The Answer to the DOL’s Final Rule on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investments
The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule, “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments,” concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds in private employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s. While the final rule does not prohibit these investing choices for workplace retirement plans, its goal is to provide clear regulatory guidelines for ERISA plan fiduciaries, with the suggestion that ESG investing conflicts with their fiduciary responsibilities.
ESG investments advance positive social change such as improving the environment or promoting human rights. According to the DOL, decisions about these investments are not primarily pecuniary (in other words, determined and expected to be in the plan participants’ best financial interests, with a material effect on the risk and return), so plan fiduciaries may be cautious about recommending or including them in the workplace plans.
According to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, rather than further social goals or policy objectives, “This rule will ensure that retirement plan fiduciaries are focused on the financial interests of plan participants and beneficiaries, rather than on other, non-pecuniary goals or policy objectives.”
Therefore, employees who are saving for retirement through a 401(k) or other workplace plan may now experience some roadblocks when it comes to including ESG funds or individual investments in their retirement plans.
ESG investments can be held in self-directed IRAs as an alternative
Self-directed IRAs allow individual investors to embrace social investing and include alternative assets that align not only with their financial goals but their values as well. For example, the self-directed IRA can invest in funds and initiatives that combat climate change, nefarious labor practices, or human trafficking; or support green energy, fair trade cooperatives, and other investments that address inequities in the economic landscape, promote sustainability, and support positive governance practices.
With a self-directed IRA, investors have access to the same types of account types as they would with a brokerage firm, such as a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, or even a Solo 401(k). Individuals with these retirement plans can include a broad array of non-publicly traded alternative assets in addition to ESG-related assets, such as real estate, private equity, hedge funds, precious metals, private lending and more.
It is unclear whether there will be a lot of pushback about this final rule or how it may be amended in the future. However, for investors who want to proactive take control of their financial futures, opening a self-directed retirement plan is a great step forward. At Next Generation, we invite you to schedule a complimentary educational session to learn more about self-direction as a retirement strategy.
Has the Pandemic Affected Your Retirement Confidence?
The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies issued its 20th annual survey of retirees last month, titled “Retirees and Retirement Amid COVID-19.” The report focuses on financial stability and readiness in retirement amid the pandemic. Findings are based on a survey done in November/December 2019 and again in June 2020; it polled people 50+ years of age who consider themselves fully or semi-retired, and who worked for a for-profit company for the majority of their careers.
The study reported that among those retirees surveyed:
- The majority (76%) stated their confidence in being able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle has not been altered by the pandemic. Among that group, 29% are “very confident” and 47% are “somewhat confident.”
- A smaller group, 15%, cited a decline in confidence in light of COVID-19 while 4% reported increased confidence in financial stability.
- Social Security will be/is the primary source of income for 69% of respondents, but 40% have other savings and investments (such as checking and savings accounts, retirement plans, credit cards).
- Approximately 35% of retirees said they expect income streams from IRAs and workplace retirement plans with another 30% of retirees saying they have company-funded pension plans.
However, eating into the financial security for nearly half of those surveyed is household debt (student loans, car loans, credit cards, medical bills) and nearly a quarter of respondents are paying off mortgages.
Even though many retirees are not feeling shaken financially by COVID-19’s economic ramifications, Transamerica noted that relatively few were “very confident” before the pandemic. The study concluded that many retirees are in danger of outliving their financial resources or lack income to cover healthcare expenses or pay for long-term care. Another sobering revelation: the lack of a financial strategy for retirement. Of those who said they have a plan (58%), only 18% have it in writing. That leaves 42% without a financial strategy amid the pandemic.
Self-directed retirement plans—an effective financial strategy at any time
Self-directed IRAs are ideal for investors who are confident in making all of their own investment decisions, and those who may already be investing in alternative assets outside of a retirement plan. Whether you are in your early- or mid-career phase, nearing retirement, or already retired, you have the option to use the many different nontraditional investments allowed through self-direction to build retirement wealth.
Self-directed IRAs enable investors to include a wide range of non-publicly traded alternative assets that typical plans do not allow, such as real estate, private equity, social causes, precious metals, secured and unsecured loans, and many more. In short, while the pandemic and politics can create instability in the stock market, self-directed IRAs provide a valuable hedge against that volatility, with a more diverse retirement portfolio and better control on investment returns.
If you’re thinking of diversifying the investments in your retirement plan, are comfortable conducting your own due diligence and research about those investments, Next Generation has the tools you need to get started. Please considering registering for a complimentary educational session. Alternatively, you may also contact our team directly via phone at 888.857.8058 or email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Further Expansions to “Accredited Investor” Definition
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission amended its “accredited investor” definition that goes beyond income and net worth criteria; the expanded definition allows investors to qualify based on defined measures of professional knowledge, experience, or certifications. There is also an expanded list of entities that may qualify as an accredited investor, including tribal governments, family offices and certain other organizations.
This status allows individuals to participate in private placements—equity investments such as those allowed in self-directed IRAs. This amendment to the final rule aligns with self-directed investing in another way—using an investor’s knowledge or experience as a basis for participating in investment opportunities. Self-directed investors make their own investment decisions about the alternative assets they wish to include in their retirement plan, based on what they have researched, know, and understand—decisions not based solely on wealth.
The SEC’s previous rule used income or net worth as factors of financial sophistication—individuals had to meet the test of a net worth of at least $1 million excluding the value of primary residence, or income of at least $200,000 each year for the last two years (or $300,000 combined income if married). The amended rule goes beyond wealth as the criterion for purposes of the accredited investor definition.
What the amendments include
The amendments revise Rule 501(a), Rule 215, and Rule 144A of the Securities Act to:
- Include as accredited investors, with respect to investments in a private fund, natural persons who are “knowledgeable employees” of the fund
- Clarify that limited liability companies with $5 million in assets may be accredited investors
- Add SEC- and state-registered investment advisers, exempt reporting advisers and rural business investment companies (RBICs)
- Add a new category for any entity, including Indian tribes, governmental bodies, funds, and entities organized under the laws of foreign countries
- Add family offices with at least $5 million in assets under management and their “family clients,” as each term is defined under the Investment Advisers Act
- Add the term “spousal equivalent” so that spousal equivalents may pool their finances for the purpose of qualifying as accredited investors
Self-directed IRAs for investors of all kinds
Several years ago, the SEC implemented the JOBS Act in full, which opened up equity crowdfunding platforms to even more individuals, including nonaccredited investors who did not meet the income/net worth tests but wanted to take advantage of equity funding opportunities. For those who want to be angel investors in an early-stage company and/or wish to participate in equity crowdfunding platforms, a self-directed IRA is a valuable vehicle for making these types of investments. The flexibility of these retirement plans and the many non-publicly traded, alternative assets, they allow offer a great way to build a diverse retirement portfolio—and a hedge against stock market volatility with potential to earn greater returns.
At Next Generation, we’re here to help our clients understand the many options available to them as self-directed investors. If you’re wondering what types of investments you can include in a self-directed retirement plan, or have questions about how private equity/private placements can be part of your self-directed portfolio, you can sign up for a complimentary education session to learn more about this retirement wealth-building strategy. You may also contact our team directly with questions, via phone at 888.857.8058 or via email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Has Your Work Situation Changed? You Can Roll Your 401(k) Funds into a Self-Directed IRA
Do you have a retirement plan that is still with an employer where you are no longer working? If you have recently lost a job due to COVID-19, or are in job transition, make sure you don’t leave your old 401(k) plan behind. If yours is still with a previous employer, you can rescue those funds and roll them over into a self-directed IRA.
Right now, it’s unclear for many workers if or when there will be a new employer with a new workplace retirement plan. However, one thing is clear: opening an IRA (Roth or Traditional) is an option that enables individuals to make sure their retirement savings stay with them. Moreover, if that new retirement plan is self-directed, there is a much wider range of potential investment options available that account holders—not their employers—control.
Rollovers into self-directed IRAs
Since most 401(k) plans are limited in terms of allowable investments, rescuing and rolling over those funds into a self-directed IRA opens up the door to greater investment opportunity, without the limits imposed by most plan sponsors on the defined contribution plans they offer. As you may know from your existing 401(k), most of those plans are limited to investing in mutual funds or exchange traded funds, stocks, and bonds. Opening a new self-directed IRA will enable you to include an array of alternative assets that you may already know and understand, such as real estate, private equity, precious metals, hedge funds, secured and unsecured notes/loans, energy investments, and more.
Through self-direction, you’ll build a more diverse retirement portfolio, create a hedge against stock market volatility, and gain better control over your investment returns as part of your retirement strategy. You’ll also have the flexibility of buying and selling your investments when you choose, rather than according to a prescribed schedule that most 401(k) plans follow.
You can choose to do a rollover into a new Roth or Traditional IRA, or a SIMPLE or SEP IRA, depending on your employment status, overall tax situation and how far out you are from retirement. As always, we recommend you discuss your unique scenario with a trusted advisor. You may also have to check with the current plan administrator to see if there are any restrictions concerning the type of IRA allowed for a rollover from the existing 401(k).
How to roll funds over into a self-directed IRA
At Next Generation, our comprehensive starter kits walk you through all the steps needed and required documentation to submit in order to open a new self-directed retirement plan with us, and include a rollover form for Traditional, Roth, SEP, or SIMPLE IRAs (we have starter kits for other types of plans as well). Moreover, our helpful team of professionals are available to answer questions about opening a self-directed IRA or about the many types of non-publicly traded, alternative assets, these plans allow. You may schedule a complimentary education session; or you may contact Next Generation by phone at 888.857.8058 or by email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Social Investing Through a Self-Directed IRA
Self-directed investors are avoiding the stock market roller coaster by investing in non-publicly traded, alternative assets, through their self-directed IRAs. These retirement plans offer the same tax advantages as regular IRAs, but allow for a broader array of nontraditional investments that traditional brokerage accounts do not. This also enables individuals to build retirement wealth through investments that reflect their personal interest or, in other cases, their ethics. One such class of nontraditional investments is social investing, also called sustainable investing or impact investing.
Examples of social investing are assets that fit into the broader category of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG); they foster positive social change, social justice, and protect the environment. Investors are discovering ways to invest in causes that are meaningful to them; these may be renewable energy options that reduce carbon footprint, shares in cooperative farms that lift people out of poverty, or funds that include corporations with excellent employee relations or human rights records.
As with any self-directed investment, social investing means taking the time to research and conduct one’s due diligence. Investors who want to make a difference through their retirement plan can look for ways to support sustainable or impact investing projects, or funds that are managed in a socially responsible way. Maybe you know of a startup that’s bringing clean energy projects to market or clean water to remote villages; or perhaps you want to invest in a minority-led company as a way to diversify your retirement portfolio—and support economic diversity.
Once you’ve done your research and selected sustainable investments to include in your retirement plan, Next Generation—as the self-directed IRA custodian and administrator—will first conduct an administrative review of the asset documents to ensure it meets internal guidelines for self-directed retirement plans. We will then process your transaction based on your instructions, hold the assets, and manage all the paperwork and mandatory filing associated with the investment (mandatory IRS filings of 5498s, or Fair Market Value and 1099s if required).
If you have questions about self-direction as a retirement strategy, or about the many other nontraditional investments these retirement plans allow, you may schedule a complimentary educational session with one of our knowledgeable representatives. You can read more about various types of alternative assets these plans allow here; or contact us directly via email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com or call 888.857.8058.
Investing in Private REITs with a Self-Directed IRA
A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that invests in/owns and usually operates all types of income-producing commercial real estate: multi-family housing/apartment buildings, student housing, retirement and senior communities; warehouse and industrial properties; retail centers, hospitality, and office buildings.
In order to qualify as a (REIT), the company must file with the SEC and meet certain SEC requirements. Although most REITs are publicly traded on stock exchanges (known as public, traded or listed REITs), there are also private REITs; like their stock exchange-traded counterparts, private REITS must register with the SEC and are subject to the same IRS regulations. That includes the requirement to return 90 percent of their taxable income to shareholders annually.
One big difference in public vs. private REITs is that the latter are not as susceptible to demand-driven price volatility as public REITs, whose value fluctuates daily; private REITs are valuated annually.
Why invest in a REIT
- REITs provide access to dividend-based income in the short term, and long-term return on investment as the property grows in value over time.
- Real estate is a popular hedge against inflation/stock market volatility and enables investors to diversify their portfolios.
- REITs require a relatively low minimum investment to get started.
Renters are on the rise—and so is rental property popularity
Multi-family housing represents a large portion of real estate investments, thanks to an increase in the renter population, which has been in growth mode for a few years and continues to rise. There are several reasons for this:
- Baby Boomers are downsizing into amenity-rich luxury rental apartments; the 2015 Census Bureau projected that by 2020, five million Baby Boomers will make an apartment their next residence.
- Millennials are delaying home ownership and looking for smaller domiciles in more urban, denser areas; they value the flexibility of apartment living and are paying off student debt.
- Right behind Millennials is Gen Z, whose members have started entering the rental market.
Investing in private REITs with a self-directed IRA
As you know, a self-directed IRA can include many different types of nontraditional investments, with real estate being the most popular class of alternative assets within these plans.
When your self-directed IRA invests in a private REIT, all income and expenses related to the asset flow in and out of the retirement plan. However, private REITS are not the only type of real estate investment you can include in a self-directed IRA. Other types of real estate investments might allow you to partner your self-directed IRA with another buyer, transact a “fix & flip” and take the profit on the sale of the property, or buy and hold the asset, so the IRA earns tax-advantaged rental income over time.
After you’ve researched a REIT or any other real estate investment you’d like to include in a self-directed retirement plan, it’s time to open and fund your account. At Next Generation we not only provide comprehensive transaction support, we also provide client education about investing in real estate and other alternative assets through a self-directed retirement plan. Of particular importance is understanding prohibited transactions and disqualified persons as defined by the IRS.
If you have questions regarding this strategy, don’t hesitate to contact Next Generation at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com or call 888.857.8058. Alternatively, you can schedule a complimentary educational session with one of our knowledgeable representatives.
Considering Taking a Hardship Distribution from Your Retirement Plan?
The coronavirus pandemic is leaving millions of Americans on furlough or out of a job, dealing with reduced hours or workload… but NOT with reduced monthly bills to pay. For many, this is a time of financial hardship. Sadly, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report, 40 percent of adults cannot cover a $400 emergency expense and the current situation goes far beyond that.
Sometimes, individuals consider dipping into one’s retirement plan to cover short-term expenses. Among the emergency expenses that may qualify for such a withdrawal are tuition/education expenses; down payment or repairs on a primary residence, rent or mortgage payments (to thwart possible eviction or foreclosure); out-of-pocket medical expenses; and funeral costs.
- The withdrawal amount has been limited to the amount of the emergency expense
- The plan participant pays income tax on the withdrawal plus a 10 percent penalty if under 59½ years old
- If a 401(k) design allows for loans (not all do), people taking loans against their 401(k) plans must repay the full loan amount with interest; lack of repayment can trigger additional penalties
- In addition, participants’ contributions from their paychecks into their 401(k) plans are suspended for at least six months after taking the hardship distribution
Changes with the CARES Act
This stimulus package has loosened the rules around taking hardship withdrawals from retirement plans, and loans from 401(k) plans. A CARES Act provision allows individuals who are facing adverse financial consequences due to COVID-19 to withdraw funds from their retirement accounts without penalty (regardless of age). This applies to IRAs and 401(k) plans.
The withdrawal must be made before December 31, 2020 and can be up to $100,000. Tax payments on this income are extended out three years. For those taking loans against their 401(k)s, that amount is also raised to $100,000. Note that there are no loans from IRAs.
Why gamble with your retirement savings?
Many financial experts argue against taking out a hardship loan from one’s 401(k) plan to avoid reducing any retirement savings, when there are other loan options available (such as a home equity loan, SBA loan, or other lines of credit). And, all good intentions aside, it may be difficult to replace the funds from a hardship distribution from an IRA or other retirement plan—and then rebuild on that money for retirement.On top of that, the stock market has suffered a tremendous downturn, with subsequent volatility almost daily, as a result of COVID-19 and the economic stressors stemming from lockdowns.
Weathering market volatility through self-direction
Self-directed investors have greater leeway when it comes to hedging against that stock market volatility. That’s because of the many alternative assets that can be held in a self-directed retirement plan. Investing in real estate, precious metals, private equity, or other non-publicly traded assets give savvy investors many more ways to build a more diverse retirement portfolio that have stronger potential to weather the COVID-19 storm (and other times of economic uncertainty). One reason is because the returns on nontraditional investments in a self-directed IRA do NOT directly correlate with stock market returns.
You can even loan funds from your self-directed IRA to someone who is dealing with a cash flow shortage, with the terms worked out between both parties, and receive interest and principal paid back to your IRA.
As always, it is best to consult your trusted financial adviser about how to navigate financial hardship as it relates to your retirement plan. At Next Generation, we’re here to answer any questions you have about self-direction as a retirement strategy, or about the many alternative assets allowed in these plans. You can schedule a complimentary educational session to learn more or contact us directly via phone at 888.857.8058 or email NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Americans are Working Longer
Recent research from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies* shows that Americans are working longer, with 54 percent saying they expect to work past age 65 or never retire at all. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they plan to retire either at age 65 or later, and 22 percent plan to retire earlier.
While there are personal factors around why Americans are working longer – such as maintaining social connections, longer lifespan and emotional health – financial factors are also part of this story. In the U.S., it’s often not having enough saved for retirement and Social Security concerns; three-quarters of the workers surveyed said they are worried that Social Security will not be available when they retire.
Global expectations around retirement age are very interesting to look at and compare with U.S. figures. Transamerica conducted additional research across 15 countries, in collaboration with the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement. While the current expected age of retirement in the U.S. is 66 (shared by the United Kingdom and Australia), it is 65 in many European countries and Canada, 60 in India, and 58 in Turkey and China. The findings are based on 14,400 workers and 1,600 retired people surveyed online between 22 January and 14 February 2019.
However, as we know, the average retirement age is rising in the U.S.; for Americans born in 1960 and later, it is 67. The Netherlands is already there and according to the study, France, Spain and Poland are planning to move their retirement age to 67 as well.
Americans are Working Longer, but a Self-Directed IRA Can Help Make the Most of Your Employment and Retirement Timelines
In the Transamerica/Aegon global study, a majority of respondents said they envision an active retirement, where work and leisure can co-exist. Sixty percent cited travel and 57 percent cited spending time with family and friends as important retirement goals; 49 percent said they look forward to pursuing new hobbies. Additionally, 27 percent aspired to do volunteer work and 26 percent planned to include some form of paid work. The two biggest retirement concerns were declining physical health and running out of money.
Whether you retire at age 65 or 66, or continue to work in some capacity well into your retirement years, you can make the most of your retirement savings through self-direction. A self-directed IRA allows you to include many alternative assets, which are not allowed in typical retirement plans, and build a more diverse retirement portfolio. This also allows investors to hedge against the volatility of the stock market, and include nontraditional investments they already know and understand. Why limit yourself to stocks and bonds when you can invest in real estate, precious metals, promissory notes, private equity and joint ventures—and have more control over your returns—within a self-directed IRA?
At Next Generation, we help individuals make the most of their retirement savings and live up to their retirement goals through self-directed retirement plans. If you’re someone who’s comfortable making your own investment decisions and conducting your full due diligence about certain types of investments, you may benefit from self-direction.
Plus, with the SECURE Act provisions that enable workers to continue contributing to a Traditional IRA for a longer timeline, and delay taking required minimum distributions from their plans until age 72, there’s more time to build up one’s retirement nest egg with a broad array of nontraditional investments.
Want to learn more? Sign up for a complimentary educational session about self-directed IRAs with one of our knowledgeable representatives. Alternatively, you can call us directly at 888.857.8058 or email NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
*Online survey conducted between October 26 and December 11, 2018 among a nationally representative sample of 5,923 workers who were U.S. residents, age 18 or older; and full-time or part-time workers who are not self-employed and work in a for-profit company employing one or more people.
Including Joint Ventures in a Self-Directed IRA
Did you know that you can use funds in a self-directed IRA to invest in a joint venture? These investments allow you, as a self-directed investor, to enter into a business arrangement with one or more individuals, and create a way for different investors to pool resources for a particular project.
Unlike partnerships, which are between individuals and are long-term arrangements between parties to operate a business, joint ventures are typically for a limited time or for a specific investment. Joint ventures (JVs) are often done in real estate but can be for other investments that the parties intend to sell at a profit within a specified time frame.
According to Investopedia, “Joint ventures, although they are a partnership in the colloquial sense of the word, can take on any legal structure. Corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, and other business entities can all be used to form a joint venture.”
JVs can be formed for many different types of business activities. Liability is mitigated since the venture is its own entity, separate from the participants’ other business interests. When the JV is a self-directed investment, the IRA, as one of the partners, shares responsibility for the profits, losses and expenses associated with the JV. It is possible for two or more self-directed IRAs to team up on a joint venture.
How joint ventures work with self-directed IRAs
Let’s say you have a self-directed retirement plan and wish to partner with another investor to purchase a piece of real estate. The self-directed IRA makes the investment along with another party or parties as a private placement. Terms of the arrangement are worked out between all involved, including:
- How much each party is investing
- Type of project (technology, real estate, foreign venture, etc.)
- Time period of the investment/JV
- Structure of the JV
- Control, management and, if relevant, staffing
- Ownership splits
Gains on the investment flow back to the self-directed IRA, tax deferred or tax exempt, depending on the type of retirement plan.
Joint ventures carry with them tax and legal considerations. At Next Generation, we recommend that as part of their due diligence, investors consult with their trusted advisors before entering into a joint venture of any kind. It’s also important to educate yourself to avoid a prohibited transaction. As a self-directed retirement plan custodian and administrator, we review all documentation for compliance with IRS guidelines to identify disqualified persons or prohibited transactions.
If you’re considering using your self-directed retirement plan to invest in a joint venture, and have questions about how to get started, contact us via email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com or call 888-857-8058. Alternatively, you can schedule a complimentary educational session with one of our representatives to discuss self-direction as a retirement wealth-building strategy.