Peek v. Commissioner – IRA Loan Rules
In Peek v. Commissioner (May 9, 2013), the U.S. Tax Court ruled that a taxpayer’s personal guarantee of a loan by a corporation owned by the individual’s IRA is a prohibited transaction. The Court found that the taxpayers had provided an indirect extension of credit to the IRAs. This is a prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code § 4975 that disqualified the IRAs.
IRA Loan Rules – The Law
Section 4975(c) prohibits certain transactions between (i) various plans including IRAs and (ii) “disqualified persons”. A disqualified person is a “party of interest” under the ERISA version of these rules. In the case of an IRA, this includes the IRA owner.
A disqualified person cannot engage in transactions with the plan that, among other things, constitute as direct or indirect:
- Sales, exchanges, or leasing of property
- Lending of money or other extension of credit
- Furnishing of goods, services, or facilities
- Transfer to, or use by or for the benefit of, a disqualified person of the income or assets of a plan
However, certain exceptions do apply that allow a disqualified person to engage in such transactions.
Peek v. Commissioner – The Court’s Opinion
In 2001, two taxpayers, Mr. Lawrence Peek and Darrel Fleck sought to use Self-Directed IRAs to acquire a business. They established a Self-Directed IRA using 401(k) rollovers to create a new company (FP Company). Then, they directed the IRAs to purchase the common stock of FP Company with funds in the IRAs.
FP Company then sought to purchase the business.
To consummate the purchase, FP Company provided a promissory note to the sellers. This is in addition to the cash and other credit lines. This promissory note was backed by the personal guarantee of the taxpayers/ The guarantees were then backed by the deeds to the taxpayers’ homes.
In 2003 and 2004, the taxpayers converted their traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. In 2006 and 2007, the IRAs sold FP Company for a gain. Because a Roth IRA recognized the gain, there was no tax on the gain from the sale of stock.
The IRS Intervenes
The IRS audited the income tax return for both Mr. Peek and Mr. Fleck for the tax years of 206 and 2007. After reviewing the individuals’ tax returns, the IRS adjusted their tax returns to include the capital gains income from the sale of the stock as well as imposed excise tax for excess IRA contributions. Both Mr. Peek and Fleck contested the IRS’s adjustment and filed a petition with the Tax Court.
The IRS’ argument against Mr. Fleck and Mr. Peek was that both taxpayer’s personal guarantee of a $200,000 promissory note from FP Company to the sellers of the business in 2001 as part of FP Company’s purchase of the business assets were prohibited transactions.
Internal Revenue Code Section 4975
The Tax Court agreed with the IRS. The taxpayers had committed prohibited transactions, stating that the IRAs ceased to be IRAs as of the beginning of 2001, and that the capital gain from the sale of FP Company by the IRAs was immediately taxed to the taxpayers.
Because Internal Revenue Code Section 4975 prohibits both “direct and indirect . . . lending of money or extensions of credit” between an IRA and its owner, it did not matter that the loan guarantee by the taxpayers was to FP Company and not the IRAs directly. Internal Revenue Code Section 4975 clearly prohibits the lending of money or extension of credit between a retirement plan and a disqualified person.
Mr. Peek and Mr. Fleck argued that the IRS’ notice in 2006 and 2007 were too late because the loan was made in 2001. The IRS contended and the Tax Court agreed that since the nonrecourse loan was ongoing, the prohibited transaction continued. Therefore, on January 1, 2006 it remained true that both Mr. Peek and Mr. Fleck personally guaranteed the company loan.
The Tax Court held that the Peeks and the Flecks were liable for a 20% accuracy-related penalty because their underpayments of tax were “substantial understatement of income tax” under Internal Revenue Code Section 6662 .
While the penalty for an IRC 4975 violation is normally an excise tax, a prohibited transaction between an IRA and its owner results in the tax disqualification of the IRA under § 408(e)(2), in which case the IRA assets are treated for tax purposes as distributed to the IRA owner.
The Peek v. Commissioner decision is noteworthy in a number of respects:
- Peek reinforced the legality that an IRA holder can use retirement funds to invest in a wholly owned entity which is controlled by him or her without triggering the IRA prohibited transaction rules.
- It also adds to the limited guidance on the situations in which “indirect” transactions fall within Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.
- The case highlighted the importance of working with independent tax attorneys who can properly advise on a proposed investment. Mr. Peek and Mr. Fleck relied on the advice of Mr. Blees, a CPA, who was also the promoter of the transaction. As a result, Mr. Blees did not warn Mr. Peek and Mr. Fleck about personally guaranteeing the business loan for their IRA investment.