The Self-Directed IRA Structure has been in use for some 35 years, however, the concept of using an entity owned by an IRA to make an investment was first reviewed by the Tax Court in Swanson V. Commissioner 106 T.C. 76 (1996). In Swanson, the Tax Court, in ruling against the IRS, held that the funding of a new entity by an IRA for self-directing assets was a permitted transaction and not prohibited pursuant to Code Section 4975. The Swanson Case was later affirmed by the IRS in Field Service Advice Memorandum (FSA) 200128011. In FSA 200128011, the IRS, in providing guidance to IRS agents for purposes of conducting audits, confirmed the Tax Court’s holding in Swanson and held that a newly established entity owned by an IRA and managed by the IRA owner may make investments using IRA funds without violating the prohibited transaction rules under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.
The relevant facts of Swanson are as follows:
1. Mr. Swanson was the sole shareholder of H & S Swansons’ Tool Company (Swansons’ Tool).
2. Mr. Swanson arranged for the organization of Swansons’ Worldwide, Inc. (Worldwide). Mr. Swanson was named as president and director of Worldwide. Mr. Swanson also arranged for the creation of an individual retirement account (IRA #1).
3. Mr. Swanson directed the custodian of his IRA to execute a subscription agreement for 2,500 shares of Worldwide original issued stock. The shares were subsequently issued to IRA #1, which became the sole shareholder of Worldwide.
4. Swansons’ Tool paid commissions to Worldwide with respect to the sale by Swansons’ Tool of export property. Mr. Swanson, who had been named president of Worldwide, directed, with the IRA custodian’s consent, that Worldwide pay dividends to IRA #1.
5. A similar arrangement was set up with regards to IRA #2 and a second corporation called Swansons’ Trading Company.
6. Mr. Swanson received no compensation for his services as president and director of Swansons’ Worldwide, Inc. and Swansons’ Trading Company.
The IRS attacked Mr. Swanson’s IRA transactions on two levels. First, the IRS argued that the payment of dividends from Worldwide to IRA #1 was a prohibited transaction within the meaning of Code Section 4975(c)(1)(E) as an act of self-dealing, where a disqualified person who is a fiduciary deals with the assets of the plan in his own interest. Mr. Swanson argued that he engaged in no activities on behalf of Worldwide which benefited him other than as a beneficiary of IRA #1.
The Tax Court ruled for Mr. Swanson, and found that the IRS was not substantially justified in its position. The court said that section 4975(c)(1)(E) addresses itself only to acts of disqualified persons who, as fiduciaries, deal directly or indirectly with the income or assets of a plan for their own benefit or account. In Mr. Swanson’s case the court found that there was no such direct or indirect dealing with the income or assets of the IRA. The IRS never suggested that Mr. Swanson, acting as a “fiduciary” or otherwise, ever dealt with the corpus of IRA #1 for his own benefit. The Tax Court, in holding for Swanson, stated the following:
"We find that it was unreasonable for [the IRS] to maintain that a prohibited transaction occurred when Worldwide's stock was acquired by IRA #1. The stock acquired in that transaction was newly issued -- prior to that point in time, Worldwide had no shares or shareholders. A corporation without shares or shareholders does not fit within the definition of a disqualified person under section 4975(e)(2)(G). It was only after Worldwide issued its stock to IRA #1 that petitioner held a beneficial interest in Worldwide's stock, thereby causing Worldwide to become a disqualified person under section 4975(e)(2)(G). . . Therefore, [the IRS’] litigation position with respect to this issue was unreasonable as a matter of both law and fact."
Therefore, the Tax Court held that the only direct or indirect benefit that Mr. Swanson realized from the payments of dividends by Worldwide related solely to his status as a participant of IRA #1. In this regard, Mr. Swanson benefited only insofar as IRA #1 accumulated assets for future distribution.
The second issue the IRS raised was that the sale of stock by Worldwide to Mr. Swanson’s IRA was a prohibited transaction within the meaning of section 4975(c)(1)(A) of the Code, which prohibits the direct or indirect sale or exchange, or leasing, of any property between an IRA and a disqualified person. Mr. Swanson argued that at all relevant times IRA #1 was the sole shareholder of Worldwide, and that since the 2,500 shares of Worldwide issued to IRA #1 were original issue, no sale or exchange of the stock occurred.
Once again, the tax court agreed with Mr. Swanson. The critical factor was that the stock acquired in that transaction was newly issued – prior to that point in time, Worldwide had no shares or shareholders. The court found that a corporation without shares or shareholders does not fit within the definition of a disqualified person under section 4975(e)(2)(G). It was only after Worldwide issued its stock to IRA #1 that Swanson held a beneficial interest in Worldwide’s stock, thereby causing Worldwide to become a disqualified person. Accordingly, the issuance of stock to IRA #1 did not, within the plain meaning of section 4975(c)(1)(A), qualify as a “sale or exchange, or leasing, of any property between a plan and a disqualified person”.
The significance of the Swanson ruling was that the Tax Court approved the investment of IRA funds into a newly established entity that is managed by the IRA account holder. In ruling in favor or Mr. Swanson, the Tax Court formally approved the idea of an IRA holder being the sole director and officer of an entity owned by his IRA. In other words, the tax court endorsed a transaction whereby IRA funds are invested in a newly established entity such as a limited liability company of which the IRA owner is the manager. The Swanson Case clearly suggests that as long as the entity is newly established, the investment of IRA funds into that entity would not be treated as a prohibited transaction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.
The Tax Court, in ruling against the IRS in the Swanson Case, seemed to place focus on the type of investment that would involve IRA funds rather than the entity used to make the investment. In other words, the Tax Court seemed to suggest that the determination of whether a transaction is deemed a prohibited transaction is based on the actual investment of the IRA funds not on the structure used to effect the investment. To this end, the Tax Court noted that the use of an entity to make an IRA investment does not insulate the IRA investment from scrutiny with respect to the prohibited transaction rules.
IRS Field Service Advice (FSA) Memorandum 200128011 was the first IRS drafted opinion that confirmed the ruling of Swanson that held that the funding of a new entity by an IRA for self-directing assets was not a prohibited transaction pursuant to Code Section 4975.
An FSA is issued by the IRS to IRS field agents to guide them in the conduct of tax audits.
USCorp is a domestic subchapter S Corporation. Father owns a majority of the shares of USCorp. Father's three minor children own the remaining shares of USCorp equally. USCorp is in the business of selling Product A and some of its sales are made for export.
Father and each child own separate IRAs. Each of the four IRAs acquired a 25% interest in FSC A, a foreign sales corporation (“FSC”). USCorp entered into service and commission agreements with FSC A. FSC A agreed to act as commission agent in connection with export sales made by USCorp, in exchange for commissions based upon the administrative pricing rules applicable to FSCs. USCorp also agreed to perform certain services on behalf of FSC A, such as soliciting and negotiating contracts, for which FSC A would reimburse USCorp its actual costs.
During Taxable Year 1, FSC A made a cash distribution to its IRA shareholders, out of earnings and profits derived from foreign trade income relating to USCorp exports. The IRAs owning FSC A each received an equal amount of funds.
IRS advised that, based on Swanson, neither issuance of stock in FSC to IRAs nor payment of dividends by FSC to IRAs constituted direct prohibited transaction. o IRS warned that, based on facts, transaction could be indirect.
In light of Swanson, the IRS concluded that a prohibited transaction did not occur under Code Section 4975(c)(1)(A) in the original issuance of the stock of FSC A to the IRAs. Similarly, the IRS held that payment of dividends by FSC A to the IRAs in this case is not a prohibited transaction under Code Section 4975(c)(1)(D). The IRS further concluded that in light of Swanson, the ownership of FSC A stock by the IRAs, together with the payment of dividends by FSC A to the IRAs, should not constitute a prohibited transaction under Code Section 4975(c)(1)(E).
Accordingly, the IRS believed that the case should not be pursued as one involving prohibited transactions.
The IRS noted however that since the owners of the IRAs are disqualified persons as fiduciaries with respect their IRAs and USCorp is a disqualified person with respect to the IRA owned by Individual A, if a transaction is made for the purpose of benefitting USCorp, the IRA owners would violate Code Section 4795(c)(1)(D). Also, if the facts were such that the IRA owners' interests in the transaction because of their ownership of USCorp affected their best judgments as fiduciaries of the IRAs, the transaction would violate Code Section 4975(c)(1)(E).
The significance of FSA 200128011 is that the IRS confirmed the Tax Court’s ruling in Swanson, which ruled against the IRS. Like Swanson, the FSA advised IRS agents conducting audits that the creation and ownership of a new entity by an IRA for investment purposes would not be considered a prohibited transaction under Code Section 4975. Furthermore, the IRS established that the payments of dividends by an IRA owned entity to an IRA would not constitute a prohibited transaction. Like the Tax Court in Swanson, the IRS concluded that an investment into a newly established entity to make IRA investments would not be a prohibited transaction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 4975. The IRS, in confirming the Tax Court’s ruling in Swanson, seemed to suggest that the focus on whether a transaction is prohibited pursuant to IRS rules should be examined based on how IRA funds are invested not on the structure used to effect the investment. In other words, the type of investment made with IRA funds once contributed to the newly formed entity will determine whether the transaction is prohibited under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975, not the vehicle that was used to make the investment.
In light of Swanson and FSA 200128011, the formation and funding of a new entity by an IRA for purposes of Self-Directing IRA investments in itself should not be considered a prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.
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