Solo 401(k) plans have grown significantly and are often used by self-directed investors. Solo 401(k)s are an excellent tool for self employed persons to maximize contributions in their own business or self-employment just like large companies who offer plans for their employees. The basic rules for solo 401(k)s are that you must be self-employed and that you must have a no other employees other than the business owner and family. As happens with many good things, this is starting to get over-sold and we are seeing common problems arise with persons who create them on-line or with the assistance of someone who has no credentials or experience outside of creating a catchy website. Here are a few things to watch out for.
Top Three Mistakes in Solo 401(k) Plans
1. Failure to Update/Amend– Pursuant to Revenue Procedure 2007-44, 401(k) plans shall be amended and restated every six years to conform with current law. The company who provided your plan document, usually what is called a pre-approved plan document for solo 401(k)’s, should be providing you with these updates so that your plan stays in compliance with the amendment cycles established by the IRS. Failure to properly update the plan can result in significant penalties and revocation of tax status.
2. Using an LLC With Rental Income as The Employer/Company – Solo 401(k)s must be established by an employer company. Unlike IRAs, where any individual may establish an account, a 401(k) may only be established by a company and is a benefit for its employees. For example, a solo 401(k) for a self-employed real estate agent with no other employees is created for the real estate agent who is the sole employee/owner. For many self-employed persons who have no other employees, this type of 401(k) is an excellent retirement plan too.
Unfortunately, the solo 401(k) is being oversold and over promoted to real estate investors who only own rentals. We have seen many promoters (operating out of a basement somewhere) who state that you can establish a solo 401(k) with your LLC that owns rental real estate. After all, they say, the LLC is a company and you are the only owner. Therefore this company can establish a solo 401(k). This is only partly true. The LLC that owns rental properties is not a proper entity in which to establish a solo 401(k) since the LLC receives “rental income” and since the owners of the LLC are not considered “employees” receiving wages or earned income that may be contributed to a retirement account. Rental income cannot be contributed to a retirement account and as a result the owner of the LLC is not an employee or person receiving earned income that qualifies to have a solo 401(k) account. All 401(k)s, solo 401(k)s included, must be established by a company for the benefit of its employees with wages or earned income. See IRS Publication 560. As a result, we recommend that clients use companies where there is wage income (e.g. s-corps) or self-employment income that creates earned income on schedule C be used to establish a solo 401(k). While an LLC may be used to adopt a solo 401(k), that would only be the case if the LLC receives ordinary income for its owner that is then claimed on schedule C of the owner’s tax return.
3. Failing to File Form 5500-EZ – In general, 401(k)s are required to file a return called from 5500. Solo 401(k)s, however, have some exemptions to the 5500 filing requirement but there are many situations where a solo 401(k) is still required to file an annual form 5500-EZ return. The first instance where a 5500-EZ tax return is required is when the solo 401(k) has over $250,000 in assets. The second instance is when the plan is terminated. Regardless of assets, a form 5500 must still be filed at termination.
Our law firm has experience in creating solo 401(k)s that can be self-trustee’d and self-directed and we also assist our clients with annual maintenance, plan amendments, and required annual 5500-EZ filings. Contact us at the law firm to learn more information about our services.
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.
Three Methods to Manage the Property
|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.
IRA/LLC Structure for Real Estate
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.