PENSCO is a household name in the self-directed IRA custodian space. It manages more than 50,000 accounts that have an aggregate value of a least $16 billion. These statistics make it one of the largest custodians and one of its main differentiators is that it provides foreign real estate opportunities.

Despite being an established custodian that specializes in real estate offerings, it doesn’t offer check writing. Therefore, all transactions must go through PENSCO, which can be costly and inconvenient. Not having check writing could make it tougher to deal with real estate investment challenges like sudden repairs.

Who PENSCO IRA is best for

This custodian is best for investors who want to work with an established firm that offers many alternative investments. PENSCO can also assist with specialized tasks like real estate financing aid. This service would be great for those who want to invest in real estate, need financing and a trustworthy partner to guide him or her through any pitfalls. Like most self-directed IRA custodians, it offers an online portal to make transactions and manage the account.

Check out our roundup of the Best Self-Directed IRAs

PENSCO IRA investment options

Some of the current investment choices are:

  • Private equity.
  • Domestic and foreign real estate.
  • Promissory notes. Promissory notes are quite simple and represent a promise or an I.O.U between a borrower and a seller. A common example is a mortgage and investors can invest in both private mortgages along with unsecured promissory notes. Be sure to check out the IRS rules on prohibited transactions regarding promissory notes and other investments. If these rules are broken, then the IRA will be forced to distribute large, taxable gains.
  • Precious Metals.
  • Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ripple.
  • Commodities including oil and gas offerings.

PENSCO features

Since PENSCO has many extra services, it charges hefty fees. In fact, it’s a more expensive custodian. It charges an account set up fee ($50), quarterly administration fees ($100 – $530 depending on account size) and quarterly maintenance fees ($12). The quarterly maintenance fees only apply to real estate investments and there are no transaction fees, except for foreign real estate. In fact, foreign real estate transaction fees are expensive and are generally around $1,000 when a property is bought or sold.

Customer support

PENSCO is known for its strong customer support. Their online platform makes it easy to manage investments and their team is well versed on alternative investments. PENSCO also acts as a matchmaker between investors and alternative investment offerors via PENSCO MarketPlace.

Lastly, they have relationships with lenders, which helps investors choose optimal financing. Most of the financing options available are non-recourse. This means that the lender can only seize assets like a home, should the borrower default on the loan. Conversely, recourse financing allows the lender to seek additional restitution when the borrower defaults.


  • Large choice of investment offerings, especially real estate
  • Additional services like PENSCO Marketplace and financing options
  • Convenient online portal


  • Expensive fees that can add up
  • No check writing services
  • Has many negative rules via the BBB