Once you've decided to invest in precious metals within an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and/or rollover some of the funds from your existing retirement vehicle (i.e. – 401k or 403b) into a Gold IRA, your next step should be finding a reputable company to help you set up and stock your self-directed IRA with eligible bullion products. A recent gold ownership survey found that 10.8% of Americans own gold, but few actually know what to do with their gold to protect it from seizure, theft, or taxation.
This is a critical step toward achieving financial security in your retirement. You'd be ill-advised to blindly trust any gold IRA company on the internet. Rather, you have to take things a step further by doing your homework on the most reliable gold IRA companies. A great place to start is with our list of IRA custodian reviews. Otherwise, you might be on the hook for sky-high annual fees, or gold bullion, collectibles, or even valuable gold quarters, that aren't actually eligible for inclusion in a tax-advantaged retirement account.
Unfortunately, many investors completely overlook the fees and charges associated with opening and owning a precious metals IRA. Other than the cost of the bullion itself, most of the cost associated with investing in a precious metals IRA comes from the IRA custodian entrusted with storing your IRA's gold in an approved depository. IRA custodians typically partner with bullion dealers, brokers, financial advisors/planners, and investment firms that help their clients open and fund precious metals IRAs. In some cases, the dealer/broker will offer to waive the setup and storage fees charged by the IRA custodian, as is the case with Regal Assets offering to waive fees for clients who set up an IRA with their partnered custodian, Equity Institutional.
Each custodian charges their own setup, storage, and admin fees. Some custodians charge a flat-rate annual fee (which stays the same regardless of the account value) while others charge sliding scale fees (which rise as the value of the account increases). Most also tack on an IRA custodian to custodian transfer fee. Below, we've provided a comprehensive self-directed IRA custodian fee comparison between the various custodians in the space.
Typically, fees for custodian to custodian transfers range between $50 and $100 per transfer. They operate somewhat like commissions or transaction fees for payment processors. For more on avoiding high IRA custodian fees, here's an excellent resource by Zacks Investment Research. All told, simply reading the fine print in your brokerage agreement is the hands-down best thing you can do to minimize the risk of overpaying on IRA custodian transfer fees.
The key to making a well-protected investment in precious metals is to thoroughly research every aspect, from ordering/delivery to long-term secure storage, possibly in an offshore location (depending on your preference as an investor). There are many options available to you as a retirement investor, but not all of them are profitable or safe.
You have a requirement unto yourself as an investor to ensure that you're dealing with the most reputable and cost-effective custodians and bullion dealers when allocating an expert-recommended 5% – 20% of your retirement portfolio towards precious metals holdings.
The table below can help you conduct your own research regarding the fees, policies, and reputations of the top precious metals IRA custodians of 2021:(Note: Some of the most popular custodians that currently specialize in Gold IRAs and precious metals IRAs in specific, are actually third-party administrators (TPAs). Four of the custodians on the list below (Vantage, New Direction, GoldStar, and Midland) are TPAs that have partnered with one of the largest self-directed IRA custodians, First Trust Company of Onaga, which has not been included on this list because there's no mention of precious metals or gold IRAs anywhere on their official site.)
(Rating A+ to F)
|TrustLink||Partnered Depository||Storage & Admin Fees||Full Review|
Equity Institutional (Sterling Trust)
$225 per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
New Direction IRA
$75-$125 per year
GoldStar Trust Company
$175-$400 per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
Self-Directed IRA Services (Horizon Bank)
Brinks or Delaware Depository
$165-$185+ per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
The Entrust Group
$150 per year
$295-$395 per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
Millennium Trust Company
$200-$275 per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
Kingdom Trust Company
$175+ min. per year
INCLUDES Storage Fees
Provident Trust Group
$295 per year
$100 per year
Storage Fees (min. $125)
* Client has to choose their own depository.
The above chart is meant to give you an easy way to conduct your own research. To further speed up the process of finding a fair and reputable custodian we recommend following the 4 tips below:
The first aspect you should consider when choosing an IRA custodian for private investments in gold is whether they charge a flat-rate or sliding scale fee. You'll also want to know whether they charge setup and admin fees, all of which can increase the cost of opening and owning a precious metals IRA. We've highlighted the annual fee schedules and policies of each of the top 10 custodians within the reviews presented in the chart above. Before moving forward, it's also necessary that you verify whether your alternative investments constitute IRA-approved metals—unfortunately, there are many investment-grade metals that don't qualify for tax-advantaged accounts.
You'll notice in our top Gold IRA companies comparison we highlight ratings with the Better Business Bureau, Business Consumer Alliance, Trustlink, and other directories that we do not mention in the custodian reviews when discussing reputation. There is a very good reason for this – IRA custodians typically do not deal directly with “consumers,” so they do not have listings or ratings on most consumer complaint and review directories like Yelp, BBB, Yellow Pages, etc. Instead, they partner with brokers, dealers, and Gold IRA firms.
Investors who have an account with Equity Institutional who opened that account through Regal Assets, then those investors would not be leaving a review for Equity Institutional (even though their IRA is in fact being held by Equity Institutional), they would be leaving a positive review for Regal Assets (more than 500 of which have been left on Trustlink alone).
Therefore, the best way to examine a custodian's reputation is to determine how long they've been in business, how many accounts and clients they have, which Gold IRA companies they're partnered with, and other more traditional ways of verifying the credibility of a business.
When discovering how to choose an IRA custodian, it's crucial that you thoroughly inspect their website and brand design. A good IRA custodian's website should be easy to navigate, professionally designed, and it should contain clear information regarding the company's fee structure, offerings, and the management staff. A great example of this is the website of Equity Institutional, 2021's #1 IRA custodian. Their site is aesthetically pleasing and provides easy access to information about the company's history, management, and fee policies.
Finally, custodians usually partner with bullion dealers, brokers, financial planners/advisors, and investment firms to give their clients a way to directly invest in precious metals within an IRA. As such, some brokers and Gold IRA companies will offer to waive custodian fees if you setup an account through them. For example, Regal Assets, which is partnered with Equity Institutional, offers to waive setup and storage fees for up to 3 years depending on the account value, and will only charge a low flat-rate annual fee after that. Equity Institutional would usually charge a setup fee of $50 and an annual storage fee of $150. Thus, your wisest move as an investor may be to set up an account with a custodian through one of their partnered Gold IRA companies, in order to avoid unnecessary hassle and fees when opening and stocking your self-directed precious metals IRA.
Quite simply, an IRA custodian is a financial services company that stores, vaults, or safeguards your retirement account's investments. IRA custodians exist to ensure all of the IRS's many rules and regulations regarding tax-advantaged accounts are respected and adhered to. These companies allow their account holders to form self-directed IRAs, consisting of selected assets of the account holder's choosing, under their care. In a world without licensed IRA custodians, the IRS would be constantly breathing down your neck to ensure compliance.
All IRA custodians must be approved and licensed by the IRS. They are regulated as "non-bank custodians" and can take the form of credit unions, trust companies, or any other licensed private entity. IRA custodians maintain a fiduciary responsibility to the account holder to hold and secure their assets and to not manipulate or transact the assets without their explicit permission.
Annual fees for self-directed IRA custodian accounts typically range between $200 and $500, including transaction fees (e.g., check writing) and custodian-to-custodian transfer fees. However, asset value fees are usually quite rare for IRA custodian accounts.
An IRA with "checkbook control" is the most popular type of self-directed IRA. With checkbook control, account holders have full signing authority over their account and can access, buy, and sell any assets within the account whenever they choose. Generally, these account types present more risk than custodian-controlled accounts, and they usually charge higher fees (often with setup fees ranging from $1,000 to $2,000). You need an LLC established in your name to setup an IRA with full checkbook control.
IRA custodians are subject to strict regulations set forth in the Internal Revenue Code, holding them to high standards of care and fiduciary responsibility. Custodians must comply with the capital requirements and security protocols under the law at the federal and state levels and must be subject to state auditors.
Yes, all of the most reputable IRA custodians provide personal IDs and login credentials so you can check the status of your transactions and transfers, as well as initiate account changes. The extent to which you can manage your account online varies from company to company.
Equity Institutional has nearly 4 decades of experience in the self-directed IRA industry. Aside from their longstanding reputation as an industry-leading IRA custodian, they also offer the lowest flat-rate fees for setting up and maintaining a precious metals IRAs.
To learn more about why we've given Equity Institutional the top spot on this year's list, see the full Equity Institutional review, or see the full review of Regal Assets, their industry-leading partner in Gold IRAs.