Legions of Frustrated Investors Turn to Real Estate Investing: “Play and Pray” Amateur Property Flippers vs. Landlords

Rental Properties in Your IRA

For legions of investors frustrated with puny yields on savings and bonds, slow growth retarding stock market returns, and the usual substantial risk involved in security investing (any given stock or bond can potentially become worthless overnight), we have good news: The combination of declining real estate prices and steady or increasing rents have opened up a window of opportunity in real estate for income-oriented investors. In fact, years after the “smart money” was selling off real estate ahead of the bubble collapse, we are seeing signs that smart money is getting back in the real estate market. Indeed, up to 20 percent of residential real estate now sold is sold to investors – and not just to “play and pray” amateur property flippers, but to value-oriented investors as well, who are seeking to generate immediate positive cash flow.

Advantage for IRA Owners

This is a big development for IRA investors, because generating cash flow sufficient to maintain properties is important for IRA owners. Because you are restricted to $5,000 in new contributions to IRAs every year ($6,000 for those over age 50), you have to pay for any needed repairs or renovations to properties either with cash in the IRA, bringing on a partner, nonrecourse debt financing, or other retirement assets you can roll over into the account. When you can realize immediate positive cash flow from a property, however, net of financing costs and taxes, that takes a lot of the pressure off, and makes owning real estate in an IRA much simpler.

Getting Started in Real Estate IRA Investing

Owning property within an IRA is simple: Open an account with American IRA, a third-party administrator specializing in self-directed retirement accounts. Identify a property, fund the account, and direct us to purchase the property on your IRA’s behalf. We will work with your team of advisors to ensure that the property is titled and held in accordance with the IRS’s regulations pertaining to retirement accounts.

Using Leverage

If you can’t pay cash for the property, you can have your IRA borrow most of the purchase price. Typically, you can finance a property in an IRA with banks that specialize in non-recourse financing through IRAs which generally requires a down payment of about 35 percent, plus reserves. The loan must be a non-recourse loan, meaning the loan can only be collateralized by the property you’re buying, within the IRA. You cannot sign a personal guarantee on the debt nor can your IRA or any other prohibited person. Fortunately, in many markets, it is still possible to generate substantial free cash flow from well-chosen rental properties, even carrying a mortgage of 2/3ds of the value of the property.

In addition to a 35 percent down payment, lenders will typically look to see if they can expect a positive cash flow of 20 to 25 percent, net of expenses. Again, this is very doable in many real estate markets today.

Looking for more flexibility? The IRA is not limited to borrowing funds from banks that specialize in non-recourse loans, your IRA can also borrow from private lenders. Borrowing from private lenders has some added advantages to it as the terms and down payment are negotiable. When entering into loans with private lenders make sure to do your due diligence, use professionals to draw up the paperwork, and remember that the loan must be non-recourse.

One caveat: Because borrowed money is not IRA money, any profits attributable to borrowed money could be subject to unrelated debt income tax (UDIT). American IRA does not provide individualized tax advice – it’s important to retain your own tax advisor for advice on how this affects your personal situation.

Advantages of Holding Property in an IRA

IRAs allow you to defer all the income your rental property receives. This is a crucial consideration for real estate investors, because of the substantial amount of rental income, which would otherwise be taxable in the current year. If you hold the property in a Roth IRA, the income and potential capital appreciation is tax free.

Because there’s no current tax liability on rental income, you can’t take depreciation deductions on rental property you hold in the IRA. However, you aren’t paying current year taxes on the property, it’s a wash. Real estate investing in tax-advantaged accounts does not rely on depreciation allowances to make sense. You can still frequently realize positive cash flow very quickly or even immediately, even without depreciation.

Note, however, that if you have leveraged the property, you can deduct all the normal expenses, such as interest, taxes, insurance and depreciation in the percentage applicable to the percentage of debt on the property.

Other Accounts

Real estate investing in retirement accounts is not limited to IRAs. If you prefer, you can buy real estate within a self-directed Solo 401(k), SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA as well. Many investors choose to do so because of the higher contribution allowances available in these types of accounts. For example, as of 2012, you can contribute up to $49,000 to a SEP IRA, or 25 percent of your compensation – whichever is less.

As a point of interest, Solo 401(k) accounts are not generally subject to unrelated debt income tax. You can use leverage within the Solo 401(k) account and the account remains fully tax-deferred, though you must still pay applicable property taxes and property expenses.


The IRS imposes a few rules on what you may and may not do with real estate within your IRA. For example, neither you, nor your parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren or your spouses or legally adopted step-children can borrow from, lend to or buy or sell goods and services from your IRA, nor may any entities they control. Note that un-adopted stepchildren are not prohibited.

You also can’t use the property for the direct benefit of any prohibited individuals. They can’t even stay overnight in a property, whether or not the property charges rent. Assets in IRAs must be solely used to grow and to generate eventual retirement income for yourself or your beneficiary, and for no other purpose. However, one great strategy commonly used by investors is to buy a retirement home now with their IRA, rent the property until they retire, and then – after having reached age 59½, take the house as a distribution for personal use. If the account is in a Roth IRA, there won’t be any taxes due on the distribution.

For more information, or to explore your options, call American IRA today at 866-7500-IRA(472). We look forward to working with you.

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