The Biggest Secret to Retirement Saving Success With a Self-Directed IRA

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

There are certainly a lot of different retirement strategies out there. Regardless of your age, income level, or current level of savings, you’re likely to have access to multiple strategies to try to help you reach your goals.

And there’s no shortage of investment advice on what types of investments are best for you. Just pick up a copy of virtually any personal finance magazine and you’ll read about a wide range of options, some of which may even appear to be in direct conflict with one another.

But perhaps the biggest factor that will contribute to you reaching your retirement goals is common across all of these options. And it remains something of a secret even though it’s so easy to do. The secret?

Be consistent with your retirement savings.

By that we mean that if you save as much as you can each year, and you do so year in and year out, then you stand a very good chance of reaching your goals. When you are more consistent with your retirement savings, your choice of investments becomes less important. You won’t have to chase high yielding investments in an effort to boost the value of your nest egg because your account balance will grow over time merely by choosing investments

When you invest consistently, then over long periods of time your investment choices become less of a factor in determining how much you’ll accumulate. This isn’t to say that you should disregard the process of trying to choose your investments wisely, and select assets that meet your risk tolerance and other financial circumstances. Rather, it simply means that your research and analysis of your various investment possibilities shouldn’t overshadow the priority to put money aside in the first place.

In other words, your primary goal should be to contribute the maximum amount to your self-directed IRA every year, and your efforts should be focused on that first and foremost. After you’ve done the work to save as much as the IRS allows, then you can put the time and effort into figuring out how best to put that money to work.

You’ve probably seen the examples before. Looking at several different case studies of hypothetical investors — one who invests each year at the market low, one who invests at the beginning of the year, and one who is unlucky enough to invest at the top of the market — the results are surprising.

Over a period of several decades, the individual who is unfortunate enough to make their investments at the market peak each year has a smaller nest egg than the other two investors, but not by as great of a margin as you might think. And, more importantly, that bad market timer still has accumulated significantly more than an individual who didn’t save as much, or who simply contributed the same amounts to a bank account or other cash equivalent savings vehicle.

 

Have You Made a Plan for Taking Distributions From Your Retirement Accounts?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

When most of us think about retirement planning, we tend to focus on the saving and wealth accumulation aspects of the process. That is, we plan how much we think we need to have accumulated by the time we reach our desired retirement age, in order to be able to lead the retirement lifestyle we want.

But a truly effective retirement plan also gives a significant amount of attention to what happens after you’ve built your nest egg and reached your target retirement age. You also need to plan how you’re going to take distributions from your retirement accounts during retirement.

Why Having a Plan is Important.

In short, having a plan for withdrawing money from your retirement accounts is important because you don’t want to outlive your retirement savings. Since it’s impossible for anyone to know when they’re going to pass, it’s important to have a plan, and to build some cushion into the timing of how long you’re going to need to fund your retirement.

Furthermore, this cushion can be vitally important if some of the assumptions you’re making now about your retirement don’t hold true. For example, you might not be able to work as long as you think. Or you might not have accumulated as much as you would have liked, either due to sub-maximal contributions or poor investment returns.

In any case, you’re not likely to be able to reach your retirement goals without giving careful consideration to all the factors relating to that retirement, and coming up with a plan for how and when you intend to take money out of your account.

Are You Subject to the Rules on Required Minimum Distributions?

If your self-directed IRA is set up as a traditional account, then you’ll be subject to the IRS rules on required minimum distributions. These rules state that once you reach age 72, you must begin taking minimum distributions for your account every year for the rest of your life.

Having to make withdrawals from your account every year can require some degree of advance planning, particularly if you’ve used your account to invest in assets such as real estate or private equity, as these assets often require a significant lead time to be able to liquidate.

Roth self-directed IRAs are not subject to the rules on required minimum distributions.

Don’t Forget About Social Security.

Even if you haven’t been relying on your Social Security benefits when doing your retirement planning, there are still ways that the government retirement benefits program can impact your decision making. For example, you may choose to delay taking your Social Security benefits until you’re past your full retirement age, in order to increase the monthly check you receive from the government. Doing so may require you to withdraw a greater amount from your self-directed IRA until you start receiving benefits, but the long-term payout could make for a more comfortable retirement.

The Basic Relationship Between Social Security Benefits And Your Self-Directed IRA

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Regardless of whether you envision Social Security to be a significant component of your retirement income, or simply a helpful supplement to your self-directed IRA, it’s important to understand how the two are related. The timing and nature of distributions you take from a self-directed IRA can impact the size of your Social Security benefits, as well as the income taxes you may have to pay on those benefits.

First things first. Under current law, your eligibility to receive Social Security retirement benefits, and the amount of those benefits, is a function of your prior work experience and earnings, not how much you have saved. In other words, having a large self-directed IRA or taking significant distributions from your account during retirement won’t make you ineligible for Social Security benefits.

However, those distributions may impact the taxability of the Social Security benefits you receive. Finally, it’s important to keep in mind when you’re planning your retirement income strategy that you control when you begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits (anywhere between age 62 and age 70), and you control when you begin taking distributions from your self-directed IRA – with no limit for Roth account, and required minimum withdrawals from a traditional account kicking in at age 72.

Roth Self-Directed IRA Benefits.

Significantly, distributions from your Roth IRA will not affect your Social Security benefits in any way. Just as is the case with traditional IRAs, they are not considered earned income by the Social Security administration for purposes of calculating your benefits in an early retirement scenario. In addition, they are excluded from the definition of “combined income” when considering the taxability of those Social Security benefits.

Distribution Strategies.

Given that your Social Security benefits will be increased the longer you wait to take them (with the deferred retirement credits increasing up to age 70), some individuals can maximize their total retirement income by waiting as long as possible to take Social Security, and taking distributions from their self-directed IRA in order to fund retirement living expenses. The analysis is highly individualized, and you’ll have even more options to consider if you are married and your spouse is also eligible for Social Security benefits.

But remember that you’ll only put yourself in a stronger financial position by maxing out your self-directed IRA contributions each and every year, and trying to build the largest account possible.

Increase Your Private Investment Allocation With Your Self-Directed IRA

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Individual retirement accounts are perhaps the single most powerful tool you have in your retirement planning arsenal. You have greater control and flexibility over your retirement funds as compared to an employer-sponsored 401(k), and a Roth IRA can provide significant benefits for tax savings and estate planning purposes.

Self-directed IRAs take things a step further. Having an account with a custodian such as Quest Trust Company will allow you to invest in an even wider range of asset types, including a variety of private investments. Here are some ways to increase your portfolio allocation into these investment types by using a self-directed IRA.

Private Mortgages. Regardless of the state of the economy, people are always going to want (or need) to buy and sell homes. The IRS regulations permit you to use a self-directed IRA in order to issue private mortgages. Provided you understand the process fully, follow all legal requirements and evaluate your risks accordingly, you may find this to be a significant boost to your portfolio.

In fact, when prevailing interest rates increase and it becomes more difficult for the average home buyer to get a loan from a bank, you may have even more opportunities for making private mortgages.

Private Equity. Similarly, a self-directed IRA can be used to make private equity investments as well. Depending on the size of your portfolio and your overall financial situation, this can be a way to gain a completely unique risk/reward exposure that wouldn’t be available in any other investment you could make.

Some private equity investments will require that the investor be a so-called “accredited investor”. This is a legal term defined by the SEC to mean a person who either (1) has a net worth of at least $1,000,000 (not including the value of their primary residence), or (2) has an annual income of at least $200,000 over each of the last two years (or has a joint income of $300,000 in each year with their spouse) and a reasonable expectation to achieve the same income this year.

Note that even if you’re looking to invest with your self-directed IRA and your account meets these standards, you’ll still need to meet those standards individually.

Private Partnership Interests. You can use your self-directed IRA to invest in various types of private partnerships. These may include traditional businesses as well as natural resources development opportunities such as those that can be found in the oil and gas industries.

Remember that when you invest your self-directed IRA in a private partnership, you’re prohibited from benefitting from it individually while the investment is still held within your account. So if the partnership invests in vacation real estate properties, neither you nor your family or any other related parties can stay in the property while you’re still invested.

Regardless of the private investments you’re considering making, be sure to do your research and understand all the risks before you commit your account funds.