Self-Directed IRA Valuations: Why Does My Self-Directed IRA Custodian Ask for a Valuation Update Every Year?

If you have a self-directed IRA with non-publicly traded assets like real estate, private stock, or an LLC interest, you’ve definitely been asked for an annual fair market valuation for the assets in your account. Why does your IRA custodian ask for this every year? Because they have to.

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, and they 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. Lastly, 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.*

Asset Non-Taxable (Annual FMV) Taxable (RMD, distribution or conversion)
Real Estate 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.
Promissory Note 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.
Precious Metals 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 IRAs 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 for 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.

* 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.

RISE Act Bill Update for Self Directed IRA Investors

Photo of the US Congress applauding to President Bush with the text "RISE Act Bill Update for Self-Directed IRA Investors."The RISE Act proposed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon would significantly impact self-directed IRAs. I previously wrote about the bill here and provided a detailed analysis. In summary, the bill would require that all self-directed IRA investment purchases be valued by a third-party appraiser and reported on the IRA owner’s personal tax return. In addition, the Act would change the disqualified person rule for companies from 50% to 10%. The Act also greatly effects Roth IRAs and would eliminate Roth conversions and would cap Roth IRA accounts at $5M.

Here are few quick updates that are very important to the bill.

  1. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah (R) has introduced the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2016. This bill is farther long in the process and addresses retirement account issues but is entirely un-related to Senator Wyden’s proposed RISE Act the impacts self-directed IRAs. I’ve had a few clients worried as they’ve ran across this bill as it is currently working its way through the Senate.
  2. Senator Wyden’s RISE Act is in proposed form and is out for comment until December 7, 2016. You can reply with comments to Retirement_Savings@finance.senate.gov. I will post my Comment in a subsequent blog article.
  3. While the bill is sponsored by Democrat Senator in a Republican controlled Senate, it is still vitally important that the Senate Finance Committee understand the roadblocks and burdens that the bills IRA provisions will cause to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are investing for retirement with their self-directed IRA.
  4. If your Senator is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I would highly recommend sending focused and professional comments to your Senator regarding provisions that will hinder your ability to save and invest for retirement. The current members of the Senate Finance Committee can be found here.

Additionally, if you have comments or feedback relative to the proposed bill, please feel free to that to me at mat@kkoslawyers.com.