5 Point Checklist to Keep Your Solo 401(k) Compliant

Solo 401(k)s have become a popular retirement plan option for self-employed persons. Unfortunately, many of the plans are not properly maintained and are at the risk of significant penalty and/or plan termination. If you have a Solo 401(k), you need to ensure that the 401(k) is being properly maintained. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure your plan is on track.

  1. Is the Plan Up-to-Date? The IRS requires all 401(k) plans, including solo 401(k)s, to be amended at least once every 6 years. If you’ve had your plan over 6 years and you’ve never restated the plan or adopted amendments, it is not compliant and upon audit you will be subject to fines and possible plan termination (IRS Rev Proc 2016-17). If your plan is out of date, your best option is to restate your plan to make sure it is compliant with current law. On average, most plan documents we see update every 2-3 years as the laws effecting the plan documents change.
  2. Are You Properly Tracking Your Plan Funds? Your solo 401(k) plan funds need to be properly tracked and they must identify the different sources for each participant. For example, if two spouses are contributing Roth 401(k) employee contributions and the company is matching traditional 401(k) dollars, then you need to be tracking these four different sources of funds, and you must have a written accounting record documenting these different fund types.
  3. Plan Funds Must Be Separated by Source and Participant. You must maintain separate bank accounts for the different participants’ funds (e.g. spouses or partners in a solo K), and you must also separate traditional funds from Roth funds. In addition, you must properly track and document investments from these different fund sources so that returns to the solo 401(k) are properly credited to the proper investing account.
  4. Does Your Solo 401(k) Need to File a Form 5500? There are two primary situations where you may be required to file a Form 5500 for your solo 401(k). First, if your solo 401(k) has more than $250,000 in assets. And second, if the solo 401(k) plan is terminated (regardless of total asset amount). If either of these instances occur, then the solo 401(k) must file a Form 5500 to the IRS annually. Form 5500 is due by July 31 of each year for the prior year’s plan activity. Solo 401(k)s can file what is known as a 5500-EZ. The 5500-EZ is a shortened version of the standard Form 5500. Unfortunately, the Form 5500-EZ cannot be filed electronically and must be filed by mail. Solo 401(k) owners have the option of filing a Form 5500-SF on-line through the DOL. The on-line filing is a preferred method as it can immediately be filed and tracked by the plan owner. In fact, if you qualify to file a 5500-EZ, the IRS/DOL allow you file the Form 5500-SF on-line but you can skip certain questions so that you only end up answering what is on the shorter Form 5500-EZ.
  5. Are You Properly Reporting Contributions and Rollovers? If you’ve rolled over funds from an IRA or other 401(k) to your solo 401(k), you should’ve indicated that the rollover or transfer was to another retirement account. So long as you did this, the company rolling over the funds will issue a 1099-R to you, but will include a code on the 1099-R (code G in box 7) indicating that the funds were transferred to another retirement account, and that the amount on the 1099-R is not subject to tax.  If you’re making new contributions to the solo 401(k), those contributions should be properly tracked on your personal and business tax returns. If you are an s-corp, your employee contributions should show up on your W-2, and your employer contributions will show up on line 17 of your 1120S s-corp tax return. If you are a sole prop, your contributions will typically show up on your personal 1040 on line 28.

Make sure you are complying with these rules on an annual basis. If your solo 401(k) retirement plan is out of compliance, get with your attorney or CPA immediately to make sure it is up-to-date. Failure to properly file Form 5500 runs at a rate of $25 a day up to a maximum penalty of $15,000 per return not properly filed. You don’t want to get stung by that penalty for failing to file a relatively simple form. The good news is there are correction programs offered for some plan failures, but don’t get sloppy, or you’ll run the risk losing your hard-earned retirement dollars.

GAO Report on Self-Directed IRAs Concludes IRS Lacking in Three Key Areas

image4280The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) concluded over a year of research and investigation on self-directed IRA’s and 401(k)’s with a report to Congress called Retirement Security: Improved Guidance Could Help Account Owners Understand the Risks of Investing in Unconventional Assets.

Self-directed IRA’s and 401(k)’s are accounts that may be invested into “unconventional” assets. The most common “self-directed” assets are real estate, LLC’s, start-ups, venture capital, private funds, and precious metals. The self-directed IRA industry has tripled over the past ten years and the demand and interest from retirement account holders continues to grow.

The GAO was tasked to research self-directed IRA’s by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

The GAO identified 27 custodians who handle self-directed IRA’s holding “unconventional” assets such as real estate, LLC’s, private company stock, and precious metals. Seventeen of these companies participated and responded to surveys and requests for information. These 17 companies reported holding 500,000 retirement accounts and $50 Billion in assets in unconventional investments.

I was interviewed by the GAO for this report and they also used my book, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook, while conducting research on the laws and taxes affecting self-directed IRA and 401(k) investors.

The GAO’s report concluded that IRS guidance is lacking in three specific areas:

  1. Prohibited Transactions: The GAO concluded that self-directed account holders who invest in unconventional assets are at greater risk of engaging in prohibited transactions and that the IRS should engage in additional outreach and education with regards to unconventional assets to ensure compliance. The prohibited transactions rules are found in IRC § 4975 and essentially restrict the account owner, and certain family members, from transacting personally with their own IRA. For example, it would be a prohibited transaction for an IRA owner to sell private stock they personally own to their own IRA. It is also a prohibited transaction to have use or benefit of your IRA’s assets. For example, if your IRA owned real estate, it would be a prohibited transaction to have personal use or occupancy of the property.
  1. UBTI (Unrelated Business Taxable Income): The GAO’s research and investigation concluded that many self-directed IRA and 401(k) investors are unaware of the unrelated business taxable income (“UBTI”) that can apply to some “unconventional” investments owned by an IRA. UBTI tax applies to IRA’s when they receive “business” income as opposed to “investment” income. IRA’s are designed to receive investment income such as rental income, interest income, dividend income, or capital gain income. However, if an IRA receives “business” income or “ordinary” income, that causes UBTI and the IRA ends up being responsible for tax on its income. In this instance, the IRA files a 990-T tax return and is responsible for tax on the income earned. Most self-directed IRA investments do not cause UBTI, but many self-directed investors unwittingly run into this tax. The GAO found in its report that there isn’t any guidance regarding UBTI in the IRS publications on IRA’s, Publications 590-A and 590-B. The GAO warned that without caution or specific guidance in these publications or through other efforts by the IRS, that self-directed account owners may unwittingly invest their account into assets that cause UBTI tax.
  1. Fair Market Valuations: The GAO’s report found that there is zero advice to custodians of IRA’s or to IRA owners regarding how to determine the fair market value (“FMV”) for unconventional assets held in a retirement account. Each year, the custodian of a self-directed IRA must report the FMV of the account to the IRS via form 5498. For publicly traded assets such as stocks or mutual funds, valuation is relatively simple as the valuations is the price of the stock or fund as of close of the market price on December 31 each year. For assets such as real estate or private company stock, such value is not as readily available and account holders and companies use varying methods for reporting FMV annually to the IRS. The GAO recommended that the IRS develop guidance or regulations on how unconventional assets should be valued and reported to the IRS. In their response to the report, the IRS stated that they will recommend that Treasury address fair market valuations in their upcoming retirement plan regulations for 2016-2017

The GAO report was an excellent analysis and summary of the common issues facing self-directed IRA and 401(k) owners investing in unconventional assets. As an attorney representing self-directed account holders for over ten years, I wholeheartedly agree with the three issues the GAO cited in their report and believe that further guidance from the IRS would increase awareness for not only account holders but also for their professional tax, legal, and financial advisers.

IRS Warns Against Home Storage for Precious Metals Owned by Self-Directed IRAs

IRA GoldThe Wall Street Journal recently reported on the radio advertising that promotes an ability to store gold owned by a self-directed IRA at the IRA owner’s own home. Based on the Journal’s reporting and investigation, the IRS issued a statement warning against such storage. I’ve written about this topic on a number of occasions and our firm has always recommended against home storage for precious metals owned your IRA or your IRA/LLC.

The recent statement by the IRS against home storage is an important development and one that all self-directed IRA investors who own precious metals should be aware of. Keep in mind, there are two rules that apply to precious metals owned by an IRA.

QUALIFIYING METALS

First, the precious metals owned by an IRA must qualify under IRC § 408(m)(3). In short, these rules approve certain specifically approved coins (e.g. American Eagles) and gold, silver, platinum, or palladium that meet certain fineness requirements. Check my prior article for more detail as not all precious metals qualify to be owned by an IRA. In addition, Chapter 12 of my book, The Self Directed IRA Handbook covers the subject in detail.

STORAGE REQUIREMENT

And second, qualifying metals must be stored in accordance with IRA rules. Precious metals must be stored with a “bank” (e.g. bank, credit union, or trust company). Personal storage of precious metals owned by an IRA is not allowed. A broker-dealer, third-party administrator, or any company not licensed as a bank, credit union, or trust company may not store precious metals owned by an IRA. Additionally, an IRA owned LLC (aka, IRA/LLC) is subject to the same storage rules and must store metals the LLC owns with a “bank”.

If an IRA purchases precious metals that do not meet the specific requirements of IRC § 408(m)(3), then the precious metals are deemed collectible items. As a result, they are considered distributed from the IRA at the time of purchase. IRC § 408(m)(1). Similarly, if the storage requirement is violated, then the precious metals are also deemed distributed as of the date of the storage violation. IRS Private Letter Ruling 20021705. The consequence of distribution is that the value of the amount involved is deemed distributed and is subject to the applicable taxes and penalty.

Given the warning against home storage from the IRS, self-directed IRA owners should think twice before storing precious metals owned by their IRA or their IRA/LLC in their home.

For a detailed legal analysis, please refer to our Whitepaper on the topic found at the link below.

white-paper_storage-requirements-of-precious-metals-in-ira-llc_070715.

Self Directed IRAs, Prohibited Transactions, and the IRS Statute of Limitations: Thiessen v. Commissioner

SDIRA Prohibited TransactionIn the recent case of Thiessen v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. No. 7 (2016)the Tax Court considered how long the IRS has to allege a prohibited transaction against an IRA. In general, the IRS must allege a prohibited transaction against your IRA within three years after the return is filed. IRC 6501(a). However, that time-period may be extended another three years for a total of six years pursuant to IRC 6501(e)(1) when the taxpayer fails to report an amount that is in excess of 25% of the gross income stated in the return. For prohibited transaction rule violations, a failure to report occurs when you don’t disclose the prohibited transaction to the IRS or when you fail to claim the distribution that occurs from a prohibited transaction on your personal tax return. A prohibited transaction could be disclosed to the IRS though attachments to the return or other correspondence but the Tax Court first looks to see what was reported to the IRS on the IRA owner’s personal 1040 tax return for the years in question. In other words, if you don’t volunteer clear information of a prohibited transaction to the IRS then the limitation period can be extended up to a total of six years so long as the prohibited transaction would result in an gross income in excess of 25% of the taxpayer’s personal return. Note: IRS Form 5329 is used to declare a prohibited transaction on your personal return.

There are a few very important takeaways from the Tax Court’s ruling in Thiessen and from the IRS Internal Revenue Manual on Prohibited Transactions.

STATUTE OF LIMITATION TIPS

PRACTICAL THREE YEAR PERIOD

 

According to the IRS Agent Manual, Internal Revenue Manual, 4.72.11.6, IRS agents are instructed and trained to only review for prohibited transactions within a three-year window. In order to pursue a prohibited transaction past three years, an agent must receive approval from IRS Area Counsel. So, for practical purposes, the IRS is examining prohibited transactions within a three-year window.
FAILURE TO DISCLOSE SIX YEAR PERIOD

 

As had occurred in Thiessen, if any IRA owner fails to disclose a prohibited transaction to the IRS, the IRS may pursue a prohibited transaction for up to six years. This six-year clock runs six years after you filed your return in question. So, if you filed a 2010 personal return on April 15, 2011, and if the return did not include disclosure of a prohibited transaction, the IRS could pursue a prohibited transaction up until April 15, 2017. Keep in mind, this failure to report though must be a prohibited transaction that exceeds 25% of the gross income of the taxpayer for the year in question.

A final word to note is that the IRS may pursue prohibited transactions past six years and into an indefinite time-period when the prohibited transaction was fraudulent or a willful attempt to evade tax. IRC 6501(c)(1),(2),(3). I’m not aware of cases in this situation, nevertheless, don’t expect to be in safe waters if you fraudulently entered into a prohibited transaction as the statute of limitations never runs in those situations.

2015 Tax Reporting for Your Self-Directed IRA

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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.

IRS FORMPURPOSEWHAT DOES IT REPORT
 
Form 5498Filed 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.

 

Form 1099-RFiled 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.

IRS FORMDOES MY IRA NEED TO FILE THIS?DUE DATE
 
1065 Partnership Tax ReturnIf 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

 

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.

By: Mat Sorensen, Attorney and best-selling author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.