Self-Directed IRA Definition

A Self-Directed IRA is a retirement account that allows individuals to make investment decisions and choose from a broader range of assets, including real estate, private equity, and other alternative investments, to grow their retirement savings.

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The self-directed IRA definition entails retirement accounts that you, as the account holder, manage. Here, we’ll delve into self-directed IRA advantages and the difference between a self-directed IRA and a standard IRA.  

What is a self-directed IRA?

A self-directed IRA is a retirement investment account that the account holder manages. 

Account holders of self-directed IRAs have greater flexibility in what they can invest in. For example, you can use a self-directed IRA to invest in things like cryptocurrency. This is one of the benefits of a self-directed IRA.

Custodian vs. Account Holder Responsibilities

You may open up a self-directed IRA with the bank, but the bank doesn’t manage the account for you. The bank is the “custodian” of the self-directed IRA because they are holding your assets in trust for you. You and the bank are responsible for different aspects of the account.

The custodian does not manage the fund or pick what to invest in. What’s more, they can’t give you financial advice or even tell you if they think your investment is lawful or smart. Rather, their sole job is to maintain custody of your assets on your behalf. It’s up to you to decide what you’d like to invest in and how to grow your money. 

Self-Directed IRA vs. Standard Retirement Account

So, what is the difference between a self-directed IRA and a standard retirement account? Three main differences are:

  • The types of assets in which you can invest
  • The account holder manages the investment
  • The custodian (i.e., the bank) holds the self-directed IRA in custody but doesn’t manage the account

Other than these aspects, self-directed IRAs are similar to other forms of retirement accounts. Most self-directed IRAs need to follow the same rules with the IRS. 

What can I invest in with a self-directed IRA?

Self-directed IRAs allow the account holder to invest in different types of assets. These include:

The custodian may sell these assets directly. If not, you need to buy them from alternative sources and add them to your account. There are special ownership rules about a self-directed IRA owning an LLC or another type of legal entity. Make sure to do plenty of research before your self-directed IRA invests in a small business.

One self-directed IRA benefit is being able to open an LLC with the IRA. 

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What can’t a self-directed IRA invest in?

A self-directed IRA cannot invest in the following types of assets:

  • Life insurance
  • Collectibles that don’t meet IRS purity standards
  • Fraudulent assets
  • S corporations

Further, transactions that amount to self-dealing are illegal. The account holder—not the custodian or bank — is responsible for doing the research and making sure that they are compliant. 

Self-Directed IRA Considerations

Thinking about opening a self-directed IRA? There are some self-directed IRA disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • You will be responsible for staying compliant with tax and other laws
  • The bank or custodian can’t give you financial advice
  • It can take more time to withdraw funds if you invest in assets like gold or real estate
  • If you make an illegal transaction, you may have to pay penalties on the value of the transaction

Even so, having a self-directed IRA can give you freedom and flexibility to take control of your financial future. 


A self-directed IRA is an investment account that allows you to invest in assets — like gold and real estate — that you can’t invest in with a standard IRA. The account holder manages the fund and chooses the investments. 

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Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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Written by Team ZenBusiness

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