Did you know that your traditional IRA could be rolled over or transferred to a self- directed IRA to invest in real estate? Most Americans assume their traditional IRAs can only invest in bank CDs, the stock market, and/or mutual funds. The fact is that your IRA is really self-directed. You have the authority to make investment decisions on behalf of your IRA.

Self-directed IRAs account for less than 10 percent of the broader $9.7 trillion IRA market. According to data published by the Retirement Industry Trust Association (RITA), interest in self-directed IRAs is poised to rise further as individuals look to gain greater control over their investment planning and diversify their portfolios beyond stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. “As workers stay longer in jobs with 401 (k) plans, they are more likely to roll those assets over into a self-directed IRA at some point,” noted Mary L. Mohr, Executive Director of RITA.

Significant Retirement Savings Law Changes Coming in 2020

The retirement savings bill, known as the SECURE Act was signed into law on December 20,2019. The SECURE Act is an acronym for “ Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement.” Significant changes are as follows:

  1. Contributions to IRAs after age 70 ½: The law ends the prohibition on contribution to an IRA after 70 ½ . Individuals may continue contributing to an IRA at any age, as long as they have earned income. Investors over 70 ½ who have earned income should consider discussing with a financial planner whether this rule for ongoing contributions to an IRA makes sense for their situation.
  2. Change to Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) age: The law raises to 72 from 70 ½ the age at which individuals must begin taking RMDs from their retirement accounts. The new law only applies to people who turned 70 ½ after December 31, 2019. If you turned 70 ½ on or after January 1, 2020, you will not need to take RMDs until 2022.

Why Invest Your IRA in Real Estate?

Real estate is a logical addition to many retirement portfolios for the following 4 key reasons:

  1. It is totally transparent. Real estate is a tangible asset and is not subject to the same volatility of many traditional Wall Street
  2. It offers strong cash flow. Certain income properties generate between 8% and 10% annual cash
  3. It can be acquired at a discount. Currently, there are landlords who need to liquidate properties. This provides an opportunity to acquire real estate at below-market prices resulting in greater
  4. It acts as a “safety net” against inflation. With the possibility of future inflation, real estate can act as a hedge against it. Historically, real estate has performed well in times of high inflation.

It is quite simple to convert your traditional IRA into a self-directed one.

Step One: Find a trustworthy, reliable, and competent independent custodian who specializes in self-directed IRA account management. Be aware that most banks and big brokerages do not allow owners of traditional IRAs to invest IRA funds in real estate. They generally limit your investment options to products they sell, like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. They prefer not to take the administrative burden associated with maintaining IRAs invested in real estate.

When you have made your decision to purchase real estate with a self-directed IRA, you need to find an IRA custodian. By law, all IRAs must have a custodian who holds the assets for the IRA owner. Many have been formed in recent years, and their fees and services vary considerably. In choosing your custodian, it can be helpful to contact the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if the company has the highest rating and to determine if complaints have been lodged against the company and how they were resolved.

Step Two: Withdraw all or part of the assets of one traditional IRA and transfer those funds to a self-directed IRA. This transaction is sometimes referred to as a custodian-to-custodian transfer. IRA holders can perform as many of these transfers as they would like in any 12- month period. Typically, you would be liquidating publically traded securities in your IRA prior to the transfer. Such transfers are not reportable events for the IRS.

You can also roll over a former employer’s 401 (k) plan into a self-directed IRA. Rollovers refer to the movement of funds from one IRA provider or qualified retirement plan to the account holder who then deposits those funds with another IRA provider. You have 60 days to complete this move tax-free. Or it’s often possible to arrange a direct rollover whereby the current provider sends a wire or check directly to your new custodian. Rollovers are reported to the IRS, but performed properly, are not taxable events.

Technically, you can roll cash from your 401 (k) into a self-directed IRA once you reach the age of 59 ½. However, while the IRS permits such rollovers, your employer has the right to include or exclude a provision for in-service withdrawals from your 401 (k) plan.

Step Three: Decide how much money you want to roll over. You might like to invest in real estate through a self-directed IRA but don’t have enough money to buy an entire property. This can be resolved by “fractional ownership” whereby multiple investors pool their funds to make one large purchase.

Possible Tax Implications

Normally, earnings on investments held within a qualified account <IRA> are not taxable until the account owner takes a distribution.

However, there are tax implications if your IRA owns property that is “debt-financed.” This may generate Unrelated Debt Financed Income (UDFI). This tax would be based on the portion of the profit realized through the debt. If your property has debt of 25%, then 25% of your net rental income is subject to the tax that is based on current trust tax rates. However, keep in mind that most self-directed IRAs that hold leveraged real estate will not owe UDFI tax for the first few years due to depreciation.

If your IRA has UDFI, it will be reflected on a K-1 and the tax must be paid from cash held in the IRA.  The IRA’s account owner’s tax advisor or CPA prepares the 990-T and the IRA signs the return as the Custodian.   However, there is a $1,000 exemption.  Consequently, the IRA would not have to pay the UBIT tax unless the IRA has over $1,000 of annual UBIT income.   Additionally, if your IRA has a loss, the IRS allows it to carry forward to subsequent years.  The 2020 trust tax rates cap out at a maximum rate of 37% at $12,950 of annual income subject to UBIT tax.

UBIT Tax Rate (2020)

Annual Income
$0 – $2,600
$2,601 – $9,450
$9,451 – $12,950
Over $12,950
UBIT Tax Rate
10%
$260 plus 24% of amount over $2,600
$1,904 plus 35% of amount over $9,450
$3,129 plus 37% of amount over $12,950

At this point, one might ask, why make a real estate investment in an IRA if there are tax implications? Unlike personal investments, the IRA owes tax only on the portion of the net income related to the debt. Depending on how heavily leveraged the property is, the IRA may actually owe less tax than you would personally on the same investment. Secondly, the return you expect from this investment may, even after paying the tax, exceed the return you could achieve in the other non-taxable investments in your IRA.

If you are a successful real estate investor, or just looking to diversify your retirement portfolios, the combination of real estate and your IRA can be a very powerful investment vehicle.

Asa L. Shield, Jr. CPA

Financial Consultant

CCP Commercial Real Estate

ashield@ccpllc.us