectly through a non-taxed entity such as an LLC or partnership, the IRA may owe Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) on its profits from the business.  A solution to this problem may be to have the business owned by a C corporation or another taxable entity.

Buying Real Estate in Your IRA

1.  Who is H. Quincy Long and why do I care?

H. Quincy Long, who holds the designation of CISP (Certified IRA Services Professional), is CEO/President of Quest Trust Company, Inc., a self-directed IRA third party administrator with offices in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, Texas as well as Mason, Michigan.  Mr. Long has been a licensed Texas attorney since 1991 who specializes in real estate, and has been a fee attorney for American Title Company.  He has sat on the board of directors of the Realty Investment Club of Houston (RICH), the second largest real estate club in the country.  Mr. Long received his Doctor of Jurisprudence law degree in 1990 from the University of Houston.  He received his Master of Laws, also from the University of Houston, in 1997.

Mr. Long is also the author of numerous articles on self-directed IRAs and other real estate related topics, and is editor and co-author of the book Real Estate Investment Using Self-Directed IRAs and Other Retirement Plans by Dyches Boddiford and George Yeiter, CPA.

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Mr. Long knows real estate and real estate investing. This can be critical to you when choosing a self-directed IRA custodian or administrator, especially if you want to buy real estate or real estate related products in your IRA.

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2.         What does Quest Trust Company, Inc. do?

Quest Trust Company, Inc. (www.QuestIRA.com) is a third party administrator of self-directed IRAs in Houston, Dallas, and Austin,Texas, as well as Mason, Michigan. Quest Trust Company, Inc. is the leading provider of self-directed retirement account administration services.  Quest Trust Company has been in business since 2003 with over $400MM in assets under management.  As a neutral party, Quest Trust Company does not offer any investments and therefore has no conflicts of interest with what our clients want to do with their IRAs.  Quest allows you to be in total control of your retirement wealth.

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3.         As a real estate professional, how can knowledge about self-directed IRAs put money in my pocket now?

For those of you who are investors, you can make other people aware that they actually have more money to invest in real estate than they thought since they can use their IRAs to buy real estate.  In other words, your knowledge of self-directed IRAs can increase your pool of eligible buyers for your properties.  Also, you can help others transfer their retirement funds into a self-directed IRA, then you can borrow those funds to make your own investments – in other words, you can create your own private bank!  Finally, you can make your own retirement wealth grow with your knowledge and experience in real estate by buying and selling through your own self-directed IRA.

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4.         What is the difference between a “self-directed IRA” and a regular IRA?

There is no legal distinction between a “self-directed IRA” and any other IRA.  The difference is simply this:  Quest lets you take control of your retirement by letting you invest your IRA in what you know best.  There are 2 different sets of rules that govern what you can do with your IRA.  First, there is the Internal Revenue Code, which has surprisingly few restrictions.  Second, there is your account agreement with the custodian.  With most custodians you are restricted in the type of investments you can buy in your IRA.  Quest allows you the maximum amount of control and flexibility.  Almost anything that can be documented can be held in your Quest self-directed IRA.

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5.         Which types of IRAs does Quest Trust Company offer?

  • Quest offers almost all types of retirement plans, including:
  • Traditional IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • Individual 401(k)s, including the NEW Roth 401(k)
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (formerly Education IRAs)
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

All of our plans are self-directed, and all of them can hold the same type of non-traditional assets, such as real estate.

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6.         How much can I contribute to my IRA?

Roth and Traditional IRAs –   $4,000 for 2007 (increased to $5,000 for 2008) plus $1,000 catch-up if you are age 50 or over by the end of the year.

SEP IRAs – 25% of your wages (or up to 20% of your net earnings from self-employment) up to a maximum of $45,000 for 2007 and $46,000 for 2008.  Contributions can be made up to the employer’s tax filing deadline, including extensions (if you are self-employed, you are the employer).

SIMPLE IRAs – $10,500 salary deferral plus $2,500 catch-up if you are 50 or over for 2008 plus up to 3% of your salary matched by your employer.

Profit Sharing/401(k)s – $15,500 in salary deferral for 2007 and 2008, plus catch-up deferral of $5,000 if you are age 50 or older by the end of the year plus 25% of your wages (or 20% of your net earnings from self-employment) up to a maximum of $45,000 for 2007 and $46,000 for 2008 (excluding the catch up contribution of $5,000).

Coverdell ESAs (formerly Education IRAs) – $2,000 per year until the child is age 18.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – $2,850 for individual coverage in 2007 ($2,900 for 2008) and $5,650 for family coverage in 2007 ($5,800 for 2008) plus $800 catch-up for 2007 ($900 for 2008) if you are over age 55.

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7.         What kinds of investments can be made in an Quest Trust Company self-directed IRA?

  • You have the broadest possible choice of investments, including:
  • Real Estate, including debt-financed and foreign real estate
  • Deeds of Trust
  • Real Estate Options
  • Lease Options
  • Unsecured Notes
  • Oil and Gas Interests
  • Small, non-publicly traded corporate stock
  • Limited Liability Companies
  • Limited Partnerships
  • Factored Invoices
  • Discounted Commissions
  • Security Agreements and Notes
  • Tax Lien Certificates
  • Foreclosure Property
  • Joint Ventures
  • Race Horses
  • Publicly traded stocks and mutual funds
  • and a whole lot more…

It should be made clear that you are not taking a distribution to purchase these assets.  All assets are purchased within the IRA, and all profits stay in the IRA!

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8.         Is it really legal to buy real estate in your IRA?

Yes, absolutely!  The Internal Revenue Code does not tell you what you can do with your IRA, only what you cannot do.  Besides restrictions on purchasing life insurance and most collectibles in your IRA, nearly everything else is fair game.  Unless your IRA is self-directed, however, your custodian may not allow investments in real estate.

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9.         Can I partner with my IRA or with other peoples IRAs?

Your IRA can always partner with other people individually or with other people’s IRAs.  Under certain circumstances you personally may be able to partner with your IRA.  However, the burden of proving that you received no impermissible benefit from your IRA’s participation in the investment will be on you if the IRS ever questions the transaction.  The transaction still must be an arms-length transaction, and the investment remains subject to the same restrictions as if the entire investment were in your IRA.  In general it is better to separate your IRA’s investments from your own investments.

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10.       I only have a small IRA.  How can I buy real estate?

There are at least 4 ways you can participate in real estate investment even with a small IRA.  First, you can wholesale property.  You simply put the contract in the name of your IRA instead of your name.  The earnest money comes from the IRA.  When you assign the contract, the assignment fee goes back into your IRA.  If using a Roth IRA, this profit is tax-free forever!  Second, you can purchase an option on real estate, which then can be either exercised, assigned to a third party, or canceled for a fee.  Third, you can purchase property in your IRA subject to existing financing or with a non-recourse loan from a bank, a hard money lender, a financial friend or a motivated seller.  Profits from debt-financed property in your IRA may incur unrelated business income tax (UBIT), however.  Finally, as mentioned above, your IRA can be a partner with other IRA or non-IRA investors.

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11.       Can an IRA buy debt-financed property?

Yes.  Any debt must be non-recourse to the IRA and to any disqualified person.  An IRA may have to pay UBIT on its profits from debt-financed property.  In general, taxes must be paid on profits from an IRA-owned property that is debt-financed, including profits from the sale or disposition of the property, in the same proportion that it had debt.  For a simplified example, if the IRA puts 50% down, then 50% of its profits above $1,000 will be taxable.  Although at first this sounds terrible, in fact leverage can be an extremely powerful tool in building your retirement wealth.  The same leverage principle applies inside or outside of your IRA.  You can do more with debt-financing than you can without it.

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12.       Could my IRA be classified as a “dealer?”

It is possible that an IRA could be classified as a dealer.  The same principles for determining whether you are a dealer personally also apply to your IRA.  If the IRA is classified as a dealer, it would be considered to be running an unrelated trade or business, and the IRA would have to pay UBIT.  Remember, it is not illegal to do things in your IRA that incur UBIT.  Your IRA just has to pay taxes.

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13.       Can I sell a property I now own to my IRA?

No.  Although the IRS has very few restrictions on the types of investments which are permissible in an IRA, there is a list of “disqualified persons” who are prohibited from dealing with your IRA or benefiting from its investments.  The list of disqualified persons includes you, your spouse, your parents, your children, their spouses, certain business partners and key employees and persons providing services to your plan, among others.  Interestingly enough, the definition of disqualified persons does NOT INCLUDE non-lineal descendants or ascendants, so if the transaction is an arms length transaction your IRA may be able to transact business with your brother or sister, aunt or uncle, cousins, etc.  However, you should be aware that there is an element of danger in transacting business with any person in whom you may have an interest which affects your best judgment as a fiduciary of your IRA, as this could be considered to be a prohibited transaction.

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14.       Can I receive a fee for managing property owned by my IRA?

No.  The prohibited transaction rules are intended to make sure that you receive no current benefit from your IRA other than as the beneficiary of the IRA.  Investments must be arms-length and exclusively for the benefit of your IRA.

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15.       If I am a Realtor, can I receive a commission for property bought or sold by my IRA?

No, for the same reasons stated in the prior answer.  Anything that creates a possible conflict of interest with your IRA is likely to be a prohibited transaction.  Why take money that is tax-free or tax-deferred and pay taxes on it now anyway?

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16.       Can I collect rents and do other management without compensation?

Most likely the answer is yes, although this has never been tested in court to our knowledge.  An interesting question is how much can you do before your service to your IRA constitutes an excess contribution?  In any event all checks must be made out directly to your IRA.

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17.       I like the sound of this, but can you give me specific, real life examples of what has been done in an Quest self-directed IRA?

Example 1 – Wise Roth Conversion.  Dapper Don has two Quest Trust Company self-directed IRAs a traditional IRA with money from his former employer’s retirement plan and a Roth IRA.  Don found a small piece of property in the country with a mobile home on it, which he could acquire for about $12,000. Don realizes the high profit potential of this transaction, but has insufficient funds in his Roth IRA to do the deal. Because Don will have modified adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 this year, he decided to convert $12,000 from his traditional IRA into his Roth IRA. Only seven weeks after his Roth IRA purchased the property, it was sold to the neighbor for $30,000. Although Don must pay income taxes on the $12,000 he converted from his traditional IRA to his Roth IRA, the $18,000 in profit from the transaction is TAX-FREE FOREVER!

Example 2 – Note Secured by Real Estate.  Savvy Sam borrows money from Rich Rodney’s IRA at Quest Trust Company.  Sam agrees to pay Rodney’s IRA 15% interest with no points and a 3 month minimum term on the loan.  Before Sam can even finish the repairs, he gets an offer on the house.  Sam accepts the offer, and they close within 6 weeks.  Sam is ecstatic because he made $20,000 with no money from his pocket.  Rich Rodney is very happy too because Sam paid his IRA 90 days of interest at 15% and only kept the money outstanding for 6 weeks!

Example 3 – Rehabbing a House.  Rehabber Rhonda buys a house needing substantial repairs for $101,000 cash in her Quest Trust Company.  Rhonda spends approximately $30,000 from her IRA on the rehab.  The property is sold in 6 months for $239,000.  After the cost of the purchase, rehab, closing costs, holding costs and selling costs, Rhonda’s IRA nets approximately $94,000 on the deal.

Example 4 – Co-Investing With an IRA.  Wise Wally invests $5,000 from his SEP IRA at Quest Trust Company and Wally’s father invests an additional $5,000 on a house purchased for $10,000 cash.  Although the house could be called a junker, the rental income is $400 per month, which of course is split equally between Wally’s IRA and Wally’s father (the tenants send separate checks).  Wally believes that eventually this neighborhood will be bought up by developers because of its location right on the lake.  In the meantime, Wally expects to recover his acquisition expenses from the rental income in less than 3 years, even after payment of property taxes.

Example 5 – Purchase and Simultaneous Resale of Real Estate.  QuickQuincy finds a commercial piece of land and puts it under contract in his Roth IRA for $500,000. Quincy’s IRA pays the earnest money. Quincy then contacts a major home improvement chain about buying the land.  After some negotiation, the store chain and Quincy’s IRA agree to a sales price of $650,000.  At closing,Quincy’s IRA buys the property from the seller and simultaneously sells the property to Barry’s retail store chain. Quincy’s Roth IRA nets approximately $146,000 after payment of closing costs.

Example 6 – Assignment of a Contract.  Awesome Annie gets a contract on a burned out house in the Coverdell ESA of her daughter, Smart Sally, for $5,500 cash with a $100 earnest money deposit.  Annie locates Investor Ingrid, who is willing to pay $14,000 for the house.  Sally’s Coverdell ESA assigns the contract to Ingrid, and at closing Sally’s Coverdell ESA gets a check for $8,500.

Example 7 – Buying Real Estate With a Loan.  Realtor Rose is a full-time real estate agent who at times purchases rental real estate for her own investment portfolio.  Rose locates 2 properties that she wants to buy in her SEP IRA at Quest Trust Company.  The houses Rose wants to buy cost about $210,000.  Rose has a good relationship with a local bank, and they are willing to loan Rose’s IRA the money she needs with only 10% down on a 5 year, 6.5% interest, non-recourse note.

Example 8 – Buying Property Subject to a Lien.  FantasticFlorence finds a property which is subject to nearly $100,000 in delinquent property taxes and is about to be foreclosed on by the taxing authorities.  She contacts the owner and buys the property in her Roth IRA at Quest Trust Company for around $3,000 (including closing costs).  The owner just wants to be rid of the headache. Florence’s IRA sells the property to an investor 3 1/2 months later and her IRA nets approximately $46,500 from the sale. Florence’s IRA will have to pay Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) of about $13,500, but even after payment of taxes her IRA will be worth around $33,000 in only 3 1/2 months!

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18.       How can I find out more?

a)      Visit our website at www.QuestIRA.com.  The website has a real estate tour showing you step by step how to buy and sell real estate in your IRA.

b)      Call us at 281-492-3434 or toll-free 800-320-5950.

c)      Email Quincy Long at Quincy@QuestTrust.com.

d)     Sign up for our IRA and 401(k) Insights quarterly email newsletter.

e)      Plan on attending our next 8-hour or 3-hour MCE seminar and learn all about self-directed IRAs.

How to Stretch a Roth IRA to Last More Than 150 Years

I have a philosophy, which is that if you can create win-win situations you should always do so. My daughter, Briana, is 12 years old and has been invited to travel to Europe next summer to be a Student Ambassador through the People to People program (www.studentambassadors.org). One of the requirements I am making for Briana to go is that she must raise one-half of the finds for the trip. Since Briana needs funds for her trip, and my company, Quest Trust Company, Inc. needed help stuffing envelopes to send out our quarterly statements, Briana came to work for us to help stuff envelopes. This earned her money for her trip and at the same time reduced my taxable income – a definite win-win scenario.

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with IRAs?” As her father and as a professional in the area of self-directed IRAs, of course it immediately struck me that Briana now has earned income and is therefore eligible for a Roth IRA, even at age 12. This got me thinking about how long a Roth IRA could last under a certain set of circumstances.

The original owner of a Roth IRA never has to take distributions from that Roth IRA. Briana can therefore accumulate funds in her Roth IRA for her entire life without ever having to take a distribution. This is one of the benefits of a Roth IRA over a traditional IRA. With a traditional IRA distributions must begin no later than April 1 of the year following the year the IRA owner reaches age 70 1/2. When she dies, Briana can leave the Roth IRA to anyone she wants (although she may need her spouse’s consent in certain circumstances if she lives in a community property state). An IRA inherited by someone is sometimes referred to as a “Beneficiary IRA” or a “Stretch IRA,” especially if the person is very young.

Unlike Briana, who never has to take distributions during her lifetime, if a non-spouse beneficiary inherits her Roth IRA they must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy as determined by the IRS. The good news is that if Briana has had a Roth IRA for at least 5 tax years when she dies, required minimum distributions from the inherited Stretch Roth IRA to the beneficiary who inherits the account will be tax free, even if they are under age 59 1/2 at the time of the distributions.

So how might this work out in Briana’s situation? Let’s assume Briana makes exactly $1,000 in earned income for tax year 2008. Roth IRA contributions can be made based on the amount of her earned income (her investment income, if any, doesn’t count), up to a maximum of $5,000 for people under age 50 by the end of the year for 2008. In Briana’s case, since she earned less than the $5,000 contribution limit, she can only contribute $1,000.

If we assume that Briana will live to age 87, and she never makes another contribution to that Roth IRA, the value of the Roth IRA upon her death (75 years from the start of the Roth IRA) would be as follows:

Initial Contribution     Annualized Yield        Result After 75 Years

$1,000                                 6%                  $         89,013.00

$1,000                                12%                 $    7,748,834.00

$1,000                                18%                 $659,839,065.00

For purposes of our discussion, I will assume an annualized yield of 12%. Some may argue that this isn’t realistic, but in fact at Quest we see much higher yields in self-directed IRAs than just 12%. For example, my Mom’s self-directed IRA has achieved a yield of more than 13% per year over the last couple of years by simply doing hard money lending (but that is the topic of a different article). If your calculator holds enough numbers, multiply the appropriate amount from the above chart times 5 or 6 for a full single year contribution depending on the age of the contributor (ie. $5,000 for those under age 50, and $6,000 for those age 50 or older). Of course the results on the chart above do not even account for continuous contributions during Briana’s lifetime, which she will almost certainly make based on the financial education she is going to get from me!

If Briana has a daughter at age 31 (although how she is going to have a child before she’s ever allowed to date I’m not sure), and her daughter delivers her granddaughter at age 31, who in turn gives birth to her great granddaughter at age 31, Briana will be age 81 when her great granddaughter is born (we’ll call her Samantha). If Briana updates her beneficiary designation to leave Samantha her huge Roth IRA, Samantha will be age 6 when Briana dies at age 87. By December 31 of the following year, when Samantha is age 7, required minimum distributions must begin from the inherited Stretch Roth IRA.

To calculate Samantha’s required minimum distributions, her life expectancy must be determined from the IRS Single Life Expectancy Table (Table 1 in the back of IRS Publication 590). Once the appropriate Life Expectancy Factor is found on the table, Samantha must take the value of the account as of December 31 of the prior year and divide it by the factor. For a beneficiary who must begin distributions from an inherited IRA at age 7 the Life Expectancy Factor from the IRS table is 75.8. Samantha’s first year distribution is calculated as follows:

Prior Year End Balance ($7,748,834)

Life Expectancy Factor (75.8) = Required Minimum Distribution ($102,227.36)

In subsequent years the factor is reduced by 1, and in each year the balance on December 31 of the prior year is divided by the new factor (ie. the Life Expectancy Factor is 74.8 in year 2, 73.8 in year 3, etc.). Since the original Life Expectancy Factor was 75.8, after a total of 76 years the inherited Stretch Roth IRA must be completely distributed, either to Samantha or to Samantha’s heirs if she doesn’t live that long.

The best part is that Samantha is not required to just let the money sit there earning nothing for the 76 years of required minimum distributions. As long as there is sufficient funds in the account to meet the annual required minimum distributions, the account can continue to be invested in real estate, notes, private company stock and limited partnerships, among many other choices, so that it continues to grow. In Samantha’s inherited Stretch Roth IRA, for example, during the first year of distributions if the account earns a 12% annualized yield, the income will be $929,860, while Samantha’s required minimum distribution would only be $102,227, resulting in an increase in the account balance of $827,633.

The following chart shows how powerful an inherited Stretch Roth IRA of just $100,000 can be if distributed over a long period of time:

Starting Principal        Beginning Life Expectancy Factor     Yield   Total Distributions

$100,000.00                                     75.8                               6%     $       2,033,743

$100,000.00                                     75.8                             12%    $     80,496,367

$100,000.00                                     75.8                             18%    $3,420,454,810

If an annualized yield of 12% can be maintained for the entire life of Briana and Samantha so that the beginning balance of Samantha’s inherited Stretch Roth IRA is $7,748,834.00, total distributions from the account for Samantha and her heirs would be a staggering $6,237,497,033 – and under current law it is all TAX FREE! This is obviously an incredible estate planning tool. A lifetime of tax free income is quite a gift to leave to your heirs.

It should be noted that I have ignored for the purposes of this article the estate tax and generation skipping tax issues in order to illustrate the power of an inherited Stretch Roth IRA. No one can predict what tax law changes will take place over the next 75 years, or what the estate tax and generation skipping tax limitations will be if they continue to exist for that long. However, you should never avoid estate and tax planning simply because the law might change. We can only plan based on what we know right now. One thing is for sure – to fail to plan is to plan to fail.

H. Quincy Longis an attorney who holds the designation of Certified IRA Services Professional (CISP) and is President of Quest Trust Company, Inc., a third party administrator of self-directed IRAs serving clients in the State of Texas and throughout the nation with offices in Houston and Dallas.  He may be reached by email at Quincy@QuestTrust.com.  Nothing in this article is intended as tax, legal or investment advice.