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A troublesome brew: IRAs, speculators and real estate

Did you know that you can buy a house with an IRA? You can if it's a so-called self-directed IRA. Equity Trust, an Ohio-based custodian of self-directed IRAs, has seen an 82% increase nationwide in IRA realty purchases since 2008. Little wonder much of it is in distressed property.

Foreclosed homes and other distressed properties are attracting speculators. But for a number of reasons it's a bad idea to tap an IRA to buy real estate--really to speculate in real estate. Kiplinger's runs through them, starting with losing the traditional tax advantages of owning, such as deducting mortgage interest from taxes to the difficulty of financing the purchase.

You might have to pay all cash to buy. The takeway?

For most people, purchasing distressed property works much better outside a retirement account. You can borrow at a low interest rate, enjoy the interest and depreciation deductions, and benefit from capital-gains rates when you sell.

There's another general lesson. If you want to speculate, don't do it with your retirement money.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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