Longboat Retirement Solutions LLC

Part Three: Self Directed Retirement Questions May 19, 2015

This is the third installment in the Self Directed Retirement Questions, Answered.

These are questions I’ve been asked, my answers to those questions, and some commentary.

Question:  What is the difference between a Self Directed IRA and a Solo 401k?

Answer:  A Self Directed IRA requires a Custodian.  Custodians are generally banks and investment houses.  These Custodians charge fees to baby sit your money and tell you where you can and cannot invest your savings.  An SDIRA is far better than a standard IRA, but it can still have high management fees, hoops to jump through, and limitations in what you can invest in.

A Solo 401k, which is designed for the self employed, enables you to invest in anything that the IRS allows.  You become the Custodian; therefore you don’t have any filters on your investments (within the framework of the IRS’s allowed investments).  You basically don’t have to ask permission to use your own savings as you see fit.  Since it is a 401k, you can also borrow up to 50% of the value, up to $50,000.  And again, you don’t have to ask permission or fill out piles of paperwork to take out a loan.  You draw up the terms, put the terms in your safe, write a check from your 401k to you, and then just make the monthly payments to your 401k.  Because you are making payments to your 401k, the interest is essentially free – you are paying yourself!  A Solo 401k also enables you to contribute as the employee and the employer; in other words you can contribute over $50,000 a year to your retirement account – or over $100,000 if your spouse is a partner in the business.  This is a BIG deal.

My thoughts on the two different approaches boils down to this:

If you can, go with the Solo 401k.


Reduce Fees, Create Cash Flow October 23, 2012

Filed under: Real Estate Investing,Uncategorized — larsfforsberg @ 3:14 am
Tags: , , , ,

Self directed IRAs and Solo 401k’s can own real estate.

The fact that real estate prices throughout the U.S. have declined has self directed retirement account holders looking for undervalued properties that have the potential to generate cash flow. Cash flow real estate can be a valuable addition to your retirement account. You can’t get cash flow out of your stock portfolio, gold investments, CDs or tax liens.

Why do self directed IRA custodians and self directed IRA administrators charge such high transaction fees and annual valuation fees?  Why is a Solo 401k, if you qualify, a superior retirement account than a self directed IRA?

Large institutional IRA custodians like Merrill Lynch or Fidelity have minimal fees and offer correspondingly minimal choices.  The use of a TRULY self directed IRA or a Solo 401k will broaden your choices greatly.

Firms like Equity Trust Company and Entrust Administration specialize in the administration of self directed retirement accounts, but have fees that can add up quickly and demoralize your enthusiasm for self directed investing. These companies’ hit you with transaction fees, wire fees, cashier’s check fees, and same day service fees and annual valuation fees.

  • Would you like to avoid all of these transaction fees?
  • Would you like total control of your retirement account checkbook?
  • Would you like to avoid the cost of the IRA LLC structure, and its annual fees?
  • Would you like to avoid UDFI (unrelated debt financed income) when using leverage in your  retirement account?
  • Would you like to be able to personally borrow up to $50,000 from your retirement account with low interest and without a penalty?
  • Would you like to contribute up to $49,000 individually or $98,000 if married into your retirement account?

A Solo 401k may be the best choice for you….again, assuming you qualify, or can become qualified (self employed, with no employees). Can you produce self employment income?  Have you ever considered going on your own?  Ever dreamed of being your own boss?

You can retain your current employment, while moonlighting with your new business that allows you to create income and contribute to your Solo 401k.


Investing in Real Estate with your Self Directed IRA or Solo 401k June 30, 2012

Part One:  Using the Internal Method

BY: Lars Forsberg

Longboat Retirement Solutions LLC

As I have mentioned in several other posts and on my website www.myselfdirectedretirement.com although there is no legal prohibition of investments in land, homes, commercial property, trust deeds, mortgage notes, or real estate options within self directed retirement vehicles, often times the supposed “self directed” retirement options offered by the large financial institutions in fact limit you to traditional financial investments in stocks, bonds, or funds.

If your custodian tells you that you can’t invest in real estate within your IRA or 401k, get a new custodian, preferably yourself (in the case of a Solo 401k).

Assuming you have already set up a self directed retirement account, the process is simple.  The retirement account will hold title to the real estate for the account owner’s benefit.

Always keep the Internal Revenue Code in mind when making investments with your self directed retirement account.  In the specific case of investing in real estate with your retirement vehicle, avoid disqualified persons and self-dealing.

Don’t buy or sell a house from a spouse, ancestor, lineal descendant or any spouse of a lineal descendent.  Neither the account owner or any other disqualified person may benefit from the investment until qualified distributions are made.

Don’t use the purchased real estate for a vacation home.  Don’t let any disqualified persons live in, rent, or use for vacations, the property.  You cannot pay an account owner to rehab the property or pay a company that is owned by the account owner for services rendered.  A company that the account owner owns or controls cannot lease space in the property.

You cannot put a property that you or disqualified persons currently own inside your retirement account.

As long as you do not involve disqualified persons or self-deal, you are free to invest in real estate within your self directed retirement vehicle.

All rents or fees generated by the property will be directly deposited into the retirement account.  All expenses related to the property will come from the retirement account.

Stay tuned for Part Two:  Using the External Method


How To Invest Your IRA In Real Estate, Gold And Alternative Assets June 18, 2012

This article appears in the June 25, 2012 investment guide issue of FORBES magazine with the headline, “Go Rogue With Your IRA.”

Renovations are underway at the historic building Laura Harth Rodriguez bought with an inherited IRA. Credit: Scott Goldsmith for Forbes

Sidney Harth, an acclaimed violinist and conductor, died last year at the age of 85, leaving $5 ­million in assets, including musical instruments, a New York City apartment and $2 million in ­retirement accounts to his daughter, Laura Harth Rodriguez, a pianist in her mid-50s. She decided to use part of her inheritance to buy a historic three-story building in an up-and-coming section of Pittsburgh’s East End.

“My father’s investments were tied to the stock market, and it’s been so volatile,” Rodriguez says. But she worried that to swing the $595,000 purchase—an all-cash deal—she’d have to take money out of the inherited IRA, paying income tax immediately on whatever she withdrew. Then her lawyer suggested an alternative: Leave the money in the tax-deferred retirement wrapper and have the IRA itself buy the property. The deal closed in February.

Yep, an IRA can legally own real estate and a lot of other alternative investments, too, ranging from private equity and promissory notes to gold, oil and gas and cattle. (It can’t own insurance, collectibles or stock in S corporations.)

Interested? The big financial institutions that act as custodians for most IRAs generally limit investments to publicly traded stock, bonds, mutual funds and bank CDs. So you’ll first need to move your IRA to one of about two dozen smaller custodians offering “self-directed IRAs.”

This is still a niche business. As of May 2011 only $94 billion (2% of total IRA assets) was in self-directed IRAs, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual funds trade group. Some belong to the very wealthy—Mitt Romney’s holds offshore investments, including one worth between $5 million and $25 million in a Cayman Islands entity, according to his financial disclosure forms.

But ordinary folks have gotten into the act, too. John Mitchell, a manufacturer’s rep for software companies, is investing $50,000 of his self-directed IRA in precious metals—primarily gold and silver. He uses the Entrust Group in Oakland, Calif. as custodian, but the metal is stored with a bullion dealer near his Tampa, Fla. home. Mitchell, 37, says he likes being able to drop by to admire his metals.

Matt Lutz of Bethel Park, Pa. owned a chain of dry cleaning stores in 2006 when he rolled over a $70,000 IRA into a self-directed account at Equity Trust Co. in Elyria, Ohio. Since then he has more than tripled its value—mostly by making loans from his IRA to car dealers to finance their inventory. Three years ago Lutz, 38, sold his dry cleaning business to work full-time putting together similar loans for other people to use as IRA investments.

Despite such success stories, there are risks to getting creative with your IRA. “Self-directed IRAs are not for the faint-hearted,” says Patrick J. Felix III, the Pittsburgh lawyer who helped Rodriguez. “You better damn sure know the rules.” These pointers should help keep you safe.

Avoid self-dealing
This is a legal principle that prevents IRA owners from making investments (or loans) that benefit themselves or certain family members, even indirectly. It also bars mingling of your IRA and nonretirement funds. Run afoul of the self-dealing rules and your entire IRA could be immediately taxed.

So, for example, Rodriguez couldn’t write a $10,000 personal check for the down payment on the building her IRA was buying. Instead, she had to first transfer her father’s IRA to a self-directed IRA trustee, San Fransisco-based Pensco Trust Co. (this must be done in a so-called “trustee-to-trustee” transfer) and then have Pensco cut a check to the seller.

Another complication: Rodriguez’s husband, Francisco, a recording artist, wanted to use the second floor of the building for his studio. But he couldn’t do that if her IRA owned the space. Felix devised a workaround: Create three limited liability companies (LLCs)—one for each floor.

The IRA owns two floors, Rodriguez and her husband the floor with the recording studio. Each LLC paid one-third of the purchase price and has $250,000 of spare cash for expenses. There’s an electric and gas meter on each floor, and the LLCs split the real estate taxes, the fee for a property management firm and bills for renovations, now under way.

Rents for the IRA-owned first floor will generate about $40,000 per year, Rodriguez figures. She hopes the third floor, with its city views, can be rented for parties.

Plan for distributions
Satisfying the requirements for IRA payouts can get more complicated with illiquid assets in your IRA. An IRA owner must take an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) starting at age 70½ unless the account is a Roth. Nonspouse heirs, regardless of age, must begin withdrawals from both regular and Roth IRAs by Dec. 31 of the year following the IRA owner’s death. Miss an RMD and the IRS could hit you with a penalty equal to 50% of the required payout.

The RMD is based on the account balance on Dec. 31 of the previous year divided by life expectancy, as listed in IRS tables. Rodriguez will need to have the building reappraised each year to calculate her RMD. For now there are plenty of liquid assets in the inherited IRA to make the payout. But if the cash runs dry, the IRA would have to distribute an interest in the LLC instead, Felix says. “It’s a bit of a pain in the butt.”

Go Roth, if you can
Distributions from a traditional IRA are taxed at ordinary federal income rates, which top out at 35%. That includes long-term gains, which outside an IRA are currently taxed at a 15% top rate. In other words, you might undercut the benefits of tax deferral by paying a much higher rate than needed on your gains. With a Roth, all withdrawals by you or your heirs are tax free. That’s why an investment that might appreciate greatly belongs in a Roth IRA.

A striking example comes courtesy of Max R. Levchin, chairman of social review site Yelp. According to Securities & Exchange Commission filings, he has 3.9 million low basis shares of Yelp in his self-directed Roth IRA at Pensco. With Yelp now trading around $18, his kitty is worth at least $70 million.

For IRA owners a Roth also avoids the requirement to take yearly distributions after 70½. Not only can that leave more for beneficiaries if you don’t use the money yourself, but with assets that are partly or totally illiquid it also avoids the cumbersome calculation of RMDs that someone like Rodriguez will have to make.

If you earn too much to make annual contributions to a Roth IRA (there are income limits), consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth. To do this you pay tax on a traditional IRA, then shift the money to a Roth where all future growth is tax free. Inherited traditional IRAs aren’t eligible.

Don’t get snookered
Both federal and state regulators note a recent increase in complaints of fraudulent investment schemes that have a self-directed IRA as a key feature. In fact, fraudsters often steer potential marks to self-directed IRAs.

Among those who got burned that way are 120 IRA investors in a promissory notes Ponzi scheme run by USA Retirement Management Services between 2005 and 2010. The SEC sued to recover the $20 million IRA owners lost, plus interest, and got a judgment from the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California in April. Whether the scammers will actually cough up the money is another matter.

Several investors in that case are suing Entrust. But don’t count on an IRA custodian to cover your losses; contracts say they aren’t on the hook if you pick a bad or bogus investment.

Just last year a Colorado federal district court judge dismissed a class action filed against four independent custodians by IRA owners who invested with Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff. The lawsuit claimed the trustees breached their duty to hold IRA assets safe. But the judge found (among other things) that the IRA agreements clearly stated that investors were “solely responsible for making investment decisions in connection with their funds.”

In a separate case defrauded investors whose IRAs were at Equity Trust and Entrust filed a class action suit in April charging that those custodians “encouraged, facilitated, aided, abetted, promoted and consummated” fraudulent schemes while giving investors a false sense of security. According to that complaint, investment promoters required exclusive use of these custodians, and the account statements the custodians sent out showed high returns even though “the fraudsters had absconded with the victims’ investment monies within days or weeks.”

In a statement Entrust said, “It does not provide any investment advice or endorse any investment product provider or service—it simply follows the investment directives of its clients.” Equity Trust CEO Jeff Desich said in a statement that clients “should always ask a trusted financial professional such as their accountant, financial planner or lawyer for a second opinion before investing.”

The new JOBS Act, which makes it easier for some startups to raise money online with little SEC oversight, could tempt even more retirement savers to switch to self-directed IRAs. Buyer beware.


Using Retirement Funds for Real Estate Investment June 15, 2012

BY: Lars Forsberg

The ability to invest in real estate with your IRA or 401k is one of the most appealing attributes of self directed retirement as people lose faith in the stock market and it’s less than illustrious “professionals”.

There are many ways to approach real estate investment with retirement funds.  The two main divisions are the Internal Method and External Method.  With the Internal Method, the investment property is held in the retirement account name for the benefit of the account holder.  With the External Method, the title of the investment property is held personally in the name of the owner.

We will compare the internal and external methods over several posts so that the information is digestible as it can get pretty thick with technicalities.  Due to the nature of these real estate investment techniques, it is recommended that you get a good handle on the process and procedure before jumping.

Before you leap, make sure that you organize your thoughts and goals just as you would for any investment related to your retirement savings.  Are you investing for value appreciation or cash flow?  What is your timeframe?  Are you considering living in this property during retirement?  Will this property be used to generate cash investment into your IRA or 401k….during your working years?….your retired years?….both?  Do you plan to sell the property when you retire?….before you retire?


Solo 401k and Self Directed IRA LLC Pricing June 10, 2012

June 9, 2012

BY: Lars Forsberg,

Why are the prices all over the map for the creation of Solo 401k’s and Self Directed IRA LLC’s?

Like any product or service, the perceived quality of the product and/or the level of service determines the price.

Often promoters of self directed retirement products have ulterior motives.  These promoters will sell their plan establishment services cheap, with the intention of pushing other investment products on clients down the road.  These guys are kind of like drug dealers who give people cheap introduction pricing on drugs, knowing that once addicted, the people will return to purchase more.  Beware the self directed plan pusher who tries to convince you to pursue risky investments or behavior that may invite the scrutiny of the IRS.

If it appears that a promoter of self directed retirement products pushes only real estate investing on their website, or encourages ROBS (Roll Overs as Business  Startups) strategies, consider their motives.  This is not to say that any particular alternative investments are always superior to others.  To the contrary, beware the “expert” who knows how you can skirt the rules and “make a fortune” doing this or that.

Other promoters provide little or no after-sale service.  These companies will sell you their retirement products, then set you loose.  While self directed investing is fairly straightforward once you understand what is acceptable and what is not, initially you will have questions, and you will need answers to avoid pitfalls.

You should not limit your choices to the companies that have the most spectacular web site or marketing.  You should not limit your choices to the companies with the most familiar names.  Whatever you do, don’t look for bargain basement pricing.

Choose a self directed retirement package that fits your personal needs.  Be sure that the plan you choose gives you the most power and flexibility.  Choose a company that you are comfortable with.  Choose a company that will support you after the sale, rather than try to sell you on other products.  When you are dealing with a decision as important as this one, take your time, do your research.