A SEP IRA is a powerful retirement account used by many self-employed persons and business owners. It is particularly attractive as you can contribute up to $56,000 into it annually. That’s in comparison to a Traditional IRA, where you can only contribute up to $6,000 a year. “But what if I have employees? If I have employees in my business do I need to offer then plan and contribute for them?” The answer is “yes” and “no,” as it depends on your employees. The devil’s – or perhaps we should say loopholes – in the details.
Keep in mind that the money contributed to a SEP IRA is an “employer contribution.” This means that the money comes from the company and is set at a maximum of 25% of the employee’s wage. So, if you are the only employee and you make $100,000 that year, the company can contribute $25,000 to the SEP IRA. For a business owner with no employees, it doesn’t really make a difference whether you pay into the SEP IRA from your company’s account or from your personal account as its all effectively your money in the end.
However, once you have employees, you are required to offer the same SEP IRA and same employer contribution to them that you offer to yourself. Now, you will likely care whether that money comes from the employee’s wages or from the company’s account. So, let’s say you had an S-Corporation and had a W-2 of $100,000, and you had one employee who had a W-2 of $40,000. The company would contribute $25,000 to your SEP IRA account (if doing the 25% max rate) and would also contribute $10,000 to the employee’s SEP IRA. While you, as the business owner, may be excited about contributing $25,000 into your own SEP IRA from the company’s funds, you may be less excited about contributing $10,000 to an employee’s SEP IRA account from the company’s funds. But, this is what’s required if the employee is eligible.
Employee Eligibility Loophole and Flexibility
The good news is that you only need to offer the SEP IRA to “eligible employees,” and you can make employees “ineligible” if they have not worked for you for 3 years out of the prior 5 years (see IRS SEP IRA FAQs). In other words, until someone has worked for the company for at least 3 years, you do not need to offer the SEP IRA to them. For many small businesses, self-employed persons and new companies, a SEP IRA can be an excellent choice for the business owner as they may be the only eligible person who has worked for the company for 3 years. You can also restrict eligibility if an employee has not yet turned 21. This 3 year employee eligibility rule under a SEP IRA is far superior to the 1 year employee eligibility rule that would apply when using a Solo K upon hiring employees.
Keep in mind that you are subject to the same eligibility rules. So, if this is a new company, then the strategy of offering the plan to yourself while restricting others doesn’t work so well. But, as is usually the case, if you have worked the business for years before having an employee, then you can set the work year requirement to make yourself eligible while setting it out up to 3 years for any employees.
If an employee has worked 3 out of the prior 5 years and is now eligible, the business owner can decide to cease the SEP IRA plan (and their own contributions), and can instead move to a 401(k) or other more common retirement plan structure where the company is not required to offer such a generous employer contribution.
A SEP IRA can be self-directed and invested into real estate, LLCs, private stock, notes, and precious metals. Directed IRA establishes SEP IRA accounts for self-directed investors and you can set-up an account entirely online. Learn more now at www.directedira.com.
If you’ve inherited an IRA from a parent or another loved one, it is likely that you have a Inherited IRA (aka, Beneficiary IRA). These can be powerful accounts, but you need to understand the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) rules for your Inherited IRA to properly utilize it. The inherited IRA may be a Traditional or Roth IRA, and there are three different distribution options you may elect when you inherit the IRA. These distribution options dictate how you can invest the account. Please note that if you inherit an account from a spouse, you can just do a spousal rollover and consider the account as yours. This article is for those inheriting an IRA from a non-spouse.
You will have three distribution options upon the death of your loved one to receive the funds from their IRA. In general, the best option is the “Life Expectancy Method” as it allows you to delay the withdrawal of funds from the IRA, and allows the money invested to grow tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth). The three options are outlined fully below:
The first option is to simply take a lump-sum and be taxed on the full distribution. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty (regardless of your age or the deceased owner), but you are taxed on the amount distributed if it is a Traditional IRA. You’re also giving up the tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth) benefits of the account. Don’t take this option. It’s the worst tax and financial option you have.
Life Expectancy Method – Stretch IRA
The Life Expectancy Method is the best option. Under this option, you take distributions from the inherited IRA over your lifetime based on the value of the account. These distributions are required for Traditional IRAs and even for inherited Roth IRAs. For example, if you inherited a $100,000 IRA at age 50, you would have to take about $3,000 a year as a required minimum distribution each year and the rest can stay invested. The RMD amount changes each year as you age and as the account value grows or decreases. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty when you pull money out of the account regardless of your age. Traditional Inherited IRA distributions are taxable to the Beneficiary while Roth IRA distributions are tax-free. And yes, Inherited Roth IRAs are subject to RMD even though there is no RMD for regular Roth IRAs.
There is pending legislation which the House has passed, but the Senate has sat on, which would limit the ability to stretch the IRA out to a maximum of 10 years. Even if that legislation passes, the Stretch IRA will be a good option to at least continue the tax benefits of the inherited IRA for 10 years.
This option is available to all inherited Roth accounts, but is only available to inherited Traditional IRAs where the deceased account owner was under age 70 1/2 at the date of their death. Under this option, the Inherited IRA is not subject to RMD. However, it must be fully distributed by December 31st of the fifth year following the year of the account owner’s death. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty, and distributions are subject to tax. Again, this option is only available to Traditional accounts.
Investing with a Self-Directed Inherited IRA
Yes, you can self-direct your Inherited IRA (aka, beneficiary IRA). Before you do, make sure you understand the amount of funds you’ll need to take as an RMD, and that you will have available cash in the account to cover those RMDs. As I described above, assume you are 50 and inherited a Inherited IRA for $100,000. You will need to take annual distributions of around $3,000. So, if you invest all of the $100,000 into an illiquid asset, then you will be unable to take RMDs and you will force the IRA account to pay stiff penalties. Consequently, when making a self-directed investment from a Inherited IRA, you must take into account the amount of the investment, the total value of the account, and the timeline of the investment (when will it generate cash back to the IRA). If you inherited the $100,000 account above, you may decide to only invest $70,000 of the Inherited IRA into an illiquid investment (e.g. real estate or private company), while leaving the other $30,000 to be invested into liquid investments like publicly-traded stocks, CDs, cash or mutual funds. This will leave funds available for RMD until such time as the illiquid investment generates income or is sold for profit.
Stretching out the benefits of an inherited IRA can be powerful, but make sure you plan for RMDs before you make any self-directed investments from your Inherited IRA.
Self-directed Inherited IRA accounts can be set-up at Directed IRA in as little as five minutes on-line at www.directedira.com.
Kids are going back to school and it’s a great time to think about college and to make financial plans for your children or grandchildren’s education. As you consider the different plan options, you’ll want to make sure you know the two most common tax favored college savings tools.
There are two types of accounts that you can establish to save for higher education expenses in a tax favorable manner. These two types of accounts are Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and 529 Plan accounts.
The first type of account is known as a Coverdell Education Savings Account. A Coverdell account is typically set up for the higher education expenses of a child. The contributed funds grow in the account tax deferred and the money comes out for education expenses tax free. There is no tax deduction for amounts contributed to a Coverdell but you do have significant investment options including self-directed investment options (similar to IRA rules). A Coverdell has the following rules and benefits.
- $2,000 annual contribution limit per beneficiary (e.g. child or grandchild).
- Parents (or grandparents) can contribute without limitations to a Coverdell until a beneficiary reaches age 18 if the contributor has income of less than $190k (married joint) or $110,000 (single). For high-income earners, keep in mind that the child can always contribute to their own account with gifted funds (no need to have earned income) so you can always get around the income limitation by having the child contribute themselves.
- Funds can be used for tuition, fees, books, and equipment for college as well as certain K-12 expenses too.
- There are zero federal or state income tax deductions on Coverdell accounts.
- Accounts can be invested into stocks, mutual funds, and can even be self-directed. They operate similar to an IRA. Self-directed Coverdell accounts can be opened at Directed IRA, www.directedira.com.
- Contributions grow tax-free and can be withdrawn for education expenses until the account beneficiary reaches age 30. Unused amounts can be transferred to another family member beneficiary.
The second type of account is a 529 Plan account. Contributions to 529 Plan accounts can be eligible for a state income tax deduction (depending on the state). Money contributed to a 529 Plan account is invested into a state managed fund. A 529 has the following rules and benefits.
- Amounts are invested into a state run program.
- Amounts can be withdrawn for tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, special needs, room and board.
- Up to a few hundred thousand dollars can be invested per beneficiary by any person.
- There are no federal tax deductions or credits for contributions.
- Many states offer tax deductions for contributions to 529 Plan accounts. For example, Arizona offers a $4,000 tax deduction for married tax filers and a $2,000 deduction for single filers. Thirty-five states offer some type of state income tax deduction for 529 Plan contributions. However, there are some states, like California, who offer no tax deduction for contributions to 529 Plan accounts. Click here to see a comprehensive list that outlines the different state funds and tax deductions (or credits for some states).
- Downside, invested amounts must be invested solely into state run programs. There are no other investment options.
In summary, Coverdell accounts have the benefit of allowing account owner’s to decide how the money will be invested with zero tax deductions available on contributions while 529 Plan accounts give you zero investment options (all funds go to state run fund) but offer state income tax deductions in most states.
If you live in a state that offers a tax deduction on contributions, such as Arizona, then the 529 Plan account is a great option if you can stomach having the money go into a state run fund. On the other hand, if you live in a state with zero income tax (e.g. Texas or Florida) or if you live in state with zero 529 Plan deductions (e.g. California) then you might as well use a Coverdell account because you’re not trading any tax deductions for investment options. For those who can’t make up their mind and who have the funds, consider doing both but do the Coverdell first. There is no restriction against doing a Coverdell account (no tax deductions, but investment options) and a 529 Plan account (possible state tax deductions but no investment options).
HSAs (“Health Savings Accounts”) are growing in popularity as Americans are discovering significant tax savings with these accounts. Why are they popular? There are many reasons why; some well known and others not so well known.
Let’s start with the primary benefits that are generally well known:
First, contributions to an HSA are fully deductible regardless of your income, and there is no high-income phase-out. The deduction also applies whether you itemize on your tax return or not, so everyone gets to use it. This isn’t the case for other major deductions like charitable contributions or mortgage interest, which only apply if you itemize on your tax return and itemizing is getting less common after tax reform that was enacted in late 2017. The other commonly known benefit of the HSA is that it can grow from the investments tax-free and comes out entirely tax-free to pay for or to reimburse the account owner for their qualifying medical expenses. For a quick summary of the basics and for qualifying rules, check out my partner Mark J. Kohler’s article here.
Now, lets discuss the additional benefits of an HSA that aren’t as well known:
You don’t need earned income to contribute to an HSA
Contrary to retirement plan rules for IRAs and 401(k)s, which require you to have earned income (i.e. wage, self-employment income) to contribute, you do not need to have earned income to contribute to an HSA. You can make the contribution from any source and that contribution will be a deduction against other income on your tax return (i.e. rental income, investment income, etc.).
Your spouse can inherit your HSA with no tax due
If you’ve built up an HSA that you don’t end up using, you can pass the HSA on to your spouse. A spouse can inherit the HSA and can transfer it over to an HSA in their name. The surviving spouse can then use the funds for their qualifying medical expenses during their lifetime. If the account is inherited by a non-spouse beneficiary, then the account is considered fully taxable to the person receiving the account. Non-spouse beneficiaries (i.e. children) are allowed to use the account to pay for the deceased account owner’s qualifying medical expenses for up to one year of the date of death as medical bills and expenses are determined, and then any remaining balance is distributed to the non-spouse beneficiaries and is subject to taxation.
You can self-direct your HSA and invest it into real estate or other alternative assets
Many HSA account owners just let their HSA funds sit in a savings account or they invest into mutual funds. Some place their HSA funds into a brokerage account,and buy and sell stock. And others are investing them into real estate, private LLCs, precious metals, private equity, venture capital or start-ups. Like a self-directed IRA, an HSA can be invested into all of these alternative assets and are subject to the same prohibited transaction rules and UBTI tax as IRAs and other accounts. We’ve been advising clients for years on how to self-direct their HSA and are now helping clients establish self-directed HSA accounts at Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company. We’ve seen account holders invest them into private placements, real estate, and into HSA-owned LLCs.
A common self-directed IRA question is, “Can I buy a future retirement home with my IRA?” Yes, you can buy a future retirement home with your IRA, but you need to understand the rules and drawbacks before doing so. First, keep in mind that IRAs can only hold investments and you cannot go buy a residence or second home with your IRA for personal use. However, you can buy an investment property with a self-directed IRA (aka “SDIRA”) that you later distribute from your IRA to your self personally then begin to personally use.
The strategy essentially works in two phases. First, the IRA purchases the property and owns it as an investment until the IRA owner decides to retire. You’ll need to use a SDIRA for this type of investment. Second, upon retirement of the IRA owner (after age 59 ½), the IRA owner distributes the property via a title transfer from the SDIRA to the IRA owner personally and now the IRA owner may use it and benefit from it personally as the asset is outside the IRA. Before proceeding down this path, an SDIRA owner should consider a couple of key issues.
Avoid Prohibited Transactions
The prohibited transaction rules found in IRC Section 4975, which apply to all IRA investments, do not allow the IRA owner or certain family members to have any use or benefit from the property while it is owned by the IRA. The IRA must hold the property strictly for investment. The property may be leased to unrelated third parties, but it cannot be leased or used by the IRA owner or prohibited family members (e.g., spouse, kids, parents, etc.). Only after the property has been distributed from the self-directed IRA to the IRA owner may the IRA owner or family members reside at or benefit from the property.
Distribute the Property Fully Before Personal Use
The property must be distributed from the IRA to the IRA owner before the IRA owner or his/her family may use the property. Distribution of the property from the IRA to the IRA owner is called an “in-kind” distribution, and results in taxes due for traditional IRAs. For traditional IRAs, the custodian of the IRA will require a professional appraisal of the property before allowing the property to be distributed to the IRA owner. The fair market value of the property is then used to set the value of the distribution. For example, if my IRA owned a future retirement home that was appraised at $250,000, upon distribution of this property from my IRA (after age 59 ½) I would receive a 1099-R for $250,000 issued from my IRA custodian to me personally.
Because the tax burden upon distribution can be significant, this strategy is not one without its drawbacks. Some owners will instead take partial distributions of the property over time, holding a portion of the property personally and a portion still in the IRA to spread out the tax consequences of distribution. This can be burdensome though, as it requires appraisals each year to set the fair market valuation when you take a distribution of the property (which is done at fair market value). While this can lessen the tax burden by keeping the IRA owner in lower tax brackets, the IRA owner and his/her family still cannot personally use or benefit from the property until it is entirely distributed from the IRA. Many investors will use an IRA/LLC and will transfer the LLC ownership over time from the IRA to the IRA owner to accomplish distribution.
For Roth IRAs, the distribution of the property will not be taxable as qualified Roth IRA distributions are not subject to tax. For an extensive discussion of the tax consequences of distribution, please refer to IRS Publication 590-B.
Additionally, keep in mind that the IRA owners should wait until after he/she turns 59 ½ before taking the property as a distribution, as there is an early withdrawal penalty of 10% for distributions before age 59 ½.
As stated at the outset of this article, while the strategy is possible, it is not for everyone and certainly is not the easiest to accomplish. As a result, before purchasing a future retirement home with your IRA, self-directed investors should make sure they understand that they cannot have personal use while the property is owned by the IRA and that there are taxes due from traditional accounts when you later take the property as a distribution.
There are 28 trillion dollars in retirement plans in the United States. Do you know that these funds can be invested into your business? Yes, it’s true, IRAs and 401(k)s can be used to invest in start-ups, private companies, real estate, and small businesses. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs and retirement account owners didn’t even know that retirement accounts can invest in private companies but you’ve been able to do it for over 30 years.
Think of who owns these funds: It’s everyday Americans, it’s your cousin, friend, running partner, neighbor…it’s you. In fact, for many Americans, their retirement account is their largest concentration of invest-able funds. Yet, you’ve never asked anyone to invest in your business with their retirement account. Why not? How much do you think they have in their IRA or old employer 401(k)? How attached do you think they are to those investments? These are the questions that have unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars to be invested in private companies and start-ups.
How Many People Are Doing This?
Recent industry surveys revealed that there are one million retirement accounts that are self-directed into private companies, real estate, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, start-ups, and other so-called “alternative” investments (e.g. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies). It is a sliver of the overall retirement account market, but it’s growing in popularity.
So, how does it work? How can these funds be properly invested into your business? If you ask your CPA or lawyer, the typical response is, “It’s possible, but very complicated, so we don’t recommend it.” In other words, they’ve heard of it, but they don’t know how it works, and they don’t want to look bad guessing. If you ask a financial adviser, particularly your own, they’ll talk about how it’s such a bad idea while thinking about how much fees they’ll lose when you stop buying mutual funds, annuities, and stocks that they make commissions or other fees from. Well, not all financial advisers, but unfortunately too many do.
Now, there are some legal and tax issues that need to be complied with, but that’s what good lawyers and accounts are for, right? And yes, there is greater risk in private company or start-up investments so self-directed IRA investors need to conduct adequate due diligence and they shouldn’t invest all of their account into one private company investment. So how does it work?
What is a Self-Directed IRA?
In order to invest into a private company, start-up, or small business, the retirement account holder must have a self-directed IRA? So, what is a self-directed IRA? A self-directed IRA is a retirement account that can be invested into any investment allowed by law. If your account is with a typical IRA or 401(k) company, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, TD Ameritrade, Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, then you can only invest in investments allowed under their platform, and these companies deem private company investments as “administratively unfeasible” to hold so they won’t allow your IRA or 401(k) to invest in them (some make exceptions for ultra-high net-worth clients, $50M plus accounts). As a result, the first step when investing in a private company with retirement account funds is to rollover or transfer the funds, without tax consequence, to a self-directed custodian who will allow your IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, HSA, or Solo 401(k) to be invested into a private company. My company, Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company, handles self-directed IRAs and our clients have invested millions in private companies.
Legal Tip: If an investor’s retirement account is with their current employer’s retirement plan (e.g. 401(k)), they won’t be able to change their custodian until they leave that employer or until they reach retirement age (59.5 years old or 55 under some plans). So, for now, they’re 401(k) is usually limited to buying mutual funds they don’t understand and don’t want.
Sell Corporation Stock or LLC Units to Self-Directed IRAs
Are you seeking capital for your business in exchange for stock or other equity? If so, you should consider offering shares or units in your company to retirement account owners. You don’t need to wait until your company is publicly traded to sell ownership to retirement accounts. Here are a few well-known companies who had individuals with self-directed IRAs invest in them before they were publicly traded: Facebook, Staples, Sealy, PayPal, Domino’s, and Yelp, just to name a few.
You can also raise capital for real estate purchases or equipment whereby a promissory note is offered to the IRA investor who acts as lender, and the funds are usually secured by the real estate or equipment being purchased. There are many investment variations available, but the most common is an equity investment purchasing shares or units where the IRA becomes a shareholder or note investment whereby the IRA becomes a lender. Keep in mind, you need to comply with state and federal securities laws when raising money from any investor.
Need to Know #1: Prohibited Transactions
There are two key rules to understand when other people invest their retirement account into your business. First, the tax code restricts an IRA or 401(k) from transacting with the account owner personally or with certain family (e.g. parents, spouse, kids, etc.). This restriction is known as the prohibited transaction rule. See IRC 4975 and IRS Pub 590A. Consequently, if you own a business personally you can’t have your own IRA or your parents IRA invest into your company to buy your stock or LLC units. However, more distant family members such as siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles could move their retirement account funds to a self-directed IRA to invest in your company. And certainly, unrelated third-parties would not be restricted by the prohibited transaction rules from investing in your company. What if you are only one of the founders or partners of a business, and you want to invest your IRA or your spouse’s IRA into the company? This is possible if your ownership and control is below 50%, but this question is very complicated and nuanced, so you’ll want to discuss it with your attorney or CPA who is familiar with this area of the tax law.
If a prohibited transaction occurs, the self-directed IRA is entirely distributed. That’s a pretty harsh consequence and one that makes compliance with this rule critical.
Need to Know #2: UBIT Tax
The second rule to understand is a tax known as Unrelated Business Income Tax (“UBIT”, “UBTI”). UBIT is a tax that can apply to an IRA when it receives “business” income. IRAs and 401(k)s don’t pay tax on the income or gains that go back to the account so long as they receive “investment” income. Investment income would include rental income, capital gain income, dividend income from a c-corp, interest income, and royalty income. If you’ve owned mutual funds or stocks with your retirement account, the income from these investments always falls into one of these “investment” income categories. However, when you go outside of these standardized forms of investment, you can be outside of “investment” income and you just might be receiving “business” income that is subject to the dreaded “unrelated business income tax.” This tax rate is at 37% at about $12,000 of taxable income annually. That’s a hefty rate, so you want to make sure you avoid it or otherwise understand and anticipate it when making investment decisions. The most common situation where a self-directed IRA will become subject to UBIT is when the IRA invests into an operational business selling goods or services who does not pay corporate income tax. For example, let’s say my new business retails goods on-line, and is organized as an LLC and taxed as a partnership. This is a very common form of private business and taxation, but one that will cause UBIT tax for net profits received by self-directed IRA. If, on the other hand, the same new business was a c-corporation and paid corporate tax (that’s what c-corps do), then the profits to the self-directed IRA would be dividend income, a form of investment income, and UBIT would not apply. Consequently, self-directed IRAs should presume that UBIT will apply when they invest into an operational business that is an LLC, but should presume that UBIT will not apply when they invest into an operational business that is a c-corporation.
Legal Tip: IRAs can own c-corporation stock, LLC units, LP interest, but they cannot own s-corporation stock because IRAs and 401(k)s do NOT qualify as s-corporation shareholders.
Now, if you’re an LLC raising capital from other people’s IRAs or 401(k)s, you should have a section in your offering documents that notifies people of potential UBIT tax on their investment. UBIT tax is paid by the retirement account annually on the net profits the account receives so it doesn’t cost the company raising the funds any additional money or tax. It costs the retirement account investor since UBIT is paid by the retirement account. Despite the hefty tax, many IRAs and 401(k)s will still invest when UBIT is present as they may be willing to pay the tax on a well-performing investment or their investment strategy. Alternatively, many self-directed IRAs may be investing with an intent to sell their ownership in the LLC as the mechanism to receive their planned return on investment. When selling their LLC ownership, the gain in the LLC units would be capital gain income and would not be subject to UBIT.
If the investment from the self-directed IRA was via a note or other debt instrument, then the profits to the IRA are simply interest income and that income is always investment income and is not subject to UBIT tax. Many companies raise capital from IRAs for real estate purchases or for equipment purchases. These loans from an IRA or IRA(s) are often secured by the real estate or equipment being purchased and the IRA ends up earning interest income like a private lender.
So, here’s a brief summary of what we’ve learned. First, there’s $28 trillion in retirement plans in the U.S. These retirement accounts can be used to invest into your start-up or private company. You need to comply with the prohibited transaction rules and you can’t invest your own account or certain family member’s account into your business as that would invalidate the IRA. But everyone else’s IRA can invest into your company. And lastly, depending on how the company is structured (LLC or C-Corp), and how the investment is designed (equity or debt/loan), there may be UBIT tax on the profits from the investment. Remember, UBIT tax usually arises for IRAs in operating businesses structured as LLCs where the company doesn’t pay a corporate tax on their net profits. This income is pushed down to the owners and in the case of an IRA this can cause UBIT tax liability.
Here’s the bottom line, retirement account funds can be a significant source of funding and investment for your business, so it’s worth some time and effort to learn how these funds can most efficiently be utilized. While there are some rules unique to retirement accounts they can easily be understood and planned for.