The Complete Guide to Crypto IRAs

October 4, 2022 - 30 Min Read

Cryptocurrency has massive potential for growth, which makes it an attractive asset class to add to tax-sheltered retirement accounts.

Key Takeaways

  • Crypto IRAs allow investors to gain exposure to cryptocurrencies using their retirement savings.
  • Benefits of crypto IRAs include portfolio diversification and tax-sheltered gains.
  • Investors require a self-directed individual retirement account (SDIRA) to invest in cryptocurrencies, as traditional IRAs do not provide access to digital assets.

Crypto IRAs Overview

As cryptocurrencies are becoming more mainstream, many prudent investors are considering incorporating this asset into their retirement plans. The boom in crypto investing over the last few years has spurred the development of several crypto IRA providers that allow investors to gain exposure to cryptocurrencies as part of their retirement strategy. While retirement can be easy to put off, it’s important to get started contributing to a retirement plan early on to maximize benefits later in life.

The financially responsible among us are already familiar with the traditional retirement investment options, including 401k’s, Roth IRAs, and pension plans, among others. The advent and growth of cryptocurrencies, however, opens up a new horizon for investment. As more institutions and traders are starting to take cryptocurrencies seriously, these assets are becoming an important cornerstone of a diversified portfolio.

Like all investments, cryptocurrencies are not without their risks. It’s important for future retirees to take stock of their options and ensure they understand the risks and benefits of investing in crypto and the various types of crypto-supported IRA accounts that are available to them.

How To Invest Your IRA In Crypto

Recently, crypto IRA custodians have started to gain more popularity and finding the right one is key to adding crypto to your retirement plans. When considering a crypto IRA custodian, you should consider several factors before making a choice. These include fees and pricing, supported cryptos, IRA options, and account minimums. Below is an analysis of our top crypto IRA providers:

PlatformFees/pricingSupported tokensIRA optionsAccount minimumCustodied by
Bitcoin IRA3.99% - 5.99% account set-up fee, 2% trading feeBTC ETH SOL + 59 moreRoth, SEP, Employer Plan 401(k)s, Traditional IRAs$3,000Offline custody with BitGo Trust
Alto CryptoIRA1% per crypto transactionBTC ETH COMP + over 200 moreTraditional, Roth, SEPn/aCold storage through Coinbase
iTrustCapital1% per crypto transactionBTC ETH SOL + 26 moreTraditional, Roth, SEP, Simple, Inherited, Rollover$1,000Cold storage through Coinbase

Bitcoin IRA

  • Account minimum: $3,000
  • Tokens supported: Over 60 tokens, including Bitcoin, and Ethereum.
  • IRA options: Roth, SEP, Employer Plan 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs
  • Fees and pricing: Fees are available on a case-by-case basis by talking with a representative from the company. Our research revealed that account set-up fees generally range between 3.99% and 5.99%, and the platform charges a 2% trading fee.
  • Custodial type: Offline custody in secure cold storage accounts at BitGo Trust.

Why it stands out: Bitcoin IRA is a market leader in crypto IRA services that enable Americans to add cryptocurrencies to their retirement accounts safely and tax-effectively. Over 150,000 users have been able to put Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies into their retirement plans since the Los Angeles-based startup was founded in 2015.

The platform is easy to use and allows customers to roll over their existing IRAs. Signing up takes only a few minutes, and users can trade over 60 cryptocurrencies round-the-clock online or through the Bitcoin IRA mobile app.

What to know: There is no maximum investment limit, but a $3,000 minimum initial deposit is required. Additionally, customers can open IRA EarnTM interest accounts with a minimum investment of $10,000 and earn up to 6% interest on Bitcoin, Ether, and US dollars. Finally, there is not much fee information available online, instead, Bitcoin IRA directs clients to chat with a company representative to get the latest fees.

Visit BitcoinIRA.com today to get started.

Alto CryptoIRA

  • Account minimum: n/a.
  • Tokens supported:  200+ cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum
  • IRA options: Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA
  • Fees and pricing: 1% cryptocurrency transaction fee
  • Custodial type: Cold storage through Coinbase

Why it stands out: Alto’s CryptoIRA platform provides the most comprehensive selection of cryptocurrencies out of our three IRA platforms. Customers can choose from over 200 cryptocurrencies, including the juggernauts like BTC and ETH but also newer coins like $APE, $FIL, and $GTC. The platform’s fee structure is light and straightforward, with only three types of fees to be aware of: a 1% transaction fee, a $50 account closure fee and a $25 outbound wire transfer fee.

What to know: The CryptoIRA portion of the Alto platform is dedicated just to cryptocurrencies. While some other IRAs allow the custody of other types of assets alongside crypto, Alto’s CryptoIRA accounts support only cryptocurrencies, and a separate IRA will have to be opened by clients if they wish to hold other assets. CryptoIRA makes up a large part of Alto’s business, with reportedly over $1 billion dollars in crypto assets in their custody.

Visit AltoCryptoIRA.com today to get started or read our full Alto CryptoIRA review.

iTrustCapital

  • Account minimum: $1,000
  • Tokens supported: 29 cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ethereum
  • IRA options: Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, Roth IRA
  • Fees and pricing: 1% cryptocurrency transaction fee
  • Custodial type: Cold storage through Coinbase

Why it stands out: iTrustCapital is a market leader in the crypto IRA space. Their platform primarily focuses on cryptocurrencies while making a small addition for silver and gold bullion that can be bought and held in the same IRA account as your crypto. iTrustCapital was the first platform to waive monthly retirement account fees, and they continue to be a great choice for the cost-conscious.

What to know: Compared to other crypto retirement account providers, iTrustCapital has a fairly limited selection of cryptocurrencies, but they’re diligently adding support for more tokens over time. Customers also get peace of mind knowing that iTrustCapital representatives do not work on commission, as is the case with some other platforms, so they are incentivized to provide the best value to clients regardless of their bottom line.

Visit iTrustCapital.com today to get started, or read our full iTrustCapital review.

What Are Crypto IRAs, And How Do They Work?

A crypto IRA is a type of individual retirement account that includes digital assets among its holdings. Crypto IRAs are self-directed IRAs that allow investments in alternative asset classes not available in traditional IRAs. These assets include cryptocurrencies, digital assets, precious metals, and real estate.

Generally, a crypto IRA functions like a regular IRA, except that you invest your money in cryptocurrencies rather than mutual fund shares, stocks, or equities. There are also other distinctions; For instance, with a crypto IRA, investors might need to be more self-sufficient in creating and managing their accounts. This is unlike traditional IRAs, where brokerage firms usually provide a single platform for setting up an IRA and trading stocks all in one spot.

Crypto IRA Options

Per the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) ruling in 2014, digital currencies are classified as personal property for tax purposes. Consequently, digital assets (like cryptocurrencies) are now compatible with digital IRA accounts. The IRS also provides legal authorization for investments in a broad range of categories beyond just cryptocurrencies. To get started with an IRA plan, select from the available options below:

Eligibility Annual contribution capTax deductible contributions?
Traditional IRATaxable income$6,000 for < 50 years old and $7,000 for > 50 years old.Yes
SEP IRAAt least 21 years old and worked for a minimum of 3 years.$61,000 or 25% of your compensation (whichever is smaller).Yes
SIMPLE IRAAt least $5,000 in salary during two past fiscal years, or the anticipation of at least $5,000 in income in the current year.$14,000, and an extra $3,000 for employees over 50 years old.Yes
Roth IRATaxable income (no age limit).$6,000 for < 50 years old and $7,000 for > 50 years old.No

Traditional IRA

Traditional IRAs are commonly referred to as the "elder statesman of IRAs" and are offered by several large financial institutions. These IRAs offer tax-sheltered trading within accounts, tax-sheltered contributions from your yearly income, and tax deductions for contributions in most cases. Many people choose to start a traditional IRA because it allows them to buy assets while deferring taxes and saving for retirement.

Advantages of a Traditional IRA

  • Eligibility: Unlike other IRAs, the only requirement for opening a traditional IRA is to have taxable income to make contributions. Also, 2019 marked the end of age restrictions to opening an account.
  • Catch-Up Provision: Traditional IRAs don't have the most significant contribution caps available, but they provide a greater cap for investors over 50. Investors can "catch up" on contributions they may have missed earlier in life. This is great, especially if they were paying for their children, a mortgage, and other expenses.
  • Tax- Deductions: Investors can deduct a specific amount of their traditional IRA contributions from their yearly taxes.
  • Options for Loose Rollover: Traditional IRAs give a certain level of flexibility to change specifics for a retirement account. Understandably, circumstances vary during one's life, and so do financial goals and saving techniques for retirement. With a traditional IRA, investors can change their retirement plan as they deem appropriate.

Traditional IRA Rules

  • Annual Contribution Cap: For individuals under 50, the annual contribution cap for Traditional IRAs is $6,000. The limit goes up to $7,000 for people over 50.
  • Limited Tax Deductions: The tax deduction for contributions is restricted to individuals with a Traditional IRA and a 401(k) account. For investors with both plans earning less than $68,000 annually or $109,000 if married, there are no limits to deductions under the contribution limits noted above. When it comes to tax season, those who earn above certain thresholds can only deduct a specific percentage of their contribution. If their income is high enough, they may also choose to withdraw none at all.
  • Early Withdrawal Penalty: Any withdrawal made before the investor turns 59½ attracts a 10% penalty from the IRS. However, this can be avoided if the individual meets a specific hardship allowance stipulated by the IRS. It is important to remember that, with very few exceptions, this penalty applies to all retirement funds.
  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): Investors must start drawing distributions from their Traditional IRA at 72. The mandatory distribution amount also changes in size, but the IRS provides instructions on this.

SEP IRA

The Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA allows employers to contribute to their retirement accounts and those of their employees. This type of IRA suits small business owners and freelancers.

Contributions made to this IRA option qualify for tax deductions. Taxes are deferred until the employee withdraws the funds from the investments, often at retirement. At that point, distributions from the SEP IRA are subject to income tax.

Advantages of SEP IRA

  • Higher annual contribution limits: A SEP IRA's primary benefit is its higher yearly contribution limitations. The maximum contribution from an employer (or self-employed person) is the lesser of $61,000 or 25% of wages. This is especially helpful when an employer cannot match an investor's contributions.
  • No filing or reporting: A SEP IRA is simple to establish and maintain. It also has no filing or reporting requirements, which significantly benefits businesses.
  • Flexible annual contributions: A SEP IRA is a smart option if cash flow is a concern for a small business or if revenue is cyclical. This is because contributions are flexible ,and no employer is required to make annual contributions, making SEPs more straightforward for small businesses to offer to their employees.
  • 100% vested employees: Employees are always 100% vested in the entire amount of their SEP IRA, which is not usually the case with other retirement plans. In other words, the SEP IRA funds are always wholly owned by the employee.

SEP IRA Rules

  • Contribution Cap: A yearly SEP IRA contribution cannot exceed either 25% of the employee’s compensation or $61,000 (2022).
  • Eligibility: To be eligible for a SEP IRA, employees must be at least 21 and have worked for at least three years. Finally, they must have received a minimum of $650 in compensation for the business year.
  • No Catch-up: Catch-up contributions are not allowed with this IRA option.

SIMPLE IRA

A “Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees” (SIMPLE) IRA is ideal for businesses with less than 100 employees. This option is a tax-deferred employer-provided retirement plan that allows employees to accumulate retirement savings.

SIMPLE IRAs are less expensive, simpler, and require less paperwork than 401(k)s and other comparable retirement plans that employers can provide for their employees. This makes them appealing to small business owners who can use them as a compelling incentive to retain top personnel and maintain good employee morale.

A SIMPLE IRA allows both the small business owner and the employee to make contributions, unlike a SEP IRA, which only enables business owners to do so. This can be done using two available matching contribution plans:

  • The employer matches the employees’ contributions at up to 3% of their salary.
  • The employer makes a flat 2% salary contribution for employees who choose not to contribute.

Advantages of Simple IRA

  • Low start-up and operating costs: Starting and running costs are pretty cheap and more uncomplicated to manage for employers than other retirement plans. When compared to other plans, SIMPLE IRAs don't need nearly as much documentation to demonstrate compliance with nondiscrimination rules, vesting schedules, and even plan-level tax reporting.
  • Tax credit for employers: Employers are entitled to a tax credit of up to $500 per year for the first three years, equal to 50% of the qualified startup expenditures.
  • Mandatory employer contributions: The SIMPLE IRA requires employers to contribute to their employee’s IRA accounts each year. If the company opts for the 2% mandatory contribution option, employees don't have to enroll in salary deferrals to receive their payment. The matched employer contribution is instantly the property of the employees and is transferable in the event of employment termination.
  • Easy qualification: There are not many standards to meet. Employees can enroll in a SIMPLE IRA plan if they have earned at least $5,000 in salary during any two prior fiscal years and anticipate earning an additional $5,000 during the calendar year of eligibility.

Rules for SIMPLE IRA

  • Contribution limits: Compared to many other retirement vehicles, a SIMPLE IRA has a more flexible contribution cap. Employees can contribute up to $14,000 of their income to a SIMPLE IRA, with an additional $3,000 in catch-up contributions for those over 50.
  • Opening a SIMPLE IRA: To open a SIMPLE IRA, employers must complete different IRS forms depending on who chooses the financial institution to open the account. If the employer decides, then a Form 5305-SIMPLE is used. However, if the employee selects the broker, then IRS Form 5304-SIMPLE is used. Subsequently, the employee must complete a SIMPLE IRA adoption agreement to open these accounts.
  • Maintaining A SIMPLE IRA: Employers must make annual contributions to the SIMPLE IRA plan after it is established unless it is terminated. They can use either of the contribution plans mentioned above.

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA allows for tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. According to Roth IRA regulations, investors can withdraw their money without paying federal taxes, however, they must have first held the account for five years and be aged 59½ or older.

Advantages of Roth IRA

  • No RMDs: There are no minimum RMDs (required minimum distributions) for a Roth IRA.
  • Eligibility: There is no age limit to Roth accounts. As long as you have earned income that qualifies, you are free to deposit funds into your account for as many years as you like.
  • Employer-plan restrictions: It doesn’t matter if employees are covered by 401(k) or 403(b) plans through their work. They can still make the maximum annual contribution to a Roth IRA. This is as long as the employees' income stays within the IRS's permitted range.
  • Tax benefits: Roth IRA offers tax-free gains from investment growth within a retirement account. It can also be left to beneficiaries, and any withdrawals they make will be tax-free.

Rules of Roth IRA

With Roth IRAs, there are several things to consider. First, they differ from traditional IRAs because donations are not tax deductible. Additionally, unlike Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs have income eligibility limits stipulated by the IRS.

Self-directed IRAs and Crypto

Some investors believe the best way to invest in digital assets is through their retirement accounts. The potential for significant returns combined with considerable tax benefits makes this option appealing. However, traditional IRAs do not provide access to digital assets. Instead, investors require a self-directed retirement account to invest in cryptocurrencies.

As the name implies, a self-directed IRA (SDIRA) is an individual retirement account entirely managed by the account holder. Compared to conventional IRAs, investors with an SDIRA have a far more extensive range of assets to which they can allocate funds.

The main distinction between the SDIRA and conventional IRA is the choice of assets and investment options available within the account. Traditional IRAs restrict what assets are available for investors to invest in. However, an SDIRA offers access to mutual funds, ETFs, equities, and bonds in addition to a wider variety of alternative assets. The assets include gold, silver, commodities, real estate, private placement securities, and digital currencies.

It is important to note that the IRS mandates that all SDIRA accounts be protected and managed by a custodian or a financial organization. This is to protect investors by ensuring the safety of their contributions. However, unlike a financial advisor or wealth manager, a custodian only manages all the paperwork and administrative duties associated with the retirement account.

Traditional SDIRA Vs. Roth SDIRA

The two most popular options for crypto SDIRAs are traditional and Roth SDIRAs. Several important distinctions exist between these two choices:

  • Tax implications: A traditional SDIRA allows for pre-tax contributions deducted from income before taxes are calculated. Profits from this pre-tax investment are consequently taxed at the withdrawal time. Contributions to Roth SDIRAs, meanwhile, are made with after-tax money. The advantage of a Roth is that any earnings grow tax-free within the account, meaning withdrawals made at retirement are likewise tax-free.
  • Contribution limit: No matter your salary, contributions to traditional SDIRAs remain the same or are capped. However, the contribution limit schedule for Roth SDIRAs is graded based on income for the specific tax year. For instance, your contribution maximum would be lowered if you filed your taxes in 2021 as a single individual earning more than $125,000. You won't be allowed to contribute to your Roth SDIRA if your income exceeds $140,000. This is a crucial factor to consider, particularly for high-income employees.
  • Early withdrawals: Investors can withdraw their contributions from a Roth SDIRA without being penalized because the money is put in after taxes. This is advantageous for folks who might require access to this money before retirement.
  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs): RMDs begin in a traditional SDIRA at age 72. At this age, investors must begin to withdraw their funds from their traditional SDIRA account. A Roth SDIRA, on the other hand, does not have RMDs, meaning investors can keep growing their account balance for as long as they like.

Risks Attached To Crypto SDIRAs

  • Fees: Crypto SDIRAs usually have high costs. A fee may be charged to open, close, or even execute a trade in addition to management costs. Custodians may use asset-based or flat-fee models to determine the management charge structure. With the former, the fees charged depend on the value of assets in the account at the given time. For the latter, a single price is charged irrespective of asset value.
  • Volatility: Cryptocurrencies are usually more volatile than traditional IRA holdings containing stocks and bonds. Due to this volatility, the value of a crypto SDIRA portfolio may change daily. It is therefore important to diversify assets within the SDIRA to reduce overall volatility. For short-term investors, volatility may be a problem, but long-term holders should not feel the bumps and valleys as much.
  • Fraud: Investors must be wary of fraud which can be rampant among the digital assets that make up crypto SDIRAs. According to the SEC, fraudsters may utilize the appeal of cryptocurrencies to mislead self-directed IRA participants with the promise of huge returns. However, crypto SDIRA providers thoroughly investigate their digital currency investment options before offering them.

Token Options For Crypto IRAs

Investors can often feel overwhelmed when deciding on a digital asset to add to their IRA plan. With thousands of available options, making the right choice is critical for meeting the desired goals and long-term investment strategies. Token options available for crypto IRAs include:

  • Bitcoin (BTC): Bitcoin is the premier token of the crypto industry. The cryptocurrency has grown since its inception to become the most valuable digital asset by market capitalization. It is ranked amongst the most valuable assets globally, with many now considering it a hedge against inflation.
  • Ethereum (ETH): ETH is considered Bitcoin’s primary challenger and the second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization. Ethereum is designed on a unique blockchain network that allows developers to build applications on top of it. Despite also being a blockchain like Bitcoin, its inner mechanics differ significantly. This gives its native token (Ether) an incredible long-term potential as more people adopt it.
  • Other digital assets available for crypto IRAs include Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic, Chainlink, Litecoin, Zcash, Stellar Lumens, Aave, Basic Attention Token, The Graph, Livepeer, Maker, Yearn.finance, Decentraland, Dai, Uniswap.

Tax Advantages Of A Crypto IRA

Virtual currencies are classified as property for federal tax reasons, much like stocks or real estate, according to IRS Notice 2014-21. Since virtual currencies are classified as property, many IRA investors find crypto IRAs appealing due to their favorable tax climate. Generally, IRAs are not subject to taxes on transactions involving income or gains from purchasing and selling capital assets like stocks, mutual funds, real estate, etc. This is regardless of whether the gain was short-term or long-term.

Instead, any taxes would be deferred until the IRA holder takes a distribution. Thus, using retirement funds to buy cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin could enable the investor to postpone or even altogether avoid any tax owed on the investment, like in the case of Roth IRAs.

The different IRA types have various tax advantages, which are explained below.

Traditional IRA

Contributions to a Traditional Crypto IRA are frequently tax deductible. This means that annual payments are deductible from taxable income. Investors are exempt from paying income taxes on their earnings until they take a distribution. Premature withdrawals or withdrawals made before retirement age may incur fees and taxes on the value of the withdrawn funds. Annual contribution caps are available depending on your filing status and annual income.

SIMPLE IRA

Employees can contribute a percentage of their wages to SIMPLE IRAs, just like other kinds of IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans. Until retirement payouts are taken, the money grows tax-deferred, allowing savings to compound faster.

Employers can receive a tax credit equal to 50% of initial costs for SIMPLE IRA set up, up to a maximum of $500 per year for three years. They also benefit from tax breaks when they contribute to employee retirement plans.

SEP IRA

A SEP IRA will lower taxes for the company but not the employee. SEP IRA contributions are tax-deductible and have a cap of 25% of an employee's total compensation or $61,000 in 2022. For the self-employed making SEP contributions, the self-employment tax will decrease. The increased business expenses will result in a lower net profit and a reduced self-employment tax and income tax.

Roth IRA

All contributions to a Roth IRA have already been taxed, allowing you to withdraw the entire balance tax-free at retirement age.

How to set up a crypto IRA

To set up a crypto IRA using Alto’s CryptoIRA offering, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Navigate to the Alto CryptoIRA website and click “Sign Up” in the top right corner.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 2: Fill out your email and password information to begin your account creation.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 3: After verifying your email address, you will be asked to begin identity verification. Click the purple button to start the process.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 4: Fill out your identity details by following the prompts.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 5: Once your identity has been verified, you will be asked to select your Alto account. Choose the Alto CryptoIRA option on the left side.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 6: Fill out your account information.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 7: Verify that your information is correct, sign the document and click the “Create my Crypto IRA” button to create your Alto Crypto IRA.

Alto CryptoIRA

How to roll an IRA account into a crypto IRA

Moving funds from a previous retirement account into another IRA is referred to as a “rollover”. Below we cover step-by-step instructions on how to complete an IRA rollover using Alto’s CryptoIRA:

Step 1: Begin by selecting “Transfer Funds” in your Alto CryptoIRA dashboard.

Step 2: In the “Start the Transfer” window, select “Into Alto” from the dropdown menu.

Step 3: From the “Account Type” dropdown, select the type of IRA you’d like to transfer or select “Make a cash contribution from a bank account” if you want to fund your account that way. Click “Continue” when finished.

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 4: Fill out your Custodian information, the transfer amount, and the delivery method. Then click “Continue.”

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 5: After completing your Transfer of Assets form, you’ll also be asked to upload a current account statement to go with your paperwork. Complete this step and click “Continue.”

Alto CryptoIRA

Step 6 (may not be mandatory): For some custodians, the above steps are all that are required to request your IRA rollover. For many, though, you will need to also provide a wet signature along with your paperwork:

  • Begin by printing the signature page of your Transfer of Assets form.
  • Using black ink, sign your name next to your e-signature in the “Owner’s Ink Signature” box. Please note that filling out this exact box is important as signatures placed in any other field may lead to your form being rejected.
Alto CryptoIRA
  • Scan the signed document and upload it to the Alto platform as a “Wet Signed Version.” Click “Submit” to complete the process.

Final Thoughts On Crypto IRAs

Putting some retirement money into alternative investments like cryptocurrencies could significantly increase returns while preventing losses in traditional investments. However, choosing digital assets that align with an overall investment goal is necessary due to varying risk tolerances. Investors looking to invest in a crypto IRA should do their due diligence on the crypto IRA provider and the digital assets to invest in. In general, adding digital assets to a retirement saving account can help diversify and potentially grow the investments over time.

  • What is a crypto IRA used for?

  • What are the benefits of a crypto IRA?

  • Are crypto IRAs worth it?