Buying Land with Your IRA

Reader Question:  My mother has both qualified and non-qualified annuities.  Could she use some of this money to set up a self-directed IRA and purchase raw land with it?  What would be the consequences if she just bought hunting land with it?

Answer:  I get a lot of people who want to use their IRA money to buy hunting land, beach or mountain condos, etc.  While it is possible to buy these types of assets inside an IRA, one of the rules is that there can be no ‘personal use’ of the assets.  Shoot!  The government has a way of taking all the fun out of investing!  Also, your typical broker won’t hold these types of assets so you’ll have to find a special custodian under what is called a ‘self-directed IRA’.  Your mother could cash out her non-qualified annuity and use those proceeds however she wishes but she may face income taxes on the earnings and profits.


Reader Question: I’m age 67, married and in good health.  I have two life insurance policies:

  1. $250,000 term policy that terminates in February 2020 with an annual premium of $1,367.
  2. $300,000 variable life policy with an annual premium of $2,800 and a cash value of $17,000.

In addition, we have investments exceeding $1 million plus an additional $65,000 in savings and pension and Social Security benefits.  We have no debt and I don’t anticipate having to pull cash from my investments.  My question is, “Should I drop my life insurance?”

Answer: Your facts are fairly complicated so my first recommendation is that you meet with your personal financial advisor and have him or her do a detailed review of your situation.  Here are some general thoughts, particularly related to your life insurance.

You’ve indicated that your health is good so at age 67, it’s highly likely that you’ll outlive your term insurance policy which will terminate in five years.  If you also are confident that your wife would have enough assets should you predecease her, then these two factors would suggest that the term insurance can be cancelled.  The variable life insurance requires greater analysis.  You could cash it in and add the current cash value to your other investments.  Be sure to ask your agent if cashing in the policy would trigger income taxes.  If you are considering keeping it, you’ll need to carefully analyze how it may perform in the years ahead.  In particular, you’ll want to have your agent provide information regarding the rising cost of insurance.  In my experience many of these types of policies begin to implode as the policyholder reaches their early eighties and you may end up with no cash value and an increasing demand for higher and higher premiums.


Reader Question:  I’m 66 and my wife is 65.  We have about $800,000 in retirement plans plus $125,000 in savings.  We live on our pensions and Social Security and do not need money from our investments.  Are we making a mistake waiting until we have to take money from our IRAs or should we go ahead and take some out each year?

Answer:  As you suggested, Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) begin at your age 70½.  One line of thought is that you shouldn’t pay any taxes before they are due.  I prefer a more precise approach.  What I would suggest is that you do a few ‘what-ifs’.  Do a calculation on what you guess your effective tax rate will be once you must begin drawing on your IRAs once RMDs begin at age 70 ½ and compare that to your estimated effective tax rate this year.  In working with our clients, we often find that it’s better to withdraw some money each year as long as those withdrawals will come out in a lower tax bracket.  If you don’t need the money, as you’ve suggested, we will determine if doing a Roth conversion would be advisable.  Remember, Roth IRAs do not have Required Minimum Distributions.