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How to Choose an IRA Custodian

With these tips, deciding on one becomes a little easier.

The following is a transcript of " Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life," a podcast from The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at's podcast home page.

Hello and welcome to

Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life


Today's topic: How to choose an IRA custodian.

In last week's episode, I explained how to roll over your 401(k) to an IRA when you leave a job. In today's episode, I have some tips on how to choose an IRA custodian.

It's possible to open an IRA at many types of financial institutions, including brokerages, mutual fund companies, banks, credit unions, insurance companies, and self-directed IRA custodians. Having so many choices can be overwhelming!

As listener Joshua put it in an email he sent me, "When you are in a situation where you want to start your retirement savings, and you have no idea whether you'd be better off just giving the money to the bank, giving it to a mutual fund company, or some other institution, it is so daunting that you just don't do anything."

Now, don't let the abundance of choices keep you from taking action! Remember, delay has a cost: during the time you spend in a state of indecision about where to open an IRA, your money could have been growing for you.

So here are four tips on how to make a smart choice about which IRA custodian to go with:

Tip 1

: Choose an IRA custodian with a broad selection of investment options, including a wide variety of mutual funds as well as individual stocks and bonds. Fidelity, Vanguard and Charles Schwab are just a few examples of mutual fund and brokerage companies with broad investment choices.

Keep in mind that an IRA is simply a tax-advantaged container for investments. You can buy just about any type of investment with an IRA and different IRA custodians make their money by selling different things. If you open an IRA at a bank, you'll be able to invest in CDs. If you open an IRA at an insurance company, you'll be able to invest in annuities. And, if you open an IRA at a brokerage and mutual fund company, you'll be able to invest in mutual funds, stocks and bonds. For most everyone, opening an IRA at a brokerage and mutual fund company makes good sense.

Tip 2

: Compare fees when selecting an IRA custodian. Some custodians charge higher fees than others. Find out if there's an annual maintenance fee. Many custodians do not charge maintenance fees. Check to see if the custodian offers a wide variety of no-load mutual funds; that is, mutual funds without sales fees. Vanguard is known for its low mutual fund management fees. Also, compare the commissions charged for trades.

Tip 3

: Look for a custodian with excellent customer service. Is their Web site easy to use? Can you execute transactions and monitor your portfolio from their Web site? Do they have a toll-free number? Do they have retirement specialists who will help you choose your investments?

And lastly,

Tip 4

: Consider whether you'd like to take your IRA beyond stocks, bonds and mutual funds and invest in other types of investments, such as real estate or privately held companies. Remember, you can invest in just about any type of investment with an IRA. If you think you might want to invest in real estate or private companies with an IRA, learn about self-directed IRAs and decide whether one might be right for you.

And here's a bonus tip: When you open a new IRA, be sure to designate beneficiaries for the account. The beneficiary designation on file with the IRA custodian controls who will inherit your IRA, so it's important to indicate to whom you'd like to leave your IRA funds.

Cha-ching! That's all for now, courtesy of Money Girl, your guide to a richer life.

As always, everyone's situation is different, so be sure to consult a tax or financial adviser before making important financial decisions. This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized, professional advice.

Elizabeth Carlassare is the creator of the

Money Girl podcast. A business and technology writer, investor, and former mortgage loan officer, she has a long-standing passion for helping people make the most of their money. She is the author of the Internet business book, "Dotcom Divas," and has been interviewed on more than 60 regional and national radio programs, and featured on C-SPAN Book TV. Elizabeth holds an M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spoken internationally on the topic of women's entrepreneurship and access to capital. To request a topic or share a money tip, send an email to or call 877-6-RICHER.