A Simple Guide to Self-Directed IRA Taxes On Investment Income



Self-Directed IRA Taxes

You typically don't pay taxes on your IRA investment earnings or IRA income until you take money out at retirement (distributions). However, the government has laws, regulations, and taxes in place to prevent tax-exempt entities and tax-advantaged accounts from being used in ways that give them an unfair advantage. 

This guide delves into three key terms: Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBTI), and Unrelated Debt-Financed Income (UDFI). We'll explore how these terms may apply to your Self-Directed IRA to help you make informed investment decisions.

Self-Directed IRA Income and Taxes

Self-Directed IRAs (SDIRAs) allow for a wider range of investments, including real estate and businesses. The income generated from these investments may potentially be subject to taxes.

UBIT, UDFI, and UBTI are closely related but are not exactly the same. Although these terms kind of sound like the same thing, it's important to understand the differences. UBIT is the tax. UDFI and UBTI are income. 

UDFI: Unrelated Debt-Financed Income

UBTI: Unrelated Business Taxable Income

UBIT: Unrelate Business Income Tax


UBIT: Unrelated Business Income Tax

What is it?

It's a tax on income received by tax exempt entities (like charities or your retirement account) if they start making money in ways that aren't related to their reason for tax exemption. These income sources are generally from business activities (UBTI) or financing (UDFI).

Imagine a non-profit organization with a tax-exempt status starts a bakery to make money. That bakery's income wouldn't be related to their usual charity work. The government has a rule to keep things fair, so that bakery's  income might get taxed like a regular business.

In other words, this tax applies to tax-exempt organizations or retirement accounts that receive profits from sources unrelated to it's main purpose. 

What Does UBTI Mean?

UBTI: Unrelated Business Taxable Income

This refers to the income generated from business activities outside the original tax-exempt purpose that is subject to taxes (UBIT). This income can also be categorized as Trade or Business income.

Let's say your IRA uses some of your retirement savings to buy a car wash. Normally, an IRA grows through assets like stocks and bonds. But running a car wash is a whole different business activity.

The income generated by the car wash might be considered UBTI. Why? Because it wasn’t intended by Congress to allow individuals to start a car wash and not be taxed on the income. The government wants to make sure IRAs are used for their main purpose - building retirement savings - and not competing with regular businesses that pay taxes. So, any income your IRA earns from running the car wash may be considered as UBTI and potentially taxed.

What is UDFI?

UDFI: Unrelated Debt-Financed Income

When your IRA uses a non-recourse loan to finance the purchase of a real estate investment, the portion of the income earned based on the borrowed amount is considered Unrelated Debt Financed Investment, UDFI and may be potentially taxable. Similar to UBTI, the a portion of the income generated from the purchased property was from borrowed money. For example, if your IRA buys a vacation rental with only IRA funds, the rent goes straight into your IRA and is not taxed. On the other hand, Let’s say you buy another cabin, but this time you use a non-recourse loan for most of the purchase. The percentage of the income that was generated by the loan is subject to get tax. This is because that portion of the income isn't coming from your original retirement savings, it's coming from borrowed money.

UDFI vs. UBTI: What’s the Difference? 

They are both a type of income. The main difference is that UBTI is the income generated from unrelated business activity. While UDFI is the income generated from a debt financed investment (non-recourse loan). Another way of looking at it is UDFI is a type of UBTI.

How UDFI Works

Example of Using a Non-Recourse Loan

You're considering a $200,000 property investment, splitting the cost between $100,000 from your Self-Directed IRA (SDIRA) and a $100,000 non-recourse loan. Now, let’s say the property brings in $10,000 in net income for the year. 


Because half of the money you used to buy the property came from that non-recourse loan, 50% of the $10,000 profit is considered UDFI. Your SDIRA would have to pay taxes on the $5,000 of income considered UDFI. 



When Does UBIT Apply? 

Business Income in SDIRA

Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) may apply when you earn $1,000 or more of gross income in a year from unrelated business activity or financed property within your SDIRA.

UBTI Tax Example

Say your SDIRA invests in a restaurant through an LLC. Business is booming and the LLC is generating income. This income might be taxed as Unrelated Business Income (UBIT) for your IRA since it's not directly related to retirement savings. This means the restaurant's profits distributed to your SDIRA could be subject to UBIT.

Without UBIT, the IRA-owned LLC restaurant could undercut competitors on price or have other unfair advantages because it wouldn't pay taxes like most businesses.

Debt-Financed Income From a SDIRA Real Estate Investment

Real estate rental income (when you don't have a loan), dividends, investment income, and royalties are not subject to UBIT. This passive income from these types of assets goes back into your SDIRA tax-deferred.

If your IRA doesn't generate UBTI (income from unrelated business activities) or UDFI (income from a debt financed asset), then UBIT won't come into play.

Just like capital gains from selling real estate held within the IRA wouldn't be taxed, rental income from a property purchased outright by the IRA generally wouldn't be subject to UBIT. Both are considered means of growing your retirement savings within the tax-advantaged IRA.

Filing UBIT Taxes

We recommend you work with a financial professional or tax advisor to determine your taxable income. You'll need to complete IRS Form 990-T  if your investments generate $1,000 or more in gross income during the year or if you have losses you want to offset against future gains. Additionally, you must pay quarterly estimated tax on unrelated business income, if it expects its tax for the year to be $500 or more.

Once you've completed the form, submit it to IRAR. This will instruct IRAR to process the tax payment using funds from your SDIRA, not from your personal account. Paying from personal funds may affect the tax-preferred status of your IRA.

Paying taxes isn't necessarily a bad thing – it can indicate your investments are generating income! Understanding these rules and working with a tax professional is crucial to maximizing your retirement nest egg.