If you have a property in mind but don’t have the funds in your account to purchase it outright, the IRA may be able to secure a non-recourse loan. Keep in mind that not all lenders make this type of loan, and, because the lender cannot rely on personal assets as collateral, it is common for them to require a down payment of 30% to 40%. Also, an asset secured using a loan may be subject to Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT). This may sound like a negative, but needing to pay UBIT means that the investment is making money.
This fact, however, is not widely known. In fact, the IRS received so many inquiries, IRS.gov issued this statement, “…IRA law does not prohibit investing in real estate, but trustees are not required to offer real estate as an option.” Because IRA providers are not required to offer real estate, it is up to the IRA holder to establish an account with a provider that will perform the administration and bookkeeping necessary for that asset.
It is relatively well known that an IRA holder can’t live in real estate that his/her IRA owns, it is less well known that sweat equity is not allowed. Many people would like to be able to have their IRA purchase a rental property and then act as the property manager, including making repairs and performing maintenance. Unfortunately, the IRA holder can only contribute some brain power/strategy to the operation of an IRA-held property. When the IRA holder goes over to the property to paint a room, do some light plumbing, or some other physical service, he/she is stepping into a prohibited activity.
In this scenario, the IRA purchases a percentage of the asset and the partners purchase the balance. It is important to note that all income and expenses need to be divided along the percentage of ownership lines. For example, if in a partnership, the IRA buys 50% of an apartment building, then 50% of all of the income and expenses come to and are disbursed from the IRA. So, if your IRA does not have enough money to purchase 100% of a real estate asset, and you don’t want your IRA to secure a loan, it may be a good idea to think about using a partnership to acquire the asset you want.
While it is certainly allowable for an IRA to sell a property and then distribute the proceeds, there is another alternative. The physical asset itself can be distributed, with the obligatory tax on its value. In addition to a complete distribution of the asset, a percentage of a property can be distributed in a given year. The way that works is that the real estate is re-titled to reflect a new percentage of ownership between the IRA and the IRA holder. The IRA holder would then pay the taxes on the value of the percentage distributed in that year. In this manner, the tax burden could be spread out over a period of years while still holding on to the physical property.