The prohibited transaction rules are the most important rules to understand when you self-direct your retirement account. These rules restrict not what investments your retirement plan may acquire but whom your plan may transact with.
How It Happens
A prohibited transaction occurs when a retirement plan (e.g. self directed IRA or 401k) transacts with a disqualified person. IRC § 4975. A transaction is pretty easy to identify and is defined in the code as a sale, lease, exchange, payment, or other transfer of money from a retirement plan. If that transaction is with a disqualified person then the retirement plan has engaged in a prohibited transaction. The consequence of a prohibited transaction for an IRA is distribution of entire IRA while the consequence to a 401(k) or other employer based plan is a 15% excise tax on the amount involved and an additional 100% penalty if the transaction is not corrected. Regardless of the type of retirement account you are self-directing, the consequences are significant. IRC § 4975 (c)(3), IRC § 408 (e)(2)(A). IRC § 4975 (a),(b).
Often times, a disqualified person is generically referred to as a family member. While that definition can be accurate, it really can cause problems when applied as some family members are disqualified (e.g. spouse of plan owner) while others are not (e.g. brother of plan owner). Also, it can be really confusing to determine when a company is disqualified to a retirement plan or when partners are disqualified. Because of the confusion, I’ve created a disqualified person diagram to help sort out the details. If a party is in red, that means they are a disqualified person and that your retirement plan cannot transact with them. If the party is green, that means they are NOT disqualified and your retirement plan may transact with them.
Keep in mind that a self-dealing prohibited transaction can also arise if any disqualified party personally benefits from a retirement plans investments. In summary, you should avoid all transactions with disqualified persons and should seek legal counsel whenever a disqualified person is involved in any retirement plan investment.
Do you need access to your retirement account funds to start a business, to pay for non-traditional education expenses, to make a personal investment, or to pay off high interest debt? Rather than taking a taxable distribution from your 401(k), you can access a portion of the funds in your 401(k) via a loan from the 401(k) to yourself without paying any taxes or penalties to access the funds. The loan must be paid back to the 401(k) but can be used for any purpose by the account owner. Many people are familiar with this loan option but are confused at how the rules work. Here is a summary of the items to know. For more details, check out the IRS Manual on the subject here.
FAQs on Loans from Your 401(k)
How much can I loan myself from my 401(k)? 50% of the vested account balance (FMV of the account) of the 401(k) not to exceed $50,000. So if you have a $200,000 401(k) account value you can loan yourself $50,000. If you have $80,000, you can loan yourself $40,000.
What can I use the funds for? By law, the loan can be used for anything you want. The funds can be used to start a business, for personal investment, for education expenses, to pay bills, to buy a home, or for any personal purpose you want. Some employer plans restrict the purpose of the loan to certain pre-approved purposes.
How do I pay back the loan to my own 401(k)? The loan must be paid back in substantially level payments, at least quarterly, with-in 5 years. A lump sum payment at the end of the loan is not acceptable. For loans where the funds were used to purchase a home, the loan term can be up to 30 years.
What interest rate do I pay my 401(k)? The interest rate to be charged is a commercially reasonable rate. This has been interpreted by the industry and the IRS/DOL to be prime plus 2% (currently that would be 5.75%). If the loan was for the purchase of a home for the account owner then the rate is the federal home loan mortgage corporate rate for conventional fixed mortgages. Keep in mind that even though you are paying interest, you are paying that interest to your own 401(k) as opposed to paying a bank or credit card company.
How many loans can I take? By law, you can take as many loans as you want provided that they do not collectively exceed 50% of the account balance or $50,000. However, if you are taking a loan from a current company plan, you may be restricted to one loan per 12 month period.
What happens if I don’t pay the loan back? Any amount not re-paid under the note will be considered a distribution and any applicable taxes and penalties will be due by the account owner.
Can I take a loan from my IRA? No. The loan option is not available to IRA owners. However, if you are self-employed or are starting a new business you can set up a solo or owner only 401(k) (provided you have no other employees than the business owners and spouses) and you can roll your IRA or prior employer 401(k) funds to your new 401(k) and can take a loan from your new solo 401(k) account.
Can I take a loan from a previous employer 401(k) and use it to start a new business? Many large employer 401(k) plans restrict loans to current employees. As a result, you probably won’t be able to take a loan from the prior 401(k). You may, however, be able to establish your own solo or owner only 401(k) in your new business. You would then roll over your old 401(k) plan to your new solo/owner only 401(k) plan.
Can I take a loan from my Roth 401(k) account? Yes, so long as your 401(k) plan doesn’t restrict loans from the Roth account.
What if I have a 401(k) loan and change employers? Many employer plans require you to pay off any outstanding loans within 60 days of your last date of employment. If your new employer offers a 401(k) with a loan option or if you establish a solo/owner only 401(k), you can roll over your prior employer loan/note to your new 401(k).
The 401(k) loan option is a relatively easy and efficient way to use your retirement account funds to start a small business, to pay for non-traditional education expenses, or to consolidate debt to a better rate of interest. If you have more questions about accessing your 401(k) funds, please contact us at the law firm at 602-761-9798.
A Self-Directed IRA is an IRA (Roth, Traditional, SEP, Inherited IRA, SIMPLE) where the custodian of the account allows the IRA to invest into any investment allowed by law. These investments typically include; real estate, promissory notes, precious metals, and private company stock. The typical reaction I hear from investors is: “Why haven’t I ever heard of self-directed IRAs before, and why can I only invest my current retirement plan into mutual funds or stocks?” The reason is that the large financial institutions that administer most U.S. retirement accounts don’t find it administratively feasible to hold real estate or non-publicly traded assets in retirement plans.
What Can a Self-Directed IRA Invest Into?
Under current law, a retirement account is only restricted from investing in the following:
Collectibles such as art, stamps, coins, alcoholic beverages, or antiques IRC 408(m);
And, any investment that constitutes a prohibited transaction pursuant to ERISA and/or IRC 4975 (e.g. purchase of any investment from a disqualified person such as a close family member to the retirement account owner).
The most popular self-directed retirement account investments include; rental real estate, secured loans to others for real estate, small business stock or LLC interest, and precious metals such as gold or silver. These investments are all allowed by law and can be great assets for investors with experience in these areas.
When self-directing your retirement account you must be aware of the prohibited transaction rules found in IRC 4975. These rules don’t restrict what your account can invest in, but rather, whom your IRA may transact with. In short, the prohibited transaction rules restrict your retirement account from engaging in a transaction with someone who is a disqualified person to your account. A disqualified person to a retirement account includes the account owner, their spouse, children, parents, and certain business partners. So, for example, your retirement account could not buy a rental property that is owned by your father since a purchase of the property would be a transaction with someone who is disqualified to the retirement account (e.g. father). On the other hand, your retirement account could buy a rental property from your cousin, friend, sister, or a random third-party, as these parties are not disqualified persons under the rules.
The rationale behind the prohibited transaction rules is that the federal government doesn’t want tax advantaged accounts conducting transactions between parties who are close enough to the account owner that there could be a transaction designed to avoid or un-fairly minimize tax by altering the true fair market value/price of the investment. The consequence of a prohibited transaction is disqualification of the retirement account as of January 1 of the year the prohibited transaction occurred. In a typical self-directed IRA investment, your IRA custodian holds your investment in their company name for your IRAs benefit (e.g. property is owned as ABC Trust Company FBO John Smith IRA) and receives the income and pays the expenses for the investment at the account owner’s direction and instruction.
What is an IRA/LLC?
Many self-directed retirement account owners, particularly those buying real estate, use an IRA/LLC as the vehicle to hold their retirement account assets. An IRA/LLC is a special type of LLC, which consists of an IRA (or other retirement account) investing its cash into a newly created LLC. The IRA/LLC is managed by the IRA owner and the IRA owner then directs the LLC investments and the LLC takes title to the assets, pays the expenses to the investment, and receives the income from the investment. There are many restrictions to the IRA owner being a manager (such as not receiving compensation or personal benefit) and many laws to consider so please ensure you consult an attorney before establishing an IRA/LLC. For more details on the IRA/LLC structure, the cases, and the structuring options, please refer to my prior blog post here.
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