What is a gold IRA?

Understanding what it is and how you can use it

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As you think about investing, you may decide to invest in gold. However, physical gold can be hard to manage and costly to store. A gold IRA is a better option for many. It can provide a hedge against inflation and market volatility and works much like a traditional individual retirement account (IRA).

Not all IRAs allow for gold investments, but those that do can be worth exploring. This type of self-directed IRA allows you to invest in physical gold and other types of precious metals.

Key insights

  • A gold IRA allows you to invest in physical gold as part of your retirement savings.
  • The IRS has strict rules and what types of gold can be in a gold IRA.
  • Gold IRA costs vary, so it's essential to compare providers and ask about fees upfront.
  • Always work with a reputable gold IRA custodian who can help you stay compliant with IRS rules and navigate the complexities of investing in precious metals.

Gold and other precious metal IRAs are an investment and carry risk. Consumers should be alert to claims that customers can make a lot of money in these or any investment with little risk. As with any investment, you can lose money and past performance is not a guarantee of future performance results. Consumers should also obtain a clear understanding of the fees associated with any investment before agreeing to invest.

How a gold IRA works

A gold IRA is a type of individual retirement account (IRA) where you invest in gold instead of stocks, bonds and mutual funds. It offers the same tax benefits as a regular IRA, and you may pay penalty fees if you take distributions before age 59 ½.

There are many storage rules associated with gold IRAs. The IRS requires all physical gold in a gold IRA to be with an approved custodian. You can’t hold or store the gold in a personal safe.

Likewise, the IRS states that only certain forms of precious metals can be in a gold IRA, including ingots, coins, bars and rounds.

The precious metals must also meet certain standards:

  • Gold must be at least 99.5% pure.
  • Silver must be at least 99.9% pure.
  • Platinum and palladium must be at least 99.95% pure.

» MORE: How to invest in gold

How much should you invest in a gold IRA?

Hanna Horvath, a certified financial planner, says you should allocate no more than 10% of your total portfolio to gold IRAs. This is because diversification across different asset classes is essential for a well-balanced investment strategy.

“One common misconception about gold IRAs is that they are completely immune to market volatility,” said Horvath. “While gold may offer a level of stability, it can still be affected by economic and political factors.”

For these reasons, Horvath says that investors should stay informed about the market before making any moves with their gold IRA and consult a financial professional if they have questions.

Pros and cons of gold IRAs

When considering whether a gold IRA is right for you, weigh the potential benefits, such as diversification, against the drawbacks, like storage fees. Understanding these pros and cons will help you make an informed decision about adding a gold IRA to your retirement strategy.


  • Diversification: By allocating a percentage of your retirement funds to gold, you can reduce your investment risk as gold usually moves opposite to the stock market.
  • Hedge against inflation: Gold is often seen as a valuable asset that has historically held its value, which may help safeguard your savings.
  • Tax benefits: Gold IRAs provide the same tax advantages as traditional IRAs, such as tax-deferred growth. This means you can potentially grow your investment without paying taxes on it until you withdraw the funds during retirement.


  • Storage concerns: Physical gold must be in an IRS-approved depository, which can be costly and may require additional logistics.
  • Higher fees: Gold IRAs typically come with higher fees than other types of retirement accounts, including storage fees and other administrative costs.
  • Lack of passive income: Gold bars and coins don't generate interest or dividends like stocks and bonds. This means your gold IRA will rely on the appreciation of gold prices to produce returns, as opposed to earning income from the investment.
  • Limited investment options: Gold IRAs may offer limited investment options compared to other types of retirement accounts.

How to open a gold IRA

To get started with a gold IRA, follow these steps:

1. Research and select a reputable gold IRA custodian

Not all IRA custodians offer gold IRAs. To ensure the safety and legality of your gold IRA, work with a self-directed IRA custodian approved by the IRS. Carefully compare the company’s fees, customer reviews and investment options.

Warning: Some gold IRA providers may charge high fees, including commissions and storage fees. For example, one IRA custodian charged nearly $150,000 in commissions and fees for a $300,000 gold IRA. To avoid adverse fee situations, make sure to ask about fees upfront and get them in writing. Always shop around for the best gold IRA.

2. Choose the type of gold IRA

There are two types of gold IRAs — traditional and Roth. Traditional gold IRAs are funded with pre-tax dollars, while after-tax dollars fund Roth gold IRAs. Choose the one best suited to your financial situation and investment goals.

3. Open your gold IRA account

Once you select a custodian, complete the application process, which typically involves providing personal and financial information. This may include your name, address, Social Security number, employment information and desired contribution.

» MORE: Best robo-advisors

4. Fund your gold IRA

After opening your account, fund it either by transferring funds from an existing IRA or by making a direct contribution (subject to IRS contribution limits). If you're retiring or changing jobs, you may also perform a rollover from your 401(k) to a gold IRA.

5. Select your gold investments

Work with your custodian to choose the appropriate precious metal investments. Keep in mind that only specific gold products are allowed in IRAs, such as:

  • Gold bars (meeting specific purity standards)
  • Gold coins (issued by qualifying governments)
  • Other precious metals, like silver, platinum and palladium<

6. Store the gold

Your custodian will arrange for the storage of your gold in an approved and insured depository. The gold will be in a secure vault, and the custodian will provide you with regular account statements, tracking the value of your investment.

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    Is a gold IRA safe?

    A Gold IRA can be a safe investment option, allowing you to diversify your retirement portfolio with a tangible asset. The value of gold typically remains steady or increases in times of economic uncertainty. However, like any investment, a Gold IRA carries some risks. The value of gold can fluctuate, and your investment might not yield the desired results.

    What type of gold can you hold in an IRA?

    The IRS allows certain types of gold to be in an IRA, including bullion, bars and coins that meet specific purity requirements. Collectibles and certain coin types aren’t allowed. The right gold IRA custodian will help you navigate IRS rules and ensure your gold stays compliant.

    How much can you put in a gold IRA?

    The contribution limits for a gold IRA are the same as for a traditional or Roth IRA. For 2023, individuals can contribute up to $6,500 per year, or $7,500 if they’re over age 50. These limits are subject to change each year. It's also possible to roll over funds from an existing retirement account into a gold IRA.

    Are gold IRAs FDIC-insured?

    No, gold IRAs are not FDIC-insured. However, the best IRA custodians are insured to protect against fraud or theft. Ensure that the custodian you choose for your Gold IRA maintains adequate insurance coverage and adheres to strict security standards.

    Bottom line

    A gold IRA can be a useful investment tool for diversifying your retirement portfolio and protecting your savings against economic uncertainty. However, be aware of the costs and fees involved and the specific rules regarding storage and withdrawal. By thoroughly researching and comparing gold IRA providers, you can make informed choices and build a solid foundation for your future retirement.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. IRS, “IRA FAQs.” Accessed May 19, 2023.
    2. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, “Customer Advisory: Beware of Gold and Silver Schemes Designed to Drain Your Retirement Savings.” Accessed May 19, 2023.
    3. IRS, “Issue Snapshot - Investments in Collectibles in Individually-Directed Qualified Plan Accounts.” Accessed May 19, 2023.
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