Using a Solo 401(k) Plan to Invest in Options

When it comes to making investments with a solo 401(k) Plan, the IRS generally does not tell you what you can invest in, only what you cannot invest in.  The types of investments that are not permitted to be made using retirement funds is outlined in Internal Revenue Code Section 408 and 4975.  These rules are generally known as the “Prohibited Transaction” rules.

In addition to the Prohibited Transaction rules, the IRS imposes a levy or tax on certain transactions involving IRA funds.  In general, when one uses IRA funds to invest in an active business, such as a restaurant, store, factory that is operated through a passthrough entity such as a Limited Liability Company or Partnership or used nonrecourse financing, such as a nonrecourse loan or margin in a stock or trading account, a percentage of net profits or income generated by that activity could be subject to a tax. The tax imposed is often referred to as Unrelated Business Taxable Income or UBIT or UBTI.  The UBTI rules are generally outlined in Internal Revenue Code Sections 512-514.

The reason the UBTI tax rules do not impact most retirement investors, is that Internal Revenue Code Section 512(b) provides a general exemption for the following categories of income generated by a retirement account:  dividends, interest, royalties, rental income, and capital gain type transaction, As a result, since the majority of retirement investors purchase publicly traded company stock, which is exempted from the UBTI tax pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 512, the UBTI tax rules are not widely known.

When it comes to investing in options with a solo 401(k) Plan the question then becomes whether the investment would trigger the UBTI rules. An option is a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specific price on or before a certain date. An option, just like a stock or bond, is a security. It is also a binding contract with strictly defined terms and properties.

According to the IRS , any gain from the lapse or termination of options to buy or sell securities is excluded from unrelated business taxable income. Note - the exclusion is not available if the organization is engaged in the trade or business of writing options or the options are held by the organization as inventory or for sale to customers in the ordinary course of a trade or business. Hence, if option trading is not being done as an active trade or business, then using a solo 401(k) Plan to invest in options would not trigger the UBTI tax rules.

For more information on using a solo 401(k) Plan to invest in options, please contact a tax professional at 800-472-0646.

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