The Best Gold IRA Custodians for Your Precious Metals IRA
A gold IRA is an excellent investment tool for gold and other precious metals. However, setting up a gold IRA and rolling with it is no child’s play and requires much learning about the retirement account structure, its various stakeholders, risks and gains, and much more. Talking about stakeholders, arguably the most important of them all is a custodian.
Gold IRA investing is a strategy shrewd investors adopt to diversify their retirement or savings portfolios, hedge against inflation, etc. But, the tactic cannot be implemented appropriately without an expert specializing in precious metals retirement accounts. That specialist, in this case, is a custodian.
Precious metals IRA custodians know how the IRA setup process works and everything else that’s needed to ensure its smooth functioning. Note that a gold IRA company and a custodian are not identical entities. But a gold IRA firm could be a custodian, which is where the confusion arises. More on that later.
Regardless, this article focuses primarily on precious metals IRA custodians. But because these custodians don’t work in a vacuum, we’ll provide you with a quick overview or a basic understanding of the related aspects and players. We’ll discuss the following:
- A brief intro to a gold IRA
- What are custodians, and how they are not “gold IRA companies”
- The best custodians for the job
- How to choose a custodian or gold IRA company
- Answers to commonly asked questions related to the topic and more
Suppose you’re familiar with the gold IRA space and can guestimate the names appearing as the best gold IRA companies in this article. In that case, we are confident you will be wrong due to how blurred the lines are between a custodian and a gold IRA firm. Read on to learn more.
Table of Contents
What is a Gold IRA?
A gold IRA is a self-directed IRA (SDIRA) that lets people invest in gold, silver, platinum, and palladium, among several other valuable commodities. A 401(k) or traditional IRA only allows paper assets, not physical metals or commodities. It’s, therefore, not a “self-directed IRA.”
An SDIRA affords the account holder greater freedom regarding the type of assets that can be included in the retirement account. Moreover, a gold IRA lends to portfolio diversification and stability. It also comes with certain unique tax attributes.
The precious metals IRA is called “gold IRA” if the investments are predominantly physical gold bullion or assets related to the precious metal, such as gold mining stocks or bonds. Setting up a gold IRA is not as straightforward as creating a regular or traditional IRA. The custodian plays an important role.
Read more: Best gold IRA companies
What is a Gold IRA Custodian?
A gold or precious metals IRA custodian is a company that helps you set up and maintain a gold IRA. In other words, they handle the administrative tasks related to a precious metals IRA. They manage the funds that go into or exit your retirement account. The funds needed to purchase precious metals for gold IRA investing are routed through a custodian. The money is usually sent to the custodian through a check or bank transfer.
Custodians also oversee the physical metals stored in depositories. They check the quality and authenticity of the gold, silver, and other metals acquired, moved, or stored under your account. A custodian offers regular gold IRA account statements detailing the transactions and holdings.
They produce essential IRS documentation and reports, ensuring the accounts comply with tax regulations. Custodians also provide educational materials to the account holders. The information could be about investment strategies, IRS rules, precious metals investing benefits and risks, etc.
Difference Between a Gold IRA and Traditional IRA Custodian
The custodians for a gold IRA and a standard IRA are different. A traditional IRA custodian could be a bank, insurance company, mutual fund company, brokerage firm, etc. The types and variety of IRA investing options they offer vary with the service provider. But one common thing among them all is they don’t help set up or manage gold IRA accounts.
Also, they are usually not called “custodians.” Institutions that support self-directed IRAs are referred to as “custodians.” Custodians are IRS-approved and authorized to manage physical gold and similar precious metal assets. Administrators or facilitators are not approved or permitted to do so.
Banks and other traditional financial institutions could theoretically be your gold IRA companies, but they don’t since their focus is multi-faceted. Banks, for instance, have multiple products and services to take care of. With self-directed IRAs not being their sole focus, they could easily violate IRS rules and incur penalties inadvertently or because they care less. A custodian must be focused and aware of everything gold IRA-related. Banks and traditional financial institutions have the resources but usually do not have the inclination or motivation to venture into gold IRAs.
Difference Between a Gold IRA Custodian and Gold IRA Provider
Although the two terms are used interchangeably quite often, and their functions overlap each other to a considerable extent, a gold IRA provider and a precious metals custodian are separate entities.
A gold IRA firm is a company that provides a myriad of gold IRA-related services, such as setting up, controlling, and investing in the precious metals IRA account. The business offers approved physical gold bullion for investment and helps clients purchase them. A gold IRA company offers investment guidance, educational resources relating to gold IRAs, etc. They primarily work in tandem or complement precious metals IRA custodians. Some could also provide storage options.
A custodian is primarily a financial entity that holds and safeguards physical gold, silver, platinum, and other precious metals in a gold IRA account. Precious metals IRA custodians are IRS-approved and regulated, ensuring conformance to regulations and tax laws concerning gold individual retirement accounts. Custodians ensure the gold IRA assets meet IRS guidelines and manage record-keeping, reporting, etc., of the gold coins, gold bars, and other gold and silver bullion stored in an IRS-approved depository.
The responsibilities of the two are similar. Their names get mixed because gold IRA or precious metals IRA companies go hand in glove with custodians. But, again, they are not the same. One of the reasons for this confusion is that gold IRA companies can also be precious metals IRA custodians or work closely with custodians. The custodians mentioned below work with some of the best gold IRA investment companies, such as Goldco, Birch Gold Group, Noble Gold, Oxford Gold Group, etc., in the industry. It’s, therefore, okay to refer to IRA custodians as gold IRA companies.
The Best Gold IRA Custodians
Not every gold IRA company is the same. Some fare better in one department than the other, with scope for improvement in another. And, as alluded to above, your favorite gold IRA companies, such as Goldco and Augusta Precious Metals, are not actual precious metals IRA custodians. They may provide custodial services but usually do that in partnership with the following best gold investment companies or IRA companies of 2023. You can work directly with the following precious metals IRA firms or through other gold IRA companies.
Equity Trust has been around as a self-directed IRA company since 1984. It has invested assets worth more than $34 billion and over 262,000 accounts. The reputable gold IRA company represents a proper amalgamation of experience, expertise, customer focus, and investment capabilities. The company has extensive experience handling precious metals IRAs. Besides, it’s also available for traditional investments such as stocks, bonds, ETFs (exchange-traded funds), etc.
Equity Trust started its journey with real estate-focused self-directed IRAs. It was always into alternative investments. Later, the company expanded to precious metals, private equity, foreign currencies, tax lien certificates, cryptocurrencies, etc. The service provider has specialists who help users set up, invest, and maintain their retirement accounts. Equity Trust is the custodian of choice for many gold IRA companies, such as American Hartford Gold and Augusta Precious Metals.
The company’s yearly administration fees can range from $225 to more than $2,200 based on the account size or number. You pay a slight premium for the company’s rich history and excellent track record. However, the company doesn’t charge for transactions done. If you expect to do a lot of buying and selling with your account, you’ll save a lot of money. The other fees include a $50 digital account setup charge ($75 in case of a paper application).
GoldStar Trust was founded in 1989 and has been furnishing specialized trustee, custodian, and paying agent services for self-directed IRAs ever since. The company has offered alternative investment options to more than 60,000 clients, diversifying and safeguarding their retirement portfolios for over three decades. It has assets worth more than $3 billion in its custody. The Texas-based firm is the custodian of choice of Augusta Precious Metals.
GoldStar Trust is pretty transparent with its fees. For a complete breakdown, check its fee schedule here. It charges $50 for account creation. The yearly maintenance fee could range between $75 and $275. And there are no transaction fees. These charges are quite standard affairs. But you may still want to compare the prices with other custodians for a more extensive understanding. The company is certainly not without its flaws, but how it responds to every customer grievance is commendable.
STRATA Trust Company started its journey by the name “Self Directed IRA Services, Inc.” in 2008. In 2017, the company later renamed itself to what it’s currently referred to as. The company manages assets worth around $4 billion as of 2023. A fully-owned Horizon Bank subsidiary, STRATA offers custody of traditional assets and alternative investments, such as self-directed gold IRAs. Advantage Gold, etc., are some of the top gold IRA companies that STRATA offers custodial services.
IRA custodians cannot legally advise on the precious metals investments that will be right for their clients. STRATA acknowledges that but offers to assist with everything else related to a gold IRA account. As a seasoned IRA custodian, STRATA provides its clients with the essential resources to help them successfully navigate the precious metals IRA space.
If you still have questions about purchasing, maintaining, or selling your gold IRA investment, contact STRATA (via phone, email, or snail mail). STRATA has a comprehensive, easy-to-navigate website that provides visitors quick access to their accounts. If you have multiple accounts opened with STRATA, those will be listed in your profile, with each account's data being easy to glean.
Alto IRA began its precious metals investing journey in 2018. Although it is relatively new to the gold investments space, it has made significant strides quickly, earning it a spot on our list. The service provider has set up a streamlined, easy-to-use, automated method for alternative investing. It has democratized the space, unlike very few. In other words, Alto IRA has made precious metals IRA investments and the prospects of retirement portfolio diversification and greater returns a reality for the masses.
Alto’s platform offers investors access to a wide variety of alternative investments. The custodian has partnered with multiple crypto exchanges, real estate lending firms, angel investing funds, etc., to enable investment prospects. The company’s checkbook IRA affords clients total control to manage their alternative investments appropriately. Besides self-directed gold IRAs, Alto supports traditional, Roth, and SEP IRAs.
Alto offers two monthly price tiers: Starter ($10) and Pro ($25). If paid yearly, Alto’s patrons can save fees worth two months. The primary difference between the two packages is the Starter plan entails investments restricted to Alto’s partner network. The Pro pack has no such limitations and offers access to all Alto investment partners. Not to mention, the online account setup procedure with Alto is quick and easy. Also, Alto has a multi-faceted customer support with phone and online support.
uDirect IRA began its journey with real estate-focused IRA investments—the founders were real estate experts. Although the company has expanded its services to several other asset classes, including precious metals, it holds the first-mover advantage in the property space. The real estate investment choices include real estate notes, tax lien certificates, REITs (real estate investment trusts), and real property.
Besides varied real estate investments, uDirect offers access to various other investment options, which include private loans, closely held companies, legal settlements, accounts receivable financing, and precious metals. Unlike some other gold IRA firms, uDirect provides checkbook control. That means investors can act when real estate auctions occur and tax liens can be capitalized.
uDirect charges a $50 account creation fee and $275 yearly for reporting and record-keeping purposes. The transaction charges are $35. However, the initial six transactions cost nothing. If you opt for the company’s precious metals storage services, you’ll pay an extra $8 to $18 monthly. Compared to most gold IRA companies, uDirect’s fees are pretty reasonable. You can create your uDirect IRA account online, which entails printing and signing documents and uploading their scanned copies on the website.
IRA Financial Group was set up in 2010 to assist retirement account holders benefit from self-directed retirement plans. The company allows its clients to invest in pretty much any kind of investment—such as tax liens, foreign or domestic real estate, peer-to-peer lending, new and upcoming businesses, and precious metals. The firm offers its patrons unlimited and direct access to its ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and in-house tax professionals who ensure the established tax structures comply with the IRS.
IRA Financial Group has over 24,000 clients and serves as custodian for alternative assets worth more than $3.2 billion. There are no hidden fees and zero minimum balance requirements. The company has a straightforward application process and a dedicated support team, which you can directly access in case of any issues or complaints relating to your account. If you’re planning to set up a precious metals IRA but are unsure how to get started, contact IRA Financial for a free consultation.
Set up in 1981, The Entrust Group is one of the most reputable gold IRA companies around. It has arguably the best web platform for a precious metals IRA custodian. The company provides clients with a proprietary web portal for seamless online transactions. The “Entrust Connect” section within the portal allows clients to access various alternative investments. Entrust clients can access the various services via a financial advisor or directly. Irrespective of the path taken, the online platform is accessible to all clients.
Entrust believes in educating its patrons, offering them courses and an extensive library of content about alternative investments and self-directed IRAs. The fees are nominal or on par with the precious metals industry standards. The company charges $50 to create the account, besides yearly administrative charges ranging from around $200 to $2,300. The actual fee will depend on the account’s assets. Then, transaction costs for every asset sale, purchase, or exchange max out at $250.
Creating your Entrust account is pretty simple. Setting up and rolling with it won’t take more than 10 minutes. As stated earlier, you can create your IRA account directly or with a financial advisor’s assistance. Also, Entrust’s in-house customer support is excellent—on par with other custodians. If the provided suite of education tools doesn’t help you make correct decisions relating to your account, contact support for more personalized assistance.
Things to Consider When Choosing Precious Metals IRA Companies
The above custodians are great to begin your gold IRA investment journey with. But if, for some reason, you’re not able to make it happen with them, you’ll have to scout for other equally good, if not better, gold IRA companies. And when doing your research and cross-shopping, you must know what to look for. The following is a relatively comprehensive list of attributes to seek.
Product Selection Quality and Flexibility
Ensure the gold IRA company offers a solid choice of investment options. A gold IRA is a great way to diversify any retirement portfolio. However, restricting the self-directed IRA to just gold could be detrimental in the long run. It’s, therefore, essential to associate with a custodian who can furnish and manage a range of precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. The variety should further extend to the form factors (coins, bars, etc.).
Fees and Costs
Gold IRA companies are not non-profits. However, the fees they charge for the services they provide matter considerably. These gold IRA companies charge yearly account maintenance fees, trading commissions, setup fees, storage fees, etc. Not all IRA custodians charge the same type of fees. Also, how much they charge per category could vary. For example, the annual maintenance fee is not standard.
If they charge higher than the standard, your precious metals IRA maintenance costs will rise, eating into potential profits or gains. So, choosing a gold IRA company that is reasonable on the costs front is critical. At the same time, do not fall prey to the traps of suspiciously low IRA charges. The best gold IRA companies do a great job with their costing.
So, what is the ideal IRA fee or charge? There’s no optimal cost per se. The industry usually dictates things. During research, find what the top gold IRA companies charge. Compare the prices to the fees of the precious metals IRA company you’ve zeroed in on.
User Experience/Customer Support
A precious metals IRA is a long-term commitment. And for the ride to be smooth sailing, your gold IRA company must be forthcoming and willing to listen to your thoughts and grievances—no robo-advisors, please. In other words, its customer support team must be on point—available through different modes (phone, email, chat, social media, etc.). Also, learn the custodian’s procedures for managing complaints and solving disputes.
Most importantly, the support team must be knowledgeable to guide you from setting up a new gold IRA account to taking it to maturity, besides answering all your questions about precious metals IRAs satisfactorily. This will determine how easy doing business with the company will be. The account setup procedures must be simple, and access to specialists, if needed, must be prompt and seamless.
The best gold IRA companies leave no stone unturned to provide the best experience possible to their clients as they realize its importance. The first impression is the best. But things don’t end there. The feeling of having been listened to or treated well must continue. Otherwise, customers will take their business elsewhere. Part of a good user experience also lies in how comprehensive and user-friendly the business website is. It should be navigation-friendly and ideal for monitoring gold investments and making transactions.
Storage and Buyback Options
Whether the custodian offers storage space or has tie-ups with a depository to provide the same, ensure the facility is safe and secure. Also, look at the insurance cover the storage area offers to ascertain how much your precious metals are safeguarded in case of theft, fire, or other unforeseen situations.
On a related note, check if the firm is open to buybacks or repurchasing the gold from you when you cannot find a suitable buyer elsewhere or are hesitant about the transaction with another third party. Although gold IRA companies buy back gold and other precious metals from their patrons at less than market prices, no additional costs are involved. And then there’s the hassle-free experience to boot, too.
Customer Reviews and Ratings
To understand how good a physical precious metals IRA company is, it’s imperative to read client reviews and business ratings. A company’s brochure will only tell you about the nature of the business and the various services offered. The marketing materials will not show how well those promises or claims translate in real life. You’ll have to rely on old customer feedback and ratings from trusted websites like Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Business Consumer Alliance (BCA) to get a feel for the service provider or gain valuable insights into the custodian’s reputation and trustworthiness.
Although online reviews can be tampered with, or companies could pay for positive reviews to manage their reputation online, these reviews remain critical indicators of how well a business is doing or how happy or aggrieved their clients are. Just know where to look for the feedback.
Do not go by the user reviews planted on a company’s website. It should be a third-party website, like a forum. If the gold IRA company is only a few years old but already has thousands of reviews on various websites, those are likely fictitious. Also, like paid positive reviews, some nefarious businesses can pay to have negative things written about their competition on the interwebs. So, be wary of such disingenuity.
On the other hand, a BBB rating is invaluable and can be an excellent lens through which to look at the best gold IRA companies. Just visit the website and look up ratings, reviews, and other key information about a gold IRA firm. As far as what to look for, consider the score. With BBB, an A+ rating is excellent. Anything less than A is a cause for concern. Also, view the nature and number of complaints against the company. If there’s a recurring theme with the reviews or a specific issue brought up multiple times, investigate further or look to other gold IRA companies.
Read more: Gold IRA Depositories
We’ve said this before and shall say it again. A gold IRA is the best way to invest in the precious metal. It eliminates all the hassle associated with physical gold investments, especially the storage and security aspects. The likelihood of being duped by a jeweler with fake or impure gold coins and bars is also next to none since gold IRA providers take care of that. As a gold IRA account holder, you must associate with the best gold IRA company. If you get this initial, important step right, all other things will fall in place.
The gold IRA firms or custodians mentioned above are among the best gold IRA companies out there. Customer support, account options, fee transparency, and other things that make a gold IRA business excellent apply to them all. There could be many gold IRA companies equally good other than the ones mentioned above. If you cannot connect with the companies discussed here, use the provided checklist or the list of things to look at in a precious metals IRA service provider to confirm it’s one of the most suitable businesses for your needs.
Finding a precious metals IRA custodian that aligns with your IRA objectives and requirements is more critical than associating with the best gold IRA company of them all.
How is a precious metals IRA custodian different from a depository?
A custodian records or manages the gold and other precious metals in your self-directed IRA. On the other hand, a depository offers the physical space needed to store the physical precious metals. At times, precious metals IRA custodians could have their IRS-approved warehouses. In short, the custodian takes care of the IRA’s regulatory and administrative aspects. A depository specializes in offering secure storage infrastructure for your physical assets. Often, the two work closely.
Can I buy gold directly from the custodian?
Your precious metals IRA custodian may or may not sell gold and silver products. They’ll hook you up with a precious metals dealer if they don’t. Detail the specifics of the gold investing to the custodian, and the gold IRA company will do the rest. You need not contact the dealer directly, except if the custodian doesn’t work with them directly or you chose the precious metals dealer and not your custodian.
Can I buy other precious metals in a gold IRA?
Your gold investment company permits other precious metals investments besides regular gold IRA investments or gold coins and bars. Those precious metal coins include silver coins and bars, platinum bullion, palladium coins, etc. Although the SDIRA is a “gold IRA,” it’s not rare for the retirement account to comprise a healthy mix of silver and gold coins.
Can I consolidate multiple gold IRAs under a single custodian?
Theoretically, you can combine one or more gold IRAs and bring them under the control of a custodian. However, not all custodians can manage multiple precious metal IRAs under one umbrella. In other words, they may not be savvy enough to know the rules that govern consolidating gold IRAs and comprehend the kinds of IRAs that can’t be merged.
Does a precious metals IRA custodian offer intelligence or consulting help?
No, your precious metals custodian is only the trustee. The custodian’s job is to set up your precious metals retirement account and keep a tab on every related transaction. The gold IRA company will not offer suggestions or vet your investment choices. That is the reason gold IRAs are called “self-directed” IRAs. It’s, therefore, up to you to do the due diligence and know the consequences of each move you make.
Note that a custodian is not legally barred from taking the advisory role. If your custodian offers help with your gold and silver investments, it may charge extra. If you need assistance, it’s recommended to consult with a precious metals advisor separately since your custodian may not have the experience and expertise to help you in the best way possible.
What is the minimum investment to set up a gold IRA?
The minimum investment to create a gold IRA and keep it rolling varies with different custodians or gold IRA companies. It could be anywhere between a few hundred dollars to thousands. Equity Trust, for instance, requires $500 as a minimum contribution to set up a new gold IRA.
Do IRA custodians support gold IRA rollovers?
Yes, a precious metal IRA custodian supports a gold IRA rollover or helps them transfer funds from one trustee or custodian to another. No taxes or penalties will be incurred, whether it’s a direct gold IRA rollover or an indirect rollover. Just be wary of the rollover limitations or the number of times you can perform a precious metals IRA rollover in a year. To initiate the gold IRA rollover, contact your custodian. They will assist you with the steps and required paperwork.
Do precious metals IRA custodians sell their own bullion?
No, precious metals IRA custodians usually do not sell bullion coins and bars. A gold IRA company that liaises between custodians and account holders may sell bullion, however. A custodian’s job is to furnish administrative tasks relating to the gold IRA, supervise the account, ensure it complies with IRS regulations, and assist with storing physical gold, silver, platinum, and palladium in IRS-approved repositories.