The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued their most recent report on self-directed IRAs and concluded that the IRS and DOL should do more to collaborate on prohibited transactions in IRAs. The report and the GAO’s work was an excellent analysis of some of the issues facing IRA owners.
There were two significant sections in the report for Self-Directed IRA accounts: Prohibited transaction exemption applications and IRAs with large balances likely being self-directed.
Prohibited Transaction Exemption Applications
An IRA owner may request an exemption for a prohibited transaction by making a formal written request to the DOL. While the IRS enforces the prohibited transaction rules, the DOL has interpretative authority and is the agency who can grant exemptions. An exemption must be obtained in advance of the transaction and takes on average one year to obtain.
A common prohibited transaction exemption request is one where the IRA owner owns real estate in an IRA which they would like to use personally. While the property could be distributed as an in-kind distribution there are tax consequences to such distribution. The DOL has granted this exemption request for IRA owners in the past and generally requires an appraisal to set the value and a broker/agent to effectuate the transaction.
The prohibited transaction exemption process is rarely utilized by IRA owners. The GAO noted that in the past 11 years only 48 prohibited transaction exemptions where granted for IRAs.
The biggest deterrent from my experience with clients is that it takes 6 months to 1 year to get approved and about $5,000 in legal fees to make the application and handle it to decision. Usually such long timelines are not something IRA owners are willing to wait on as circumstances change from one year to the next. The DOL does have some expedited prohibited transaction exemption procedures, known as EXPRO, that can be used when an account owner is seeking to rely on an exemption that has already been granted by the DOL to someone in a similar situation. Use of such procedures with IRA owners, which is already allowed but not readily known, could provide a better outcome as EXPRO applications are granted more quickly.
The GAO recommended that the IRS and DOL collaborate on prohibited transaction exemptions to better regulate and understand IRAs.
IRAs With Large Balances Likely Self-Directed
In their report, the GAO also noted some of their prior work on self-directed IRAs and stated the following:
“…IRA owners who have accumulated unusually large IRA balances likely have invested in unconventional assets like non-publicly traded shares of stock and partnership interests.”
While this is no news to self-directed IRA owners, it should be something of interest to policy makers and financial advisers who may view self-directed accounts with skepticism. If self-directed accounts have proven to get unusually high balances, wouldn’t we want more people to use them to do the same thing and to secure their retirement. The concept of self-directed IRAs is simple: Give more freedom and control, and let people invest in what they know. Let account owners decide and obtain the benefits (or burden) of their decisions with their money. Sure, there are risks but the best person to take risks is the person whose actual hard-earned money is on the line.
HSAs (“Health Savings Accounts”) are growing in popularity as Americans are discovering significant tax savings with these accounts. Why are they popular? There are many reasons why; some well known and others not so well known.
Let’s start with the primary benefits that are generally well known:
First, contributions to an HSA are fully deductible regardless of your income, and there is no high-income phase-out. The deduction also applies whether you itemize on your tax return or not, so everyone gets to use it. This isn’t the case for other major deductions like charitable contributions or mortgage interest, which only apply if you itemize on your tax return and itemizing is getting less common after tax reform that was enacted in late 2017. The other commonly known benefit of the HSA is that it can grow from the investments tax-free and comes out entirely tax-free to pay for or to reimburse the account owner for their qualifying medical expenses. For a quick summary of the basics and for qualifying rules, check out my partner Mark J. Kohler’s article here.
Now, lets discuss the additional benefits of an HSA that aren’t as well known:
You don’t need earned income to contribute to an HSA
Contrary to retirement plan rules for IRAs and 401(k)s, which require you to have earned income (i.e. wage, self-employment income) to contribute, you do not need to have earned income to contribute to an HSA. You can make the contribution from any source and that contribution will be a deduction against other income on your tax return (i.e. rental income, investment income, etc.).
Your spouse can inherit your HSA with no tax due
If you’ve built up an HSA that you don’t end up using, you can pass the HSA on to your spouse. A spouse can inherit the HSA and can transfer it over to an HSA in their name. The surviving spouse can then use the funds for their qualifying medical expenses during their lifetime. If the account is inherited by a non-spouse beneficiary, then the account is considered fully taxable to the person receiving the account. Non-spouse beneficiaries (i.e. children) are allowed to use the account to pay for the deceased account owner’s qualifying medical expenses for up to one year of the date of death as medical bills and expenses are determined, and then any remaining balance is distributed to the non-spouse beneficiaries and is subject to taxation.
You can self-direct your HSA and invest it into real estate or other alternative assets
Many HSA account owners just let their HSA funds sit in a savings account or they invest into mutual funds. Some place their HSA funds into a brokerage account,and buy and sell stock. And others are investing them into real estate, private LLCs, precious metals, private equity, venture capital or start-ups. Like a self-directed IRA, an HSA can be invested into all of these alternative assets and are subject to the same prohibited transaction rules and UBTI tax as IRAs and other accounts. We’ve been advising clients for years on how to self-direct their HSA and are now helping clients establish self-directed HSA accounts at Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company. We’ve seen account holders invest them into private placements, real estate, and into HSA-owned LLCs.
Self-Directed IRA investors should be aware of their self-directed IRA tax reporting responsibilities. Some of these items are completed by your 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:
||WHAT DOES IT REPORT
||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 12/31/18, and required minimum distributions taken.
||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:
||DOES MY IRA NEED TO FILE THIS?
|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 a being a partner in an LLC that sells goods and services (C-Corp dividends exempt). Rental real estate income (no debt leverage), interest income, capital gain income, and dividend income are exempt from UBIT tax.
||April 15th, 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. 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 (as of 12/31/18) to the IRS on Form 5498, and in order to do this they must have an accurate record of the value of your IRA’s investments. If your IRA owns an LLC, they need to know the value of that LLC. For example, let’s say you have an IRA that owns an LLC 100% and that this LLC owns a rental property, and that it also has a bank account with some cash. If the value of the rental property at the end of the year was $150,000, and if the cash in the LLC bank account is $15,000, then the value of the LLC at the end of the year is $165,000.
Q: I have a property owned by my IRA and I obtained a non-recourse loan to purchase the property. Does my IRA need to file a 990-T tax return?
A: Probably. A 990-T tax return is required if your IRA has income subject to UBIT tax. There is a tax called UDFI tax (Unrelated Debt Financed Income) that is triggered when your IRA uses debt to acquire an asset. Essentially, what the IRS does in this situation is they make you apportion the percent of your investment that is the 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.
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.
Late last week, the IRS announced increased contribution limits for IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans. IRAs have been stuck at $5,500 since 2013, but are finally moving up to $6,000 starting in 2019. If you save in a 401(k), including a Solo K, the good news is that your contribution limits were increased too, with employee contributions increasing from $18,500 to $19,000 and total 401(k) contributions (employee and employer) reaching $56,000. The IRS announcement and additional details can be found here.
Health savings account (HSA) owners also won a small victory with individual contribution maximums increasing by $50 to $3,500, and family contribution amounts increasing by $100 to $7,000.
Here’s a quick breakdown on the changes:
- IRA contribution limitations (Roth and Traditional) increased from $5,500 to $6,000, and there is still the $1,000 catch-up amount for those 50 and older.
- 401(k) contributions also increased for employees and employers: Employee contribution limitations increased from $18,500 to $19,000 for 2019. The additional catch-up contribution for those 50 and older stays the same at $6,000. The annual maximum 401(k) (defined contribution) total contribution amount increased from $55,000 to $56,000 ($62,000 for those 50 and older).
- HSA contribution limits increased from $3,450 for individuals and $6,900 for families to $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families.
These accounts provide advantageous ways for an individual to either save for retirement or to pay for their medical expenses. If you’re looking for tax deductions, tax deferred growth, or tax-free income, you should be using one or all of these account types. Keep in mind there are qualifications and phase out rules that apply, so make sure you’re getting competent advice about which accounts should be set up in your specific situation. Lastly, remember, all of these accounts can be self-directed and invested into assets you know best.