What is a Self Directed IRA?

Self directed IRAs, commonly associated with a real estate IRA, allow knowledgeable investors the opportunity to manage their assets and complete financial transactions without having to obtain approval from a custodian. When you decide to make an investment, you can withdraw or wire funds from your IRA to complete your transaction. Having such easy access to your IRA funds grants the freedom to make your investments quickly and independently. One of the many benefits of a self directed IRA is the opportunity for greater wealth accumulation. Also, investments made with a self directed IRA grow tax free.

A real estate IRA is one of the most common investments made with funds from a self directed IRA. A real estate IRA tends to be an attractive investment for self directed IRAs because they provide the option of purchasing real estate for fairly low prices (e.g. foreclosed properties) and use any profits gained (e.g. rent or flip) to further expand your retirement funds. Furthermore, using a self directed IRA to make your transaction saves you from the transaction, holding, or asset-based fees normally associated with a traditional IRA. It should be noted that for any financing, the IRS requires the use of non recourse financing for real estate investments made with a self directed IRA. Non recourse financing means that the lender's only legal means of seeking repayment is through the asset itself.

While a self directed IRA does offer more freedom and flexibility to manage your funds, there are certain guidelines that should be taken into consideration. The most important guidelines apply to prohibited investments and “disqualified persons.” The IRS defines a disqualified person as your spouse, parents, children and their spouses, grandparents, grandchildren and their spouses, any entity of which you own more than 50% and any venture in which you own more than a 10% partnership. As the owner of a self directed IRA, you are also defined as a disqualified person. That means that investments owned prior to opening a self directed IRA and any transactions involving disqualified persons is a prohibited transaction or “self dealing” and could result in your IRA losing its tax exemption status.

Another guideline to consider with self directed IRAs is the policy regarding “indirect benefit.” The IRA is designed to be a retirement plan. Although you may acquire a great deal of money from your IRA, any of it used to fund investments intended for personal use (e.g. vacation home, work space or personal residence) violates the terms of the IRA and is subject to taxes. A self directed IRA allows investors complete control over their funds, but it also places greater responsibility on the investor to ensure that he or she remains in compliance with the associated rules and regulations.

Self directed IRAs are one of the best kept secrets in the world of investment. It most certainly is not for the novice investor. However, for the seasoned and savvy investor who is willing to learn how to use it properly, a self directed IRA combined with non recourse financing can prove to be a very useful and lucrative tool.

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