By Ken Holman
The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Parenting magazine give some startling statistics on the financial shape of most Americans: about 70 percent live paycheck to paycheck, about half couldn’t cover one month’s expenses if they were laid off, and 44 percent systematically prepare for retirement by investing. According to USA Today, 3 of 100 people age 65 are financially secure; 97 of them can’t write a check for $600 and 54 are still working. With the federal government now needing to pay back the Social Security System for the $2.3 trillion surplus it borrowed over the years, it’s time to rely on your own ability to save for retirement and not rely on the federal government to take care of you.
One of the best ways to become financially self-reliant is to set up and consistently invest in an Individual Retirement Account. The term IRA refers to Individual Retirement Arrangements established in 1974 by Congress, but everyone uses the term interchangeably with Individual Retirement Account.
Today, the federal government lets you contribute up to $5,000 each in separate accounts for you and your wife. If you’re over 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000, making it $6,000 apiece. For 2009, the contributions must be made by April 15, 2010, so you don’t have much time before the deadline passes. Since you can make a contribution for 2010 beginning Jan. 1, 2010, you could even make your 2010 contribution, if you wanted to.
Most people are familiar with the traditional IRA, which is administered by a bank or stock broker and allows you to invest in money market accounts, certificates of deposit, bonds, mutual funds and individual stocks. Rather than putting your money in a traditional IRA, you might consider setting up a self-directed IRA, which gives you the flexibility to invest in what is classified as non-traditional investments such as real estate, trust deed notes, equipment leasing and numerous other qualified investments. Since your IRA is a separate type of trust account, it should be administered by an entity that is qualified to handle these types of accounts. There are several national custodian/administrators who are authorized to handle such accounts.
The type of IRA account you should consider setting up is a Roth IRA, named after William Roth, the Senator from Delaware who initiated the legislation as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. A Roth IRA differs from a traditional IRA in how the contributions and earnings are treated from a tax standpoint. A traditional IRA allows you to deduct the contribution in the year it is made, but then requires you to pay ordinary income taxes on the accumulated earnings in the year you begin taking distributions. Without being penalized, you can begin taking distributions as early as age 59 ½ , but must begin taking distributions no later than age 70 ½. With a Roth IRA, the contributions are not tax deductible, but the accumulated earnings come out tax free. Also, there is no mandate that distributions begin at age 70 ½.
If you haven’t set up a Roth IRA, you should consider doing it this year before April 15, if possible. Setting up a Roth IRA doesn’t affect your existing traditional IRA, however, you can only make the allowed contribution of $5,000 or $6,000, depending on your age. The contributions can be allocated to any or all IRA accounts at your discretion.
The beauty of a Roth IRA is that it allows you to invest in real estate. With real estate prices being at their lowest in years, now is a good time to invest and your Roth IRA can be part of the acquisition. There are some rules, so check with the custodian/administrator you select to make sure you do things right.
Here are the names, contact information and Web sites of two custodian/administrators. The first, Mountain West Entrust, has offices in Idaho and Utah, but operates in 44 states. Their Web address is www.TheEntrustGroup.com. My contact there is John Galane. The second, Equity Trust Company, has offices in Ohio, but operates in all 50 states. Their Web address is www.TrustEtc.com. My contact there is John Bowens.
Setting up a Self-Directed Roth IRA is relatively easy. 1. Go to the custodian Web site; 2. Download the forms; 3. Complete and submit the required information; and 4. Pay the minimal fees and fund the account/s.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll include your questions and answers in upcoming articles on building wealth through real estate investing.