What Investments Cannot Be Held in an IRA?

What investments cannot be held in an IRA

There are certain investments you cannot hold within an IRA for various reasons, ranging from liquidity restrictions to requirements of strict supervision and regulation.

Avoid transactions that violate IRS guidelines, or else risk losing its tax-favored status and incurring penalties, such as investing in collectibles, life insurance policies or loans.


Self-directed IRAs do not allow investors to invest in collectibles like artwork, stamps, rugs, antiques metals gems alcoholic beverages and coins; whole, universal and term life policies cannot either. Furthermore, an IRA cannot transact with certain individuals known as disqualified persons such as themselves spouse children grandchildren who work together or on businesses where your IRA has invested.

The IRS regulations against prohibited transactions pertain to both individual retirement accounts (IRA) and 401(k) plans, as well as investments made with S corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships and private equity funds. Their purpose is to prevent investors from engaging in tax-preferred funds to engage in activities that generate unrelated business taxable income – anything in violation of this rule could lead to an early distribution and penalties; not something you want risking when investing for retirement!

Real estate

Self-directed IRAs may invest in real estate, with certain restrictions that must be observed. For instance, their owner cannot live or vacation at properties held in their account and any disqualified parties cannot benefit in any way from them (i.e. performing work to increase value – known as sweat equity by the IRS).

An IRA must abide by all real estate investment requirements, such as receiving an annual valuation from a qualified third party. Any violations found could cause property to be distributed back to its original owner and could incur early withdrawal penalties; investors should ensure they work with an experienced custodian specializing in self-directed IRAs to avoid this complication.


An IRA loan allows investors to leverage their retirement account and invest in assets they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, such as real estate or private lending opportunities. There are, however, certain restrictions in place regarding this type of borrowing: an IRA cannot borrow against or lend money back out again and specific prohibited transactions must also be avoided at all costs.

Rules designed to prevent self-dealing are in place to safeguard you (and any family members using an IRA) from profiting directly from their retirement savings before retiring. Should any prohibited transaction take place, an excise tax of 15% will be assessed against both the IRA owner and any related parties involved in it.

The IRS has designated certain individuals as disqualified persons, meaning your IRA cannot lend money or enter any transaction with them. This can include your spouse, children and grandchildren up the family tree as well as businesses you own or manage yourself.

Other investments

Investment guidelines for IRAs may not be clear when it comes to collectibles, real estate and certain alternative investments such as collectables. Both the IRS and Department of Labor (DOL) review these investments closely for self-dealing or other potential violations.

IRAs cannot invest in life insurance policies or use assets as collateral against loans, they cannot invest in foreign investments – except American Depository Receipts (ADRs) and domestically sponsored mutual funds -, nor coins/bullion that exceed one-half or one ounce in either gold or silver weight.

IRAs are prohibited from investing in any entity that could potentially qualify as disqualified persons, such as yourself, your spouse and lineal descendants. However, the Swanson case established that limited liability companies are permissible investments for an IRA as long as there is no personal benefit accruing to its owner – for instance operating a pizza parlor, gas station, cattle ranch or solar energy business is possible through this route.

Raymond Banks Administrator
Raymond Banks is a published author in the commodity world. He has written extensively about gold and silver investments, and his work has been featured in some of the most respected financial journals in the industry. Raymond\\\'s expertise in the commodities market is highly sought-after, and he regularly delivers presentations on behalf of various investment firms. He is also a regular guest on financial news programmes, where he offers his expert insights into the latest commodity trends.

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