Self-Directed IRAs vs. 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs

*This post originally appeared on Michael Morrow | Financial Planner.

When most people think about retirement savings they think of 401(k)s and IRAs. However, another option to consider are self-directed IRAs. While self-directed IRAs share a lot of similarities with 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, there are some important distinctions to consider. What sets self-directed IRAs apart from other options, though, are the variety of investment options available to you. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of self-directed IRAs as well as some of the drawbacks of 401(k)s and traditional IRAs.

401(k) Drawbacks

  • There are numerous fees associated with 401(k)s, and most people don’t realize how much they’re even paying. Most of the time the fees aren’t even listed on your account statement. Over time these fees eat into your balance.
  • If you withdraw money from your account before the age of 59 ½, you’ll face penalties. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go as planned. You might need to withdraw money due to divorce, job loss, or some other unforeseen circumstance. Take a look at this post to learn more about early withdrawal fees. In addition to the penalties, you will also have to deal with taxes. Any money taken out before the age of 59 ½ will be taxed as regular income.

IRA Drawbacks

  • Every IRA plan has contribution limits. If you contribute too much to your account, you will have to deal with IRS penalties. The penalties vary with age. For example, if you are under the age of fifty and you contribute too much, you’ll face a maximum penalty of $5,000. This article has more information on excess contributions.
  • When you reach the age of 70 ½, you have to withdraw funds from a traditional IRA account regardless of whether you need the money or not. Failing to withdraw the funds results in a penalty—typically a fifty percent tax on the minimum amount that was supposed to be withdrawn.

Self-Directed IRAs

A self-directed IRA is often a better option for investors. With a self-directed IRA, you can include assets like real estate rather than the traditional assets that most IRA accounts allow. Self-directed IRAs also offer tax benefits that aren’t available with traditional retirement options. As with every investment self-directed IRAs are not risk-free. However, investors who choose self-directed IRAs select assets that they understand well, so they are aware of the risks associated with the assets held in their self-directed IRAs.

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