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Can I lower my self-directed IRA fees?

November 28, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

In 2006 I invested $100,000 in a self-directed IRA with three other people. Money was invested in land which could be developed into building sites. We anticipated appreciation but in 2008 the land value dropped and we haven't been able to find a buyer. The custodian is charging $460 a year. Is that fee reasonable? Any recourse or recommendations? – Doug H.

According to Tom Fisher, founder of Boston-based Fisher Financial Strategies, your fees do seem a little high, and you stand a very good chance of finding a custodian who'll charge you less.

First, try to renegotiate your fees with your existing custodian. "If you say you're considering moving the assets to another custodian," Fisher says, "you might be able to use that as a bargaining chip." That said, don't expect your fees to drop dramatically.

If you've already tried negotiating, it might pay to shop around. Of those IRA custodians that allow real estate investments, some charge fees based on the value of the assets and others charge a flat rate, sometimes as low as $150 a year. But keep in mind that if you do transfer your assets to a lower-cost custodian, transactions fees and close-out fees could put a dent in your savings.

If your aim is to get out of the investment, you'll either have to wait for a buyer or approach the co-owners of the IRA about buying you out of your share. "Self-directed IRAs are great if the underlying investment is sound," Fisher says, "but the disadvantage is you don't have many options when things go wrong."

— Marc Mewshaw

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