UBIT Tax and Self-Directed IRAs: Three Key Tips Every Investor Should Know

Photo of two people at a desk using their mobile and tablet devices with the text "UBIT Tax and Self-Directed IRAs: Three Key Tips Every Investor Should Know."Unrelated Business Income Tax (“UBIT”) is often misunderstood by self-directed IRA investors and their professional advisors. In essence, UBIT is a tax that is due to an IRA when it receives “business income” as opposed to “investment income”. When we think of IRAs and retirement accounts, we think of them as receiving income without having to pay tax when the income is made. For example, when your IRA sells stock for a profit and that profit goes back to your IRA you don’t pay any tax on the gain. Similarly, when you sell real estate owned by your IRA for a profit and that profit goes back to your IRA, you don’t pay any tax on the gain. The reason for this is because the gain from the sale of an investment asset is deemed investment income and as a result it is exempt for UBIT tax.

Tip 1: “When Does UBIT Apply?”

UBIT applies when your IRA receives “unrelated business income”. However, if your IRA receives investment income, then that income is exempt from UBIT tax. Investment income that is exempt from UBIT includes the following.

Investment Income Exempt from UBIT:

  • Real Estate Rental Income, IRC 512(b)(3) – The rent of real estate is investment income and is exempt from UBIT
  • Interest Income, IRC 512(b)(1) – Interest and points made from the lending of money is investment income and is exempt from UBIT.
  • Capital Gain Income, IRC 512(b)(5) – The sale, exchange, or disposition of assets is investment income and is exempt from UBIT.
  • Dividend Income, IRC 512(b)(1) – Dividend income from a c-corp where the company paid corporate tax is investment income and exempt from UBIT.
  • Royalty Income, IRC 512(b)(2) – Royalty income derived from intangible property rights such as intellectual property and from oil/gas and mineral leasing activities is investment income and is exempt from UBIT.

There are two common areas where self-directed IRA investors run into UBIT issues and are outside of the exemptions outlined above. The first occurs when an IRA invests and buys LLC ownership in an operating business (e.g. sells goods or services) that is structured as a pass-thru entity for taxes (e.g. partnership) and that that does not pay corporate taxes. The income from the LLC flows to its owners and would be ordinary income. If the company has net taxable income it will flow down to the IRA as ordinary income on the k-1 and this will cause tax to the IRA as this will be business income and it does not fit into one of the investment income exemptions.

The second problematic area is when IRAs engage in real estate investment that do not result in investment income. For example, real estate development or a number of significant short-term real estate flips by an IRA will cause the assets of the IRA to be considered as inventory as opposed to investment assets and this will cause UBIT tax to the IRA.

Tip 2: UBIT Applies When You Have Debt Leveraging an IRA Investment

UBIT also applies to an IRA when it leverages its purchasing power with debt. If an IRA uses debt to buy an investment, then the income attributable to the debt is subject to UBIT. This income is referred to as unrelated debt financed income (UDFI) and it causes UBIT. The most common situation occurs when an IRA buys real estate with a non-recourse loan. For example, lets say an IRA buys a rental property for $100,000 and that $40,000 came from the IRA and $60,000 came form a non-recourse loan. The property is thus 60% leveraged and as a result, 60% of the income is not a result of the IRAs investment but the result of the debt invested. Because of this debt, that is not retirement plan money, the IRS requires tax to be paid on 60% of the income. So, if there is $10K of rental income on the property then $6K would be UDFI and would be subject to UBIT taxes.

For a more detailed outline on UDFI, please refer to my free one-hour webinar here.

Tip 3: UBIT Tax is Reported and Paid by the IRA via a Form 990-T Tax Return

Unrelated business income tax (UBIT) for an IRA is reported and paid via IRS Form 990-T. IRS Form 990-T is due for IRAs on April 15th of each year. IRA owner’s can file and obtain an automatic 3-month extension with the IRS by filing an extension request before the regular deadline.

If UBIT Tax is due, it is paid from the IRA and the IRA owner would send the prepared Form 990-T to their IRA custodian for their signature and for direction of payment to the IRS for any tax due as part of the 990-T Return.

For a more detailed outline of UBIT, please refer to Chapter 15 of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.

Self-Directed IRAs, Real Estate Crowdfunding, and UBIT Tax Explained

Image of a crowd giving money to an investor with the text "Self-Directed IRAs, Real Estate Crowdfunding and UBIT Tax Explained."

The most common asset class for self-directed IRA accounts is real estate. Real estate investments for self-directed IRAs come in various forms from simple single-family rentals owned 100% by the IRA to LLC or LP investment partnerships with multiple investors in larger commercial or multi-family properties.

Given the changes in federal securities laws that now allow investment sponsors and real estate syndicators to raise capital more easily, many self directed IRA investors have considered investing their IRAs into these offerings. Crowdfunding sites such as Realcrowd are already offering Crowdfunding type investment opportunities for investors under SEC Rule 506(c). This rule and those investments are currently only available to accredited investors and have no restriction on the investment amount that may come from the accredited investor. These offerings have traditionally been known as private placements or “PPMs” but can now be marketed and there is no requirement that they be “private” so long as the offering company only accepts accredited investors.

For those who are not accredited investors, “true” Crowdfunding under Title III of the JOBS Act goes into effect in May of 2016. Under these Crowdfunding offerings everyone will be able to invest into Crowdfunding opportunities and the investment amount will be based on the investor’s income and assets. These new Crowdfunding rules were enacted in Title III of the JOBS Act and were put into final regulations by the SEC in late 2015.

Before investing your self-directed IRA into a real estate Crowdfunding offering, you must first learn and understand one very important tax called UBIT tax that may apply to your self-directed IRA’s income.

Will My IRA Be Subject to UBIT Tax?

Unrelated Business Income Tax (“UBIT”) applies to an IRA that receives non-passive income. UBIT is a hefty tax and has a maximum rate of 39.6%. IRC § 511. The tax table is copied below.

2016 UBIT Tax Rates

 If taxable income is: The tax is:
Not over $2550 15% of the taxable income
Over $2550 but not over $5950 $375 plus 25% of the excess over $2550
Over $5950 but not over $9050 $1225 plus 28% of the excess over $5950
Over $9050 but not over $12300 $2107 plus 33% of the excess over $9050
Over $12400 $3179 plus 39.6% of the excess over $12400

 

Although not shown on the table, the first $1,000 in UBIT gross income is exempt and you receive an automatic $1,000 deduction.

UBIT will apply to your self-directed IRAs real estate investment in two scenarios. First, it will apply if the income to the IRA is ordinary. And second, it will apply if the offering company uses debt to acquire its properties.

Step One: Is the income passive?

First, UBIT will apply if the investment is an ordinary income producing business. An ordinary income business in real estate investing would include investing into an LLC or LP that conducts new construction, real estate developments held for sale, or other activities that are deemed business activities. Passive income investments, on the other hand, are specifically exempt from UBIT and include real estate rental income, capital gain income, interest income, and dividend income from a c-corp. IRC § 512(b). The vast majority of real estate Crowdfunding offerings are structured to obtain passive income such as rental income while the property is held and capital gain income when the property is sold. Typical real estate offerings where UBIT can be due include offerings to fix and flip properties or offerings for new construction or real estate development where the investment strategy is to buy properties to then immediately sale.

If you have an investment offering that is ordinary income (e.g. a fix and flip fund), then the income to the IRA from the fund will be subject to UBIT tax and the IRA will be required to file and pay the tax each year by using IRS Form 990-T. This responsibility to file the return each year is on the IRA account owner and not the investment sponsor or the IRA custodian so IRA owners need to know for themselves whether the IRA is subject to UBIT or not. So for example, let’s say that a self-directed IRA invested into a Crowdfunding offering that was a real estate development with properties held immediately for sale and that the income was ordinary income. Let’s further assume that the self-directed IRA received a K-1 for profits to the IRA for the year of $10,000. Based on the UBIT tax table, the IRA would owe UBIT tax in the amount of $2,420. This amount is due from the IRA to the IRS and is reported and payable using form 990-T.

If you’ve determined that the Crowdfunding offering income is passive (e.g. rental, capital gain), then you may still be subject to UBIT if the LLC or LP offering company is using debt to leverage and acquire its properties.

Step Two: Will the investment be leveraged with debt?

Second, UBIT will apply to profits returned to your IRA from a Crowdfunding real estate offering (and really any real estate owned by your IRA) if the offering company uses debt to leverage its acquisition of properties. For example, let’s say the offering company raises $1M in cash to buy a $4M multi-family property. There will be $1M of cash invested into the property and $3M of debt. The property will therefore be leveraged 75% with debt.

Whenever an IRA’s investment is leveraged with debt, the tax code requires the IRA owner to determine what profits are attributable to the IRAs cash and what profits are attributable to the debt. The profits attributable to the cash invested is still treated as tax deferred (traditional IRA) or tax free (roth IRA) and is not subject to UBIT. The profits and income attributable to the debt, however, is called unrelated debt financed income (“UDFI”) and is subject to UBIT. IRC § 514. So, in the multi-family property example above where the property is leveraged 75% with debt, the self-directed IRA will be subject to UBIT tax on 75% of the income.

In order to calculate UBIT tax based on debt, you must first determine the leverage ratio. Once we know the leverage ratio, we can then begin to calculate how UBIT will apply. The good news is that the IRA is also allowed to take expenses against the property using the same leverage ratio and is able to take depreciation expenses which help to offset UBIT. In many situations, even where a property is cash-flowing the IRA will not be subject to UBIT because the property expenses and depreciation will offset UBIT income.

Let’s continue through this example to illustrate how this works.

Example

Property Purchase Price = $4M

Debt/Leverage = $3M

Leverage Ration = 75%

Income = $1.3M

Income at Leverage Ratio (75%) = $975,000

Operating Expenses= $1,000,000

Operating Expenses at Leverage Ratio (75%) = $750,000

Net Leveraged Income = $225,000

Depreciation Expense ($4M / 27.5) = $145,500

Depreciation Expense at Leverage Ratio = $109,125

Net UDFI/UBIT Income = $115,875

 

SDIRA Investor Invested $20K and received 1.5% of Company Profit/Loss

SDIRA Investor 1.5% of Net UDFI/UBIT = $1,738.

Automatic IRS $1,000 deduction = $738 subject to UBIT/UDFI

UBIT Table Rate of 15% of $738 = $110 in UBIT is Due

 

As the example demonstrates, given the low-level of investment from the IRA it isn’t subject to much UBIT as the net UBIT income (after expenses and depreciation) keeps the tax rate on the low end of the tax table. That being said, 990-T tax returns must be filed by the IRA investor for the IRA and the IRA will be responsible for the tax due. Factors that will cause more UBIT are higher returns and income, larger investment amounts and ownership, and more leverage.

While self-directed IRA’s are subject to UDFI and UBIT on leveraged real estate investments, it is worth noting that self-directed 401(k) and other employer based plans are exempt from UDFI on leveraged real estate investments. IRC § 514(9). Unfortunately, self-directed IRAs do not receive this exemption.

So, in short, the quick list to determine whether UBIT will be due a self-directed IRA Crowdfunding real estate investment requires analysis of two issues. First, is the offering company’s income passive or is it ordinary. If it is ordinary then it is subject to UBIT. If it is passive, then it is only subject to UBIT if the company uses debt to leverage its investments. Once you can answer these questions you know whether UBIT will apply to your investment and whether your IRA will need to report and pay tax on its income.

Fact and Fiction for IRA RMDs

Image of one thumb up next to another thumb down with the text "Fact and Fiction for IRA RMDs."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.

Fact

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Fiction

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Court Rules in Favor of Self-Directed IRA Real Estate Investor in Prohibited Transaction Case

Photo of a gavel in front of empty seats in a courtroom with the text "Court Rules in Favor of Self-Directed IRA Real Estate Investor in Prohibited Transaction Case."A recent Bankruptcy Court decision dealt with prohibited transaction claims against a self directed IRA owner who was using their IRA to flip real estate for profit. The claims were brought by a bankruptcy trustee who argued that the protected IRA was no longer an IRA because it engaged in a number of prohibited transactions. If the trustee is successful in disqualifying the retirement account because of a prohibited transaction, then the funds and assets held in such retirement account are no longer protected from creditors and may be used to pay debtors involved in the bankruptcy. While most prohibited transaction cases arise in Tax Court, I’m seeing more cases on prohibited transactions in Bankruptcy Court as trustees are becoming more aggressive and as self directed IRAs are becoming more popular.

The case in question is known as In re Cherwenka, Case 13-57592-MGD (Bankr. N. D. GA 2014). The case included two important prohibited transaction analysis that are helpful to IRA owners.

Court Rules No Prohibited Transaction When Managing IRA Investment Properties Without Compensation

The first significant ruling from the Court was that there was no prohibited transaction when the IRA owner completed the following tasks related to the IRA owned property.

  • Research and identified properties to buy
  • Appointed and approved work on the properties
  • Oversaw payments on the property for work from the self-directed IRA.

The Court reasoned that these actions do no constitute a “transaction” as defined in IRC § 4975 and as a result they cannot constitute a prohibited transaction. The Court further stated that, “…self-directed IRAs as qualified IRAs, necessarily implies that a disqualified person (the owner as fiduciary) will make investment decisions regarding the plan. The Court distinguished this case from In re Williams, 2011 WL 10653865 (Bankr E.D. Cal 2011) a similar case in which the self-directed IRA owner was managing properties owned by the IRA because in Williams the IRA was paying the self-directed IRA owner for the services. The court stated that it was the payment from the IRA to the IRA owner in Williams that caused the prohibited transaction and not the mere provision of managing the IRAs investment owned by the IRA.

Court Ruled That No Prohibited Transaction Occurred When IRA and Owner Invested Into Property Together

The second significant ruling from the Court was that there was no prohibited transaction when the IRA owner and the IRA co-invested into a property together. The property in question was owned 45% by the IRA and 55% by the IRA owner. The Court rejected the bankruptcy Trustee’s argument that such co-investment purchase resulted in a prohibited transaction and stated that the interests appeared to have been treated distinctly and that the HUD documents from the sale of the property show that the IRA and the IRA owner’s proceeds from the sale were treated separately and that they were apportioned properly. As a result, the Court concluded that no prohibited transaction occurred since there was no evidence of un-fair benefit between the IRA owner and his IRA. In its reasoning, the Court referenced DOL Opinion 2000-10A which addressed an IRA and the IRA owner co-investing into a partnership. In the Opinion the DOL states that, “a violation of section 4975 (c)(1)(D) or (E) will not occur merely because the fiduciary [IRA owner] drives some incidental benefit from the transaction involving IRA assets.” The Court referenced this opinion and stated that unless there is evidence of some un-fair benefit that no prohibited transaction occurred merely because of co-investment into the same property.

There are two key take-away’s for self-directed IRA investors from this case.

First, never take compensation or payment from the IRA for services rendered. It is clear that the Courts will find a prohibited transaction if you do and that you will no longer have an IRA.

Second, if you are buying property or others assets (e.g. LLC interests) between your IRA and yourself personally (or another disqualified person) those interests must be carefully calculated and treated such that there is no benefit going unfairly between the IRA and the disqualified person (e.g. IRA owner). In sum, get advice and plan carefully as there are many land-mines you could encounter when investing IRA funds with your own personal funds. Bottom line, it can be done but it can easily be done incorrectly.

What is a Joint Venture Agreement and When Should You Use It?

Three people sitting at a desk with two of them shaking hands over a joint venture agreement and text reading "What is a Joint Venture Agreement and When Should You Use It?"A Joint Venture Agreement (aka, “JV Agreement”) is a document many business owners and investors should become familiar with. In short, a JV Agreement is a contract between two or more parties where the parties outline the venture, who is providing what (money, services, credit, etc.), what the parties responsibility and authority are, how decisions will be made, how profits/losses are to be shared, and other venture specific terms.

A joint venture agreement is typically used by two parties (companies or individuals) who are entering into a “one-off” project, investment, or business opportunity. In many instances, the two parties will form a new company such as an LLC to conduct operations or to own the investment and this is usually the recommended path if the parties intend to operate together over the long term. However, if the opportunity between the parties is a “one-off” venture where the parties intend to cease working together once the agreement or deal is completed, a joint venture agreement may be an excellent option.

For example, consider a common JV Agreement scenario used by real estate investors. A real estate investor purchases a property in their LLC or s-corporation and intends to rehab and then sell the property for a profit. The real estate investors finds a contractor to conduct the rehab and the arrangement with the contractor is that the contractor will be reimbursed their expenses and costs and is then paid a share of the profits from the sale of the property following the rehab. In this scenario, the JV Agreement works well as the parties can outline the responsibilities and how profits/losses will be shared following the sale of the property. It is possible to have the contractor added to the real estate investors s-corporation or LLC in order to share in profits, but that typically wouldn’t be advisable as that contractor would permanently be an owner of the real estate investor’s company and the real estate investor will likely use that company for other properties and investments where the contractor is not involved. As a result, a JV Agreement  between the real estate investors company that owns the property and the contractors construction company that will complete the construction work is preferred as each party keeps control and ownership of their own company and they divide profits and responsibility on the project being completed together.

While a new company is not required when entering into a JV Agreement, many JV Agreements benefit from having a joint venture specific LLC that is created just for the purpose of the JV Agreement. This venture specific LLC is advisable in a couple of situations. First, where the parties do not have an entity under which to conduct business and which will provide liability protection. In this instance, a new company should be formed anyways for liability purposes and depending on the parties future intentions a new LLC between the parties may work well. Second, where the arrangement carries significant liability, capital, or other resources. The more money, time, and liability involved in the venture will give more reason to having a separate new LLC to own the new venture and to isolate liability, capital, and other resources. A $1M deal or venture could be done with a JV Agreement alone, however, the parties would be well advised to establish a new entity as part of the JV Agreement. On the other hand, if the venture is only a matter of tens of thousands of dollars, the costs of a new entity may outweigh the benefits of a separate LLC for the venture.

There are numerous scenarios where JV Agreements are used in real estate investments, business start-ups, and in other business situations. Careful consideration should be made when entering into a JV Agreement and each Agreement is always unique and requires some special tailoring.