Self-Directed IRA Valuations: Why Does My Self-Directed IRA Custodian Ask for a Valuation Update Every Year?

If you have a self-directed IRA with non-publicly traded assets like real estate, private stock, or an LLC interest, you’ve definitely been asked for an annual fair market valuation for the assets in your account. Why does your IRA custodian ask for this every year? Because they have to.

An IRA must report its fair market value to the IRS annually. Fair market value is reported to the IRS by your IRA custodian via IRS Form 5498. For standard IRAs holding stocks or mutual funds, those account values are automatically determined as they simply take the stock or fund price as of the close of the market on December 31st each year, and they use these amounts to set the year-end account fair market value. For self-directed accounts, such fair market values are not readily available and it becomes the IRA account owner’s responsibility to obtain their self-directed investment values so that their custodian can properly report the account’s fair market value. The value of an account is important for a few reasons. First, the IRS requires it to be updated annually. Second, it is used to set required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) for those account holders over the age of 70 ½ with traditional IRAs. Lastly, the account value is used when converting an entire account, or a particular investment or portion of the account, from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

WHAT IS FAIR MARKET VALUE

Fair market value of an investment has been broadly defined by the Court as:

“The price at which property would change hands between a hypothetical willing buyer and a hypothetical willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” U.S. v. Cartwright, 411 US 546 (1973).

Now here’s the hard part: Even though the IRS requires IRAs to update their fair market value on an annual basis, the Government Accountability Office noted in their recent report that:

“Current IRS guidance includes NO [emphasis added] guidance or advice to custodians or IRA owners regarding how to determine the FMV [fair market value]”. United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-02, Retirement Security Improved Guidance Could Help Account Owners Understand the Risks of Investing in Unconventional Assets. (Dec. 2016).

The absence of guidance, however, has not relieved IRA owners or their custodians from obtaining and reporting this information. While there is no specific fair market valuation guidance for IRAs, there are commonly accepted methods of reporting value used by professionals and companies within the self-directed IRA industry. Most of these methods have been adopted from law and regulations governing employer retirement plans or estates.

METHODS TO BE USED BY ASSET TYPE

The table below outlines preferred valuation methods that are commonly used in the industry for the most common self-directed IRA assets. As you will note, when the valuation is needed for a taxable event, such as a distribution or Roth conversion, greater detail and supporting information will be required as the valuation will result in tax being due.*

Asset Non-Taxable (Annual FMV) Taxable (RMD, distribution or conversion)
Real Estate Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) from a real estate professional is preferred. Some IRA custodians accept property tax assessor values or Zillow reports in non-taxable situations. Real estate appraisal is preferred. Some IRA custodians accept a broker’s price opinion.
Promissory Note Value of a note can be reported by calculating the principal due plus any accrued and unpaid interest. This is the valuation method used for calculating the value of a note for estate tax purposes. Same as non-taxable, principal amount due plus accrued and un-paid interest. For notes in default, a third-party opinion as to value is typically required in order for the note to be written-down below face value.
Precious Metals For bullion, use the spot value of the metal in question times the ounces owned. Spot value is widely reported on a daily basis on financial sites.

For acceptable coins, use market data for the coin in question via the Grey Sheets available at www.bullionvalues.com.

Same as non-taxable.
LLC, LP, or Private Company Interest Obtain a third party-opinion of value of the LLC interest. The opinion should rely on IRS Revenue Ruling 59-60. For asset holding companies, the valuation should focus on the value of the assets. For operating companies, the valuation should focus on earnings. Similar requirement, but the detail of the opinion should be more significant. For example, for an asset holding company where the IRAs interest is determined by the assets of the LLC. A CMA would be acceptable for calculating that assets value in the company in an annual valuation. However, an appraisal of the real estate to calculate in that asset would be required in a taxable situation.

Since the valuation reporting policies of custodians vary, IRA owners should make sure that they understand their IRA custodian’s policies for valuations for the assets in question.

Our firm routinely assists clients with obtaining third-party opinions of value and can assist IRA owners who need to produce a report or third party opinion as to an LLC or other investment interest held by an IRA.

* Please note that there are clearly differences of opinions on these matters, and since there is no specific legal guidance for IRA valuations, please keep in mind that the table above is based on my own industry experience and opinions. Seek a licensed professional in all instances for your specific situation.

IRA Contribution Deadlines: Two Out of Three IRA Types Can’t be Extended

You have until April 18th, 2017 to make 2016 IRA contributions for Roth and Traditional IRAs. If you’re self-employed and are using a SEP, your deadline is determined by your company’s tax filing deadline (e.g. s-corp, partnership, or sole prop). So, if you were an s-corp or partnership in 2016, then your filing deadline was March 15th, 2017. II you are a sole prop, then the deadline is April 18th, 2017. If you extended your company return, that extension will also apply to your SEP IRA contributions. The table below breaks down the deadlines and extension options for Traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs.

Type of IRA Contribution Type Deadline Details
Traditional IRA Traditional, Deductible April 18th, 2017: Due Date for Individual Tax Return Filing (not including extensions). IRC § 219(f)(3); You can file your return claiming a contribution before the contribution is actually made.  Rev. Rul. 84-18.
Roth IRA Roth, Not Deductible April 18th, 2017: Due Date for Individual Tax Return Filing (not including extensions). IRC § 408A(c)(7).
SEP IRA  Employee, Deductible N/A: Employee contributions cannot be made to a SEP IRA plan.
Employer Contribution, Deductible March 15/April 15th: Due Date for Company Tax Return Filing (including extensions). IRC § 404(h)(1)(B).

As outlined above, you have until the 2016 individual tax return deadline of April 18th, 2017 to make 2016 Traditional and Roth IRA contributions. The deadline for Traditional and Roth IRAs, however, does not include extensions. So, even if you extend your 2016 tax return, your 2016 Traditional and Roth IRA contributions are still due on April 18th, 2017.

SEP IRA contribution deadlines are based on the company tax return deadline, which could be March 15th if the company is taxed as a corporation (“c” or “s”) or partnership, and April 15th if it is a sole proprietorship. Keep in mind that this deadline includes extensions, so if you extend your company tax return filing, you will extend the time period to make 2016 SEP IRA contributions.

Quitclaim Deed Versus Warranty Deed, What to Use?

When it comes to transferring property, such as rental properties into LLCs or your personal residence into a Trust, it can be confusing understanding whether you should use a quitclaim deed or a warranty deed. Here is a brief description of each type of deed and when they should be used.

Warranty Deed – A warranty deed transfers ownership and explicitly promises the buyer that the transferor has clear title to the property, meaning it is free of liens or claims of ownership. The terms of a warranty deed should state that the transferor “warrants” and conveys the property.  The warranty deed may make other promises as well, to address particular problems with the transaction. But generally, the use of the word “warrant” means that seller/transferor guarantees the new owner as to clear title. Because the seller “warrants” clear title under a warranty deed, it is a preferred method of title transfer and should be used by real estate investors and property owners as the default method of transferring title. When transferring title from your own name to your LLC or Trust, the use of a warranty deed typically allows the title insurance you bought when you acquired the property to remain in effect.

Quitclaim Deed – A quitclaim deed transfers whatever ownership interest a person has in a property. It makes no guarantees about the extent of the person’s interest. If you are buying a property from a third-party, you would never want to use a quitclaim deed because they aren’t making any guarantee as to whether they own it or not, or if they have clear title. It would be like paying someone on the street for a set of keys to a car. Who knows whether they own the car or not? You gave them money for it, and if they do own it, you just bought it. But, if they don’t own it, then you’re out of luck and you’ll have to resolve the ownership issue with the person who legally owns it. There are limited situations where a quitclaim deed is used. In some instances, a quitclaim deed is used when the buyer and seller are aware of legal issues or defects to title, so the seller transfers their interest and the new buyer has to resolve the title issues. Another situation, perhaps more common, arises in states that have a transfer tax. For example, some states will exempt transfer taxes on the transfer of title from the owner to their own LLC, but only if it is by quitclaim deed (e.g. Tennessee). When transferring title to your own LLC, we generally aren’t worried about title issues, so the savings on transfer taxes make the quitclaim deed a better option.

Most states don’t have a transfer tax, but to make matters more complicated, some states use the term “grant deed”, California being one of the most prominent. The reality is that a grant deed can be used as a quitclaim deed OR a warranty deed. It essentially depends on the verbiage used inside the terms of the deed itself. If you see words like “warrant” and “convey,” then you probably have a warranty deed. Bottom line: Make sure that you look at the language used in the deed itself. Don’t think that because you have a grant deed you have all of the benefits of a warranty deed.

Our Recommendation – Always double check the local state and county laws regarding the type of deed to use when transferring property, and what the different types of deeds actually provide. HOWEVER, as a general rule of thumb, we recommend the warranty deed when transferring property to yourself, your trust, or your own company because we want to make sure that the Title Policy and all of its benefits transfer to the Grantee of your deed.

New 990-T Filing Rule for Self-Directed IRAs

IRS Logo Blog Update ImageThe IRS recently released updated the extension rules for 990-T tax returns that are required for certain self-directed IRAs. Form 990-T is a tax return that must be filed by an IRA when it receives what is known as unrelated business taxable income (“UBTI”). For a description on UBTI and 990-T returns in general, see my prior article here.

The new rules allow an IRA to receive a automatic 6 month extension of time to file by filing IRS Form 8868. Previously, IRAs required to file a 990-T, were only allowed an automatic 3 month extension. The new extension procedures were released in January 2017 and apply to 2016 990-T returns. To claim the extension, the IRA must take the following steps.

  1. Obtain a Tax ID/EIN for the IRA. Generally, IRAs do not have their own Tax ID/EIN and they should not obtain one, except when a 990-T return needs to be filed. The Tax ID/EIN can be obtained at IRS.gov.
  2. Complete and File the Extension Request Using IRS Form 8868. The automatic 6-month extension for the filing of a 990-T is obtained by filing IRS Form 8868.
  3. File the Extension by April 15th. The regular filing deadline for form 990-T is the 15th day of the fourth month following the tax year (e.g. April 15th each year). Make sure the extension is filed by April 15th and keep a copy as you’ll need to send a copy with the extended return. Keep in mind, the extension to file is not an extension to pay so if you end up owing UBIT and if your IRA hasn’t made any tax deposits you may have a small amount of penalty and interest due when you later file and pay.

If your self-directed IRA investments are running into UBIT, make sure you’re reporting and paying any applicable UBIT via form 990-T to the IRS. Failure to do so can result in penalties, interest, and potentially loss of the IRA’s tax preferred status. If you’re not ready to file by April 15th, make sure you file the automatic extension request to give yourself 6 more months to file.

Roth IRA Conversion Re-Characterization: One “Do-Over” the IRS Allows

image4144Are you having second-thoughts about your Roth IRA Conversion? Did the value of your IRA decrease after you converted it? Are you unable to pay the tax on the conversion? If so, you’re in luck as you can re-characterize your Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA and you can avoid the taxes due too. Given the ups and downs of investments, this may be an excellent strategy for those whose account has decreased since their conversion in 2016.

If you have converted a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2016, you can reverse the conversion by doing what is called a Roth IRA conversion re-characterization. Under a re-characterization, the Roth IRA funds and assets are rolled back into a Traditional IRA, and the amounts converted are considered contributed to the traditional IRA and you effectively cancel out the amounts converted. As a result of the re-characterization, the taxes that would have been owed for the Roth IRA conversion are no longer due, and the assets and funds re-characterized go back to a Traditional IRA.

A Roth IRA conversion re-characterization is an excellent strategy in two situations. First, if you do not have the funds to pay the taxes on the conversion. Reversing the re-characterization will remove the tax liability. Problem solved. Second, if the investments in your Roth IRA, following the conversion, did not fare so well and if the account decreased in value you are generally better off re-characterizing the conversion and going back to a traditional IRA and then conducting a new Roth IRA conversions at the lower valuation. If you have completed a Roth IRA conversion re-characterization, you do have to wait until the next year to convert the same amounts back to Roth as the IRS restricts you from immediately re-converting after a re-characterization.

Here are a few keys facts to keep in mind for Roth IRA conversion re-characterizations:

1. You must coordinate the re-conversion with your IRA custodian as they will need to roll the Roth IRA funds back to a Traditional IRA. Your tax return also needs to properly report the re-conversion so that you don’t end up paying taxes on the 1099-R you will have received for the Roth IRA conversion.

2. You can re-characterize up to October 15th of the year following the year you converted. So if you conducted a Roth IRA conversion in 2016, you have until October 15, 2017 to re-characterize the conversion. You have until October 15th even if you did not file an extension and even if you have already filed your tax return for the prior year. If you filed a tax return already and claimed the Roth IRA conversion amounts as income, the tax return will need to be amended.

3. Roth 401(k) or other employer in-plan Roth conversions cannot be re-characterized so once those are reported to the IRS you cannot reverse them as the rules applicable to Roth IRA conversion re-characterizations do not apply to 401(k) or other in-plan Roth conversions.

Because of the re-characterization rules, the decision to convert funds to a Roth IRA isn’t as “taxing” as you’d think as you can later have a change of heart if the odds don’t end up in your favor (e.g. lower investment value, or no personal funds to pay taxes on the conversion).

More details and information can be obtained from an informative FAQ page from the IRS here.

By: Mat Sorensen, Attorney and Author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.