When you hear the term “retirement account,” chances are you think primarily of IRAs and 401(k)s. And those two retirement savings and investment vehicles can and should certainly form the foundation of a solid retirement plan. Self-directed IRAs are a particularly powerful type of retirement savings account because you’re permitted to invest in the full range of legally permitted asset types, rather than being limited by traditional IRA custodians (such as banks and discount brokerages), or face the even more restricted with your investment choices in a 401(k).
But in a very real sense, virtually any investment or savings account can serve as a retirement account. Because you’re limited in how much money you can contribute each year to the tax-advantaged retirement accounts we mentioned above, you’re going to need to use those other account types if you’re able to save more than those specified amounts.
As you accumulate multiple accounts that you’re using to build a retirement nest egg, you’ll need to consider your investment diversification not on an account by account basis, but across all accounts considered together.
For example, let’s say you’ve determined that at present your optimal investment mix is something along the lines of 40% U.S. large cap stocks, 25% real estate investments, 25% debt instruments, and 10% cash. Your goal should not be to achieve that mix of investments within each IRA or other retirement account you have, but that you achieve it across the aggregate of your savings.
Let’s further assume that your primary retirement savings account is a self-directed IRA with a custodian such as Quest Trust Company, and that you also have a small 401(k) account at work, and a taxable investment account that’ve decided to use to help fund your retirement. Because you can’t use those smaller accounts to invest directly in real estate, and your options for choosing debt investments may be limited to publicly traded corporate and government bonds, the real estate and debt investments will likely be the primary focus of your self-directed IRA.
In fact, when you look at each of your accounts, they may appear to be woefully imbalanced and overly focused in a particular asset type. But taken as a whole, you can be confident that you’re on the right track in meeting your diversification goals.
Given the limitations of traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, it might be prudent to use those accounts primarily for the “plain vanilla” investments such as large cap publicly traded stocks, government bonds and the like. If you only have a self-directed IRA you can certainly use it to make such investments, but as your nest egg grows and you direct more retirement savings to different accounts, you can use this diversification technique to meet your targets.
As you save, be sure to to prioritize your contributions to those accounts for which you’ll receive the greatest benefit. Many investors choose to maintain both a traditional self-directed IRA as well as a Roth self-directed IRA in order to ensure they can make the best choice for their contributions each year.