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Master Limited Partnerships For Tax-Deferred Accounts

 May 29, 2009 10:46 AM

Master Limited Partnerships are very good investment vehicles for individuals looking for high current dividend income. There are some tax issues with reporting MLP income in a taxable account, which led me to explore investing in MLPs through an IRA or ROTH IRA account.

In a taxable account, most of the distributions are considered a return of capital, and thus you do not pay taxes on that portion. This tax deferral does decrease your cost basis however, which could mean higher capital gains or ordinary income taxes if you sell. Because of the supposedly complicated tax returns from MLPs, some investors are shunning MLPs as a class altogether. Others are considering simply purchasing those MLPs in a tax advantaged account, and forget about them.

For non-taxable accounts however, there is a gray area from a tax perspective whether or not one could hold MLPs there. The distributions that an individual that holds a master limited partnership in an individual retirement account receives could be considered unrelated business taxable income subject to taxation. As long as the UBTI from all MLPs in an IRA does not exceed $1000 in a given year, your partnership distributions won't be taxed.

If the UBTI does exceed $1000 however, the custodian that holds your IRA would have to file a form 990T to the IRS. The tax is paid out of the IRA on the net income from your MLP distributions, which are taxed at the corporate rate.
The UBTI has generally been a non-issue for most MLPs over the past few years, but this isn't guaranteed. Some like Kinder Morgan (KMP) have even had a negative UBTI in some years, which could be offset against any positive UBTI amounts from other MLPs. Kinder Morgan is one of my Best High Yielding Stocks for 2009.

I do believe however that paying a small tax out of your MLP distributions in an IRA shouldn't be a big hassle, since distributions are rich and taxed at the corporate rate.

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10/1/2010 5:25:57 PM
by James Hooker
My understanding is that the UBTI for MLPs in an IRA is for the unrelated business income of the company's business (MLP) not that of the IRA account. Therefore if the MLP has UBTI then that share-portion is past on to the partner as taxable income, whether the Limited Partner is an IRA account or individual. This seems contradictory to what you have stated in this article. Where did I go wrong? How is an IRA treated as a business?
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