Self-directed 401(k) owners, companies in the industry, and many professionals have been confused on what rules, if any, govern when buying precious metals with a self-directed 401(k). There is a code section in IRC § 408(m) that outlines what metals can be owned by a self-directed IRA and how they should be stored. I have an article that summarizes it here. However, this section of the code is written for IRAs, and many have questioned whether it should be applied to 401(k) accounts as well. The short answer is, “Yes,” and here are two reasons why:
I. Most Solo K plan documents adopt IRC § 408(m)
Most 401(k) plans, including Solo 401(k)s, adopt IRC § 408(m), which specify which precious metals your Solo K may own, and provides a storage requirement. Since the plan documents restrict what precious metals your 401(k) may own, all accounts under the plan must follow the plan rules. Many may wonder, “Well can’t I just amend my 401(k) plan?”
Not exactly. Most Solo K plans are volume-submitter IRS pre-approved plans and take years to create and get approved with the IRS. A change requires approval from the provider of those plans, and they’d have to change it for all of their customers. This isn’t likely to occur, especially given second point below.
II. The IRS wants your Solo K to follow the IRA “Precious Metals” rule
The IRS has issued guidance to 401(k) plans that are individually directed and has stated that the rules of IRC § 408(m) should be followed when a 401(k) account purchases precious metals. To view the IRS analysis, check out their resource page here.
Consequently, Solo 401(k) owners buying precious metals should follow the IRA rules for precious metals and should only buy qualifying gold, silver, platinum, or palladium, and should make sure that such metals are stored with a third party qualifying institution (bank, credit union, or trust company).
keys to house with home ownership documents
Real estate may be owned in your personal name, in a business name, or in a trust. You may have heard of revocable living trusts, corporations, LLCs, series LLCs, or limited partnerships. Here’s a quick guide to where you should own different types of properties.
1. Personal Residence
Your home should be owned in your revocable living trust. A living trust is an excellent choice to own your personal residence as the property can pass under the terms of your trust upon your death and your heirs won’t need to go to probate court to transfer ownership. If your residence is owned in your personal name it can only pass to your children/heirs after you’ve gone to probate court which requires far more legal fees and time than setting up a trust now. For homes with significant equity you may want to consider a domestic asset protection trust which can protect the equity in the home from personal creditors.
2. Rental Property
Your rental property should be owned in an LLC. Rental properties generate income and wealth but they can also create liabilities. If a rental property is owned in your personal name everything that happens on the home creates personal liability to you and a plaintiff can go after all of your personal assets, income, and wages. On the other hand, if a rental property is owned in an LLC the plaintiff will be required to sue the LLC and can’t go after the LLC owner personally. In certain states where you have lots of properties you may want to consider a series LLC which provides liability protection in the LLC between multiple properties such that if something happens to one property in the series LLC it doesn’t effect the other properties in the series LLC. An LLC owned by one person or a married couple isn’t too difficult to manage and generally doesn’t require a separate LLC tax return. Instead, you report the property and its profit/loss on your personal return in the same way you ‘d report the profit/loss if you owned it in your personal name. In most instances, limited partnerships should not be used to hold rental properties as your tax losses and write offs are restricted when you own them in a limited partnerships.
3. Land or Second Home
Your land or second home should be owned in your revocable living trust. Again, this helps keep your assets coordinated with your estate plans and outside of probate court. For land or second homes with significant equity you may want to consider a limited partnership or domestic asset protection trust which can protect the property from the owner’s personal liabilities. Generally, an LLC is not used unless the property itself creates liability. For example, if you rent your second home or cabin you may want an LLC for liability protection but most second homes or parcels of land do not create liability and therefore do not need an LLC.
4. Where Should Properties Never Be Held
Except for short short term real estate holds (under one year) properties should not be owned in a s-corporation and should never be held in a c-corporation. Additionally, we rarely recommend clients use land trusts to own property for asset protection purposes as land trusts provide little actual asset protection beyond making the owner of the property difficult to determine at the county records.
There are lots of options and many nuances to how you should own your real estate. For a more detailed and specific analysis for your properties please contact the law firm for an estate and asset protection plan that fits your needs. We can also assist with deed transfers to get your properties into the right place.
For most American workers and business owners, the first vehicle to save and invest in is your 401(k). The tax benefits and the typical company matching that offers free company money make a 401(k) a great place to save and invest for the long-haul. But what if you’ve maxed out your 401(k) contributions? What else can you do?
Here are the three options you should consider that provide significant tax and financial benefits:
1. Back-Door Roth IRA
This is a really cool option that many clients utilize every year. (I do too.) First, you may be thinking that you can’t do a Roth IRA because your income is too high or because you already maxed out your 401(k). WRONG: It is still possible to do a Roth IRA, but you just have to know the back-door route. The reason it’s called a back-door Roth IRA is because you make a non-deductible traditional IRA contribution (up to $5,500 annual limit, $6,500 if 50 or older). Then, after the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution is made, you then convert the funds to Roth. There is no income limit on Roth conversions, and since you didn’t take a deduction on the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution, there is no tax due on the conversion to Roth. And now, voila, you have $5,500 in your Roth IRA. That’s the back-door route.
There is a road block though for some who already have funds already in traditional IRAs. The Roth conversion ordering rules state that you must first convert your pre-tax traditional IRA funds, which you got a deduction for and now pay tax when you convert, before you are able to convert the non-deductible traditional IRA funds. So, if you have pre-tax traditional IRA funds and you want to do the back-door Roth IRA, you have two options:
- First, convert those pre-tax traditional IRA dollars to Roth and pay the taxes on the conversion.
- Second, if your 401(k) allows, you can roll those pre-tax traditional IRA dollars into your 401(k). If you don’t have a traditional IRA, you’re on easy street and only need to do the two-step process of making the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution and then convert it to Roth.
You have until April 15th of each year to do this for the prior tax year. Additionally, while the GOP tax-reform restricted Roth re-characterizations, Roth conversions and the back-door Roth IRA route were unaffected. For more detail on the back-door Roth IRA, check out my prior article here.
2. Health Savings Account (HSA)
If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can make contributions to your HSA up until April 15th of each year for the prior tax year. Why make an HSA contribution? Because you get a tax deduction for doing it, and because that money comes out of your HSA tax-free for your medical, dental, or drug costs. You can contribute and get a deduction, above the line, of up to $3,400 if you’re single or for up to $6,750 for family. We all have these out-of-pockets costs, and this is the most efficient way to spend those dollars (from an account you got a tax deduction for putting money into). If you didn’t have a high deductible HSA-qualifying plan by December 1st of the prior year, then the HSA won’t work.
Any amounts you don’t spend on medical can be invested in the account and grow tax-free for your future medical or long-term care. Health savings accounts can also be invested and self-directed into real estate, LLCs, private companies, crypto-currency or other alternative assets. We’ve helped many clients invest these tax-favored funds using a self-directed HSA.
For more details on health savings accounts, check out my partner Mark’s article here.
3. Cash Balance Plan or Defined Benefit Plan
If you’re self-employed you may consider establishing a cash balance plan or a defined benefit plan (aka “pension”), where you can possibly contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. The amount of your contribution depends on your income, age, and the age and number of employees you may have. A cash balance plan or defined benefit plan/pension will cost you ten thousand dollars or more in fees to establish, and is far more expensive to maintain and administer. But, if you have the income, it’s a valuable option to consider. For more details on cash balance plans, check out Randy Luebke’s article here.
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and other cryptocurrencies have seen dramatic price increases this year. Have you thought about cashing in? Are you wondering how will you be taxed?
Cryptocurrency is a Capital Asset
The IRS has clearly stated that cryptocurrency (aka virtual currency) is a capital asset like property. And therefore, the buying and selling of it for profit results in short-term capital gain if held for under one year, and long-term capital gain if held for over a year. Short-term capital gain rates are based on your regular income tax bracket, while the long-term capital gains rate is 15-20%, depending on income level. IRS Notice 2014-21.
So, for example, let’s say I bought 10 Bitcoin in June 2017 for $25,000 US dollars when the price of Bitcoin was approximately $2,500. I decide that in December 2017 that I would like to sell my Bitcoin. The price is now approximately $16,500 per Bitcoin, so my holdings are now worth $165,000. As a result, my $25,000 investment has generated a taxable profit of $140,000. Since I owned the Bitcoin for less than one year, the income will be short-term capital gain income and I will pay at my regular federal rate.
If I instead held the cryptocurrency until July 2018, then I would have long-term capital gain and would be paying tax at a much lesser rate.
Any realized gain from the cryptocurrency profit is taxable. This is the case if you exchanged Bitcoin for other cryptocurrency, or for goods or services. In this instance, you take the value of the Bitcoin in US dollars at the time of the exchange for other property and treat whatever gain you have when that Bitcoin was exchanged (at the value of the other property) as your taxable gain. Let’s say you bought 10 Bitcoin in 2015 for $250 per Bitcoin for a total purchase price of $2,500. You decide to exchange one Bitcoin, valued at $16,500 in December 2017, for 17 Ethereum valued at approximately $500 per Ethereum. Your gain on the Bitcoin being exchanged is the value of the Ethereum, $16,500, minus the cost of the Bitcoin, $250, for a long-term capital gain of $16,250.
Cryptocurrency mining is the process of using servers and other computers to verify the blockchain and transactions that are the backbone of the cryptocurrency. This IRS has stated that income from cryptocurrency mining, whether received in dollars or cryptocurrency, is taxable as regular income. Consequently, if you have engaged in the cryptocurrency mining business or are otherwise self-employed doing cryptocurrency mining then the income you received is taxable at your ordinary income rates and it will also be subject to self-employment tax.
Retirement Accounts and Cryptocurrency
Retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) can own Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. This requires a self-directed IRA or 401(k) and some careful structuring. For a more detailed discussion on this topic, check out my prior article and video here. When gains are made from the sale of cryptocurrency, whether for US dollars or other cryptocurrency, there is no tax owed on the gain. And, if you use a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), there will be zero tax owed when you pull the funds out at retirement. For traditional IRAs and 401(k)s you pay tax when you withdraw the funds at retirement and these distributions, as is the case for all traditional IRA or 401(k) distributions, are subject to tax at your ordinary income tax rate at the time of distribution.
If your self-directed IRA or 401(k) is invested into cryptocurrency mining, as opposed to holding cryptocurrency for investment, then the income from such mining activities will likely cause unrelated business income tax.
There has been a significant increase in the amount of marketing directed towards IRA owners for non-publicly traded investments. Many of these investment sponsors and promoters are using marketing slogans like “IRS Approved” or “IRA Approved”. Don’t be fooled though, as the IRS does not review or approve investments, nor do they comment or issue statements on investments in an IRA. In fact, the IRS recently revised and updated IRS Publication 3125 titled, “The IRS Does Not Approve IRA Investments,” in an effort to inform IRA investors.
IRAs Can Invest into Non-Publicly Traded Investments (Real Estate, LLCs and Precious Metals)
Yes, it’s true that a self-directed IRA can invest into real estate, LLCs, LPs, private stock, venture or hedge funds, start-ups and qualifying precious metals, among other things. However, just because you can invest in all of these assets doesn’t mean that you should. Make sure you’re investing your IRA into assets you are familiar with, and with persons and companies with whom you have thoroughly vetted. Non-publicly traded investments can be easier to understand and vet than a mutual fund prospectus, but you need to be careful when investing your funds with another person or when buying investments from third-parties who regularly sell to IRA owners using comforting, yet totally false, representations like “IRA Approved” or “IRS Approved.”
“IRA Approved” or “IRS Approved” Representations are False
In Publication 3125, “The IRS Does Not Approve IRA Investments,” the IRS provided some guidelines for IRA owners to evaluate and protect their account from “IRA Approved Schemes.”
- Avoid any investment touted as “IRA Approved” or otherwise endorsed by the IRS.
- Don’t buy an investment on the basis of a television “infomercial” or radio advertisement.
- Beware of promises or no-risk, sky-high returns on exotic investments from your retirement account.
- Never transfer or rollover your IRA or other retirement funds directly to an investment promoter.
- Proceed with caution when you are encouraged to invest in a “general partnership” or “limited liability company”.
- Don’t be swayed by the fact that a bank or trust department is serving as an IRA custodian.
- Always check out an investment and promoter before you turn over your money.
- Educate yourself about IRAs and retirement planning.
- Exercise extra caution during tax season when it comes to making IRA investments.
As a self-directed IRA investor, you are solely responsible for investment decisions, and as a result you must make certain that you understand the investments you are selecting and the associated risks. Beware of slogans and terms like “IRA Approved” or “IRS Approved,” as such slogans are just false. In addition to the consideration from the IRS above, I’ve previously written my own “Self Directed IRA Investment Due Diligence Top Ten List” which includes additional tips and questions to ask when investing your hard-earned retirement plan dollars with others.
Take the IRS guidelines and my Top Ten List into consideration when investing your IRA, but in the end, don’t be scared about investing into non-publicly traded investments. Rather, keep the risk and opportunities in perspective, and realize that you may need to get out of your comfort zone by asking pointed questions, demanding additional documentation, or simply saying “no.” Remember: You are the best person to protect your retirement.
The so-called “DOL Fiduciary Rule” went into effect in June and has caused negative repercussions on self-directed retirement account investors who self-directed their IRA, 401(k), or pension into alternative investments. Many self-directed investors have been shut out from investing into private offerings – real estate funds, private placements, start-ups, private REITs, etc. – as investment sponsors or private companies raising funds fear that, by accepting the self-directed retirement account’s investment, they will be labeled a “fiduciary” and will need to adhere to fiduciary rules really meant for investment advisers.
What is a Fiduciary?
The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently expanded the definition of who a “fiduciary” is to include any person or entity who renders “investment advice” for a fee or other compensation. The fee doesn’t need to be from the compensation itself, but just has to flow from the investment. Here’s the problem: If you run a private fund, start-up, or a real estate partnership, and you take investment dollars from a retirement account, then the DOL definition may include you as a fiduciary since your investment documents will likely contain information that would be considered “investment advice.” And, since you will indirectly receiving compensation as a part of management of the fund or start-up, then you are indirectly receiving a fee for providing investment advice and may consequently be deemed a fiduciary.
Fiduciary Rule Repercussions
Most investment sponsors dread being labelled a fiduciary as they are placed with very high legal standards including as the duty of prudence, the duty of loyalty, and they have to avoid self-dealing prohibited transactions that may arise if they are receiving any compensation that isn’t found to be “reasonable”. In short, application of the fiduciary rule makes them re-align the company’s or management’s interests to be in the best interest of the invested retirement account. While this sounds like a good deal for the retirement account investor – and it is – it puts the interests of management at odds with the retirement account, and creates significant liability to management if they accept retirement plan dollars when they are a fiduciary.
The fiduciary rule was primarily intended to apply to an adviser advising a client so that the investment adviser recommended investments in the best interest of the client, not just the highest paying commission for the adviser. Although that makes sense, the new definition is so broad that it also could apply to the company raising funds from a self-directed IRA or 401(k), and force those companies to reject investment dollars from self-directed IRAs and 401(k)s.
There are two exceptions to the Fiduciary Rule that will allow a self-directed retirement account to invest into a private investment offering: Independent Fiduciaries and Best Interest Contract Exemption.
If the self-directed retirement account investor has an independent fiduciary, then that fiduciary is responsible for their investment advice and the offering company won’t be deemed a fiduciary. An independent fiduciary would include a registered investment adviser or a broker-dealer. Consequently, if a self-directed IRA investor had an investment adviser who reviewed the investment, then the offering company would likely not be deemed a fiduciary for this investment. I’ve seen numerous companies starting to require this for all retirement account investments. For those clients who already use an investment adviser, this is easier to comply with. But, most self-directed investors do not use an adviser, and as a result would need to spend money to engage one for the purposes of reviewing the investment just so they could qualify to invest.
Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE)
The second exemption is the best interest contract exemption, otherwise known as “BICE.” BICE provides that a person is exempt from the fiduciary rule, but has lengthy requirements that really won’t work for an investment sponsor or someone raising private capital from an IRA. Based on the requirements, it will really only work for advisers or insurance companies offering financial products.
What to Do Moving Forward?
Many private investment offerings are not restricting self-directed accounts yet. They are either agreeing that they are fiduciaries and are taking that into account their company’s operations or they are taking the legal position that the fiduciary rule doesn’t apply to them, which may be correct as the law is new and still unclear. However, if you end up being restricted from investing your self-directed IRA or 401(k) into a private investment because the offering company is worried about the fiduciary rule, you may choose to rely on the Independent Fiduciary exemption and could engage an investment adviser – if you don’t already have one – to review this investment and serve as the fiduciary for the investment.