Gold IRA vs Physical Gold: Key Differences & Benefits

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Last Updated: October 5, 2023

In uncertain economic times, savvy investors often turn to gold, an asset that has proven its worth over centuries. From ancient civilizations to modern financial markets, gold has been seen as a safe haven and a store of value.

Today, investing in gold can be accomplished in a couple of primary ways: through a Gold Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or by buying physical gold. However, these two methods have distinct differences, advantages, and drawbacks.

This article aims to elucidate these differences and help you make an informed decision based on your investment needs and goals.

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Key Differences Between Owning a Gold IRA vs Physical Gold

a man stands staring a huge stack of gold bars

The key differences between owning a Gold IRA and physical gold can be broken down into the following points:

  • Ownership and Control: In a Gold IRA, you indirectly own the gold through your IRA, while in physical gold, you have direct ownership and control.
  • Storage: With a Gold IRA, the storage is taken care of by a custodian at a secure facility, while with physical gold, you are responsible for its safekeeping.
  • Purchase and Sales: Purchasing and selling gold within an IRA must follow IRS regulations and be carried out by your IRA custodian. In contrast, you have the freedom to buy and sell physical gold at your discretion.
  • Tax Considerations: Gold IRA follows the tax advantages of traditional IRAs, whereas owning physical gold doesn’t offer these tax benefits.
  • Liquidity: Gold IRAs are subject to age-related withdrawal rules and potential penalties. Physical gold, if stored personally, offers immediate access, though selling may take time and potentially impact the value received.

Ownership and Control

With a Gold IRA, the gold is owned by your IRA, which means it’s essentially owned by you but indirectly. A custodian manages the gold on your behalf.

You can’t physically handle or access your gold in a Gold IRA. On the other hand, physical gold is yours to directly own, control, and handle as you please.


In terms of storage, a Gold IRA is more secure and less burdensome for the owner. The gold is held in a secure, insured depository that adheres to strict regulations. This provides you with the peace of mind that your investment is safe. Conversely, if you own physical gold, the responsibility of safekeeping lies with you. You would need to consider investing in a home safe or a safety deposit box at a bank, or even utilizing specialized gold storage facilities. This adds an extra layer of complexity and potential risk to your investment.

Purchase and Sales

When it comes to the purchase and sales process, a Gold IRA offers less flexibility but ensures your transactions are IRS-compliant, managed by your IRA custodian. This reduces the risk of incurring any penalties due to non-compliance with IRS rules. On the other hand, you have the freedom to buy and sell physical gold on your own terms. However, you also bear the responsibility of ensuring your transactions are legitimate, and you’re getting a fair deal.

Tax Considerations

One of the most significant advantages of a Gold IRA is its tax benefits. You can invest in gold with pre-tax dollars, and taxes are deferred until you begin to take distributions. If you opt for a Roth IRA, you pay taxes upfront, but all future growth and withdrawals are tax-free. Conversely, with physical gold, there are no tax benefits. You purchase gold with after-tax dollars, and any capital gains from selling the gold would be subject to taxes.


Lastly, the liquidity of a Gold IRA versus physical gold varies significantly. Gold IRAs are subject to specific IRS rules regarding withdrawals. There may be penalties for withdrawing before the age of 59½, and required minimum distributions start at age 72. On the flip side, physical gold offers more immediate access. However, selling physical gold may require time and effort and can be influenced by the local market, which can potentially impact the value you receive.

How a Gold IRA Works

a chart showing a gold iRA's growth over several years

A Gold Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a self-directed retirement account that allows the owner to invest in physical gold while also reaping the benefits of an IRA. This type of investment can provide a hedge against economic volatility and diversify an investment portfolio. Here, we’ll delve into the details of how a Gold IRA works.

Establishing the Gold IRA

The first step to establishing a Gold IRA is opening a self-directed IRA through a reputable custodian. A self-directed IRA is an account that gives you complete control over your investment choices. Unlike regular IRAs where the options may be limited to stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, a self-directed IRA allows alternative investment options like real estate, private equity, and of course, precious metals like gold.

RELATED READING: Pros and Cons of a Gold IRA 

Traditional brokerages don’t offer self-directed IRAs, so you will need to choose a company that specializes in them. It’s crucial to ensure that the company you choose is IRS-compliant and has an excellent reputation for customer service and security.

Funding the Gold IRA

After setting up the self-directed IRA, the next step is funding it. This can be done in several ways.

  1. Direct Transfer: This is the most common method. You can directly move funds from an existing IRA to your new self-directed IRA. This can be done as many times as you want, without any tax implications or penalties.
  2. Rollover: You can roll over funds from a 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement account into a Gold IRA. A rollover can be done without incurring taxes or penalties, but IRS rules limit you to one rollover per year across all your IRAs.
  3. Contribution: You can also make a direct contribution to your Gold IRA, up to the yearly limit set by the IRS.

Purchasing Gold

Once your Gold IRA is funded, you can purchase approved gold. The IRS has strict rules about the type of gold that can be included in a Gold IRA. The gold must be 99.5% pure or better and must be in the form of approved bullion bars or coins. Some approved forms include American Gold Eagle coins, Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coins, Austrian Philharmonic coins, and bullion bars produced by a NYMEX or COMEX-approved refiner.

Purchasing gold for your Gold IRA involves instructing your custodian to buy gold on your behalf. You will specify the type and quantity of gold you want, and the custodian will execute the transaction using the funds in your IRA. The price you pay will be based on the current market rate for gold.

Storage and Management

Unlike a traditional IRA, where your investments are represented as paper assets, a Gold IRA involves physical gold. Therefore, this gold must be stored and managed appropriately.

The IRS mandates that the gold in a Gold IRA be stored in a secure and approved facility. These depositories have advanced security measures and insurance to protect the assets within. You, as the owner of the Gold IRA, are not allowed to take possession of the gold while it remains in the IRA. The custodian of your Gold IRA manages all these storage details.

In conclusion, a Gold IRA combines the tax advantages of an IRA with the stability of gold. It allows investors to diversify their portfolio, hedging against the uncertainties of the stock market. However, it’s essential to remember that like all investments, a Gold IRA also carries risk, and it’s crucial to conduct thorough research and possibly seek advice from a financial advisor before proceeding.

Buying Physical Gold

a large stack of gold bars on top of an ipad

Physical gold is a tangible asset that has been used as a store of value for thousands of years. It offers investors the opportunity to directly own a precious metal that holds intrinsic value. Buying physical gold, however, involves several considerations, from the type of gold to buy to how and where to store it.

How and Where to Buy Physical Gold

Physical gold can be purchased in several ways:

  1. Local Coin Shops: Coin shops often sell physical gold in the form of coins and bullion. It’s advisable to research the reputation of the shop and compare prices before making a purchase.
  2. Online Dealers: There are numerous online platforms that deal in physical gold. These dealers offer convenience as you can make a purchase from the comfort of your home. However, it’s essential to ensure that the dealer is reputable. Look for customer reviews and ratings and make sure that the dealer is a member of industry organizations like the American Numismatic Association.
  3. Banks: Some banks sell gold coins and bars to their customers. However, not all banks offer this service, so you’ll need to check with your local bank.
  4. Brokerages and Precious Metal Firms: Some brokerages and firms specializing in precious metals also sell physical gold. They may also offer storage services.

Types of Physical Gold You Can Buy

When it comes to buying physical gold, there are several options to choose from:

  1. Gold Bullion Coins: These are coins made from gold and minted by governments around the world. Examples include the American Gold Eagle, Canadian Gold Maple Leaf, and South African Krugerrand. Bullion coins are typically priced based on their weight, but their design and rarity can also impact their value.
  2. Gold Bullion Bars: Gold bars or ingots are a straightforward way of investing in gold. They are typically less expensive per ounce than coins because they lack numismatic value. Gold bars can range in size from one gram to 400 ounces.
  3. Numismatic Coins: These are rare and old coins that hold value beyond their gold content due to their rarity, condition, and historical significance. These coins are more suited for coin collectors rather than typical investors, as their value is more subjective and not purely tied to the gold price.
  4. Gold Jewelry: Gold jewelry can also be considered an investment. However, the purity of gold in jewelry often varies, and there are often high markups because of craftsmanship, design, and retailer profits.

Should Store at Home or Consider Other Options

Once you have purchased physical gold, you will need to decide how to store it. Storing it at home in a safe may seem like a simple solution, but it comes with risks including theft, damage, or loss.

Renting a safety deposit box at a bank is another option. While this provides enhanced security, it also comes with yearly costs, and the contents are typically not insured by the bank.


Private depositories offer a third option. These are facilities specifically designed for storing precious metals. They have robust security measures in place, and your investment is usually insured.

In conclusion, buying physical gold allows you to hold a tangible asset that has stood the test of time as a store of value. However, it also comes with its own set of considerations, including ensuring the authenticity of your purchase, deciding on the type of gold to buy, and determining how to securely store your investment. Consulting with a financial advisor or a trusted gold dealer can be helpful in navigating these decisions.

Deciding if a Gold IRA or Owning Physical Gold is Best for You

The choice between a Gold IRA and owning physical gold depends on several factors, such as your investment goals, time horizon, risk tolerance, and comfort with managing physical assets. Both options offer ways to diversify your portfolio with a tangible asset that historically holds its value well. However, they also come with unique considerations.

Investment Goals

If your goal is to grow wealth over time for retirement and gain the benefits of an IRA, such as tax deductions or tax-free growth, a Gold IRA may be a more suitable option. Gold IRAs, like other IRAs, offer tax advantages that can enhance long-term wealth accumulation.

On the other hand, if your primary goal is to have a tangible asset that you can physically hold and access at any time, buying physical gold may be the right choice.

Time Horizon

If you have a longer time horizon until retirement, a Gold IRA might be more attractive. The tax benefits will compound over time, and the lack of liquidity isn’t a significant issue if you don’t plan to access your funds for several years.

If you anticipate needing to access your investment before the age of 59½, physical gold may be preferable since Gold IRAs come with penalties for early withdrawal.

Risk Tolerance

Gold IRAs and physical gold both offer a hedge against inflation and economic uncertainty, but they carry different risks.

With a Gold IRA, there’s the risk of choosing a disreputable custodian or a depository that doesn’t adequately secure your gold. However, these risks can be mitigated through careful research and selection of custodian and storage facilities.

Physical gold ownership comes with the risk of theft or loss if stored at home. If you choose a bank or private depository for storage, you will incur ongoing storage costs.

Comfort with Managing Physical Assets

With a Gold IRA, the custodian handles the purchase and storage of the gold, which can be advantageous if you’re uncomfortable with managing physical assets.

In contrast, buying physical gold requires more hands-on management. You need to verify the authenticity of the gold, safely store it, and find a buyer when you’re ready to sell.

Retirement Considerations

If you’re considering investing in gold for retirement, a Gold IRA could provide more benefits. These include the ability to roll over funds from other retirement accounts and the potential for tax-deductible contributions.

Physical gold, however, does not have these retirement-specific benefits. It does, however, provide a tangible asset that can be passed down to future generations.

In conclusion, whether a Gold IRA or physical gold is best for you depends on your unique circumstances and goals. It may be beneficial to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional before making a decision. Remember, it’s not necessarily an either/or situation. Some investors may find it beneficial to include both a Gold IRA and physical gold in their investment portfolios for diversified exposure to this precious metal.

Pros and Cons of a Gold IRA


  1. Tax Advantages: Just like a traditional IRA, a Gold IRA allows for tax-deferred growth. This means you won’t pay taxes on your gains until you start making withdrawals.
  2. Asset Protection: Your gold is securely stored in a depository and is insured against theft or damage.


  1. Limited Access: You can’t physically access your gold while it’s in your IRA. Also, making early withdrawals can result in penalties.
  2. Fees: There can be fees associated with storage and management of your Gold IRA.

Pros and Cons of Buying Physical Gold


  1. Direct Ownership: You can touch, feel, and see your investment.
  2. No Paperwork: Buying physical gold does not require any complex paperwork like setting up an IRA.


  1. Storage and Security Concerns: You are responsible for securely storing your gold.
  2. Lack of Liquidity: Selling physical gold can be more challenging and time-consuming than selling gold through an IRA.

Why We Prefer a Gold IRA

While both options have their merits, we prefer a Gold IRA due to its tax advantages, asset protection, and the fact it combines the stability of gold with the benefits of a retirement account. Furthermore, with a Gold IRA, there’s no need to worry about secure storage or selling your gold when you’re ready – your custodian will handle these details.

Final Thoughts

Gold is an attractive investment, offering a hedge against inflation and a safe haven in turbulent times. Whether you choose a Gold IRA or physical gold depends on your individual needs and circumstances. Always consider your long-term financial goals, risk tolerance, and retirement plans before making a decision. Lastly, consulting with a financial advisor or a professional specializing in precious metals investment can be invaluable in guiding you towards the best decision for your unique situation.