Many traditional IRA custodians advertise themselves as offering a Self-Directed IRA, but what that really means is that you will need approval from your custodian before making an investment. Whereas, in the case of a truly Self-Directed IRA, a limited liability company (“LLC”) is established that is owned by the IRA account and managed by the IRA account holder providing the IRA holder with “checkbook control” over his or her funds.
In general, there are three categories of self-directed IRA structures distinguishable by the level of control the custodian exercises over your IRA investments.
1. Financial Institution Self-Directed IRA
With a financial institution self-directed IRA, you are able to direct your IRA investments, however, you are generally limited to investing in the financial products offered by the financial institution. For example, a financial institution such as Vanguard or Fidelity will allow you to select the type of investments for your IRA, but your choices would generally be limited to the financial products they offer, such a stocks, mutual funds, and bonds. With a financial institution self-directed IRA, you will not be permitted to make non-traditional investments such as real estate, precious metals, private business investments, foreign currency, options, etc.
2. Custodian Controlled Self-Directed IRA Without “Checkbook Control”
With a custodian controlled Self-Directed IRA without “Checkbook Control”, many types of nontraditional investments, such as real estate, are generally permitted, however, custodian consent is required in order to enter into and execute the transaction. This typically results in long delays and high custodian fees associated with the transaction. For example, before engaging in an IRA investment, you will be required to receive the consent of the custodian. To this end, you will be required to provide the custodian with the transaction documents for review as part of their transaction review process. As a result, it is common to experience time delays as well as high annual fees as well as additional transaction fees. For example, it is common for a moderately active investor with $50,000 in assets with a Self-Directed IRA custodian without checkbook control to end up paying from $400 to $600 in aggregate annual fees (i.e. account value fee, transaction fees, approval letters).
In addition, there is no guarantee that the custodian will approve your investment even though the investment would not violate IRS rules. Overall, with a custodian controlled self-directed IRA, even though you will generally be permitted to make most non-traditional IRA investments, time delays and high custodian fees are the common characteristics of using a custodian controlled self-directed IRA.
3. Self-Directed IRA LLC with “Checkbook Control”
With a truly Self-Directed IRA, you will have total control over your IRA funds and you will no longer have to get each investment approved by the custodian of your account. Instead, all decisions are truly yours. When you find an investment that you want to make with your IRA funds, simply write a check or wire the funds straight from your Self-Directed IRA LLC bank account to make the investment. A truly Self-Directed IRA allows you to eliminate the delays associated with an IRA custodian, enabling you to act quickly when the right investment opportunity presents itself.
With a Self-Directed IRA LLC, a limited liability company (“LLC”) is established that is owned by the IRA account and managed by the IRA account holder. The IRA Holder’s IRA funds are then transferred by the Custodian to the LLC’s bank account providing the IRA holder with “checkbook control” over his or her IRA funds.
The Self-Directed IRA LLC “Checkbook Control” Structure has been in use for over 30 years. The notion 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 holding against the IRS, ruled that the capitalization of a new entity by an IRA for making IRA related investments 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.
With a Self-Directed IRA LLC with “Checkbook Control”, when you find an investment that you want to make with your IRA funds, simply write a check or wire the funds straight from your Self-Directed IRA LLC bank account to make the investment. The Self-Directed IRA allows you to eliminate the delays associated with an IRA custodian, enabling you to act quickly when the right investment opportunity presents itself.
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