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.
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.
$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.
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.
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.
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.
You have a number of options and decisions to make when moving funds from a retirement account (401(k), 403(b), IRA) to an IRA. And you’ve got to be careful because sometimes checking the wrong box on your transfer, rollover, and withdrawal forms can have drastic tax consequences. For example, should you move funds from one retirement account to your IRA using a Direct Rollover, a 60-Day Rollover, or a Trustee-to-Trustee transfer? Which box do you check on your form and does a 1099-R get issued and reported to the IRS? Will I have to report anything on my tax return? Let’s go over the options and the consequences as well as the tax reporting for each one.
1. Direct Rollover from 401(k) to IRA – When Moving from an Employer Plan
A Direct Rollover is generally used when moving funds from an employer plan (e.g. former employer 401(k) or 403(b)) to an IRA). Under a direct rollover, the retirement plan administrator will send the retirement plan funds directly to the new custodian of your IRA. There is no tax consequence and there is no withholding. There is simply a “direct” rollover of the funds to the new IRA account. Most employer plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s are traditional accounts, so those funds are generally rolled to a traditional IRA. If you are moving the funds to a Roth IRA, which is possible, you will need to covert the funds with the IRA custodian as they are being rolled into a Roth IRA. And of course, there are taxes due from the Roth conversion.
There are no limits on the number of Direct Rollovers you may complete, except as may be reasonably imposed by your employer’s retirement plan. For example, some employer plans may say that it’s an all or nothing option if you want to move funds once you no longer work there (e.g. keep all your funds there or move everything to an IRA).
If you are currently employed with your employer, you are usually only allowed to move funds from the employer’s plan when you have reached retirement plan age under the plan. This is usually 55 or 59 1/2 depending on your employer’s plan.
A direct rollover from an employer plan is not subject to tax or withholding. When a direct rollover is completed, a 1099 is generally issued from the current plan, but is marked as “not taxable” as the funds are being sent to another qualifying retirement account.
2. 60-Day Rollover – Only When You Need It This Way
A 60-Day Rollover allows you to take a distribution from one IRA, so long as you re-deposit that same amount into another IRA within 60 days, and the funds no longer considered distributed. When using a 60-Day Rollover, you receive the funds personally from the current IRA plan custodian, and then re-deposit those funds into a qualifying IRA within 60 days. Failure to re-deposit in time will cause a distribution of the funds, and you will be subject to taxes on any applicable penalties (e.g. early withdrawal penalty if under 59 1/2) for failure to re-deposit in time. There are no extensions, and there is no mercy if you miss the 60-day deadline. The new IRA custodian will generally require a certification, and your prior IRA account custodian’s statement to verify that the funds were in an IRA within the past 60 days.
It is very important to note that as of 2013 you can only complete one 60-Day Rollover every twelve months. See my prior article here on the 12-month rule for 60-Day Rollovers. Consequently, you should not use the 60-Day Rollover method option on a regular basis.
When using a 60-Day Rollover, the former IRA custodian will issue a 1099-R reporting the distribution as taxable and you will need to certify that you re-deposited within 60 days on your personal tax return to avoid the distribution. The 60-Day Rollover is communicated to the IRS on your personal tax return on line 15 where you report the distribution from the 1099-R, and then on line 15b you report that it was not taxable, since it was rolled over within 60 days. On line 15b, you indicate that the taxable amount is zero and you write the word Rollover next to line 15b. See the IRS instructions for line 15 here.
3. Trustee-to-Trustee Transfer – the Best Option When Changing IRA Custodians
The Trustee-to-Trustee transfer is the preferred method of moving funds from one IRA to another (e.g. from a Roth IRA at Fidelity to a Roth IRA with a self-directed custodian). Under a Trustee-to-Trustee transfer, the funds are sent from one IRA custodian (partial or full account) to your new IRA custodian. There is no tax, withholding, or penalty for moving funds via a Trustee-to-Trustee transfer, and there is no limit on the amount of Trustee-to-Trustee transfers you may complete.
A 1099-R is not issued when a Trustee-to-Trustee transfer occurs, and there is no withholding or tax due. Consequently, the Trustee-to-Trustee transfer is the preferred method to use when moving funds from one IRA to another.
Many self-directed IRA investors use an IRA/LLC to make and hold their self-directed IRA investments. In essence, an IRA/LLC (aka “checkbook-controlled IRA”) is an LLC owned 100% by an IRA. For a summary and description of an IRA/LLC, please refer to my video here. While most self-directed investors are using the IRA/LLC to invest in real estate or other non-publicly traded assets, there are many instances where an IRA/LLC owner would like to invest the cash from their IRA/LLC checking account into stocks or other publicly-traded investments. This may arise with portions of cash that are not yet large enough to make a desired self-directed investment, or when the IRA/LLC is between investments, such as after the sale of an asset or investment and before a new self-directed investment may be found. Or, it could simply arise because the account owner finds a publicly traded opportunity that they would like to pursue using the IRA/LLC account funds and structure.
I. Can My IRA/LLC Establish a Brokerage Account to Buy Stocks?
Yes, an IRA/LLC may have a brokerage account to buy stocks or other publicly traded assets. This account must be established in the name of the LLC. The brokerage account cannot have a margin account whereby account trades on credit. A margin account typically requires the personal guarantee of the underlying IRA/LLC owner, and this would amount to an extension of credit prohibited transaction. Additionally, any profits due from the trading on credit, even if you could get around a personal guarantee, would be subject to unrelated business income tax (UBIT).
II. What Are the Pros and Cons of Having a Brokerage Account with an IRA/LLC That I Should Know About?
Uninvested or accumulating cash from an income producing asset often times sit without earning any income in an IRA/LLC. By having a brokerage account with an IRA/LLC, the cash could be invested into stocks or other publicly traded investments, but could still be somewhat liquid in the event that funds are needed for a self-directed investment.
Most brokerage firms do not have a specific account option for IRA/LLCs. As a result, most brokerage firms will simply treat the brokerage account as an LLC brokerage account. The problem with this is that they will send the IRS and your LLC tax reporting via IRS From 1099-B for trading income. While I’ve had many clients receive and ignore this, because the LLC is owned by their IRA, it does raise concern of an IRS audit for failure to report the 1099-B.
3. Potential Solution
TD Ameritrade has a specialty account for LLCs where you can identify that the account is owned by an IRA. This is optimal as it’s the only LLC brokerage account I’ve come across where the IRA can be identified as the owner of the LLC. Refer to TD Ameritrade’s Specialty Account Page and their account form here.
III. What are the Options?
A second option to establishing a brokerage account with your IRA/LLC is to simply return funds from the LLC back to the self-directed IRA. This is not taxable. It is a return of investment funds or profits to the IRA. Then transfer funds from the self-directed IRA to a brokerage IRA as a trustee-to-trustee transfer. This is also not taxable. Now, you can buy stocks with the IRA funds in the brokerage account. When you would like the funds back in the IRA/LLC for a self-directed investment, you would send funds from the brokerage IRA back to the self-directed IRA as a trustee-to-trustee transfer, and would then invest the funds from the self-directed IRA to the IRA/LLC. While this involves more steps, its cleaner in the end as the brokerage IRA will be set-up with no tax reporting to the IRS on trading income. In the end, both options are viable, but self-directed investors should understand the differences and requirements for each option before proceeding with a brokerage account with their IRA/LLC funds.
If you are establishing an estate plan, it is likely that you will have a Revocable Living Trust (“Trust”) as the primary document that outlines who will receive your assets upon your death and what conditions, if any, will be placed on those assets. As many persons are aware, a Trust has numerous advantages over a will because upon the death of the owner(s) of the Trust, the surviving trustee of the Trust will have control and authority to distribute the estate of the deceased person without having to go to probate court. A will, by contrast, typically must receive Court approval and distribution of the assets occurs only after going through probate court and getting orders from the Court. The probate process of a will is expensive, time consuming, and is part of the public record.
When establishing a revocable trust you will be outlining your assets and who will receive those assets upon your death. You will also outline certain conditions that may be placed on your assets. For example, you may state that your children will receive an equal share of your estate upon your death and the death of your spouse but your children shall not receive a distribution if they have a drug or alcohol addiction or if they have a creditor who would cease the funds. The trust may also restrict distributions to minor children so that they don’t receive a large inheritance when they are 18.
One of the most significant decisions you will make when you establish your Trust is who will be the Trustee of your Trust upon your death. In most situations, you will be the trustee during your lifetime and if you have a spouse your spouse will be trustee if they survive you. However, you will need to select a successor Trustee of your Trust who will manage your estate following your death (and the death of your spouse, as applicable). This successor Trustee may be a family member, friend, bank or trust company, or an attorney or other professional. When determining who should be your Trustee, you should consider the following issues and factors.
What Will the Trustee Do? The Trustee will need to undertake the following tasks.
Typically will make funeral and burial arrangements along with family members (generally the Trust pays for these things).
Inform family members and heirs of the estate plans of the deceased.
Will pay off creditors and hire professional as needed to assist with the estate (accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, etc.).
Determine assets. They will need to know the assets of the deceased in order to ensure that they are distributed to the heirs/beneficiaries of the Trust.
Organize assets for distribution. This may include listing and selling real property. It will likely include coordinating the distribution of bank accounts and insurance policies. It will also include organizing and distributing personal effects (e.g. jewelry, furniture, art, personal effects). And finally, it may include the winding down, sell, or transfer of businesses.
Size of the Estate. Most Trusts will list a family member as the Trustee of the estate and for estates of a couple million dollars or less this is generally a good fit. However, for estates over $3M you may want to consider listing a professional (attorney or law firm) as the successor trustee of your estate and for estates over $10M you may want to consider listing a trust company or bank as the trustee of your estate. Large estates can overwhelm a family member who has never handled such matters before and having a professional with experience can go a long way. The Trust will need to pay for these services (generally in the tens of thousands of dollars) so it isn’t typically advisable for smaller estates unless there is no other adequate family member of friend available.
When to List Non-Family? If you have heirs/beneficiaries who are likely to disagree and cause contention, you may want to list a non-family member or a friend as the Trustee so that a third party can make decisions and so that you can avoid potential contention and litigation over your estate.
Financial Expertise of the Trustee. If you are selecting a family member, choose one who has shown good financial skills over their life. If you’re selecting a child over another, consider their financial expertise, work background, location, and family dynamics in selecting one child as Trustee over another. Also, choose someone who is well organized and who is task oriented. The Trustee will have many things to accomplish and you want someone who will take care and responsibility for these things.
Family Dynamics. All families are different and all situations are unique. As a result, you may select a brother or sister as your successor Trustee instead of choosing a child or other family member. This may be because your children are younger or because a sibling is better equipped to handle the administration of your estate.
Trustee Compensation. If you are listing a family member as Trustee, they typically will serve without compensation but will be reimbursed for any expenses they incur while serving as Trustee. You may compensate them or give them something extra from the estate for taking on the responsibility but generally family members are listed to serve without compensation.
Can an Heir/Beneficiary be a Trustee? Yes, you may have a beneficiary/heir serve as Trustee and this is very common. In fact, most persons who have adult children will list a child as the successor Trustee and this person will also typically be a beneficiary/heir. While there is some conflict of interest in this arrangement, the Trustee is bound to the terms of the Trust and can’t abuse that discretion for their own personal benefit.
Should I Appoint Co-Trustees? Some persons will consider listing co-beneficiaries as successor Trustees. Typically, this is done as a way to involve more than one family member in the distribution of the estate so that one person doesn’t feel left out. While there can be some benefits to involving another person as Trustee (e.g. sharing the workload, combining skills of persons listed) it can cause contention and confusion as to who is doing what so be specific about their authority and responsibility if you are listing multiple trustee.
Who is Most Commonly Listed as Trustee? Most persons with adult children will list one of their children as successor Trustee. Most persons with younger children will list a sibling or close friend as their successor Trustee.
Your Trustee has an important and critical task in managing your estate following your death. Choose wisely as they will need to make critical decisions that will effect your loved ones.
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Tom W. Anderson
The "Self Directed IRA Handbook" by attorney Mat Sorensen is the most comprehensive book ever written about one of the best investment and retirement savings tools ever created: the Self-Directed IRA. Mat has performed the impossible by effectively delivering complex information in an easily understandable manner for the layperson, while providing the necessary legal basis to suit the professional. Mat's book is a "must read" for investors, attorneys, CPAs, and other professionals and other interested individuals wanting to learn about all there is to know about Self-Directed IRAs.
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CEO, Polycomp Trust Company
Mat's book is an excellent resource for self directed IRA owners and their advisors. It is the first of its kind in our industry. Mat has truly written an “Authoritative Guide” for self directed IRAs.
President, Polycomp Trust Company
Mark J. Kohler
Mat is truly an expert on self directed IRAs, and his book is the one book that every self directed IRA investor should read.
Mark J. Kohler
CPA, Attorney, Author
I was referred to Matt for help in setting up an IRA owned LLC. Matt and his team did an incredible job completing the work in a few short days. The process was professional, efficient and cost effective. I continue to rely on Matt for guidance running the LLC and related real estate matters. Not only is Matt a good lawyer, he runs a great office. It is easy for me to recommend Matt and his team.
We have used Matt for many legal matters and he always comes through with shining colors. I highly recommend Matt for any legal or tax matter.
Real Estate Broker & Investor
Mathew is the legal partner for the majority of my clients. Matthew provides solid legal advice, precise strategic planning, appropriate corporate structure development, and is readily available to consult with his clients on all legal and business manners. Matthew is well respected and has an extremely large network in the successful real estate investor world. Matthew is reliable, professional and an all around great partner to have on your side
I have retained Mathew Sorensen several times for multiple real estate deals and have been very pleased with his efforts and work product and will continue to use him in the future.
Real Estate Investor
My wife and I recently sought Mat's help with estate planning and couldn't have been more satisfied. Mat's professionalism, honesty, creativity and attention to detail is second to none. What impresses me the most about Mat can be summed up as "diverse". Mat's vast knowledge and experience in a plethora of differing areas of the law is astounding. I highly recommend Mat to my clients and friends seeking legal help.
Mat is a highly qualified...lawyer specializing in real estate. He's personable and professional, knows his stuff and is a nice guy. It doesn't get any better than that. I really liked the way he explained everything to me at my level so I got it. He also advised the best way for me to proceed with my RE investments. He handled my case in a timely manner with high integrity.
I have had the opportunity to engage Mat's services on many occasions and have found him to be diligent and reliable. He has always been committed to delivering high-quality work and is very professional. He is well-liked and respected by his peers. He has my most sincere recommendation.
Mathew Sorensen is a great resource and I use him consistently for real estate law questions. He is a wealth of information and will always give you a great knowledge base. I have been using KKOS for a while now and am very impressed and happy with their services.
CPA, Real Estate Investor
Kenneth P. Child
[Mat] is completely devoted to his clients and continually strives to stay abreast of changes and updates in the law. Mat is an unbelievably hard worker and...I don't hesitate to recommend Mat's services to anyone as I know he will take care of them and give them simple, concise, and straightforward solutions to any legal issue they may be facing.
I am a partner in a law firm in Chicago and I have worked with Mat on my personal real estate and business ventures. Mat has given me practical and wise advice which has helped me make profitable decisions. I highly recommend Mat.
Attorney & Real Estate Investor
Mathew is an excellent attorney, well versed in the Self-Directed IRA market…His ability to distil the complexities of the Self-Directed IRA so that the average person can understand them, and ensure that they don't get "tripped up" is second to none. Anyone interested in this Self-Directed IRA Market would do well to connect with Mathew and learn from the best.
"Mat's book is an excellent resource for self directed IRA owners and their advisors. It is the first of its kind in our industry. Mat has truly written an“Authoritative Guide” for self directed IRAs."
"Mat is an excellent attorney, well versed in the Self-Directed IRA market...His ability to distill the complexities of the Self-Directed IRA so that the average person can understand them, and ensure that they don't get "tripped up" is second to none.
"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."
"The Self Directed IRA Handbook by attorney Mat Sorensen is the most comprehensive book ever written about one of the best investment and retirement savings tools ever created: the Self-Directed IRA."
Founder and Retired CEO, PENSCO Trust Company
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.