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Using IRA Money to Start Your Own Business

Starting a business requires capital. Money you use for inventory, fixtures, equipment and the other stuff required to operate a firm.

You can find this money in all sorts of places, but one of the places you can sometimes look is inside your individual retirement accounts, or IRAs. Unfortunately, you do need to tap an IRA with care in order to minimize any tax consequences. But here are five tips about how to do just that:

Tip #1 for Using IRA Money to Start a Business: Net the Withdrawal with a Deduction

Here's a first tip for using IRA money to start a business. If your new business will in the beginning lose money, you can largely offset the taxes owed on the IRA withdrawal by netting your withdrawal with the business deductions you get from spending the money.

For example, if you withdraw $10,000 from an IRA and then spend this $10,000 on business expenses, you won't owe income taxes once you net the withdrawal and the deduction.

Note: If you haven't yet reached age 59 and a half, you will still owe a 10% withdrawal penalty unless you qualify for one of the penalty exceptions such as for disability, qualified medical expenses, and so forth.

Tip #2 for Using IRA Money to Start a Business: Borrow and Repay the IRA

Another way to use IRA money--and penalty free--is by borrowing your IRA money for just sixty days. For example, if you borrow $10,000 from your IRA on day 1 and then replace the $10,000 IRA on day 60 (by depositing the funds into another IRA account), you won't owe income taxes or penalties on the withdrawal.

Two quick cautions about this technique, however: First, you must meet the 60-day deadline. The IRS is very unforgiving in this area.

A second caution: If you withdraw $10,000 from your IRA, you typically won't get the full $10,000 because some of the withdrawal will be held as a tax deposit. For example, you might get $8,000 and the remaining $2,000 may be withheld for income taxes. However, you will need to re-deposit the full $10,000.

Using an IRA for 60-day, interest-free loans means, then, that you need to have enough extra cash to make up for any withholding the IRA custodian takes out of your withdrawal. You will eventually get any amount "held back" for taxes when you file your federal or state income tax return.

Tip #3 for Using IRA Money to Start a Business: Do Tip #2 Several Times in a Row

The IRS was recently asked whether, in effect, someone could do a series of 60-day interest-free loans with their IRAs. The answer was "yes" as long as the rules were precisely followed.

What's neat about a series of 60-day withdrawals is that in combination the withdrawals allow the taxpayer to stretch out the repayment period.

For example, if a taxpayer takes a $120,000 IRA and splits the IRA into twelve smaller $10,000 IRAs, the taxpayer can borrow $10,000 from his or her collective IRA accounts for a year without much trouble.

Here's how. On day 1, the taxpayer draws $10,000 from IRA #1. On day 60, he draws $10,000 from IRA #2 but uses those funds to re-deposit $10,000 into IRA #1. Note that technically the $10,000 taken out of IRA #1 has been replaced within 60 days.

On day 120, he $10,000 from IRA #3 but uses those funds to re-deposit $10,000 into IRA #2. And so the "borrowing" continues.

If you want to consider this, please confer with a local tax practitioner to make sure you get the mechanics just right. As noted, the IRS will allow you to play this game. But you must follow the rules precisely.

Tip #4 for Using IRA Money to Start a Business: Self-directed IRA Investments

A quick point: In some circumstances you can use the money inside an IRA to invest in non-traditional, self-directed investments. For example, you can invest in real estate through your individual retirement account.

If you want to invest in real estate through your IRA, find an IRA custodian, or trustee, who allows for direct real estate investment. You can do this by Googling or Yahooing on a phrase like "real estate investment inside an IRA."

Caution: If you invest in real estate through an individual retirement account and you use both IRA money and mortgages to buy the real estate, your IRA needs to file a tax return. Furthermore, at some point in the future, the IRA will actually owe income taxes on its real estate investment profits because of something called the unrelated business income tax. Confer with your tax advisor if you have questions about this.

Tip #5 for Using IRA Money to Start a Business: Just Do It

You obviously want to be careful about mucking up your retirement years by risking IRA money in an entrepreneurial venture. But that caution made, if a small business opportunity is good enough, a withdrawal may still make sense in spite of the penalty and taxes.

For example, suppose you withdraw $150,000 from an IRA where the money earns annual earns 10%, or $15,000.

If you pay a $15,000 early withdrawal penalty on the money and then pay another $45,000 in income taxes, you have only $90,000 left over to invest in a business. But if that $90,000 generates, say, 40% a year in profits, or $36,000 annually, you may come out way ahead even if you do pay the penalties and taxes.

About the author:

Stephen L. Nelson is a CPA, best-selling writer and author of a number of small business and personal finance related web resources and articles. Er, in general, he also thinks most people who use IRA money to start a business later decide the decision was a terrible mistake.