These questions are so worthy of answers that 15 volunteers and staff of Sustainable Economies Law Center gathered last year for a day at the law library to imagine and design a cooperative that would enable everyday people to direct their retirement savings into local investments. We sought to understand the applicable financial and tax regulations and assess the possibility that ordinary people could come together and form the required custodial entities to enable self-directed IRAs for themselves and their communities. Our key takeaways were: 1) It would be challenging, but not impossible; and 2) There’s so much we can do in the meantime!
This year, we’re continuing our study. While this is a work-in-progress, here are some early conclusions:
- Self-directed IRAs have made a visible difference in my community. In 2012, I provided legal services to an organization called Wild & Radish when they acquired 10 acres of land. Now, that land has vegetables, fruit trees, goats, bees, and an ecovillage, and it has become the home base for one of the Bay Area’s most inspiring nonprofits, Planting Justice. It is also home to a heritage seed farm operated by Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture. To help make the substantial down payment, Wild & Radish and Planting Justice received five loans, totaling $90,000, from the self-directed IRAs of their fans and supporters. The lenders have been repaid on schedule with 3-4% interest. However, the return on investment is far greater, because, five years later, I can think of countless ways these groups have enriched the life of our community.
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