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The Best Self-Directed Rollover IRAs

Pick one of these rollover IRAs if you’re an active investor.

Key Takeaways

  • You’ll want a self-directed IRA if you prefer full control over what your retirement assets are invested in.
  • Some of the biggest brand names in finance like Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab and E-Trade offer good options.
  • Newer tech-driven companies like SoFi and Ally also offer easy-to-use self-directed IRAs.
  • Commissions for online trades have recently been cut across the board making it cheaper to manage your own money.

The best self-directed IRAs

Open Accounton Vanguard's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options

Limitations: Vanguard's platform is limited if you want to trade things other than ETFs and some Vanguard funds have high minimums.

Access to Research: Limited: some market data but not much third-party research.

Open Accounton AltoIRA's website

Commissions: $10/month for Starter and $25/month for Pro, and $10-75 fee per private investment

Invest in: Startups, Real estate, Cryptocurrency, Pre-IPO shares, Crowdfunding, Other private investments

Limitations: Alto sets you up to invest easily in private assets. For now you won’t be able to invest in publicly traded assets like stocks and bonds.

Access to Research: Good: access to research on private investments through Alto partners like AngelList and Forge.

Open Accounton TD Ameritrade's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Futures, Bonds

Limitations: TD's branches are concentrated in the Northeast if you like in-person service.

Access to Research: Good: market data and some third-party research on stocks, mutual funds & markets (e.g. Morningstar, CFRA).

Open Accounton Tradestation's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Futures, Crypto, Bonds

Limitations: Might be a little heavy-duty for inexperienced traders.

Access to Research: Good: lots of data and charting tools, less access to fundamental third-party research.

Open Accounton Merrill Lynch's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Bonds

Limitations: Some extra benefits (e.g. fee discounts) are reserved for Bank of America customers.

Access to Research: Good: access to extensive Bank of America research and some third-party research.

Open Accounton SoFi's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, IPOs, Crypto

Limitations: Limited access to research and trading tools and no options trading.

Access to Research: Limited: some market data but no third-party research.

Open Accounton Fidelity's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Bonds

Limitations: Fidelity's fees on money market mutual funds (where you can put extra cash in your account) are a little higher than some peers.

Access to Research: Good: access to market data and reports from third-party research providers (e.g. Argus, CFRA).

Open Accounton E-Trade's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Futures, Bonds

Limitations: The E*TRADE website has more functions than many brokers, so it can take a bit to get the hang of.

Access to Research: Good: market data and some third-party research on stocks, mutual funds & markets (e.g. Thomson Reuters, Credit Suisse, Argus).

Open Accounton Charles Schwab's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Futures, Bonds

Limitations: You might earn a slightly lower return on extra cash in your account - Schwab's default interest rate is lower than peers.

Access to Research: Good: market data and some third-party research on stocks, mutual funds & markets (e.g. Morningstar, Credit Suisse, Argus).

Open Accounton Ally's website

Commissions: $0 online trades for stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Invest in: Stocks & ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Bonds

Limitations: Ally has some great tools for traders (charts and screeners) but a little less third-party research.

Access to Research: Good: market data and some third-party research on stocks (e.g. Morningstar, CFRA).

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A self-directed IRA is a type of retirement account that allows you to place your own trades. It’s typically used by more active investors who want more control over their portfolios. Most self-directed IRAs allow you to invest in a full range of stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and options, though option trading is generally recommended for more experienced investors.

Self-directed IRAs generally have a far wider range of investment options than what’s in employer-sponsored plans like a 401(k). This is one reason why people choose to rollover a legacy 401(k) into a self-directed IRA. It’s generally a good option for more confident investors who are comfortable building their own portfolio. If that’s not you then you’ll be better served by picking an automated rollover IRA where the portfolio is constructed and rebalance for you.

  • Commissions: In the past, most self-directed IRAs charged a commission for each trade that was placed. Many providers have now cut their commissions for online stock trading to zero as a result of a price war in the industry that began in late 2019. You’ll still probably pay commissions for option trades, but that’s less relevant for most investors who are buying stocks and ETFs.
  • Fees on any ETFs you purchase in the account: If you choose to invest in an ETF in your self-directed IRA then that ETF will still have an underlying fee associated with it. That’s known as an “expense ratio” and is usually expressed as an annual percentage that’s deducted automatically from your assets. Average expense ratios have also come down across the industry, and can now be as low as 0.05% per year for large ETFs.
  • A lower interest rate on your cash balance: While this isn’t explicitly a “fee” you pay, be aware that you might not earn the best interest rate on any cash you keep in your IRA. This is one way IRA providers make money from your assets that allows them to offer other services for free (like commissions). Be sure to compare the interest rate offered by different self-directed IRAs—it changes regularly.

Besides fees, these are the key features that self-directed IRAs can differ on:

  • Customer support: Larger, older institutions will generally have more established customer support that includes call centers and branches. Newer, tech-driven providers tend to only offer online support.
  • Quality of user interface: While all firms have invested heavily in technology, younger firms will generally still have an advantage when it comes to the user interface, especially when it comes to mobile apps.
  • Access to research & data: Some firms offer more research and data than others. These can include access to brokerage reports on stocks, macroeconomic research, and live data on security prices.

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