July 17

Equity Trust Review: Best Custodian for Your Gold IRA?

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Equity Trust ranks among one of, if not the top self-directed IRA custodians for a reason. As we get into this Equity Trust review, you'll understand why their name is so often mentioned by some pretty big names in finance.

While you might only be familiar with Equity Trust as a precious metals IRA custodian, their offering is actually considerably broader. So much so, that they leave some smaller SDIRA custodians in the dust. Before we get into why Equity Trust Company stands out, let's briefly go over the company profile. 

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What is Equity Trust?

Contrary to what can be called popular belief, Equity Trust wasn't always a custodian of retirement accounts, having initially been a more general financial services company.

Richard Desich founded Equity Trust in 1974, and it was then officially a brokerage. If we're getting really specific, it wasn't yet named Equity Trust. However, since Desich still acts as the Chair of Equity Trust, we can go ahead and assume it is.

It still wasn't named that in 1983, when Desich got Equity Trust regulated with the IRS for non-bank management of retirement accounts. The next year, they completed their first SDIRA transaction, but it wasn't until 2003 that the firm was rebranded into Equity Trust Company.

The following decades were marked by some pretty quick expansion, which included a lot of acquisitions of other custodians and similar businesses. This contributes to Equity Trust's size: it's almost like a parent company of sorts in the IRA management sector.

What Services Does Equity Trust Offer?

We said that Equity Trust differs from its competitors by branching off into other things and acting more like a brokerage firm, which is what it was founded for. It can be seen as a pretty convenient way to gain access to various assets, especially alternative ones, while minimizing the risk involved. For example, even though you might be reading this due to an interest in a precious metals IRA, Equity Trust advertises itself as the top real estate custodian.

While it might seem like Equity Trust allows for investment outside of an IRA, this doesn't appear to be the case. Everything they have on palette has to be invested in through one of the multiple retirement vehicles they provide. The items are then bought and traded on a separate platform called ETC Brokerage Services. With it, the company allows investment into things like precious metals, real estate, crypto and much more. But first, the retirement part. 

Self-Directed IRAs

Self-directed IRAs are the cornerstone of Equity Trust's business. Whatever account type you chose, this is how you'll be gaining exposure to the assets, which comes with its good and bad sides. Perhaps the most known offering is a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA. These individual retirement accounts allow for a variety of investments that might normally be absent in what is a standard 60/40 retirement plan.

There are also some other account types that can be called a little more exotic, which are the Coverdell Education Savings Account and the Health Savings Account. CESA, alternatively called an Education IRA, is like a non-college college fund. HSA is a financial future account that you put money in with hopes of saving on health insurance down the line.

For small business owners, Equity Trust offers a Traditional or Roth 401(k) plan as well as a SEP IRA or SIMPLE IRA. This probably isn't too relevant to you, as the precious metals IRA provider you decide to work with will open an individual Traditional or Roth IRA in your name.

Even though you might have gotten the idea that the precious metals broker will be the manager of the account, it's actually done entirely by a self-directed IRA custodian like Equity Trust. The services of any precious metals IRA company are generally split between educating customers on precious metals investing and selling physical precious metals.

Stocks, ETFs and Lending

As we get to Equity Trust's investment breadth, we understand why the company is so popular. Through them, one can invest in a variety of companies by using the Equity Trust account, similarly to doing so on a stock exchange. Their ETC Brokerage Services allows for you to trade traditional investments as you would through any other stockbroker or online trading platform.

There's a variety of ETFs on offer. For the gold investor, these can include things like paper gold and silver, mutual funds that track various mining companies or commodities and so on.

You also have the option to become a bit of a venture capitalist, issuing loans for tax-advantaged returns. Crazy to think we're barely halfways through what a custodial firm offers its clients.

Related: How to Diversify Your 401(k) with Physical Gold and Silver

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Precious Metals, Real Estate, Crypto and More...

Equity Trust has an entire section on precious metals that corresponds with what you might have seen on a gold broker's page. They outline which metals are available, specifying that it's bullion you'll be placing in the investment account, not paper gold.

Real estate, as mentioned, is another top offering from this company and is viewed as an alternative investment both for retirement and outside it. Mostly, Equity Trust aims to allow for easy access to real estate to retirees using their pension funds.

Crypto is where we start branching off into the particularly exotic selection of investments, with a variety of cryptocurrencies being available for placement in a self-directed IRA. Crypto IRAs are obviously a bit of a novelty, but they represent one of the safest ways to gain exposure to the digital asset market. And, with tales of various exchange collapses and hacks, the cold storage method that any reputable digital IRA provider will use becomes a necessity of sorts.

Besides forex, Equity Trust tells us that there's a number of alternative assets they give access to, even saying that, if we can imagine it, it can probably go into an IRA. That might be a bit of a stretch, but this list of alternative alternative investments includes:

  • Commodities like oil and gas
  • Farm investment
  • Mineral deposits
  • Buying and lending equipment
  • Movie industry

And a few others. Overall, definitely a very extensive list. But what's the feedback like?

Equity Trust Company Review Profile and Complaints

Equity Trust logo

When we review precious metals IRAs companies, it feels like there has to be a minimum of 10 reviews of praise for every one negative review. A ratio of 100-to-1 is more preferable. 

Indeed, that's what we've gotten used to when dealing with most precious metals brokers that have overwhelmingly positive feedback. And if they use a custodial firm, it stands to reason that, if anything, its feedback should be even better… right?

Well, Equity Trust's profile on consumer watchdogs is definitely interesting insofar as what's available. On the Better Business Bureau (BBB), they have a 4.06 out of 5 star rating based on 117 reviews and an A rating by the site, the second highest mark, with no accreditation. Then we get to the complaints: 77 complaints closed in the last 3 years and 42 over the past year.

Large company or not, that's a pretty high number that forces us to dig a little deeper. Why does a top custodian have this many complaints? There's certainly a bit of everything. One person claims they've attempted to reach out to Equity Trust for a year with no success over an inherited account held by the company. Is that really possible? The reply doesn't seem to deny it.

As we get to reading many of the complaints like these, it almost seems as if the easiest way to get the company's attention is to file a complaint on the BBB website, which shouldn't be the case. They definitely advertise themselves as accessible. 

Their quick response to every complaint almost validates this, in a sense. Maybe they're a little overloaded, given the company's size? It's far from uncommon for large companies such as these to have a lot of complaints, despite their general good reputation.

On Trustpilot, they have a 3.9 out of 5 star rating with 77% 5-star reviews and 9% 1-star ones. The negative reviews paint a picture of customer handling that definitely wouldn't be expected from financial professionals approaching 50 years in the business. Delays and even oversights are mentioned.

On the other hand, the positive reviews almost say the opposite. But as of right now, between these two sites, it's like there's one negative review for every good one. It's definitely worth giving a look and deciding what you make of the feedback.

Related: How to Buy Physical Gold and Silver with Your IRA (Tax-Free)

Equity Trust Fees

Sort of adding on to the feedback part, there's no shortage of complaints about Equity Trust having high transaction fees. Even the positive reviews mention it. So, what does the fee structure look like? In some general terms:

  • Annual maintenance fee of $225 for accounts with an account value of up to $14,999: this doesn't seem to apply to all accounts, however
  • Going up to an account value of $49,999, your annual fees will "generally" not be higher than $1,075
  • $50 fee to set up an account, which becomes $75 if you're doing it through print
  • $100 fee any time you're liquidating a single asset in your self-directed IRA
  • $250 fee to close an account

There are a few things to note here. None of this includes commissions from the brokers you acquire the assets from. These are separate fees that should be assessed carefully, whether you're talking premiums on precious metal products or any other asset you might include in the IRA.

Another point is that a lot of precious metals brokers offer to waive maintenance fees for one or more years, with some even offering a lifetime waiving. With the kind of fee structure outlined above, the longer your custodial and storage fees remain waived, the better.

Equity Trust Review - Verdict

Reviewing this company was a bigger rollercoaster than expected. They're probably one of the biggest and most reputable names in the retirement account custody business. Companies involved in the management of retirement assets generally depend on close to spotless feedback, yet Equity Trust has plenty of negative reviews. The size of the company might justify some of it, but how much is left for you to decide.

Is Equity Trust the right custodial company for you? It's important to mention that many of the top gold IRA companies we've reviewed on our site almost exclusively recommend Equity Trust to their customers. For example:

It speaks volumes that Equity Trust is the go-to self-directed custodian for so many of the top gold IRA dealers.

Most precious metals brokers allow you to choose a custodian if the one they prefer isn't ideal for you. This actually places quite a few other companies on the table and, given what has been outlined, you might want to do a little digging. Careful, though: given Equity Trust's history, the company you choose might just end up being acquired later down the line.

In seriousness, Equity Trust seems to do what it does well enough. While account termination fees are high, they aren't really massive. That means that even if you've chosen Equity Trust, you can always switch to another IRA custodian later down the line if you find their IRA custodial services unsatisfactory.

To learn more about self-directed IRAs and how to buy physical gold and silver (tax-free), request your free precious metals IRA guide here.

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About the author 

Ilir Salihi

Ilir Salihi is the founder and senior editor at GoldIRASecrets.com. He oversees all content for GoldIRASecrets and its partner sites. His articles and insights have been featured on Barchart, Benzinga, and Investing.com, among other prominent media channels.

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