Self-Directed IRA Basics: What is a Self-Directed IRA, What Can a Self-Directed IRA Invest Into, and What is an IRA/LLC?

RetirementWhat is a Self Directed IRA?

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);

– Life insurance IRC 408(a)(3);

– S-corporation stock, IRS Letter Ruling 199929029, April 27, 1999, IRC § 1361 (b)(1)(B);

– 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 cusotidan 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 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.

By: Mat Sorensen, Attorney and Author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.

This article is an excerpt from The Self Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide For Self Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

Managing a Rental Property Owned by Your Self-Directed IRA

When IRA-owned property is held for rent, the management of the rental property must be structured such that rental income is received by the IRA and expenses are paid by the IRA. The IRA owner and other disqualified persons (e.g. IRA owner, spouse, etc.) cannot personally be the “middle man” by paying expenses personally or by collecting the rent in their personal account and then forwarding the funds to the IRA. There are essentially three different methods whereby the IRA may be structured to properly collect rent and pay expenses.



1.  Manage directly through the IRA. Money goes to the IRA custodian and expenses are paid by the custodian at the direction of the IRA owner.
2.  Property Manager. The IRA hires a property manager who manages the property and receives the income and pays property expenses. Cash flow is returned to the IRA.
3.  IRA/LLC. Under the IRA/LLC, the IRA owner is the manager of the IRA/LLC and receives income and pays expenses from an IRA/LLC checking account. The IRA/LLC structure is very common in IRA owned real estate investments.

First, the IRA may be receiving the income directly and paying the expenses. This method involves a lease between the IRA and the tenant directly. Under this method, the tenant pays rental income to the IRA (e.g. ABC Trust Company FBO Sally Jones IRA) and sends the actual payment to the IRA custodian and the custodian then deposits that income into the respective IRA. If expenses are due, the IRA owner will need to direct the custodian to pay them by completing a written form (e.g. payment authorization letter) and instructing the IRA custodian as to the expenses to be paid from the IRA. There is usually a fee each time an instruction letter is issued to a self directed IRA custodian. This method can be tedious and can be fee intensive and as a result is not the most common way of managing a rental property held by an IRA.

Second, the IRA hires a property manager who receives the rental income to the property and pays the expenses to the property. The property manager cannot be a disqualified person to the IRA owner and the property manager will typically take a percent of the rental income collected as payment for their services. Under this method the IRA enters into an agreement with the property manager and the property manager then enters into leases with respective tenants. The IRA receives rental income minus property expenses and fees charged by the property manager.

Third, many IRA owners with rental property decide to use a structure known as an IRA/LLC. Under the IRA/LLC structure, the IRA invests into a newly created LLC and the IRA’s investment is then the ownership of the LLC. The IRA will invest an amount designated by the IRA owner into the LLC, and then funds are typically deposited into an LLC checking account at a bank selected by the IRA owner.


The IRA owner then, as manager of the LLC, signs the contract for the LLC to purchase the real estate. The property should close in the LLC name with funds from the LLC bank account and the LLC then in turn rents the property, receives the income and pays the expenses all from the LLC checking account. The LLC is entirely owned by the IRA and all funds in the LLC checking account must eventually be returned to the IRA when the IRA owner desires to take a distribution.

Regardless of the method used to own and manage the IRA owned rental property, the property cannot be leased to a disqualified person. So, for example, the IRA cannot purchase a property and allow the IRA owner’s son to lease the property as that lease would be a transaction with a disqualified person which results in a prohibited transaction.

In addition to prohibited transactions that are involved in leasing the property to family members, the IRA owner should closely analyze any leasing arrangement to a company where the IRA owner or other disqualified persons are owners of the IRA or company. For example, any lease to a company that is owned 50% or more by the IRA owner or other disqualified persons would constitute a prohibited transaction. IRC § 4975(e)(2)G).

In summary, there are many different ways to manage a rental property owned by your IRA. Make sure you are implementing one of these methods and that you are managing the IRA’s income, expenses, and properties properly.

This article is an excerpt from Mat Sorensen’s book, The Self Directed IRA Handbook.

By: Mat Sorensen, attorney and author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.

Self Directed IRA Strategies & 2012 IRA/LLC Legal Update

Many investors are aware of the opportunities that are available with self directed IRAs. This article highlights the strategies being used by self directed IRA investors and addresses some important issues and some recent cases regarding the IRA/LLC strategy.

As most of our readers are aware, a self directed IRA can be used to execute “alternative” investments such as real estate, precious metals, private lending, or non-publicly traded stock, and the investment returns receive the same tax favored IRA investment treatment we are all familiar with when investing our retirement accounts into stocks or mutual funds (e.g. tax deferred growth with traditional IRAs and tax free growth with Roth IRAs). One of the commonly used strategies by self directed IRA investors is commonly referred to as an IRA/LLC (aka checkbook control LLC). The idea of the IRA/LLC is that the self directed IRA invests its funds into a newly created LLC and in return receives 100% (unless there are partners or more than one IRA) of the membership of the newly created IRA/LLC. The IRA/LLC typically establishes an LLC bank account to hold the IRAs cash investment and this account is managed by the IRA owner or an advisor/professional third party. The IRA/LLC then executes the transactions on behalf of the IRA and holds legal title or ownership to the IRA/LLC assets on behalf of its IRA owner. In many instances, the IRA owner serves as the Manager of the IRA/LLC and performs administrative and investment oversight functions on behalf of the LLC such as signing contracts on investments, managing the IRA/LLC checking account, and receiving income and paying expenses on behalf of the IRA/LLC and its investments.  There are lots of rules, such as the prohibited transaction rules, that an IRA owner needs to be aware of before investing their retirement account with an IRA/LLC and we routinely advise clients on these laws and issues. For example, the IRA and the IRA/LLC cannot make a transaction with someone who is prohibited to the IRA such as the IRA owner itself or his spouse, children or parents. See IRC § 4975. This would prohibit the IRA from purchasing a rental property from the IRA owner’s father.

The original case where the IRA/LLC concept was permitted by the U.S. Tax Court is known as Swanson v. Commissioner, 106 T.C. 76 (1996). In this case an IRA owner established a corporation that was 100% owned by his IRA and which the IRA owner subsequently managed. The IRS challenged the investment into the corporation as a prohibited transaction and the Tax Court ruled that the investment was not prohibited. For many years, this was one of the few cases addressing the IRA/LLC investment structure whereby an IRA is the owner of 100% of a newly created company. However, in 2011 and 2012 there were two additional cases whereby the IRA/LLC structure has been analyzed by the Tax Court and the structure was again recognized as a valid investment option for an IRA that does not constitute a prohibited transaction.

The 2011 case was Hellwig v. Commisioner, 2011-58 (U.S. Tax Court 2011). This case involved the creation of four 100% owned corporations by Roth IRAs. The IRS challenged the 100% corporations which were managed by the respective Roth IRA owners. In the Court’s ruling the Court referenced the prior ruling in Swanson and stated that a retirement plan may purchase 100% of a newly formed company because the company is not a disqualified person upon formation. Also, the Court further held that actions of the Roth IRA owner who was managing the Roth IRA owned corporation was not prohibited.

The 2012 case was Repetto, et al v. Commissioner, T.C. , Memo 2012-168 (U.S. Tax Court 2012). This case involved a husband and wife who owned a construction company. The husband and wife both created corporations owned 98% by their Roth IRAs and 2% by a partner. The Roth IRA owned corporations then performed services for the construction company owned by the Repettos. The Court ruled against the taxpayer in this case because the Roth IRA owned corporations were performing services to the Repetto’s own company when there was no legitimate business purpose for such services and the resulting transfer and payment for services. While the taxpayer lost the case, the Court’s ruling was very helpful in analyzing the IRA/LLC structure as the Court stated in its ruling, “ The [IRS] agrees that generally an entity in which substantially all of the interest is owned or acquired by a Roth IRA may be recognized as a legitimate business entity for Federal tax purposes. However, …the resulting payments [from the Repetto construction company to the Roth IRA owned corporations] were nothing more than a mechanism for transferring value to the Roth IRAs [since there was no legitimate business purpose for the services and payments].”

In summary, the IRA/LLC strategy has been recognized as a legitimate investment structure for an IRA in three cases before the U.S. Tax Court.  The strategy does not, however, allow the IRA investor to avoid the prohibited transaction rules or allow the IRA owner to unfairly shift income or assets from themselves personally to their IRA. While we’d never recommend a client use an IRA/LLC for these purposes it is important to understand that the IRA/LLC strategy is a valid and well recognized investment structure for your IRA and that your IRA is still subject to the prohibited transaction and income shifting rules.

For more information and a consultation regarding your particular situation, please call the KKOS law office at 435-586-9366.

IRA Ownership of an LLC (IRA/LLC): Self Directed IRAs and IRA/LLCs

iraThere are numerous laws, cases, and regulations to consider in analyzing whether your IRA can own an LLC (commonly referred to as an “IRA/LLC” or a “checkbook control IRA”). Despite the complexity of the law, your IRA can own 100% of the ownership interest of an LLC and you as the IRA owner may serve as the Manager of this LLC. This proposition was first supported by the case of Swanson v. Commissioner, 106 T.C. 76 in 1996 where the U.S. Tax Court held that it is not a prohibited transaction under IRC Section 4975 for a retirement plan to invest and own 100% of newly created corporation nor was it prohibited for the IRA owner to serve as an officer of that company where no salary or compensation was paid to the IRA owner. In summary, the U.S. Tax Court has supported the structure whereby a new created company is wholly owned by a retirement plan and managed by the retirement plan owner and that is the same rationale used in many IRA/LLC’s.

So what does the IRS think about IRA/LLC’s? The IRS issued IRS Field Service Advisory #200128011 in April of 2001 which indicated that the IRS will not contend that there is a prohibited transaction when there is a newly formed and capitalized company that is 100% owned by a retirement plan. Keep in mind that both of these cases deal with newly formed companies and do not apply to LLC’s or corporations (or other companies) which a retirement plan owner may have already established. Also, it is possible to partner your retirement plan with others into one IRA/LLC but you must carefully consult with professional who are experienced in this area as there are numerous prohibited transaction issues that may arise when you partner your IRA with others.

Serving as the Manager of the IRA/LLC allows the IRA account owner to enter into contracts on behalf of the IRA/LLC and to sign checks on behalf of the IRA/LLC. There are restrictions on the amount of work you may do (for example, if the IRA/LLC owned a property you may not work on the property) but you may oversee the administrative matters like the signing of contracts and checks. The prohibited transaction rules still apply to IRA/LLC’s in the same way they apply to your self-directed IRA so you still must pay careful attention to these rules and most consult with professionals who are competent in the laws that apply to retirement plans. Moreover, an IRA/LLC is different from your typical LLC and the IRA/LLC documents should include numerous provisions which protect your IRA from a prohibited transaction. This doesn’t mean that an IRA/LLC should costs thousands of dollars. In fact, our law firm sets IRA/LLC’s up for $750 plus the state filing fee if the IRA/LLC is owned by one IRA or $1,500 if owned by multiple IRA’s or partners. In the end, an IRA/LLC can be a powerful tool to gain more control of your IRA’s investments but you must do so with adherence to the rules and laws that apply to your IRA. Written by Mathew Sorensen, Attorney at Law and Partner at Kyler Kohler Ostermiller & Sorensen, LLP, a law firm assisting self directed retirement plan owners across the U.S. for over ten years from offices in Arizona, Utah and California. To learn more about our law firm, please visit our website at or call us at 435-586-9366.