Summer is great time to think about college and to make financial plans for your kids. Better yet, let them make money over the summer and put it in a tax-favorable college savings account. As you consider their plan options, consider the two most common tax favored savings tools available.
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.
- Contributions grow tax-free and can be withdrawn for education expenses until the account beneficiary reaches age 30.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- Amounts can be withdrawn for tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, special needs, room and board.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).
All retirement account owners must be familiar with the required minimum distribution (“RMD”) rules applicable to their accounts. These rules require you, in most instances, to take partial distributions from your retirement account when you reach age 70 ½. And, surprise, the rules for Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401(k)s differ. In fact, even 401(k)s where you are a 5% or greater owner have different rules than 401(k)s where you aren’t an owner. Thanks, Congress.
So what rules apply to Solo 401(k) owners? Well, generally speaking, you must begin taking distributions from your Solo K when you reach age 70 ½. Despite what you may think or presume, there are three quirks to be aware of when it comes to RMD and Solo 401(k):
Still Working Exception Does Not Work on Solo Ks
There is a general RMD 401(k) rule which states that even after age 70 ½, you are not required to take distributions from an employer 401(k) when you are still working for that employer. However, this exception does not apply to account holders or their spouses who own 5% or more of the company. In other words, business owners who use a Solo 401(k) will be forced to take RMD from their Solo 401(k) after age 70 ½ even if they are still working in the business.
Roth 401(k) Funds are Subject to RMD
RMD applies to Roth 401(k)s. I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, but why would RMDs apply to Roth 401(k)s when Roth IRAs are exempt?” Because Congress said so. I know, it doesn’t make much sense, Roth 401(k) distributions at retirement will be tax-free, like Roth IRA distributions, and the IRS will not receive any revenue from the distribution so why treat Roth 401(k)’s differently? There’s not a good answer, but you should write your Congressperson or Senator and ask. In the meantime, if you’re 70 ½ and you have funds in a Roth 401(k) which you don’t want distributed, you can roll those Roth 401(k) funds out to a Roth IRA and you can avoid the distribution requirement by letting those funds sit in your Roth IRA where no RMD is required. Checkmate, IRS.
Every 401(k) Must Have RMD Taken, No Aggregating
Every 401(k) account you have must take RMD. So, for example, if you have a Solo 401(k) and a 401(k) account with an old employer then you need to take RMD from each 401(k) account. You cannot aggregate those accounts together and take RMD out of one to satisfy both RMD requirements. This aggregating is allowed in Traditional IRAs but unfortunately does not work with different 401(k) plan accounts. If taking RMDs from multiple accounts is getting too complex, you can roll the old employer 401(k) to the Solo K or to a Traditional IRA (or Roth IRA if Roth 401(k) funds) to consolidate your accounts and your RMD requirements.
Make sure take RMD when you are required to do so. Failure to take RMD results in a 50% penalty tax on the amount you failed to take. As a result, it’s critical that you understand the RMD rules for each retirement account you hold. If you have made a mistake though, the IRS does have penalty waiver programs whereby you can correct some failed RMDs and request a waiver of the penalty due. This doesn’t work in every instance, but if you’ve failed to take RMD ask your tax lawyer or accountant on whether a penalty waiver could apply in your instance.
How does the proposed Republican tax reform impact your retirement account? Well, if you save for education expenses for your kids or grand-kids using a Coverdell Education Savings Account, you’re not going to be happy as new contributions to Coverdell accounts are eliminated in the House Plan. Also, both House and Senate bills eliminate the ability to re-characterize Roth IRA conversions back to Traditional IRAs. This was a nice “do-over” the IRS allowed you to use if you regretted converting your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and switched it back to a traditional IRA within certain time limitations. For my prior article on how a Roth IRA re-characterization works, at least for now, check it out here.
The only good news: It could’ve been worse. There was talk of drastic changes that would have essentially called an end to Traditional IRA and 401(k) contributions in favor of Roth-only contributions (or limiting Traditional dollars to $2,400 annually). Luckily, those ideas never made it into the legislation.
Here’s a brief summary of the two major changes effecting IRAs. In addition to the changes effecting IRAs, there are numerous proposals regarding employer retirement plans such as 401(k)s, but those changes only slightly alter the ways those plans function.
||Change to IRAs
||No More Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) Contributions
||Coverdell accounts are used as a vehicle to contribute funds (up to $2k annually per beneficiary) for education expenses. It is usually used by parents or grandparents as an account to invest the money tax-free whereby the money in the account grows without being subject to tax and comes out tax-free for the beneficiary’s education expenses. There is no deduction for the contribution. The current proposal would eliminate the ability to make future Coverdell contributions. Existing accounts may still exist without new contributions or may be rolled to a 529.
|House Bill & Senate Amendment to Senate Bill
||End Roth IRA Re-characterizations
||Under current rules, you can convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and if you later decide that such conversions (and tax due) wasn’t a good idea, you are allowed to undo the conversion and go back to a Traditional IRA.
So what should you do now? If you’ve used Coverdell accounts or wanted to, make 2017 Coverdell contributions because they may be the last time you can do them. Also, if you’ve been thinking of converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, 2017 may be the last year you can do so, and still have the ability to re-characterize back to Traditional if you later decide against it.
There are 25 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. There are over 30 companies who provide self-directed IRAs. For a detailed list of the companies that provide these types of accounts, check out the Retirement Industry Trust Association’s website and membership list. RITA is the national association for the self-directed retirement plan industry, and most major companies who provide these accounts are members of RITA.
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). 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 39.6% at $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 $25 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.
Many investors and financial professionals are familiar with the primary benefits of a Roth IRA: that the plans investments grow tax-free and come out tax-free. But if tax-free investing isn’t enough to get you excited, rest assured, there are more benefits to the Roth IRA. I’ll note just three more in this article.
Remember, Roth IRAs are for nearly everyone with earned income. They’re not restricted to high income earners. Check out my prior article here if you’re unfamiliar with the back-door Roth IRA. Okay, now lets over the other perks of Roth IRAs.
No Required Minimum Distributions
First, Roth IRAs are not subject to RMD. Traditional retirement plan owners are subject to rules known as Required Minimum Distribution rules which require the account owner to start taking distributions and paying tax on the distributions (since traditional plan) when the account owner reaches the age of 70 ½. Not being subject to RMD rules allows the Roth IRA to keep accumulating tax free income (free of capital gain or other taxes on its investment returns) and allows the account to continue to accumulate tax free income during the account owner’s life time. Learn more about the facts and fiction about IRA RMDs here.
Spousal Rollover: The Best Asset to Leave to Your Spouse
Second, a surviving spouse who is the beneficiary of a Roth IRA can continue contributing to that Roth IRA or can combine that Roth IRA into their own Roth IRA. Allowing the spouse beneficiary to take over the account allows additional tax free growth on investments in the Roth IRA account. Non spouse beneficiaries (e.g. children of Roth IRA owner) cannot make additional contributions to the inherited Roth IRA and cannot combine it with their own Roth IRA account. The non-spouse beneficiary becomes subject to required minimum distribution rules but can delay out required distributions up to 5 years from the year of the Roth IRA account owner’s death and is able to continue to keep the tax free return treatment of the retirement account for 5 years after the death of the owner. The second option for non-spouse beneficiaries is to take withdrawals of the account over the life time expectancy of the beneficiary (the younger the beneficiary the longer they can delay taking money out of the Roth IRA). The lifetime expectancy option is usually the best option for a non-spouse beneficiary to keep as much money in the Roth IRA for tax free returns and growth.
Tax and Penalty Free Withdrawals Before Age 59 ½ On What You Put In
Third, Roth IRA owners are not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions they take before age 59 ½ on amounts that are comprised of contributions or conversions. Growth and earning are subject to the early withdrawal penalty and taxes too, but you can always take out the amounts you contributed to your Roth IRA or the amounts that you converted without paying taxes or penalties (note that conversions have a 5 year wait period before you can take out funds penalty and tax free). This makes the Roth IRA the most powerful savings account out there because you can take out what you put in without penalty or tax for whatever reason you may have as hardship is not required. Traditional IRAs have no such benefits.
Roth IRAs are a great tool for many investors. Keep in mind that there are qualification rules to being eligible for a Roth IRA that leave out many high income individuals. However, you can convert your traditional retirement plan dollars to a Roth IRA (sometimes known as a backdoor Roth IRA) as the conversion rules do not have an income qualification level requirement on converted amounts to Roth IRAs. This conversion option has in essence made Roth IRAs available to everyone regardless of income.