The Real Threats to Your Self-Directed IRA & How to Defend Against Them

One of the many reasons real estate investors love the self-directed IRA (SDIRA)  is the control they have over both their assets and participation with traditional custodians. But many investors are also aware of the SDIRA’s relative security as an asset protection tool. If you weren’t aware of this benefit before, you are now. 

Don’t make the same mistakes other investors make. Watch out for threats to your SDIRA’s security. If you establish an SDIRA, it’s smart to do what you can to protect it; read on to learn how.

How Safe Is Your Self-Directed IRA?

When pros like attorneys discuss self-directed IRAs being “safer” than other investment vehicles, they’re referring to safety in two senses of the word. Your SDIRA isn’t “safe” from any type of attack, but it does protect you legally:

  • From lawsuits against you personally over plan assets
  • From direct attacks, as IRAs are extremely difficult to sue compared to individuals or companies

So, this article isn’t intended to suggest IRAs are inherently risky, just to remind you how not undermine its protections. The sticky reality is that for real estate investors, self-directed IRAs can be riskier when they own assets (including REI property) that have liabilities attached.

Your Biggest Threat: Prohibited Transactions Explained

The biggest way you can be a danger to yourself and your self-directed IRA is by performing prohibited transactions. The prohibited transaction rules are a gift from our buddies at the Department of Labor. Basically, there are things you can’t do in a business context with your SDIRA:

  1. Self-dealing is the term for doing business with yourself via your self-directed IRA or other qualified retirement plan (QRP). You can’t do this, frankly, because of too many opportunities for corruption.
  2. Disqualified People.The DOL isn’t dumb. They disqualify certain individuals, namely relatives, spouses, and other types of people you might form “sweetheart deals” with like business partners. So to keep everyone playing fair, plan participants can’t allow their plan to make transactions with anyone the DOL labels a “disqualified person.” Expect to pay hefty penalties if you do.

For your convenience, we’ve compiled an educational resource about avoiding prohibited transactions, complete with examples. Our prohibited transaction resources can help you educate yourself to the point you avoid engaging in such transactions with your self-directed IRA. The only downside to the SDIRA’s freedom from custodians is such freedom means you are responsible for dodging prohibited transactions.

How to Protect Your Self-Directed IRA

You have additional options for protecting your IRAs. For those of us concerned about our real estate assets, the liability-limiting powers of the SDIRA LLC offer an elegant fix.

Consider a Self-Directed IRA LLC for Liability Protection

The ideal legal tool for a long-term SDIRA owning REI is the SDIRA LLC. This variation of the retirement plan is hybridized into an entity, a more secure option for investors.

The SDIRA LLC is an alternative to the IRA Business trust, another option for IRA-owned entities. Real estate investors are attracted to the LLC option because of its strong liability protections. Using an SDIRA LLC gets investors the flexibility to buy real estate with IRA funds and the protection of an LLC, or the best of both worlds.

Last Updated: 
July 30, 2019

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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