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Self-Directed IRA Prohibited Transactions

Self-Directed Roth IRA Prohibited Transactions

Self-Directed IRA prohibited transactions generally involve a disqualified person. Furthermore, there are certain transactions that you cannot make with your retirement plan. The Internal Revenue Code does not describe what a Self-Directed IRA can invest in, only what it cannot invest in, which are life insurance and collectibles (stamps, art, certain coins, etc.).

Internal Revenue Code Sections 408 & 4975 prohibits individuals from engaging in Self-Directed transactions with a disqualified person. The purpose of these rules is to encourage the use of IRAs for accumulation of retirement savings and to prohibit those in control of IRAs from taking advantage of the tax benefits for their personal account. Self-Directed IRA Prohibited Transactions have serious consequences for your retirement account.

Who is a Disqualified Person?

The IRS has restricted certain transactions between the Self-Directed IRA and a “disqualified person.” The rationale behind these rules was a congressional assumption that certain transactions between certain parties are inherently suspicious and should be disallowed.

The definition of a disqualified person (Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(e)(2)) extends into a variety of related party scenarios, but generally includes the Self-Directed IRA holder, any ancestors or lineal descendants of the IRA holder, and entities in which the IRA holder holds a controlling equity or management interest. In essence, under Code Section 4975, a “Disqualified Person” means:

  • A. A fiduciary (e.g., the IRA holder, participant, or person having authority over making IRA investments),
  • B. A person providing services to the plan (e.g., the trustee or custodian),
  • C. An employer, any of whose employees are covered by the plan (this generally is not applicable to IRAs, but dos include the owner of a business that establishes a qualified retirement plan),
  • D. An employee organization any of whose members are covered by the Plan (this generally is not applicable to Roth IRAs),
  • E. A 50 percent owner of C or D above,
  • F. A family member of A, B, C, or D above (family members include the fiduciary’s spouse, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, spouses of the fiduciary’s children and grandchildren (but not parents-in-law),
  • G. An entity (corporation, partnership, trust or estate) owned or controlled more than 50 percent by A, B, C, D, or E. Whether an entity is a disqualified person is determined by considering the indirect stock-holdings/interest which would be taken into account under Code Sec. 267(c), except that member of a fiduciary’s family are the family members under Code Sec. 4975(e)(6) (lineal descendants) for purposes of determining disqualified persons.
  • H. A 10 percent owner, officer, director, or highly compensated employee of C, D, E, or G,
  • I. A 10 percent or more partner or joint venture of a person described in C, D, E, or G.

Related: Investing in Alternative Assets in a Self-Directed IRA

Self-Directed IRA Prohibited Transaction Rules

Pursuant to IRC 4975, a Self-Directed IRA is prohibited from engaging in certain types of transactions. The types of prohibited transactions can be best understood by dividing them into three categories: Direct Prohibited Transactions, Self-Dealing Prohibited Transactions, and Conflict of Interest Prohibited Transactions.

Direct Prohibited Transactions

Subject to the exemptions under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(d), a “Direct Prohibited Transaction” generally involves one of the following:

4975(c)(1)(A): The direct or indirect Sale, exchange, or leasing of property between an IRA and a “disqualified person”

Example 1: Tim sells an interest in a piece of property owned by his IRA to his son.

Example 2: Cindy leases real estate owned by her IRA to her father.

Example 3: Jerry uses his IRA funds to purchase an LLC interest owned by his son.

4975(c)(1)(B): The direct or indirect lending of money or other extension of credit between an IRA and a “disqualified person”

Example 1: Paul lends his wife $10,000 from his IRA.

Example 2: Jill personally guarantees a bank loan to her IRA.

Example 3: Bill uses IRA funds to lend an entity owned and controlled by his mother $60,000.

4975(c)(1)(C): The direct or indirect furnishing of goods, services, or facilities between an IRA and a “disqualified person”

Example 1: Rick buys a piece of property with his IRA funds and hires his father to work on the property.

Example 2: Betsy buys a home with her IRA funds and personally fixes it up.

Example 3: Nicky owns an apartment building with her IRA and hires her father to manage the property.

Indirect Prohibited Transactions

4975(c)(1)(D): The direct or indirect transfer to a “disqualified person” of income or assets of an IRA

Example 1: Allan is in a financial jam and takes $18,000 from his IRA to pay his mortgage and credit card bill.

Example 2: Larry uses his Roth IRA to purchase a rental property and hires his friend to manage the property. The friend then enters into a contract with Larry and transfers those funds back to Larry.

Example 3: Tracy invests IRA funds in real estate and then receives a salary for managing the fund.

Self-Dealing Prohibited Transactions

Subject to the exemptions under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(d), a “Self-Dealing Prohibited Transaction” generally involves one of the following:

4975(c)(1)(E): The direct or indirect act by a “Disqualified Person” who is a fiduciary whereby he/she deals with income or assets of the IRA in his/her own interest or for his/her own account

Example 1: Beth who is a real estate agent uses her IRA funds to buy a home and earns a commission from the sale.

Example 2: Jim wants to buy a piece of property for $150,000 and would like to own the property personally but does not have sufficient funds. As a result, Jim uses $120,000 from in his IRA and $30,000 personally to make the investment.

Example 3: Jen uses her Self-Directed IRA funds to invest in a real estate fund managed by her son. Jen’s son receives a bonus for securing Jen’s investment.

Conflict of Interest Prohibited Transactions

Subject to the exemptions under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(d), a “Conflict of Interest Prohibited Transaction” generally involves one of the following:

4975(c)(i)(F): Receipt of any consideration by a “Disqualified Person” who is a fiduciary for his/her own account from any party dealing with the IRA in connection with a transaction involving income or assets of the IRA.

Example 1: Craig uses his IRA funds to loan money to a company in which he manages and controls but owns a small ownership interest in.

Example 2: Tiffany uses her IRA to lend money to a business that she works for in order to secure a promotion.

Example 3: Jason uses his IRA funds to invest in a hedge fund that he manages and where his management fee is based on the total value of the fund’s assets.

While there are certain things you cannot invest in with a Self-Directed IRA, you can still use your account to invest in businesses.

Learn More: Buying a Business with Retirement Funds

Statutory Exemptions

Under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(d), Congress created certain statutory exemptions from the prohibited transaction rules outlined under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(c). For this certain transaction, Congress believed there is a legitimate reason to permit them. For these transactions, Congress has issued a blanket statutory exemption permitting these transactions assuming that certain requirements specified are satisfied. Below is a list of some of the statutory exemptions found in Internal Revenue Code Section 4975(d) that apply to IRAs:

  • Any contract with a disqualified person for office space, legal, accounting or other services necessary for the operation of the IRA as long as reasonable compensation is paid. Note – this exemption does not apply to an IRA fiduciary (the IRA holder) as per Treasury Regulation Section 54.4975-6(a)(5).
  • The provision of ancillary services to an IRA by a bank trustee
  • receipt by a disqualified person of any benefit to which he may be entitled as a participant or beneficiary in the plan, so long as the benefit is computed and paid on a basis which is consistent with the terms of the plan as applied to all other participants and beneficiaries.

Life Insurance and Certain Collectibles

In general, Self-Directed IRA Prohibited Transaction Rules prevent account holders from investing in life insurance contracts or collectibles defined below:

  • Any work of art
  • Any metal or gem
  • Any alcoholic beverage
  • Any rug or antique
  • Any stamp
  • Most coins

Types of Collectibles That may be Purchased Using IRA Funds

  • One, one-half, one-quarter or one-tenth ounce U.S. gold coins (American Gold Eagle coins are the only gold coins specifically approved for IRAs. Other gold coins, to be eligible as IRA investments, must be at least .995 fine (99.5% pure).
  • One ounce silver coins minted by the Treasury Department.
  • Any coin issued under the laws of any state.
  • A platinum coin described in 31 USCS 5112(k).
  • Gold, silver, platinum or palladium bullion (other than bullion that is made into a coin) of a certain fineness that is in the physical possession of a trustee that meets the requirements for IRA trustees under Code Sec. 408(a).

Read More: Investing in Precious Metals with Retirement Funds

S Corporation Stock

Because of the shareholder restrictions imposed on “S” Corporations, a Self-Directed IRA cannot own stock in an S Corporation.

Plan Asset Rules

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Plan Asset Rules essentially define when the assets of an entity are considered ‘Plan” assets. Under the rules, Self Directed IRAs are frequently viewed as pension plans subjecting them to the Plan Asset Rules. Under the Plan Asset Rules, if the aggregate Self Directed IRA or 401k Plan ownership of an entity is 25% or more of all the assets of the entity, then the equity interests and assets of the “investment entity” are viewed as assets of the investing Self Directed IRA/401(k) Plan for purposes of the prohibited transactions rules, unless an exception applies. Also, if a plan (i.e. IRA or 401(k)) or group of related plans owns 100% of an “operating company”, the operating company exception will not apply and the company’s assets will still be treated as plan assets.

In summary, the Plan Asset Rules can be triggered if:

  • 100% of an “operating company” is owned by one or more Self Directed IRAs/401(k) Plan and disqualified persons, in which case all the assets of the “operating company” are deemed Plan assets (assets of the Self Directed IRA/401(k)), or
  • If 25% or more of an “investment company” is owned by Self Directed IRAs/401(k) and disqualified persons, in which case all the assets of the “investment company” are deemed Plan assets (assets of the IRA/401(k)). In determining whether the 25% threshold is met, all IRAs/401(k) owners are considered, even if they are owned by unrelated individuals.

Exceptions to the DOL Plan Asset Regulations

The Plan Asset look-through rules do not apply if the entity is an operating company or the partnership interests or membership interests are publicly offered or registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (e.g., REITs). They also do not apply if the entity is an “operating company,” which refers to a partnership or LLC that is primarily engaged in the real estate development , venture capital or companies making or providing goods and services, such as a gas station, unless the “operating company” is owned 100% by a Plan and/or disqualified persons. In other words, if a Self Directed IRA or 401k Plan owns less than 100% of an LLC that is engaged in an active trade or business, such as a restaurant or manufacturing plant, the Plan Asset Rules would not apply. However, the Self Directed IRA or 401k Plan investment may still be treated as a prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975. In addition, the Unrelated Business Taxable Income may apply to subject to the IRA or 401k Plan to tax on the income or gains generated from the operating business.

Note: The fact that a transaction does not trigger the Plan Asset Rules does not mean that the transaction may not be deemed a prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975. In other words, a transaction that does not fall under the Plan Asset Rules can still be treated as a prohibited transaction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.

The following are a number of examples that demonstrate the scope of the Plan Asset Rules.

Example 1

A general partner of a hedge fund wishes to invest his Self Directed IRA LLC in the hedge fund he manages. If the percentage of IRA ownership, including what it would be after the General Partner invests his IRA in the fund, equals or exceeds 25% of the equity interests, then the fund’s assets are considered “plan asset.” That means that a transaction between the general partner, as a disqualified person, and the fund, could be deemed a prohibited transaction because the assets of the fund are viewed as assets of his IRA, since a disqualified person cannot transact with the assets of his plan or IRA. Accordingly, the General Partner cannot receive benefits from his IRA investment into the fund. Thus the General Partner would not be permitted to receive any management fees associated with the IRA’s ownership interest in the fund because he would be receiving a personal benefit from his IRA. Note – the General Partner’s IRA investment in the fund may also be deemed a direct or indirect prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.

Example 2

Jane ‘s Self Directed IRA LLC owns 100% of ABC, LLC, which operates a retail store. ABC, LLC makes a loan to Jane. The loan is subject to the Plan Asset Rules and will also be considered a prohibited transaction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 4975. Note – any income generated by ABC, LLC that is allocated to the Self Directed IRA LLC would also likely be subject to the Unrelated Business Income tax.

Example 3

Steve’s Self Directed IRA LLC owns 15% of ABC, LLC, an investment company. Allan’s IRA owns 20% of ABC, LLC. Steve and Allan are unrelated. Since IRAs (Plans) own greater than 25% of ABC, LLC, an “investment company”, assets of ABC, LLC are Plan Assets and deemed owned by each IRA. Thus, if ABC, LLC makes a loan to Steve’s father, the loan would be a prohibited transaction under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975.

Determining a Prohibited Transaction

Through an arrangement between the IRS and the Department of Labor (DOL), it is the DOL’s responsibility to determine whether a specific transaction is a prohibited transaction and to issue prohibited transaction exemptions. When the IRS discovers what appears to be a prohibited transaction in an individual’s IRA, it turns the matter over to the DOL to make the determination. The DOL reviews the situation and responds to the IRS, which in turn responds to the taxpayer. If the IRA grantor wants to apply for a prohibited transaction exemption, he or she must apply to the DOL. The DOL has the authority to issue prohibited transaction exemptions. Some, known as “prohibited transaction class exemptions” (PTCEs), are available for anyone’s reliance, while others, called “individual prohibited transaction exemptions” (PTEs), are issued only to the applicant.

Read More: Correcting a Prohibited Transaction

Penalties for Engaging in a Prohibited Transaction

In general, the penalty under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975 generally starts out at 15% for most type of retirement plans; however, the penalty is harsher for self-directed IRAs.

In general, if the IRA holder (IRA owner) or IRA beneficiary engages in a transaction that violates the prohibited transaction rules set forth under Internal Revenue Code Section 4975, the individual’s IRA would lose its tax-exempt status and the entire fair market value of the IRA would be treated as taxable distribution, subject to ordinary income tax.

Correcting a Prohibited Transaction

Basically, to correct a prohibited transaction within a retirement account, you must undo it as soon as reasonably possible. A frequent one that occurs is when you sell an investment held by your Self-Directed IRA and the funds go directly to you (or to a different IRA and custodian). Since they didn’t first go to original custodian, this constitutes a prohibited transaction. To correct this, you (or the new custodian) would need to send the funds back to the investment. In turn, the investment would then send them to correct IRA and custodian. You may then choose what to do with the funds.

Correcting a prohibited transaction is not always that simple. The rules set forth by the IRS are quite complicated. For example, if real property was involved (say you sold a 401(k)-owned property to your father), you would first need to rescind the sale. If any income was earned using the property, it must also be returned to the plan.


Engaging a prohibited transactions can have serious consequences for your retirement account. IRA Financial was founded by a leading ERISA attorney who worked at White & Case LLP, Dewey LeBoeuf LLP, and Thelen LLP, three of the most prominent corporate law firms in the world. IRA Finacial’s founder Adam Bergman has written eight books on Self-Directed retirement plans. Our experience in dealing with prohibited transactions and expertise in advising clients is what sets us apart. For more information on Self-Directed IRAs, Solo 401(k)’s, and alternative investments, and prohibited transactions, contact us at 1-800-472-0646 or email us at [email protected].


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