Many self directed IRA investors misunderstand or are unaware of the protections afforded to their IRA (Roth or traditional) as it relates to creditors and judgments. This article seeks to address the key areas of the law that every self directed IRA investor should know.
First, your IRA is not always exempt from creditors up to $1Million. Many IRA owners believe that federal law protects their IRA from creditors up to $1M. While Section 522(n) of the federal bankruptcy code protects an IRA owner’s IRA from creditors up to $1M, this protection is only provided to IRAs when an account owner is in bankruptcy. If the IRA owner is not in bankruptcy then the creditor protections are determined by state law and the laws of each state vary. For example, if you reside are a resident of Arizona then your IRA is still protected from creditors up to $1M even without filing bankruptcy. The approach Arizona takes is the most common, however, many states protections for IRAs outside of bankruptcy are extremely weak. For example, if you are a resident of California then your IRA is only protected in an amount necessary to provide for the debtor and their dependents. That’s a pretty subjective test in California and one that makes IRAs vulnerable to creditors. If your California IRA is from a rollover of a company plan, you may have other protections. California residents should check out my prior article here.
Second, while your IRA can be exempt from your personal creditors, as explained above, it is not exempt from liabilities that occur in the IRAs investments. For example, if your IRA owns a rental property and something happens on that rental property then the IRA is responsible for that liability (and possibly the IRA owner). As a result, many self directed IRA owner’s who won real estate or other liability producing assets utilize IRA/LLC’s which protect the IRA and the IRA owner from the liability of the property.
Third, if the IRA engages in a prohibited transaction under IRC Section 4975 then the IRA is no longer an IRA and is no longer exempt from creditors. Despite the bankruptcy and state law protections outlined in my first point above, if a creditor successfully proves that a prohibited transaction occurred within an IRA then account no longer is considered a valid IRA and therefore the protections from creditors vanish. There seems to have been an increase in creditors who are pursuing IRAs, particularly self directed IRAs, and I have been representing more and more self directed IRA owners in bankruptcy and other creditor collection actions in defending against prohibited transaction inquiries.
Fourth, many proponents of solo 401(k)s have argued that investors are better off using a self-directed solo 401(k) plan instead of a self-directed IRA because solo 401(k)s receive ERISA creditor protection (federal law) that is better than most state law creditor protections afforded to IRAs. While it is true that ERISA plan protection is better then state law IRA creditor protection and courts have already held that while a Solo K plan is a qualified plan it is not subject to ERISA. Yates v. Hendon, 541 U.S. at 20-21. Since a Solo K plan is not subject to ERISA, its account holders cannot seek ERISA creditor protection and would instead be treated the same as IRA owners. In sum, there is no difference in creditor protection between a solo 401(k) account and a self-directed IRA. We love Solo 401(k) plans, we just aren’t setting them up instead of IRAs because of asset protection purposes.
In summary, the best way to protect your self directed IRA from creditors is to understand the rules that govern your self directed IRA and to seek counsel and guidance to ensure that your retirement is available for you and not just your creditors.
Self-Directed IRA investors should be aware of the following IRA tax reporting responsibilities. Some of these items are completed by your custodian and some of them are the IRA owner’s sole responsibility. Here’s a quick summary of what should be reported to the IRS each year for your self-directed IRA.
IRA Custodian Files
Your IRA Custodian will file the following forms to the IRS annually.
||WHAT DOES IT REPORT
||Filed to the IRS by your custodian. No taxes are due or paid as a result of Form 5498.
IRA contributions, roth conversions, the accounts fair market value as of 12/31/15, and required minimum distributions taken.
||Filed to the IRS by your custodian to report any distributions or Roth conversions. The amounts distributed or converted are generally subject to tax and are claimed on your personal tax return.
||IRA distributions for the year, Roth IRA conversions, and also rollovers that are not direct IRA trustee to IRA trustee.
IRA Owner Responsibility
Depending on your self-directed IRA investments, you may be required to file the following tax return(s) with the IRS for your IRA’s investments/income.
||DOES MY IRA NEED TO FILE THIS?
|1065 Partnership Tax Return
||If your IRA is an owner in an LLC, LP, or other partnership, then the Partnership should file a 1065 Tax Return for the company to the IRS and should issue a K-1 to your IRA for its share of income or loss. Make sure the accountant preparing the company return knows to use your custodian’s tax ID for your IRA’s K-1’s and not your personal SSN (or your IRAs Tax ID if it has one for UBIT 990-T tax return purposes). If your IRA owns an LLC 100%, then it is disregarded for tax purposes (single member LLC) and the LLC does not need to file a tax return to the IRS.
|April 15th, 6 month extension available
|990-T IRA Tax Return (UBIT)
||If your IRA incurs unrelated business income tax (UBIT), then it is required to file a tax return. The IRA files a tax return and any taxes due are paid from the IRA. Most self-directed IRAs don’t need to file a 990-T for their IRA, buy you may be required to file for your IRA if your IRA obtained a non-recourse loan to buy a property (UDFI tax), or if your IRA participates in non-passive real estate investments such as construction, development, or on-going short-term flips. You may also have UBIT if your IRA has received income from an active trade or business such as a being a partner in an LLC that sells goods and services (c-corp dividends exempt). Rental real estate income (no debt leverage), interest income, capital gain income, and dividend income are exempt from UBIT tax.
||April 15th, 3 month extension available
Most Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve answered the most frequently asked questions below as they relate to your IRA’s tax reporting responsibilities.
Q: My IRA is a member in an LLC with other investors. What should I tell the accountant preparing the tax return about reporting profit/loss for my IRA?
A: Let your accountant know that the IRA should receive the K-1 (e.g. ABC Trust Company FBO John Doe IRA) and that they should use the Tax-ID of your custodian and not your personal SSN. Contact your custodian to obtain their Tax ID. Most custodians are familiar with this process so it should be readily available.
Q: Why do I need to provide an annual valuation to my custodian for the LLC (or other company) my IRA owns?
A: Your IRA custodian must report your IRA’s fair market value as of the end of the year (as of 12/31/15) to the IRS on Form 5498 and in order to do this they must have an accurate record of the value of your IRA’s investments. If your IRA owns an LLC, they need to know the value of that LLC. For example, let’s say you have an IRA that owns an LLC 100% and that this LLC owns a rental property and that it also has a bank account with some cash. If the value of the rental property at the end of the year was $150,000 and if the cash in the LLC bank account is $15,000, then the value of the LLC at the end of the year is $165,000.
Q: I have a property owned by my IRA and I obtained a non-recourse loan to purchase the property. Does my IRA need to file a 990-T tax return?
A: Probably. A 990-T tax return is required if your IRA has income subject to UBIT tax. There is a tax called UDFI tax (unrelated debt financed income) that is triggered when your IRA uses debt to acquire an asset. Essentially, what the IRS does in this situation is they make you apportion the percent of your investment that is the IRAs cash (tax favorable treatment) and the portion that is debt (subject to UDFI/UBIT tax) and your IRA ends up paying taxes on the profits that are generated from the debt as this is non-retirement plan money. If you have rental income for the year, then you can use expenses to offset this income. However, if you have $1,000 or more of gross income subject to UBIT then you should file a 990-T tax return. In addition, if you have losses for the year you may want to file 990-T to claim those losses as they can carry-forward to be used to offset future gains (e.g. sale of the property).
Q: How do I file a 990-T tax return for my IRA?
A: This is filed by your IRA and is not part of your personal tax return. If tax is due, you will need to send the completed tax form to your IRA custodian along with an instruction to pay the tax due and your custodian will pay the taxes owed from the IRA to the IRS. Your IRA must obtain its own Tax ID to file Form 990-T. Your IRA custodian does not file this form or report UBIT tax to the IRS for your IRA. This is the IRA owner’s responsibility. Our law firm prepares and files 990-T tax returns for our self-directed IRA and 401(k) clients. Contact us at the law firm if you need assistance.
Sadly, not many professionals are familiar with the rules and tax procedures for self-directed IRAs so it is important to seek out those attorneys, accountants, and CPAs who can help you understand your self-directed IRA tax reporting obligations. Our law firm routinely advises clients and their accountants on the rules and procedures that I have summarized in this article and we can also prepare and file your 990-T tax return.
If you failed to take required minimum distributions (RMD’s) from your IRA, then you are subject to a 50% penalty. The penalty is 50% on the amount you should have distributed from your IRA to yourself. It’s a steep penalty for simply failing to pay yourself from your own IRA and it’s something every IRA owner with RMD needs to understand. For my prior article explaining RMD rules for IRAs, please click here.
Waiver of 50% Penalty Tax
If you’ve failed to take RMD for your IRA, you have a chance at obtaining a waiver from the penalty but you must admit the mistake to the IRS by filing IRS form 5329. In the instructions to form 5329, the IRS outlines the waiver process to avoid the 50% penalty tax.
What You Need to Do
- Complete Section IX of Form 5329. You need to specify what you should have taken as RMD and then you calculate the penalty tax due. You then write the letters “RC”next to the amount you want waived on line 52.
- Statement of Explanation. Attach a Statement of Explanation outlining two items.
- First, explain what was the “reasonable error” that caused a failure to take RMD. The IRS does not provide a definition or acceptable examples of “reasonable error”. See IRC 4974(d)(1). From my own experience and from examples I’ve heard from colleagues, the IRS does recognize reasonable errors and oversights in most situations where there is reason for the error. This would include situations such mental health, to turning 70 ½ and being new to RMD, to relying on bad advice from an advisor, custodian or accountant, to holding an ill-liquid asset for sale in a self directed IRA.
- Second, explain the reasonable steps taken to correct the error. Ideally, by the time you’re filing the exemption request you would’ve already contacted your IRA custodian and would’ve taken the late RMD so that by the time you submit the RMD penalty tax waiver, you would be caught up and would have already remedied the error. This makes for an easy and clean explanation of what steps you’re going to take as your explanation will be that you already corrected the RMD failure once you realized the error.
Keep in mind that RMD failures won’t go away as your IRA custodian will be updating your account each year with the IRS. Eventually, you’ll start getting collection letters from the IRS requesting the penalty tax. Consequently, IRA owners are well advised to correct the RMD failure and request the wavier as soon as they become aware of the error or oversight.
As 2015 comes to an end, it is critical that Solo 401(k) owners make year-end retirement plans. There are three important deadlines you must know if you have a solo 401(k) or if you plan to set one up still in 2015. A solo 401(k) is a retirement plan for small business owners or self-employed persons who have no other full time employees other than owners and spouses. It’s a great plan that can be self directed into real estate, LLCs, or other alternative investments, and that allows the owner to contribute up to $53,000 per year (far faster than any IRA).
New Solo 401(k) Set-Up Deadline is 12/31/15
First, in order to make 2015 contributions the solo 401(k) must be adopted by your business by December 31, 2015. If you haven’t already adopted a Solo 401(k) plan, you should be starting right now so that documents can be completed and filed in time. If the 401(k) is established on January 1, 2016, or later you cannot make 2015 contributions.
2015 Contributions Can Be Made in 2016
Second, both employee and employer contributions can be made up to the company’s tax return deadline INCLUDING extensions. If you have a sole proprietorship (e.g. single member LLC or schedule C income) or partnership then the tax return deadline is April 15, 2016. If you have an s-corporation or c-corporation, then the tax return deadline is March 15, 2016. Both of these deadlines may be extended 6 months by filing an extension and the date to make 2015 contributions will also be extended. This a huge benefit for those that want to make 2015 contributions but who won’t have funds until later in the year to do so.
W-2’s Force You to Plan Now
Third, while employee and employer contributions may be extended until the company tax return deadline you will typically need to file a W-2 for your wages (e.g. an s-corporation) by January 31, 2016. The W-2 will include your wage income and any deduction for employee retirement plan contributions will be reduced on the W-2 in box 12. As a result, you should make your employee contributions (up to $18,000 for 2015) by January 31, 2016 or you should at least determine the amount you plan to contribute so that you can file an accurate W-2 by January 31, 2016. If you don’t have all or a portion of the funds you plan to contribute available by the time your W-2 is due, you can set the amount you plan to contribute to the 401(k) as an employee contribution and will then need to make said contribution by the tax return deadline (including extensions).
Now let’s bring this all together and take an example to outline how this may work. Let’s take Sally who is a real estate professional and who owns an s-corporation. She is the only owner and only employee and has a solo 401(k) established in 2015. She has $120,000 in net income for the year and will have taken $50,000 of that in wage income that will go on her W-2 for the year. That will leave $70,000 of profit that is taxable to her and that will come through to her personally via a K-1 from the business. Sally has not yet made any 2015 401(k) contributions but plans to do so in order to reduce her taxable income for the year and to build a nest-egg for retirement. If she decided to max-out her 2015 Solo 401(k) contributions, it would look like this.
- Employee Contributions – The 2015 maximum employee contribution is $18,000. This is dollar for dollar on wages so you can contribute $18,000 as long as you have made $18,000. Since Sally has $50,000 in wages from her s-corp, she can easily make an $18,000 employee contribution. Let’s say that Sally doesn’t have the $18,000 to contribute but will have it available by the tax return deadline (including extensions). What Sally will need to do is she will let her accountant or payroll company know what she plans to contribute as an employee contribution so that they can properly report the contributions on her payroll and W-2 reporting. By making an $18,000 employee contribution, Sally has reduced her taxable income on her W-2 from $50,000 to $32,000. At even a 20% tax bracket for federal taxes and a 5% tax bracket for state taxes that comes to a tax savings of $4,500.
- Employer Contributions – The 2015 maximum employer contribution is 25% of wage compensation for Sally. Since Sally has taken a W-2 wage of $50,000, the company may make an employer contribution of $12,500 (25% of $50,000). This contribution is an expense to the company and is included as employee benefit expense on the s-corporations tax return (form 1120S). In the stated example, Sally would’ve had $70,000 in net profit/income from the company before making the solo 401(k) contribution. After making the employer matching contribution of $12,500 in this example, Sally would then only receive a K-1 and net income/profit from the s-corporation of $57,500. Again, if she were in a 20% federal and a 5% state tax bracket that would create a tax savings of $3,125. This employer contribution would need to be made by March 15, 2016 (the company return deadline) or by September 15, 2016 if the company were to file an extension.
- In the end, Sally would have contributed and saved $30,500 for retirement ($18,000 employee contribution, $12,500 employer contribution). And finally, she would have saved $7,625 in federal and state taxes. That’s a win-win.
Keep in mind, you need to start making plans now and you want to begin coordinating with your account or payroll company as your yearly wage information and W-2 are critical in determining what you can contribute to your Solo 401(k).
If you are age 70 1/2 or older and if you have a traditional IRA (or SEP or SIMPLE IRA or 401k), you must take your 2015 required minimum distributions (“RMD”) by December 31, 2015. In short, the RMD rules require you to distribute a portion of funds from your retirement account to yourself personally. These distributed funds are subject to tax and need to be included on your personal tax return. Let’s take an example to illustrate how the rule works. Sally is 72 and is required to take RMD each year. She has an IRA with $250,000 in it. According to the distribution rules, see IRS Publication 590, she will need to distribute $9,765 by the end of the year. This equates to about 4% of her account value. Next year, she will re-calculate this annual distribution amount based on the accounts value and her age. Once you know how to calculate the RMD, determining the distribution amount is relatively easy. However, the rules of when RMD applies and to what accounts can be confusing. To help sort out the confusion, I have outlined some facts and fiction that every retirement account owner should know about RMDs. First, let’s cover the facts. Then, we’ll tackle the fiction.
- No RMD for Roth IRAs: Roth IRAs are exempt from RMDs. Even if you are 70/12 or older, you’re not required to take distributions from your Roth IRA. Why is that? Because there is no tax due when you take a distribution from your Roth IRA. As a result, the government doesn’t really care whether you distribute the funds or not as they don’t receive any tax revenue.
- RMD Can Be Taken From One IRA to Satisfy RMD for All IRAs: While each account will have an RMD amount to be distributed, you can total those amounts and can satisfy that total amount from one IRA. It is up to you. So, for example, if you have a self directed IRA with a property you don’t want to sell to pay RMD and a brokerage IRA with stock you want to sell to pay RMD, then you can sell the stock in the brokerage IRA and use those funds to satisfy the RMD for both IRAs. You can’t combine RMD though for 401(k) and IRA accounts. Only IRA to IRA or 401(k) to 401(k).
- 50% Excise Tax Penalty: There is a 50% excise tax penalty on the amount you failed to take as RMD. So, for example, if you should’ve taken $10,000 as RMD, but failed to do so, you will be subject to a $5,000 excise tax penalty. Check back next month where I will summarize some measures and relief procedures you can take if you failed to take required RMD.
- 401(k) Account Holder Still Working for 401(k) Employer: If you have a 401(k) with a current employer and if you are still working for that employer, you can delay RMD for as long as you are still working at that employer. This exception doesn’t apply to former employer 401(k) accounts even if you are otherwise employed.
- RMD Due by End of Year: You can make 2015 RMD payments until the tax return deadline of April 15, 2016. Wrong! While you can make 2015 IRA contributions up until the tax return deadline of April 15, 2016, RMD distributions must be done by December 31, 2015.
- Roth 401(k)s are Subject to RMDs: While Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are both tax-free accounts, the RMD rules apply differently. As I stated above, Roth IRAs are exempt from RMD rules. However, Roth 401(k) owners are required to take RMD. Keep in mind, you could roll your Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA and thereby you would avoid having to take RMD but if you keep the account as a Roth 401(k) then you will be required to start taking RMD at age 70 ½. The distributions will not be subject to tax but they will start the slow process of removing funds from the tax-free account.
- RMD Must Be Taken In Cash: False. Required Minimum distributions may be satisfied by taking cash distributions or by taking a distribution of assets in kind. While a cash distribution is the easiest method to take RMD, you may also satisfy RMD by distributing assets in kind. This may be stock or real estate or other assets that you don’t want to sell or that you cannot sell. This doesn’t occur often but some self directed IRA owners will end up holding an asset they don’t want to sell because of current market conditions (e.g. real estate) and they decide to take distributions of portions of the real estate in-kind in order to satisfy RMD. This process is complicated and requires an appraisal of the asset(s) being distributed and partial deed transfers (or partial LLC membership interest transfers, if the IRA owns an LLC and the LLC owns the real estate) from the IRA to the IRA owner. While this isn’t the recommended course to satisfy RMD, it is a potential solution to IRA owners who are holding an asset, who have no other IRA funds to distribute for RMD, and who wish to only take a portion of the asset to satisfy their annual RMD.
The RMD rules are complicated and it is easy to make a mistake. Keep in mind that once you know how the RMD rules apply in your situation it is generally going to apply in the same manner every year thereafter with only some new calculations based on your age and account balances each year thereafter.
Click here for a nice summary of the RMD rules from the IRS.
Distributions from a 401(k) to its owner are subject to a 20% withholding tax whereas distributions from an IRA are not subject to a withholding tax. As a result, any amounts distributed from a 401(k) to its owner will be reduced by 20% and that 20% will be sent to the IRS in expectation of the taxes that will be due from the account owner for the distribution. Any amounts distributed from an IRA, however, are not subject to the 20% withholding as the IRA owner can elect out of withholding. The discrepancy in the rules is one advantage of using an IRA in retirement as opposed to a 401(k) since the amounts distributed from the IRA can be received in their entirely. Keep in mind, the tax owed on a distribution from an IRA or 401(k) is the exact same. The difference is when you are required to pay it. In both instances you will receive a 1099-R from your custodian/administrator but in the 401(k) distribution you are required to set aside and effectively pre-pay the taxes owed.
The 401(k) Withholding Rule in Practice
Let’s walk though a common situation that outlines the issue. Sarah is 64 and has a 401(k). She would like to distribute $100,000 from the 401(k). She contacts her 401(k) administrator and is told that on a $100,000 distribution they will send her $80,000 and that $20,000 will be sent to the IRS for her to cover the 20% withholding requirement. Since this 20% withholding requirement does not apply to IRAs, Sarah decides to roll/transfer the $100,000 from her 401(k) directly to an IRA. Once the funds arrive at the IRA, Sarah takes the $100,000 distribution from the IRA and there is no mandatory 20% withholding so she actually receives $100,000 in total. Keep in mind, Sarah will still owe taxes on the $100,000 distribution from the IRA and she will receive a 1099-R to include on her tax return. That being said. Sarah has given herself the ability to access all of the amounts distributed for her retirement account without the need for sending withholding to the IRS at the time of distribution.
It’s that simple. Don’t take distributions from a 401(k) and subject yourself to the 20% withholding tax when you can roll/transfer those 401(k) funds to an IRA and receive the entire distribution desired without a 20% withholding.