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Retirement

How To Invest In Real Estate With A Solo 401k

Overview

  • When you invest in real estate through a solo 401k, you don't pay any taxes on rental income or if you sell the property for a profit.
  • Additionally, if you buy the property with your Roth solo 401k account, you also won't have to pay taxes when you withdraw in retirement.
  • Steps to purchase real estate through a solo 401k: First create a solo 401k account, open bank accounts, and fund your account. Once you find a property you want to purchase, determine the method of payment, put together your offer, send an earnest deposit, and then finalize the deal by sending the funds.
  • There are four different methods of purchasing property through a solo 401k: All cash, get a non-recourse loan, buy through a solo 401k LLC, or split the ownership with Tenants-In-Common.
  • After you buy the property, it's important to follow prohibited transaction restrictions set by the IRS. Essentially, you or any qualified person must not transact with the property in any way.

Purchasing real estate through a retirement account like the solo 401k can be extremely tax-advantageous. Not only do you get tax deferrals until you retire, you also get tax-free withdrawals if you purchase through a Roth solo 401k.

In other words, you don't pay tax on any rental income that your property makes, you don't pay tax when you sell your house for a profit, and with the Roth option, you just don't pay any taxes at all.

However, there are a lot of nuances around real estate investments with a solo 401k. Because the purchased property is owned by your retirement account, there are certain rules and procedures you need to follow.

This guide will explain how to purchase real estate with a solo 401k account, the benefits and downsides, and important rules you must follow before, during and after the purchase.

Can you buy real estate with a solo 401k?

Yes, a solo 401k can be used to invest in real estate. However, any property purchased must be for the sake of investing and/or earning rental income. You or any disqualified person are forbidden to use or live in the property owned by your solo 401k.

Types of real estate you can buy with a solo 401k

  • Residential homes (Apartments, duplexes, condos, townhouses, mobile homes)
  • Rental properties
  • Commercial properties
  • Raw land
  • Real estate notes and purchase options
  • Tax liens and deeds

Benefits of buying real estate with a solo 401k

The two biggest benefits of buying real estate through a solo 401k is tax-free compounding and tax-free withdrawals with a Roth option.

Tax-free compounding

With a solo 401k, you don't pay any taxes when you sell assets or make profits. That makes it a perfect retirement account to buy real estate from.

Any rental income that you make doesn't get taxed and goes directly back into your solo 401k account. If you sell the property at a profit, you don't pay any taxes on the gains. The full amount goes directly into your solo 401k account.

Here's an example:

Let's say you purchase a rental property for $200,000. Every year, the property makes $12,000 in rental income. 5 years later, the property value rises to $1.2 million and you decide to sell.

The $60,000 (5 years x $12,000 yearly rental income) you made renting out the property is all yours. No taxes owed.

The $1 million in profit ($1.2 million - $200,000) you made from selling the property is also all yours. No taxes owed.

Tax-free withdrawals with a Roth option

A solo 401k comes with two different accounts: A traditional and a Roth.

  • In the traditional solo 401k, you pay with pre-tax dollars but you pay taxes when you take distributions in retirement.
  • In the Roth solo 401k, you pay with after-tax dollars but you pay zero taxes when you take distributions in retirement.

Both accounts have tax-free compounding. But with the Roth option, you don't pay any taxes when you withdraw from your account at the eligible age of 59½.

If you buy a property for $200,000 and it appreciates to $10 million, the entire profit of $9.8 million is all yours. You pay zero taxes when you take the money out.

If you bought the property through a traditional solo 401k, rather than Roth, then you would still need to pay taxes when you start taking distributions in retirement.

Downsides of buying real estate with a solo 401k

There is only one downside to buying real estate through a solo 401k, and it's a pretty minor one.

If you purchased a rental or investment property WITHOUT a solo 401k, and it decreases in value, you can normally write off the loss and deduct it from your ordinary income.

Through a solo 401k, you can’t deduct losses. Any losses have no use, your retirement account just loses its value.

This is very small tradeoff compared to the benefits.

How to buy real estate with a solo 401k

The process of buying real estate is actually quite straightforward, especially if you're purchasing with all cash.

Here's what the steps would look like:

Step 1: Open your solo 401k account

If you don't have a solo 401k account already, then you'll need to open one first.

  1. Find a solo 401k plan provider.
  2. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS website - only takes a few minutes online.
  3. Fill out the application form.

Some plan providers, like Ocho, will help you with the entire process of opening an account and even assist in opening bank accounts.

Step 2: Open bank accounts

The real estate that you purchase with your solo 401k belongs to your solo 401k trust. You and your business are not the owners.

Therefore, you need to create separate bank accounts for your solo 401k. You'll need to create two different accounts: One for your traditional solo 401k and another for your Roth solo 401k.

Step 3: Fund your solo 401k

You can fund your solo 401k through direct contributions or by doing a rollover. You can rollover your cash/assets from another retirement plan you own into your solo 401k.

Rollovers are the fastest, easiest way to fund the account since there are no limits to how much you can transfer over, and it doesn't affect your yearly contribution limits.

Once your account is funded, you're all set and can start looking into buying your first piece of real estate under your solo 401k trust.

Step 4: Determine how you'll pay for the property

There are four different ways to purchase the property. Let's go through each of them one by one.

  1. All cash: If you have enough cash to pay for the property outright, then this is the simplest method. All that's required is you writing a check from your solo 401k bank account.
  2. Non-recourse loan (debt financing): Only non-recourse loans are allowed with a solo 401k, which basically means that it's not personally guaranteed by the account holder or a disqualified person. In a non-recourse loan, only the real estate is used as the collateral. The good part is, the lender also has no recourse to touch your solo 401k - just the property being purchased.
  3. LLC: Not a requirement, but you could choose to set up an LLC under your solo 401k for additional asset protection in case of law suits with tenants. In some instances, tenants can try to go after your solo 401k account. Having an LLC provides an extra layer of protection that makes this impossible.
  4. Tenants-In-Common (TIC): You can choose to share ownership of the property with another investor, including yourself. For example, you can put up 50% of the funds and your solo 401k can put up the other 50%. However, if debt financing is used, then you cannot invest in the property alongside your solo 401k.

Step 5: Put together your offer

Once you've decided how you're going to purchase the property, you can work with a title company or attorney to put together your purchase offer, listing the solo 401k as the buyer. You are the trustee of your solo 401k, so you will be the one signing all the closing documents.

Step 6: Send an earnest deposit

The purpose of an earnest deposit is to signify to the buyer that you're serious in buying the property. It gives them confidence that you'll follow through and actually buy it so that they can take their homes off the market.

Without an earnest deposit, a buyer can technically make a bunch of offers with multiple sellers. The sellers would then take their homes off the market, and then the buyer gets the freedom to choose whichever home they like.

To protect sellers, sending an earnest deposit is required when purchasing property with a solo 401k. Usually, it's around 1% to 2% of the total purchase price. The money will get cashed, held in a trust account or the broker's escrow, and then be used towards the downpayment and closing costs.

Is an earnest deposit refundable?

Yes, an earnest deposit is refundable. Buyers can get most of the earnest deposit back even if they decide not to go through with the purchase, minus any cancellation fees. The purchase agreement should cover how the earnest deposit is refunded in case the sale doesn't occur.

Step 7: Send the money, close the purchase

Now, all that's left is to sign the rest of the property purchase documents and send over the funds by check or wire from your solo 401k trust bank account.

As the trustee of your solo 401k, you're required to store all property closing documents such as the purchasing contract, Escrow instructions, settlement agreement, the deed, and any loan documents.

Important rules to remember

These rules are very important, and many people aren't aware about them when they consider purchasing real estate with a solo 401k.

A solo 401k has strict rules around prohibited transactions. A prohibited transaction is when a disqualified person transacts with your solo 401k account.

The rules are a bit tricky, but you can read the full explanation here.

Essentially, you have to completely separate yourself from the property owned by your solo 401k. You can't live there, you can't stay there, you can't work there, and the same goes for your immediate family members.

There are a lot of nuances and it's one of the annoying parts of owning property with your solo 401k. Let's go through some of the major rules below.

  • You are not allowed to live in or use the property yourself, even if you pay rent.
  • Property expenses such as repairs, taxes, and upgrades must be paid through your solo 401k. You cannot pay it out of your own pocket.
  • Any rental income received from the property must go directly into your solo 401k bank or brokerage account.
  • You are not allowed to act as the realtor or broker when purchasing or selling the property.
  • You are not allowed to do any work or perform any tasks for the property, even if it's for free. This includes anything from fixing a broken sink, unclogging a shower drain, mowing the grass, or changing the curtains.

"You" in the above rules refers to any disqualified person, not just yourself. Basically, you have to keep yourself and any disqualified person completely separate from the solo 401k assets. You cannot transact with it at all, even if it's for free. You must hire an outside third-party to handle all property management, repairs, upgrades, etc.

A solo 401k with an integrated investment platform, robo-advisor, and zero fees on your assets under management. Learn more about The Ocho Solo 401k.

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