Sunday, May 20, 2018

Blowing Up An IRA


I am not a fan of using retirement funds to address day-to-day financial stresses.

That is not to downplay financial stresses; it is instead to point out that using retirement funds too easily can open yet another set of problems.

Those who have followed me for a while know that I disapprove of using retirement funds to start a business: the so-called Rollovers as Business Startups, whose humorous acronym is ROBS. I know that – in a seminar setting – it is possible to mitigate the tax risks that ROBS pose. I do not however practice in a seminar setting. Heck, I am lucky if a client calls in advance to discuss whatever he/she is getting ready to do.

Let me give you a couple of ROBS pitfalls:

(1) You have your IRA buy a fourplex. You spend time cleaning, doing maintenance and repairs and routinely running to Home Depot.

Question: Is there a tax risk here?

(2) You have your IRA buy a business. You have your son and daughter run the business. You work there part-time and draw a paycheck.

Question: Is there a tax risk here?

The answer to both is yes. Consider:

(1) You are buying stuff at Home Depot, stuff that the IRA should have been buying - as the IRA owns the fourplex, not you. If you are over age 50, you can contribute $6,500 to the IRA annually. Say that you have already written that check for the year. You are now overfunding the IRA every time you go to Home Depot. Granted, one trip is not a big deal, but make routine trips – or incur a major repair – and the facts change. That triggers a 6% penalty – every year - until you take the money back out.

(2) There are restrictions on direct and indirect benefits from an IRA. You are receiving a paycheck from an asset the IRA owns. While arguable, I am confident that your paycheck is a prohibited benefit.

I am looking a Tax Court case where the taxpayer had her IRA lend $40,000 to her dad in 2005. A few years went by and she had the IRA lend $60,000 to a friend.

In 2013 she changed IRA custodians. The new custodian saw those two loans, and she had problems. Perhaps the custodian could not transfer the promissory notes. Perhaps there were no notes. Perhaps the custodian realized that a loan to one’s dad is not allowed. This part of the case is not clear.
COMMENT: It is possible to have an IRA lend money. I have a client who does so on a regular basis. Think however of acting like a bank, with due diligence, promissory notes, periodic interest and lending to nonrelated independent third-parties.
The IRS saw easy money:

(1)  There was a taxable distribution in 2013;
(2)  … and a 10% penalty for early distribution;
(3)  … and the “substantial understatement” penalty because the tax numbers changed enough to rise to the level of “substantial.”

How do you think it turned out for our tax protagonist?

Go back to the dates.

She loaned money to her dad in 2005.

Let’s glance over IRC Section 408(e)(2)
 (2)  Loss of exemption of account where employee engages in prohibited transaction.

(A)  In general. If, during any taxable year of the individual for whose benefit any individual retirement account is established, that individual or his beneficiary engages in any transaction prohibited by section 4975 with respect to such account, such account ceases to be an individual retirement account as of the first day of such taxable year.

The loan was a prohibited transaction. She blew up her IRA as of January 1, 2005. This means that she should have reported ALL of her IRA as taxable income in 2005, of which we can be quite sure she did not.

Can the IRS assess taxes for 2005?

Nope. Too many years have gone by. The standard statute of limitations for assessments is three years.

So, the IRS will tag her in 2013, right?

Nope, they cannot. For one thing, the prohibited transaction did not occur in 2013, and the IRS is not allowed to time-travel just because it serves their purpose.

But there is a bigger reason. Read the last part of Sec 408(e)(2) again.

There was no IRA in 2013. There could be no distribution, no 10% penalty, none of that, as “that” would require the existence of an IRA.

And there was no IRA.

The name of the case for the home gamers is Marks v Commissioner.


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