The most common asset class for self-directed IRA accounts is real estate. Real estate investments for self-directed IRAs come in various forms from simple single-family rentals owned 100% by the IRA to LLC or LP investment partnerships with multiple investors in larger commercial or multi-family properties.
Given the changes in federal securities laws that now allow investment sponsors and real estate syndicators to raise capital more easily, many self directed IRA investors have considered investing their IRAs into these offerings. Crowdfunding sites such as Realcrowd are already offering Crowdfunding type investment opportunities for investors under SEC Rule 506(c). This rule and those investments are currently only available to accredited investors and have no restriction on the investment amount that may come from the accredited investor. These offerings have traditionally been known as private placements or “PPMs” but can now be marketed and there is no requirement that they be “private” so long as the offering company only accepts accredited investors.
For those who are not accredited investors, “true” Crowdfunding under Title III of the JOBS Act goes into effect in May of 2016. Under these Crowdfunding offerings, everyone will be able to invest in Crowdfunding opportunities and the investment amount will be based on the investor’s income and assets. These new Crowdfunding rules were enacted in Title III of the JOBS Act and were put into final regulations by the SEC in late 2015.
Before investing your self-directed IRA into a real estate Crowdfunding offering, you must first learn and understand one very important tax called UBIT tax that may apply to your self-directed IRA’s income.
Will My IRA Be Subject to UBIT Tax?
Unrelated Business Income Tax (“UBIT”) applies to an IRA that receives non-passive income. UBIT is a hefty tax and has a maximum rate of 37%. IRC § 511. The tax table is copied below.
2021 Tax Rates
Although not shown on the table, the first $1,000 in UBIT gross income is exempt and you receive an automatic $1,000 deduction.
UBIT will apply to your self-directed IRAs real estate investment in two scenarios. First, it will apply if the income to the IRA is ordinary. And second, it will apply if the offering company uses debt to acquire its properties.
Step One: Is the income passive?
First, UBIT will apply if the investment is an ordinary income-producing business. An ordinary income business in real estate investing would include investing in an LLC or LP that conducts new construction, real estate developments held for sale, or other activities that are deemed business activities. Passive income investments, on the other hand, are specifically exempt from UBIT and include real estate rental income, capital gain income, interest income, and dividend income from a c-corp. IRC § 512(b). The vast majority of real estate Crowdfunding offerings are structured to obtain passive income such as rental income while the property is held and capital gain income when the property is sold. Typical real estate offerings where UBIT can be due include offerings to fix and flip properties or offerings for new construction or real estate development where the investment strategy is to buy properties to then immediately sell.
If you have an investment offering that is ordinary income (e.g. a fix and flip fund), then the income to the IRA from the fund will be subject to UBIT tax and the IRA will be required to file and pay the tax each year by using IRS Form 990-T. This responsibility to file the return each year is on the IRA account owner and not the investment sponsor or the IRA custodian so IRA owners need to know for themselves whether the IRA is subject to UBIT or not. So for example, let’s say that a self-directed IRA invested into a Crowdfunding offering that was a real estate development with properties held immediately for sale and that the income was ordinary income. Let’s further assume that the self-directed IRA received a K-1 for profits to the IRA for the year of $10,000. Based on the UBIT tax table, the IRA would owe UBIT tax in the amount of $2,078. This amount is due from the IRA to the IRS and is reported and payable using form 990-T.
If you’ve determined that the Crowdfunding offering income is passive (e.g. rental, capital gain), then you may still be subject to UBIT if the LLC or LP offering company is using debt to leverage and acquire its properties.
Step Two: Will the investment be leveraged with debt?
Second, UBIT will apply to profits returned to your IRA from a Crowdfunding real estate offering (and really any real estate owned by your IRA) if the offering company uses debt to leverage its acquisition of properties. For example, let’s say the offering company raises $1M in cash to buy a $4M multi-family property. There will be $1M of cash invested into the property and $3M of debt. The property will therefore be leveraged 75% with debt.
Whenever an IRA’s investment is leveraged with debt, the tax code requires the IRA owner to determine what profits are attributable to the IRAs cash and what profits are attributable to the debt. The profits attributable to the cash invested is still treated as tax-deferred (traditional IRA) or tax-free (Roth IRA) and is not subject to UBIT. The profits and income attributable to the debt, however, is called unrelated debt-financed income (“UDFI”) and is subject to UBIT. IRC § 514. So, in the multi-family property example above where the property is leveraged 75% with debt, the self-directed IRA will be subject to UBIT tax on 75% of the income.
In order to calculate UBIT tax based on debt, you must first determine the leverage ratio. Once we know the leverage ratio, we can then begin to calculate how UBIT will apply. The good news is that the IRA is also allowed to take expenses against the property using the same leverage ratio and is able to take depreciation expenses which help to offset UBIT. In many situations, even where a property is cash-flowing the IRA will not be subject to UBIT because the property expenses and depreciation will offset UBIT income.
Let’s continue through this example to illustrate how this works.
Property Purchase Price = $4M
Debt/Leverage = $3M
Leverage Ration = 75%
Income = $1.3M
Income at Leverage Ratio (75%) = $975,000
Operating Expenses= $1,000,000
Operating Expenses at Leverage Ratio (75%) = $750,000
Net Leveraged Income = $225,000
Depreciation Expense ($4M / 27.5) = $145,500
Depreciation Expense at Leverage Ratio = $109,125
Net UDFI/UBIT Income = $115,875
SDIRA Investor Invested $20K and received 1.5% of Company Profit/Loss
SDIRA Investor 1.5% of Net UDFI/UBIT = $1,738.
Automatic IRS $1,000 deduction = $738 subject to UBIT/UDFI
UBIT Table Rate of 10% of $738 = $74 in UBIT is Due
As the example demonstrates, given the low-level of investment from the IRA it isn’t subject to much UBIT as the net UBIT income (after expenses and depreciation) keeps the tax rate on the low end of the tax table. That being said, 990-T tax returns must be filed by the IRA investor for the IRA and the IRA will be responsible for the tax due. Factors that will cause more UBIT are higher returns and income, larger investment amounts and ownership, and more leverage.
While self-directed IRA’s are subject to UDFI and UBIT on leveraged real estate investments, it is worth noting that self-directed 401(k) and other employer-based plans are exempt from UDFI on leveraged real estate investments. IRC § 514(9). Unfortunately, self-directed IRAs do not receive this exemption.
So, in short, the quick list to determine whether UBIT will be due a self-directed IRA Crowdfunding real estate investment requires analysis of two issues. First, is the offering company’s income passive or is it ordinary. If it is ordinary then it is subject to UBIT. If it is passive, then it is only subject to UBIT if the company uses debt to leverage its investments. Once you can answer these questions you know whether UBIT will apply to your investment and whether your IRA will need to report and pay tax on its income.