What Are Alternative Investments? Here’s a List of 120+ for You & Your SDIRA

Investing off the stock market isn’t new. You already know real estate and private equity are alternatives to Wall Street’s offerings. But exactly what are alternative investments besides those popular choices? There are thousands of opportunities that fall into this asset class—things you’ve probably never heard of, or thought were permissible in self-directed IRAs (SDIRAs). And these assets can generate active and passive income to help you build wealth in your personal and/or retirement portfolio without worrying about stock market volatility.

What Are Alternative Investments to the Stock Market?

Alternative assets exceed the boundaries of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Their financial performance does not correlate with the erratic state of the stock market. And many assets in the alternative investment market outperform the returns of traditional investments.

Alternative investments come in many forms both tangible and intangible.

You can extend a personal loan to someone looking to borrow funds or offer a private mortgage to someone who is buying a home and earn income on the interest of those loan payments. You can invest in real estate like rentals and rehabs or multifamily and commercial property. Gold and other precious metals are favorites of more than a few investors. And cryptocurrency like Bitcoin emerged a little over a decade ago, taking the alternative asset market by storm.

We want to help you understand how vast this asset class is and to answer your questions about exactly what alternative investments are, and how you can use them to build personal and retirement income. Below is a list we’ve compiled of Image of a man in a black suit holding a light bulb in his hand that has icons of assets that represent answers to the question, "What are alternative investments?"over 120 investment ideas to pique your interest and spark your imagination. This list is in no way comprehensive, but it illustrates the nearly endless alternative investment strategies you can capitalize on.

All the assets listed below are allowed in self-directed IRAs and other self-directed accounts. But you can also invest with your personal funds. You can even partner your IRA funds with your personal funds to maximize your purchasing power. Self-direction provides not only investment alternatives to the stock market, but also allows leveraging different strategies that may not be possible with conventional retirement plans. Read on to learn more…

120+ Alternative Investments for a Self-Directed IRA

We’ve divided investments into categories, but you’ll notice that some assets overlap in different categories.

Again, alternative investment include a wide pool of assets, and this list is simply a guide to help you understand and navigate the possibilities within your area/s of knowledge and expertise.

Residential and Commercial Real Estate

    • Single family homes
    • Long-term residential rentals
    • Short-term residential rentals
    • Vacation rentals (Airbnbs, VRBOs)
    • Rehab projects
    • Multifamily property (duplexes, condos, townhomes)
    • Commercial property (business, retail space, restaurants)
    • Mobile homes
    • Mobile home parks
    • Land (unimproved land, improved and raw land)
    • Tax liens and deeds
    • Wholesale/assignments
    • Foreclosures
    • Lease options on real estate
    • Foreign real estate
    • Storage units and warehouses
    • Parking spaces, lots & garages
    • Marinas
    • Industrial buildings
    • Commercial leases (retail and office space)
    • Real estate options


    • Crop land
    • Farmland
    • Ranch land
    • Timberland
    • Livestock (cow, pigs)
    • Race and show horses
    • Specialty breeding businesses (horses, cats, dogs, alpacas, etc.)
    • Tree and plant nurseries
    • Fisheries
    • Chicken and dairy farms
    • Water rights
    • Fishing and hunting rights
    • Beekeeping


    • Solar power
    • Wind power
    • Geothermal energy
    • Hydropower
    • Hydroelectric
    • Biofuels
    • Petroleum
    • Natural gas
    • Gas and diesel fuel
    • Nuclear energy
    • Coal
    • Oil and gas
    • Mineral rights

Monetary assets

    • Precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, palladium)
    • Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Litecoin)
    • Futures commodities and options
    • Forex and forex options
    • Exchange traded funds (ETFs)


    • Crypto blockchain
    • Bitcoin mining
    • Artificial intelligence
    • Cell tower leases
    • Algorithms
    • Technology development (cell phones, computers, etc.)

Private entities

    • Startups/angel and seed investments
    • Venture capital
    • Private equity
    • Private stock
    • Limited Partnerships (LPs)
    • Limited Liability Corps (LLCs)
    • Corporate debt
    • Hedge funds

Pooled funds

Private lending

    • Private mortgages
    • Non-performing notes
    • Hard money loans
    • Convertible notes
    • Micro loans
    • Loans to individuals
    • Loans to investors
    • Small business loans
    • Equipment financing
    • Unsecured notes
    • Secured notes
    • Performing notes
    • Debt-financed notes
    • Trust deeds
    • Car title loans


    • Online businesses (consulting, freelancing, e-commerce)
    • Car washes
    • Assisted living facilities
    • Medical offices
    • Restaurants and bars
    • Coffee and sandwich shops
    • Food trucks
    • Washer/dryer leasing
    • Coin operated pool tables
    • Vending machines
    • Gyms
    • (And any other business you can imagine…)

Other alternative investments

    • Structured settlements
    • Commercial paper
    • Rights or warrants
    • Heavy equipment leasing
    • Factoring investments
    • Sports teams and other franchises
    • Movie rights/productions
    • Film tax credits
    • Intellectual property
    • Airspace rights
    • Aircraft leasing
    • Aircraft hangars
    • Automobile leasing
    • Billboards and other advertising space
    • Boat share LLCs
    • Burial plots and crypts
    • Beach chair rentals
    • Jet ski and sailboat rentals
    • Debt
    • Domain names
    • Easements (for billboards, cell towers)
    • Patents
    • Publishing rights
    • Delivery routes
    • Toll roads

Self-Directed IRAs Allow Traditional Investments, Too

Traditional investments include:

    • Stocks
    • Bonds
    • Mutual funds
    • Certificates of deposit (CDs)
    • Exchange traded funds (ETFs)

What Investments Are Not Allowed in Self-Directed IRAs?

Thankfully, this list is short. The alternative investment market is so broad, it was easier for the IRS to produce a list of assets that are not allowed in self-directed retirement plans.

Per prohibited investments include life insurance (IRC Section 408(a)(3)) and collectibles (IRC Section 408(m)).

The IRS defines collectibles as:

    • Works of art
    • Rugs or antiques
    • Metals or gems
    • Alcoholic beverages
    • Stamps
    • Coins*

*Note: The IRS does allow certain coins as well as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium bullion that meet specific grades and fineness qualities. If you choose to invest in coins and/or bullion, work with someone familiar with IRS rules for precious metals to avoid penalties and possible disqualification of the tax-protected status of your retirement plan.

Have Questions about Alternative Investments in a SDIRA?

Advanta IRA is a self-directed IRA services provider that serves clients across the nation. Our team is happy to answer your questions about alternative investments and how you can incorporate this asset class into your retirement and savings plans. Contact Advanta IRA today to learn more.

Additional resources on alternative investments and SDIRAs:

What Is a Self-Directed IRA?

Advanta IRA Case Studies and Free eBooks

The Smart Investment Strategy of Real Estate in a Self-Directed IRA

How a Private Mortgage Works in a Self-Directed IRA or Solo 401(k)


This article was written by a human.

About Scott Maurer

Scott Maurer, Vice President of Sales for Advanta IRA, is a recognized expert in the field of self-directed IRAs. With a law degree from the University of Florida and as a designated Certified IRA Services Professional (CISP), Scott’s keen understanding of rules and regulations fuels his passion to educate others on the power of investing in alternative assets using self-directed IRAs. Scott is a frequent guest on retirement and investing webinars and podcasts, and he has shown thousands of individuals how to achieve financial freedom by teaching them how to use their retirement funds to invest in private placements, real estate, private lending, and more. Throughout his two decades in the industry, he has watched numerous unique investments unfold, giving him great perspective of what is possible when people take control of their retirement funds and investing decisions.