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Back Door Roth IRA Rules and Steps

A pug puppy sadly starting at it's owner as the other puppies sit together with the text "Roth IRAs Are for High-Income Earners, Too"Roth IRAs can be established and funded for high-income earners by using what is known as the “back door” Roth IRA contribution method. Many high-income earners believe that they can’t contribute to a Roth IRA because they make too much money and/or because they participate in a company 401k plan. Fortunately, this thinking is wrong. While direct contributions to a Roth IRA are limited to taxpayers with income in excess of $137,000 ($206,000 for married taxpayers, 2020), those whose income exceeds these amounts may make annual contributions to a non-deductible traditional IRA and then convert those amounts over to a Roth IRA.

Examples

Here’s a few examples of earners who can establish and fund a Roth IRA.

  1. I’m a high-income earner and work for a company who offers a company 401(k) plan. I contribute the maximum amount to that plan each year. Can I establish and fund a Roth IRA? Yes, even though you are high-income and even though you participate in a company 401(k) plan, you can establish and fund a Roth IRA.
  2. I’m self-employed and earn over $206,000 a year; can I have a Roth IRA? Isn’t my income too high? Yes, you can contribute to a Roth IRA despite having income that exceeds the Roth IRA income contribution limits of $206,000 for married taxpayers and $137,000 for single taxpayers.

The Process

The strategy used by high-income earners to make Roth IRA contributions involves the making of non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and then converting those funds in the non-deductible traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. This is often times referred to as a “back door” Roth IRA. In the end, you don’t get a tax deduction in the amounts contributed, but the funds are held in a Roth IRA and grow, then come out tax-free upon retirement (just like a Roth IRA). Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Fund a new non-deductible traditional IRA

This IRA is “non-deductible” because high-income earners who participate in a company retirement plan (or who have a spouse who does) can’t also make “deductible” contributions to an IRA. The account can, however, be funded by non-deductible amounts up to the IRA annual contribution amounts of $6,000. The non-deductible contributions mean you don’t get a tax deduction on the amounts contributed to the traditional IRA. You don’t have to worry about having non-deductible contributions as you’re converting to a Roth IRA, so you don’t want a deduction for the funds contributed. If you did get a deduction for the contribution, you’d have to pay taxes on the amounts later converted to Roth. You’ll need to file IRS form 8606 for the tax year in which you make non-deductible IRA contributions. The form can be found here.

If you’re a high-income earner and you don’t have a company based retirement plan (or a spouse with one), then you simply establish a standard deductible traditional IRA, as there is no high-income contribution limitation on traditional IRAs when you don’t participate in a company plan.

Step 2: Convert the non-deductible traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA

In 2010, the limitations on Roth IRA conversions, which previously restricted Roth IRA conversions for high-income earners, was removed. As a result, since 2010 all taxpayers are able to covert traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs. It was in 2010 that this back door Roth IRA contribution strategy was first utilized, as it relied on the ability to convert funds from traditional to Roth. It has been used by thousands of Americans since.

If you have other existing traditional IRAs, then the tax treatment of your conversion to Roth becomes a little more complicated, as you must take into account those existing IRA funds when undertaking a conversion (including SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs). If the only IRA you have is the non-deductible IRA, then the conversion is easy because you convert the entire non-deductible IRA amount over to Roth with no tax on the conversion. Remember, you didn’t get a deduction into the non-deductible traditional IRA so there is not tax to apply on conversions. On the other hand, if you have an existing IRA with say $95,000 in it and you have $5,000 in non-deductible traditional IRA contributions in another account that you wish to convert to Roth, then the IRS requires you to covert over your IRA funds in equal parts deductible (the $95K bucket) and non-deductible amounts (the new $5K) based on the money you have in all traditional IRAs. So, if you wanted to convert $10,000, then you’d have to convert $9,500 (95%) of your deductible bucket, which portion of conversion is subject to tax, and $500 of your non-deductible bucket, which isn’t subject to tax once converted. Consequently, the “back door” Roth IRA isn’t well suited when you have existing traditional IRAs that contain deductible contributions and earnings from those sums.

There are two work-arounds to this Roth IRA conversion problem and both revolve around moving the existing traditional IRA funds into a 401(k) or other employer based plan. Employer plan funds are not considered when determining what portions of the traditional IRAs are subject to tax on conversion (the deductible AND the non-deductible). If you participate in an existing company 401(k) plan, then you may roll over your traditional IRA funds into that 401(k) plan. Most 401(k) plans allow for this rollover from IRA to 401(k) so long as you are still employed by that company. If you are self-employed, you may establish a solo or owner only 401(k) plan and you can roll over your traditional IRA dollars into this 401(k). In the end though, if you can’t roll out existing traditional IRA funds into a 401(k), then the “back door” Roth IRA is going to cause some tax repercussions, as you also have to convert a portion of the existing traditional IRA funds, which will cause taxes upon conversion. Taxes on conversion aren’t “the end of the world” though as all of the money that comes out of that traditional IRA would be subject to tax at some point in time. The only issue is it causes a big tax bill initially, so careful planning must be taken.

The bottom line is that Roth IRAs can be established and funded by high-income earners. Don’t consider yourself “left out” on one of the greatest tax strategies offered to Americans: the Roth IRA.

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Entrepreneur.com. Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

2019 Tax Reporting for Your Self-Directed IRA

self directed ira taxSelf-Directed IRA investors must be aware of their self-directed IRA tax reporting responsibilities.  Some of these items are completed by your IRA custodian and others 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. Make sure you know how these items are coordinated on your account as the ultimate authority and responsible tax person on the account is, you, the account owner.

IRA Custodian Files

Your IRA Custodian will file the following forms to the IRS annually. As a custodian of IRAs, Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company, we electronically file these with the IRS on every account. Different versions of these forms are completed for HSA and Coverdell/ESA accounts.

IRS FORM PURPOSE WHAT DOES IT REPORT
Form 5498 Filed to the IRS by your custodian. No taxes are due or paid as a result of Form 5498. IRA contributions, Roth conversions, the account’s fair market value as of 12/31 of the current year, and required minimum distributions taken.
Form 1099-R Filed 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’s 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 FORM DOES MY IRA NEED TO FILE THIS? DUE DATE
1065 Partnership Tax Return If 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-1s, and not your personal SSN (or your IRA’s 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 (a single-member LLC), and the LLC does not need to file a tax return to the IRS. March 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, but 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 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, 6 -month extension available

Most Frequently Asked Questions

Below are my most frequently asked questions related 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/EIN of your custodian and not your personal SSN. Contact your custodian to obtain their tax ID/EIN. Most custodians are familiar with this process, so it should be readily available. We are providing that number regularly to clients this time of year at Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company. If your IRA has a tax ID/EIN because you file a 990-T for Unrelated Business Income Tax then you can provide that tax ID/EIN.

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 (12/31 of the current year) 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: Most likely. 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 IRA’s 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.

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Entrepreneur.com. Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

Self-Directed IRA Versus Solo 401(k)

Many self-directed investors have the option of choosing between a self-directed IRA or a self-directed solo 401k. Both accounts can be self-directed so that you can invest into any investment allowed by law such as real estate, LLCs, precious metals, or private company stock. However, depending on your situation, you may choose one account type over the other. What are the differences? When should you choose one over the other?

We’ve been advising clients for over a decade on self-directed IRAs and solo 401(k)s and what we’ve learned is that there is no universal answer to the question. Instead, you need to learn what is best based on your personal situation and investment objectives. Do you even qualify for a solo(k)? What investments do you plan to make and does one account type make a difference for your investments? The good news is that either way you go, we can help with a self-directed IRA at Directed IRA, where we are a licensed trust company and can serve as custodian of your IRA. Or, we can set-up a solo(k) at KKOS Lawyers using our pre-approved plan documents.

 IRA Solo 401K
Qualification Must be an individual with earned income or funds in a retirement account to rollover. Must be self-employed with no other employees besides the business owner and family/partners.
Contribution Max $6,000 max annual contribution. Additional $1,000 if over 50. $56,000 max annual contribution (it takes $140K of wage/se income to max out). Contributions are employee and employer.
Traditional & Roth You can have a Roth IRA and/or a Traditional IRA. The amount you contribute to each is added together in determining total contributions. A solo 401(k) can have a traditional account and a roth account within the same plan. You can convert traditional sums over to Roth as well.
Cost and Set-Up You will work with a self-directed IRA custodian who will receive the IRA contributions in a SDIRA account. Most of the custodians we work with have an annual fee of $300-$350 a year for a self-directed IRA. You must use an IRS pre-approved document when establishing a solo 401k. This adds additional cost over an IRA. Our fee for a self-directed and self-trusteed solo 401(k) is $995 with atty consultation or $495 for the plan only.
Custodian Requirement An IRA must have a third party custodian involved on the account (e.g. bank. Credit union, trust company) who is the trustee of the IRA. Of course we recommend our company, www.directedira.com. A 401(k) can be self trustee’d, meaning the business owner can be the trustee of the 401(k). This provides for greater control but also greater responsibility.
Investment Details A self-directed IRA is invested through the self directed IRA custodian. A self-directed IRA can be subject to a tax called UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate. A Solo 401(k) is invested by the trustee of the 401(k) which could be the business owner. A solo 401(k) is exempt from UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate.

Keep in mind that the solo 401(k) is only available to self-employed persons while the self-directed IRA is available to everyone who has earned income or who has funds in an existing retirement account that can be rolled over to an IRA.

Conclusion

Based on the differences outlined above, a solo 401(k) is generally a better option for someone who is self-employed and is still trying to maximize contributions as the solo 401(k) has much higher contribution amounts. On the other hand, a self-directed IRA is a better option for someone who has already saved for retirement and who has enough funds in their retirement accounts that can be rolled over and invested via a self-directed IRA as the self-directed IRA is easier and cheaper to establish.

Another major consideration in deciding between a solo 401(k) and self-directed IRA is whether there will be debt on real estate investments. If there is debt and if the account owner is self-employed, they are much better off choosing a solo 401(k) over an IRA as solo 401(k)s are exempt from UDFI tax on leveraged real estate.

Choosing between a self-directed IRA and a solo 401(k) is a critical decision when you start self-directing your retirement. Make sure you consider all of the differences before you establish your new account.

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Entrepreneur.com. Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.