Solo 401(k)s have become a popular retirement plan option for self-employed persons. Unfortunately, many 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. Does your Solo 401(k) need to file a Form 5500-EZ?
There are two primary situations where you are required to file a Form 5500 for your Solo 401(k).
If your Solo 401(k) has more than $250,000 in assets, and
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 31st 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 online through the DOL. The online filing is preferred as it can immediately be filed and tracked by the plan owner. In fact, if you qualify to file a 5500-EZ, the IRS and DOL allow you file the Form 5500-SF online, but you can skip certain questions so that you only end up answering what is on the shorter Form 5500-EZ. We regularly file Form 5500-EZs and 5500-SFs for Solo K clients in the law firm for only $250.
2. 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 six years. If you’ve had your plan over six 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 If your plan is out of date, your best option is to restate your plan to make sure it is compliant with current law.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 two to three years as the laws effecting the plan documents change. We’ve had two different plan amendments to our IRS pre-approved plan in the past six years.
3. 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 employer 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.
4. 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.
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 have 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 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.
There are 28 trillion dollars in retirement plans in the United States. Do you know that these funds can be invested into your business? Yes, it’s true, IRAs and 401(k)s can be used to invest in start-ups, private companies, real estate, and small businesses. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs and retirement account owners didn’t even know that retirement accounts can invest in private companies but you’ve been able to do it for over 30 years.
Think of who owns these funds: It’s everyday Americans, it’s your cousin, friend, running partner, neighbor…it’s you. In fact, for many Americans, their retirement account is their largest concentration of invest-able funds. Yet, you’ve never asked anyone to invest in your business with their retirement account. Why not? How much do you think they have in their IRA or old employer 401(k)? How attached do you think they are to those investments? These are the questions that have unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars to be invested in private companies and start-ups.
How Many People Are Doing This?
Recent industry surveys revealed that there are one million retirement accounts that are self-directed into private companies, real estate, venture capital, private equity, hedge funds, start-ups, and other so-called “alternative” investments (e.g. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies). It is a sliver of the overall retirement account market, but it’s growing in popularity.
So, how does it work? How can these funds be properly invested into your business? If you ask your CPA or lawyer, the typical response is, “It’s possible, but very complicated, so we don’t recommend it.” In other words, they’ve heard of it, but they don’t know how it works, and they don’t want to look bad guessing. If you ask a financial adviser, particularly your own, they’ll talk about how it’s such a bad idea while thinking about how much fees they’ll lose when you stop buying mutual funds, annuities, and stocks that they make commissions or other fees from. Well, not all financial advisers, but unfortunately too many do.
Now, there are some legal and tax issues that need to be complied with, but that’s what good lawyers and accounts are for, right? And yes, there is greater risk in private company or start-up investments so self-directed IRA investors need to conduct adequate due diligence and they shouldn’t invest all of their account into one private company investment. So how does it work?
What is a Self-Directed IRA?
In order to invest into a private company, start-up, or small business, the retirement account holder must have a self-directed IRA? So, what is a self-directed IRA? A self-directed IRA is a retirement account that can be invested into any investment allowed by law. If your account is with a typical IRA or 401(k) company, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, TD Ameritrade, Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, then you can only invest in investments allowed under their platform, and these companies deem private company investments as “administratively unfeasible” to hold so they won’t allow your IRA or 401(k) to invest in them (some make exceptions for ultra-high net-worth clients, $50M plus accounts). As a result, the first step when investing in a private company with retirement account funds is to rollover or transfer the funds, without tax consequence, to a self-directed custodian who will allow your IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, HSA, or Solo 401(k) to be invested into a private company. My company, Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company, handles self-directed IRAs and our clients have invested millions in private companies.
Legal Tip: If an investor’s retirement account is with their current employer’s retirement plan (e.g. 401(k)), they won’t be able to change their custodian until they leave that employer or until they reach retirement age (59.5 years old or 55 under some plans). So, for now, they’re 401(k) is usually limited to buying mutual funds they don’t understand and don’t want.
Sell Corporation Stock or LLC Units to Self-Directed IRAs
Are you seeking capital for your business in exchange for stock or other equity? If so, you should consider offering shares or units in your company to retirement account owners. You don’t need to wait until your company is publicly traded to sell ownership to retirement accounts. Here are a few well-known companies who had individuals with self-directed IRAs invest in them before they were publicly traded: Facebook, Staples, Sealy, PayPal, Domino’s, and Yelp, just to name a few.
You can also raise capital for real estate purchases or equipment whereby a promissory note is offered to the IRA investor who acts as lender, and the funds are usually secured by the real estate or equipment being purchased. There are many investment variations available, but the most common is an equity investment purchasing shares or units where the IRA becomes a shareholder or note investment whereby the IRA becomes a lender. Keep in mind, you need to comply with state and federal securities laws when raising money from any investor.
Need to Know #1: Prohibited Transactions
There are two key rules to understand when other people invest their retirement account into your business. First, the tax code restricts an IRA or 401(k) from transacting with the account owner personally or with certain family (e.g. parents, spouse, kids, etc.). This restriction is known as the prohibited transaction rule. See IRC 4975 and IRS Pub 590A. Consequently, if you own a business personally you can’t have your own IRA or your parents IRA invest into your company to buy your stock or LLC units. However, more distant family members such as siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles could move their retirement account funds to a self-directed IRA to invest in your company. And certainly, unrelated third-parties would not be restricted by the prohibited transaction rules from investing in your company. What if you are only one of the founders or partners of a business, and you want to invest your IRA or your spouse’s IRA into the company? This is possible if your ownership and control is below 50%, but this question is very complicated and nuanced, so you’ll want to discuss it with your attorney or CPA who is familiar with this area of the tax law.
If a prohibited transaction occurs, the self-directed IRA is entirely distributed. That’s a pretty harsh consequence and one that makes compliance with this rule critical.
Need to Know #2: UBIT Tax
The second rule to understand is a tax known as Unrelated Business Income Tax (“UBIT”, “UBTI”). UBIT is a tax that can apply to an IRA when it receives “business” income. IRAs and 401(k)s don’t pay tax on the income or gains that go back to the account so long as they receive “investment” income. Investment income would include rental income, capital gain income, dividend income from a c-corp, interest income, and royalty income. If you’ve owned mutual funds or stocks with your retirement account, the income from these investments always falls into one of these “investment” income categories. However, when you go outside of these standardized forms of investment, you can be outside of “investment” income and you just might be receiving “business” income that is subject to the dreaded “unrelated business income tax.” This tax rate is at 37% at about $12,000 of taxable income annually. That’s a hefty rate, so you want to make sure you avoid it or otherwise understand and anticipate it when making investment decisions. The most common situation where a self-directed IRA will become subject to UBIT is when the IRA invests into an operational business selling goods or services who does not pay corporate income tax. For example, let’s say my new business retails goods on-line, and is organized as an LLC and taxed as a partnership. This is a very common form of private business and taxation, but one that will cause UBIT tax for net profits received by self-directed IRA. If, on the other hand, the same new business was a c-corporation and paid corporate tax (that’s what c-corps do), then the profits to the self-directed IRA would be dividend income, a form of investment income, and UBIT would not apply. Consequently, self-directed IRAs should presume that UBIT will apply when they invest into an operational business that is an LLC, but should presume that UBIT will not apply when they invest into an operational business that is a c-corporation.
Legal Tip: IRAs can own c-corporation stock, LLC units, LP interest, but they cannot own s-corporation stock because IRAs and 401(k)s do NOT qualify as s-corporation shareholders.
Now, if you’re an LLC raising capital from other people’s IRAs or 401(k)s, you should have a section in your offering documents that notifies people of potential UBIT tax on their investment. UBIT tax is paid by the retirement account annually on the net profits the account receives so it doesn’t cost the company raising the funds any additional money or tax. It costs the retirement account investor since UBIT is paid by the retirement account. Despite the hefty tax, many IRAs and 401(k)s will still invest when UBIT is present as they may be willing to pay the tax on a well-performing investment or their investment strategy. Alternatively, many self-directed IRAs may be investing with an intent to sell their ownership in the LLC as the mechanism to receive their planned return on investment. When selling their LLC ownership, the gain in the LLC units would be capital gain income and would not be subject to UBIT.
If the investment from the self-directed IRA was via a note or other debt instrument, then the profits to the IRA are simply interest income and that income is always investment income and is not subject to UBIT tax. Many companies raise capital from IRAs for real estate purchases or for equipment purchases. These loans from an IRA or IRA(s) are often secured by the real estate or equipment being purchased and the IRA ends up earning interest income like a private lender.
So, here’s a brief summary of what we’ve learned. First, there’s $28 trillion in retirement plans in the U.S. These retirement accounts can be used to invest into your start-up or private company. You need to comply with the prohibited transaction rules and you can’t invest your own account or certain family member’s account into your business as that would invalidate the IRA. But everyone else’s IRA can invest into your company. And lastly, depending on how the company is structured (LLC or C-Corp), and how the investment is designed (equity or debt/loan), there may be UBIT tax on the profits from the investment. Remember, UBIT tax usually arises for IRAs in operating businesses structured as LLCs where the company doesn’t pay a corporate tax on their net profits. This income is pushed down to the owners and in the case of an IRA this can cause UBIT tax liability.
Here’s the bottom line, retirement account funds can be a significant source of funding and investment for your business, so it’s worth some time and effort to learn how these funds can most efficiently be utilized. While there are some rules unique to retirement accounts they can easily be understood and planned for.
IRAs are the most overlooked opportunity in real estate. Let me explain.
First, there are over 9 Trillion Dollars in IRA accounts in the U.S. This number is staggering and makes IRAs one of the largest sections of investable cash in the world. Source, Investment Company Institute & Federal Reserve Board. But what does this have to do with real estate? Well, contrary to popular belief, IRAs have always been able to invest in and own real estate. They can own single family rentals, or flip properties, or own LLCs that own multi-family or commercial real estate. They can also invest as a private lender on real estate.
At this point in the IRA and real estate conversion. I’m usually asked, why have I never heard of this before? Well, the major providers of IRAs have generally found real estate to be “administratively unfeasible” as it takes more work to handle and administer than a publicly traded stock or REIT does. In other words, the brokerage and insurance firms who administer most IRAs restrict their IRAs to…well…the stuff they sell like publicly traded stock, mutual funds, and annuities. You’ve always been able to own real estate in an IRA but there have been few IRA custodians who allow it and as a result it isn’t as widely known as it should be. This have been changing over the past decades as awareness has spread.
IRAs can own single-family rental properties. IRAs can own properties being flipped for profit. IRAs can invest in small private LLCs that own commercial properties or multi-family properties with other individuals or IRAs. IRAs can own options on real estate. And IRAs can lend money secured to other real estate investors as a private investor or hard money lender. You can’t, however, buy real estate for personal use or for use by certain disqualified family members. The assets owned by your IRA must be held for investment purposes.
In sum, any real estate owned for investment purposes can be owned by an IRA. The law has very few restrictions on assets owned by a retirement account. In fact, the only investment assets restricted for IRAs is life insurance, collectible items (e.g. art, antique car), and s-corporation stock. IRC 408(m);IRC 408(a)(3);IRC § 1361 (b)(1)(B). So all investment real estate is fair game for IRAs.
To own real estate with an IRA, you must establish what is called a self-directed IRA and transfer the funds from your current IRA provider (or prior employer 401(k)) to the “self-directed IRA” provider. There are many companies who offer these types of accounts, like my own company, Directed IRA and Directed Trust Company.
What is a Self-Directed IRA?
A self-directed IRA is an IRA that can invest into any investment allowed by law. Real estate is the most common investment for self-directed IRAs but they can also be invested into start-ups, private equity funds, venture capital funds, precious metals, and even crypto-currency. Let’s focus on real estate though.
There are a few critical issues to consider when buying real estate with an IRA.
The IRA Owns the Property, Not You Personally
Let’s go over a real estate rental or property you plan to flip with the IRA. The purchase contract to buy the real estate must be in the name of the IRA and the deed to the property will be in the name of the IRA. The IRA funds, including the earnest money deposit, will come from the IRA account. Keep in mind, the IRA account owner is not buying the property so the contract should not be in their personal name nor should the IRA owner’s personal funds be used. IRAs are held in the name of the custodian of an IRA. So, for example, if your IRA is with my company, Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company, the titling of your IRA would be Directed Trust Company FBO John Doe IRA. That is the name of the buyer on the contract and is the name on title to the property.
Improvement costs and expenses for the IRA owned property must be paid by your IRA and not personally by the IRA owner. Conversely, when there is rental income on the property or when the property sells for a gain then that income goes back into the IRA. Now, one of the huge perks of investing with an IRA is that there is no tax when the IRA makes money. That works with buying and selling stock for gain as well as buying and selling real estate for gain. Consequently, the rental income and the income when you sell the property is not taxable. If this is a Traditional IRA, then the money comes out tax-deferred at retirement and you pay tax as you draw it out. But if it is a Roth IRA, then money comes out tax-free at retirement…so put your best real estate deals in your Roth IRA. But remember, even the Traditional IRA grows tax-deferred with all income accumulating and growing until retirement.
Avoid Prohibited Transactions
When self-directing your retirement account, you must be aware of the prohibited transaction rules found in IRC 4975. These rules restrict WHOM your account may transact with, not what kind of investment your account may own. 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). Similarly, you couldn’t buy a rental property from a third-party and then rent to your child as your child is a disqualified person. On the other hand, your retirement account could buy real estate from your cousin, friend, sister, or a third-party, as these parties are not disqualified persons under the rules.
A prohibited transaction can also arise if there is self-dealing where the IRA owner or disqualified family members are personally benefitting or making money from the IRAs investments. For example, if you are a real estate agent/broker and your IRA buys real estate you cannot receive the buyer’s agent commission as that would result in a financial benefit to you personally. You’d have to waive this fee and have the purchase price reduced or have someone else represent the IRA.
If an IRA engages in a prohibited transaction, the entire IRA account involved is deemed distributed and is no longer an IRA. Taxes and possible early withdrawal penalties apply under the normal distribution rules.
Use an IRA Owned LLC (aka, IRA/LLC or checkbook control IRA)
Many self-directed retirement account owners, particularly those buying real estate, use an IRA owned LLC as the vehicle to hold their retirement account assets. Under the IRA/LLC structure, the IRA typically owns the LLC 100% and the LLC in turn owns the real estate So, rather than buying real estate and owning it directly in the IRA custodian’s name, your IRA would invest and own an LLC and the LLC in turn would own the real estate.
The IRA/LLC is typically managed by the IRA owner. Under the structure, the IRA owns all of the membership/ownership units of the LLC but the IRA owner can serve as the manager of the LLC. Manager of an LLC is like the president of a corporation. The manager can sign for the LLC and can act on behalf of the LLC. As manager of the LLC, the IRA owner would establish an LLC bank checking account for the LLC and the IRA funds would be invested and deposited into that LLC business checking account. Because the IRA is funding all the investment dollars into the LLC, the IRA owns 100% of the LLC.
Now, the LLC is funded with the IRA cash and the IRA owner is the manager of the LLC. The IRA owner can decide how much cash to invest into the LLC from the IRA depending on the real estate they are planning to buy with the IRA/LLC. When offers to purchase real estate are made with an IRA/LLC, the LLC is the buyer on the real estate purchase contract and the earnest money deposit and final funds to close on the property would come from the LLC bank checking account. The IRA owner, as manager of the LLC, signs the real estate purchase contract and has control of the LLC bank checking account and can sign checks or send wires for the LLC account. Keep in mind, the LLC is owned 100% by the IRA and the LLC funds cannot be used for personal purposes and cannot be used to pay the IRA owner. If you ever want to take money from the IRA/LLC, you must send money from the LLC bank account back to the IRA (since the IRA owns the LLC) and you then take a distribution from the IRA.
And lastly, the IRA/LLC docs are unique and most contain IRA provisions in the LLC operating agreement and subscription sections. As a result, you should use a lawyer who is familiar with IRA/LLCs as many IRA custodians who allow for IRA/LLCs require an attorney or CPA to sign off on the docs. My law firm, KKOS Lawyers, has been drafting IRA/LLCs for over 12 years and charges a flat fee of $800 plus state filing fees. There are more complex IRA/LLC structures that involve multiple IRAs (e.g. spouses or other investors) and or combinations of IRAs and individuals and those structures are called Multi-Member IRA/LLCs and typically cost more to set-up.
How to Properly Get a Mortgage Loan With Your IRA?
Your IRA, or IRA/LLC, can get a mortgage loan when you buy real estate, but you need to know two things before you do.
First, the loan must be non-recourse to the IRA owner as the rules regarding IRAs do not allow the IRA owner to personally be responsible for the loan or to personally extend credit to the IRA. Under a non-recourse loan, the bank lends money to the IRA, or IRA/LLC, and gets a deed of trust or mortgage against the property securing the loan. In the event of default, the lender can foreclose and take the property back but cannot go after the IRA or the IRA owner for any deficiency in the loan. Because the lender’s ability to collect is limited to the property they loaned on, the banks who lend to IRAs require 30-40% down. There are several banks who specialize in these non-recourse loans to IRAs and an IRA owner is best served by using a bank or private lender who routinely provides these type of non-recourse loans.
Second, there is a tax called unrelated debt financed income tax (“UDFI”) that applies to an IRA when the IRA leverages its investment dollars with debt. Essentially, the IRS will tax the income from the debt invested while leaving the percent of the deal attributed to the IRAs cash investment not subject to tax. So, for example, let’s say your IRA bought a rental property for $100k with the IRA putting $40k cash down and getting a non-recourse loan for $60k. To the IRS, 40% of this deal is the IRA funds and 40% of the income is not subject to tax while the other 60% is non-IRA funds and that 60% is subject to tax. The tax on this 60% is UDFI tax. The tax rate on UDFI is the trust tax rates which maxes out at 34% on rental income. This is after expenses of course; which expenses include depreciation.
Upon the sale of the property, the IRS allows you to use the capital gains tax rate for the UDFI tax so you can move down from the 34% rate to the max long-term capital gains rate of 20%. Now technically, UDFI is a form of UBIT tax discussed below. But it applies in a very different way, when there is debt, so I explain it separately.
Many self-directed IRA investors will only buy real estate with cash in their IRA and won’t bother with a non-recourse loan and the UDFI tax burden while others view the UDFI tax as a cost of doing business and see debt as a tool to buy more property and thereby increase overall returns. Keep in mind, UDFI tax is only due on net rental income or net gain upon sale and this is after property expenses and depreciation expense.
Watch Out for Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT)?
There is a tax that can apply to an IRA’s income called unrelated business income tax (“UBIT”). Usually, when we think of IRAs, we aren’t expecting there to be taxes on the income and this is typically the case. However, there are a few situations where IRAs will have to pay tax on the income they make. These tax situations arise when the income being made is considered “business income” (aka, ordinary income) as opposed to investment income. Most real estate income is automatically exempt from UBIT. Exempt income from UBIT includes rental real estate income, capital gain income when you sell real estate, and interest income when you lend money on real estate. IRC 512. So let’s go over the common situations where UBIT tax is generally due.
First, there is the instance of debt mentioned above which causes UDFI. UDFI is a form of UBIT and applies to the profits attributable to the debt involved.
Second, if the IRA is doing real estate development activities, or is otherwise invested in real estate projects that create ordinary income it will need to pay UBIT tax on the profits. Real estate development income that is ordinary income in nature, as opposed to long-term capital gain, will cause UBIT for the IRA. It is possible to do real estate development with an IRA and hold the property for investment purposes. If a real estate development was done and the property held for investment, then the IRA would avoid UBIT tax. That being said, you should carefully consult with your tax lawyer or CPA on the details of your strategy and whether UBIT would apply.
The last situation where UBIT can apply is when you flip multiple properties with your IRA in a year. Since most fix and flip transactions are short-term in nature (under one-year hold time), IRA owners need to be careful not to do too many flips with their IRA in one year as the IRA can be deemed to be in the business of real estate. If the IRA is deemed to be in the business of real estate, then the income the IRA makes from the flips will be subject to UBIT. If the IRA is flipping one or two properties a year you don’t need to worry about the IRA being deemed in the business of real estate. However, if the IRA is flipping more a couple properties a year you should consult you tax lawyer or CPA on the exact details of your IRAs investments.
If your IRA is subject to UBIT, then the IRA files its own separate tax return called a 990-T and the IRA pays the tax due. This return is separate from the IRA owner’s personal tax return. The 990-T is the responsibility of the IRA owner and is not something that is generally prepared by your self-directed IRA custodian. You’ll need to engage a tax lawyer, CPA, or accountant to prepare and file the 990-T. Or you can complete it on your own, but it is a very technical return and there is little guidance on how it should be prepared for an IRA.
These rules can seem a little foreign and overwhelming at first. But I like to say that learning how to self-direct your IRA is like learning a new board game. It’s not that the board game rules are complicated. Rather, it is something you need to learn first before playing and moving pieces. When we play a new board game, we first read the rule book, or we play with someone who already knows the game. So, like playing a board game, read up on the subject and consider my book, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook, or play the game with others who knows the rules (e.g., a lawyer, CPA, advisor, or other investor). After you’ve properly self-directed your IRA into real estate once, you’ll have the rules down and it’s the same game each time thereafter…at least until Congress changes the rules of the game. And if they do, I’ll update my rulebook.
An IRA must report its fair market value to the IRS annually. Fair market value is reported to the IRS by your IRA custodian via IRS Form 5498. For standard IRAs holding stocks or mutual funds, those account values are automatically determined as they simply take the stock or fund price as of the close of the market on December 31st each year. They then use these amounts to set the year-end account fair market value. For self-directed accounts, such fair market values are not readily available, and it becomes the IRA account owner’s responsibility to obtain their self-directed investment values so that their custodian can properly report the account’s fair market value. The value of an account is important for a few reasons. First, the IRS requires it to be updated annually. Second, it is used to set required minimum distributions (RMDs) for those account holders over the age of 70 ½ with Traditional IRAs. Last, the account value is used when converting an entire account, or a particular investment or portion of the account, from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
What is “Fair Market Value?”
Fair market value of an investment has been broadly defined by the Court as:
“The price at which property would change hands between a hypothetical willing buyer and a hypothetical willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” U.S. v. Cartwright, 411 US 546 (1973).
Now here’s the hard part: Even though the IRS requires IRAs to update their fair market value on an annual basis, the Government Accountability Office noted in their recent report that:
“Current IRS guidance includes NO [emphasis added] guidance or advice to custodians or IRA owners regarding how to determine the FMV [fair market value]”. United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-02, Retirement Security Improved Guidance Could Help Account Owners Understand the Risks of Investing in Unconventional Assets. (Dec. 2016).
The absence of guidance, however, has not relieved IRA owners or their custodians from obtaining and reporting this information. While there is no specific fair market valuation guidance for IRAs, there are commonly accepted methods of reporting value used by professionals and companies within the self-directed IRA industry. Most of these methods have been adopted from law and regulations governing employer retirement plans or estates.
Methods to be used by Asset Type
The table below outlines preferred valuation methods that are commonly used in the industry for the most common self-directed IRA assets. As you will note, when the valuation is needed for a taxable event, such as a distribution or Roth conversion, greater detail and supporting information will be required as the valuation will result in tax being due.*
Non-Taxable (Annual FMV)
Taxable (RMD, distribution or conversion)
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) from a real estate professional is preferred. Some IRA custodians accept property tax assessor values or Zillow reports in non-taxable situations.
Real estate appraisal is preferred. Some IRA custodians accept a broker’s price opinion.
Value of a note can be reported by calculating the principal due plus any accrued and unpaid interest. This is the valuation method used for calculating the value of a note for estate tax purposes.
Same as non-taxable, principal amount due plus accrued and un-paid interest. For notes in default, a third-party opinion as to value is typically required in order for the note to be written-down below face value.
For bullion, use the spot value of the metal in question times the ounces owned. Spot value is widely reported on a daily basis on financial sites.
For acceptable coins, use market data for the coin in question via the Grey Sheets available at www.bullionvalues.com.
Same as non-taxable.
LLC, LP, or Private Company Interest
Obtain a third party-opinion of value of the LLC interest. The opinion should rely on IRS Revenue Ruling 59-60. For asset holding companies, the valuation should focus on the value of the assets. For operating companies, the valuation should focus on earnings.
Similar requirement, but the detail of the opinion should be more significant. For example, for an asset holding company where the IRA’s interest is determined by the assets of the LLC. A CMA would be acceptable for calculating that assets value in the company in an annual valuation. However, an appraisal of the real estate to calculate in that asset would be required in a taxable situation.
Since the valuation reporting policies of custodians vary, IRA owners should make sure that they understand their IRA custodian’s policies for valuations of the assets in question.
Our firm routinely assists clients with obtaining third-party opinions of value, and can assist IRA owners who need to produce a report or third party opinion as to an LLC or other investment interest held by an IRA. Call us at (888) 801-0010.
*Please note that there are clearly differences of opinions on these matters, and since there is no specific legal guidance for IRA valuations, please keep in mind that the table above is based on my own industry experience and opinions. Seek a licensed professional in all instances for your specific situation.
As 2018 comes to an end, it is critical that Solo 401(k) owners understand when and how to make their 2018 contributions. There are three important deadlines you must know if you have a Solo 401(k) or if you plan to set one up still in 2018. A Solo 401(k) is a retirement plan for small business owners or self-employed persons who have no other full time employees other than owners and spouses. It’s a great plan that can be self-directed into real estate, LLCs, or other alternative investments, and allows the owner/participants to contribute up to $55,000 per year (far faster than any IRA).
New Solo 401(k) Set-Up Deadline is 12/31/18
First, in order to make 2018 contributions, the Solo 401(k) must be adopted by your business by December 31st, 2018. If you haven’t already adopted a Solo 401(k) plan, you should start now so that documents can be completed and filed in time. If the 401(k) is established on January 1st, 2019 or later, you cannot make 2018 contributions.
2018 Contributions Can Be Made in 2019
Both employee and employer contributions can be made up until the company’s tax return deadline including extensions. If you have a sole proprietorship (e.g. single member LLC or schedule C income) or C-Corporation, then the company tax return deadline is April 15th, 2018. If you have an S-Corporation or partnership LLC, the deadline for 2018 contributions is March 15th, 2019. Both of these deadlines (March 15th and April 15th) to make 2018 contributions may be extended another six months by filing an extension. This a huge benefit for those that want to make 2018 contributions, but won’t have funds until later in the year to do so.
W-2’s Force You to Plan Now
While employee and employer contributions may be extended until the company tax return deadline, you will typically need to file a W-2 for your wages (e.g. an S-Corporation) by January 31st, 2019. The W-2 will include your wage income and any deduction for employee retirement plan contributions will be reduced on the W-2 in box 12. As a result, you should make your employee contributions (up to $18,500 for 2018) by January 31st, 2019 or you should at least determine the amount you plan to contribute so that you can file an accurate W-2 by January 31st, 2019. If you don’t have all or a portion of the funds you plan to contribute available by the time your W-2 is due, you can set the amount you plan to contribute to the 401(k) as an employee contribution, and will then need to make said contribution by the tax return deadline (including extensions).
Now let’s bring this all together and take an example to outline how this may work. Sally is 44 years old and has an S-Corporation as an online business. She is the only owner and only employee, and had a Solo 401(k) established in 2018. She has $120,000 in net income for the year and will have taken $50,000 of that in wage income that will go on her W-2 for the year. That will leave $70,000 of profit that is taxable to her and that will come through to her personally via a K-1 from the business. Sally has not yet made any 2018 401(k) contributions, but plans to do so in order to reduce her taxable income for the year and to build a nest egg for retirement. If she decided to max-out her 2018 Solo 401(k) contributions, it would look like this:
Employee Contributions – The 2018 maximum employee contribution is $18,500. This is dollar for dollar on wages so you can contribute $18,500 as long as you have made $18,500. Since Sally has $50,000 in wages from her S-Corp, she can easily make an $18,500 employee contribution. Let’s say that Sally doesn’t have the $18,500 to contribute, but will have it available by the tax return deadline (including extensions). What Sally will need to do is let her accountant or payroll company know what she plans to contribute as an employee contribution so that they can properly report the contributions on her payroll and W-2 reporting. By making an $18,500 employee contribution, Sally has reduced her taxable income on her W-2 from $50,000 to $31,500. At even a 20% tax bracket for federal taxes and a 5% tax bracket for state taxes that comes to a tax savings of $4,625.
Employer Contributions – The 2018 maximum employer contribution is 25% of wage compensation. For Sally: Up to a maximum employer contribution of $36,500. Since Sally has taken a W-2 wage of $50,000, the company may make an employer contribution of $12,500 (25% of $50,000). This contribution is an expense to the company and is included as an employee benefit expense on the S-Corporation’s tax return (form 1120S). In the stated example, Sally would’ve had $70,000 in net profit/income from the company before making the Solo 401(k) contribution. After making the employer matching contribution of $12,500 in this example, Sally would then only receive a K-1 and net income/profit from the S-Corporation of $57,500. Again, if she were in a 20% federal and a 5% state tax bracket, that would create a tax savings of $3,125. This employer contribution would need to be made by March 15th, 2019 (the company return deadline) or by September 15th, 2019 if the company were to file an extension.
In the end, Sally would have contributed and saved $31,000 for retirement ($18,500 employee contribution, $12,500 employer contribution). And she would have saved approximately $7,750 in federal and state taxes. That’s a win-win.
Keep in mind, you need to start making plans now and you want to begin coordinating with your accountant or payroll company as your yearly wage information on your W-2 (self employment income for sole props) is critical in determining what you can contribute to your Solo 401(k). Also, make certain you have the plan set-up in 2018 if you plan to make 2018 contributions. While IRAs can be established until April 15th, 2019 for 2018 contributions, a Solo K must be established by December 31st, 2018. Don’t get the two confused, and make sure you’ve got a plan for your specific business.
Note: If you’ve got a single member LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship, or just an old-fashioned sole prop, or even or an LLC taxed as a partnership (where you don’t have a W-2), then please refer to our prior article here on how to calculate your Solo K contributions as they differ slightly from the s-corp example above.
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Mat’s book is the most practical and comprehensive self directed IRA guide in our industry. Reading this handbook should be the first step for any alternative asset investor, investment sponsor, or trusted advisor that seeks to become informed about how to maximize the value of IRAs.