If you have a retirement account at a traditional brokerage such as Fidelity, Schwab, ETrade, or Vanguard, you’ve probably noticed that your investment choices are limited to stocks, funds, and bonds. This limitation isn’t because of some law. It’s a restriction imposed by financial institutions. After all, financial institutions sell financial products.
What if you want to invest in something outside of stock market securities? That probably isn’t going to happen at a traditional financial brokerage. You’ll typically have to move your funds into what’s called a self-directed IRA (SDIRA).
The best self-directed IRA providers are most likely separate companies from the financial institution where your retirement is now. But once you open a self-directed IRA, you’ll have far more freedom to invest in what’s called alternative assets. Keep reading to learn more about how they work and the top providers available today.
Modern Day Alternative Asset Investing
A few years ago, if you wanted to get involved with alternative assets, you had to find someone selling that particular asset. It could be a very time-consuming process. And once the transaction was completed, the investment holding period was typically a few years since many alternative assets are rather illiquid.
Finally, the investor was required to be an accredited investor, which means an income of $250,000 for the last two years or a net worth of $1 million, not including the primary residence. If that isn’t enough of a high bar, alternative assets generally require a high initial investment that can start in the hundreds of thousands.
Then along came crowdfunding and new methods of investing in alternative investments. The modernization of investing in alternative assets reduced the holding periods, lowered initial investment minimums, and no longer requires investors to be accredited.
Lowering the barrier to entry for alternative investments has grown the self-directed IRA market. It is far easier to use a retirement account for investing in alternative assets than in the recent past.
What Is A Self-Directed IRA?
A self-directed IRA is a custodian or administrator that allows you to use your IRA as you see fit. This means you have the ability to invest in alternative assets. Alternative assets include gold, real estate, startups, Bitcoin, and more. The custodian is passive, meaning they do not guide or restrict your choices (as long as your investments are legal).
Besides being able to invest in alternative assets, a self-directed IRA retains its tax advantages. Say you purchase a $100,000 property and sell it for $150,000. That $50,000 gain would normally generate a sizable tax bill. But in a self-directed IRA, you may no taxes on this profit. Just like stock gains inside a typical IRA, those gains are tax-sheltered.
But you must be careful to follow the rules and not create a taxable event. It’s best to work with your tax advisor when investing in alternative assets. As a side note, you can still invest in stocks, funds, and bonds with a self-directed IRA. You aren’t restricted to only alternative assets.
Our Picks Of The Best Self-Directed IRA Providers
To set up a self-directed IRA, you’ll need to first choose a self-directed IRA provider. It does take some time to set up a self-directed IRA and transfer funds from your brokerage. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you're planning to invest in any alternative investments in the near future.
Speak to both your traditional IRA broker and the self-directed IRA provider about timelines and coordination. Here are some of the best self-directed IRA providers available today.
Alto’s self-directed IRA is called The Alternative IRA (TM). You can use the following IRAs with Alto — traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs. A rollover retirement can be converted into a traditional IRA. 401(k)s are not allowed.
There are two categories of investments with Alto — direct and Alto IRA’s partners. Direct investments are made without any involvement from Alto partners. This might be direct real estate and investing in a startup. Read our full review of Alto IRA.
Rocket Dollar is different from Alto in that you can use a self-directed solo 401(k). And you’ll also create an LLC for investing in alternative assets. Rocket Dollar actually creates the LLC, but it's the entity within your retirement account that all alternative asset transactions flow through.
Once your account is set up, you can invest in a variety of alternative assets including real estate, gold, precious metals, cryptocurrencies, startups, and more. Read our full review of Rocket Dollar.
Equity Trust is one of the oldest self-directed IRA providers still doing business today. It's been around since 1974 and started allowing its customers to invest in real estate through their IRAs in 1983. It offers a broad range of alternative investment choices, including:
- Real estate
- Promissory notes/lending
- Private Equity
- Stocks and funds
- Precious metals
- Foreign currencies
Strata Trust Company
Strata Trust Company is one of the leading alternative investment firms in the nation. They offer a large range of alternative investment choices, including:
- Real estate
- Precious metals
- Private Equity
You can invest in each of these types of assets inside a Strata Trust Company self-directed IRA as well. Multiple IRA types are offered including Traditional, Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE self-directed IRAs.
These are companies that offer a Self-Directed IRA but offer them for more specialized purposes. However, if you're just looking for a certain purpose, this could work for you!
Bitcoin IRA is a platform that allows you to invest in cryptocurrency in your IRA. This has been a growing trend over the last few years, and Bitcoin IRA combines the best of both a crypto wallet with a self-directed IRA account. You can invest in most of the major cryptocurrencies on the platform.
Read our full Bitcoin IRA review here.
BitIRA is a competitor to Bitcoin IRA and does basically the same thing - it allows you to invest in crypto in your IRA. The key difference is it allows you to hold slightly more coins and tokens, and they have a flat fee structure, versus Bitcoin IRA's percentage fee.
Read our full BitIRA review here.
Alternative investments are a great way to diversify a retirement portfolio. But they aren’t for everyone. There are more risks, less liquidity, and fees are often involved.
You’ll have to weigh returns on alternative investments against what you can get in the stock market, which has plenty of liquidity and low-cost products to invest in.
If you're looking to diversify and have a longer time horizon, alternative investments with self-directed IRA providers can be a good fit. But if you're an investing beginner, opening a regular retirement account with one of the top low-cost stock brokers may be a better place to start.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.
Editor: Claire Tak