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Bitcoin ETF And Your 401(k) Retirement Account: Is BTC Too Risky For American Savers?

Last Updated January 12, 2024 1:23 PM
Andrew Kamsky
Last Updated January 12, 2024 1:23 PM

Key Takeaways

  • 401(k) is U.S. employers’ tax-advantaged retirement plan. Bitcoin in 401(k)s signals a pivotal evolution in retirement asset strategies.
  • Bitcoin IRAs offer diversification and high return potential but have volatility and regulatory risks.
  • Spot Bitcoin ETFs provide indirect exposure to Bitcoin, which is suitable for traditional retirement accounts.
  • Including Bitcoin in retirement plans requires careful consideration of individual risk tolerance and objectives.

Investing in Bitcoin through 401(k)s and IRAs is becoming possible with the introduction of the Spot Bitcoin ETFs. The following article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of integrating Bitcoin and Bitcoin ETFs into retirement planning, focusing on Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) plans.

The Evolution Of Retirement Assets: From Gold To Crypto

Humanity has always looked for safe ways to hoard wealth and save for the good old days. This path has seen notable changes, from hiding gold bars in the backyard to investing in the newest digital currencies.

Golden Oldies 

Gold has been a cornerstone of retirement planning for decades. It was a dependable hedge against inflation and economic uncertainty because of its intrinsic value, scarcity, and historical stability. Consider the practice of Roman emperors, which persisted long into the present period, of hiding shining bars in their vaults.

The Rise Of Paper-Based Assets

Paper-based assets, such as bonds and equities, emerged in the 20th century. These products gave investors access to government debt stability and corporate development, making them appealing choices for retirement portfolios. Retirees carefully balanced equities, bonds, and even real estate for a secure future, and diversification became the mantra.

A Digital Revolution

The emergence of Bitcoin (BTC) and the accompanying cryptocurrency boom occurred in the 21st century. These blockchain-powered digital assets offered security, decentralization, and possibly large rewards. Some people have started introducing cryptocurrency, however slowly, into their retirement plans to diversify and expose themselves to an asset class that has the potential to revolutionize the market.

What Is A Bitcoin Individual Retirement Account (IRA)?

A Bitcoin IRA is a self-directed individual retirement account that allows investing in Bitcoin, as an alternative to traditional retirement investments. Bitcoin IRAs are considered high-risk due to the significant price volatility and may involve additional fees. 

Unlike standard IRAs, which focus on traditional securities like stocks and bonds, Bitcoin IRAs are managed by custodians who allow for the investments in virtual currency. However, the custodians, like Coinbase, might not have fiduciary responsibility towards the investor, adding an extra layer of risk to these accounts.

How Does a Bitcoin IRA work?

When investing in cryptocurrency through a Bitcoin IRA, several key steps are involved in selecting the right platform. The security features of the platform and the insurance coverage for savings are important considerations to make before investing. Some platforms, such as Bitcoin IRA and BitIRA, which offer up to $100 million in insurance, with the latter providing additional security through cold storage options. 

Investors need to decide on the range of cryptocurrencies they wish to include in their IRA. While Bitcoin is commonly available, availability of lesser-known coins may vary across platforms. Another important factor is the fee structure of each platform, which can significantly impact long-term savings and requires thorough research.

A Spot Bitcoin ETF provides an alternative way to include cryptocurrency in an IRA without directly purchasing digital coins. The Bitcoin ETF allows investors to gain exposure to Bitcoin’s price movements through a security that tracks the performance of Bitcoin, and is traded on traditional stock exchanges.

Steps To Open A Bitcoin IRA

Investing in a Bitcoin IRA involves a number of steps that are distinct from traditional IRA investments. Below one can find a general outline of the process to open a Bitcoin IRA:

Selection Of A Bitcoin IRA Provider

The first step is for the individual to research and select a provider specializing in cryptocurrency IRAs, considering factors like security, insurance coverage, fees, and available cryptocurrencies.

Opening A Self-Directed IRA Account

An individual needs to open a self-directed IRA account with a chosen provider. This type of account will allow for a broader range of investment assets, including cryptocurrencies.

Rollover Of Funds

Existing retirement funds from a 401(k) or another IRA can be rolled over into the new self-directed IRA, adhering to IRS rules and regulations to avoid penalties.

Cryptocurrency Selection

At this point, the individual should make a decision related to which cryptocurrencies the individual would like to include in the IRA. Options often extend beyond Bitcoin to include other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Litecoin.

Execution of Trades

After the account is funded, the next step is buying cryptocurrencies through the platform provided by the IRA provider. Which involves the process of the individual deciding on the investment amounts followed by the executing of the desired trades to add to the IRA.

Ensuring Secure Storage

It’s highly recommended to the individual that the Bitcoin IRA provider offer secure storage for the cryptocurrency assets, typically through cold storage solutions to safeguard against online threats.

Account Management

Regular monitoring and management of the Bitcoin IRA is necessary. Monitoring normally includes tracking investment performance, adjusting the portfolio as required, and staying updated on market and tax law changes surrounding the treatment of the IRA.

Understanding Tax Implications

Awareness of the tax implications associated with Bitcoin IRAs is important. The tax benefits can vary between traditional and Roth IRAs. A Roth IRA is a type of individual retirement account where investments may grow tax-free, and withdrawals made during retirement are not subject to taxes.

Steps To Buy Bitcoin In A Self-Directed IRA (SDIRA)

A Self-Directed Individual Retirement Account (SDIRA) is an IRA alternative where the account holder manages the account and holds the flexibility to include a range of alternative investments. Purchasing Bitcoin in a self-directed IRA involves a specific set of steps. Here’s a general guide to the process:

Step 1: Select A Self-Directed IRA Custodian

The individual should choose a custodian that specializes in self-directed IRAs and offers cryptocurrency options, particularly Bitcoin. It’s important to compare different custodians based on custodian fees, services, security measures, and the range of cryptocurrencies the custodian supports.

Step 2: Open A Self-Directed IRA Account

Opening a SDIRA account typically involves completing an application and providing necessary identification documents.

Step 3: Fund The IRA Account

Funding the account can be done through a rollover from an existing IRA or 401(k), or by making a direct contribution, adhering to the annual contribution limits set by the IRS.

Step 4: Choose A Cryptocurrency Exchange Or Platform

The individual should then proceed to select a cryptocurrency exchange or platform that the custodian partners with, or one that is compatible with the custodian’s system, for purchasing Bitcoin.

Step 5: Execute The Purchase Of Bitcoin

Instruct the custodian to purchase Bitcoin on your behalf through the chosen exchange or platform. This will involve specifying the amount of Bitcoin to buy and authorizing the transaction.

Step 6: Ensure Proper Storage

The individual should confirm that the custodian provides secure storage for the person’s Bitcoin. Confirmation of this process often involves using cold storage or offline storage to protect the investment from online threats.

Step 7: Manage And Monitor The Investment

Regularly review the performance of the Bitcoin investment within the IRA. The individual should keep informed about market trends, chart patterns and adjust the investment strategy as needed.

Step 8: Adhere To Regulations And Rules

It is important that the individual seeks compliance with all IRS regulations related to self-directed IRAs, including prohibited transactions and distribution rules.

Step 9: Plan For Distributions

Finally, it is important for the person buying Bitcoin in an SDIRA to understand the rules when taking distributions from a SDIRA. Rules that address the unique nature of Bitcoin and how the asset will be liquidated or transferred when required.

Advantages Of Including Bitcoin In A Retirement Portfolio

Incorporating Bitcoin into a retirement portfolio can offer several benefits including:.


Bitcoin offers a unique asset class that is not correlated with traditional stock and bond markets, providing a diversification benefit to a retirement portfolio.

Potential For High Returns

Bitcoin has shown the potential for high returns over the past decade and a half, outperforming every single traditional asset class, which can significantly enhance the growth of retirement savings.

Hedge Against Inflation

Bitcoin is often viewed as a digital form of gold and a hedge against inflation, potentially preserving the purchasing power of retirement funds in the face of declining fiat currency value.

Risks Of Including Bitcoin In A Retirement Portfolio

Bitcoin in a retirement portfolio also comes with its own set of challenges and risks including:

High Volatility

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are known for extreme price volatility, which can lead to significant fluctuations in the value of a retirement portfolio.

Regulatory Uncertainty

The regulatory environment for cryptocurrencies is still evolving, which may lead to changes that impact the value or the legality to hold Bitcoin in a retirement portfolio.

Security Risks

Investing in Bitcoin carries security risks, such as the potential for hacking and theft, as well as the risk of losing access to the investment due to lost or forgotten private keys.

Can You Buy Bitcoin In A 401(k)?

Before understanding if it is possible to buy Bitcoin in a 401 (k), let’s explore what a 401 (k) is. A retirement savings plan known as a 401(k) is one that many American firms provide their employees who can fund the account with a portion of their pre-tax salary, which grows tax-deferred until the person takes money out of it in retirement.

The maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) each year is limited. The cap was $22,500 for people under 50 and $27,000 for those over 50 in 2023. If you take money out of your 401(k) before you turn 59 and a half, you must pay taxes and a 10% penalty.

Yes, using a 401(k) plan to invest in Bitcoin is feasible. One of the leading providers of retirement plans, Fidelity Investments, has made it possible for participants to add Bitcoin to their 401(k) plan investment options. 

Subject to the employer’s stated limits, this enables plan participants to allocate a portion of their contributions to Bitcoin. Up to 20% of a saver’s contributions can be dedicated to Bitcoin on the Fidelity platform. This decision is an essential step toward integrating cryptocurrencies into conventional investing alternatives and shows a rising interest in granting access to digital assets in retirement plans.​

Accelerating 401(k) Growth: Exploring The Role of Bitcoin ETFs In Retirement Planning

Traditionally, 401(k)s have been filled with stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. However, with the meteoric rise of Bitcoin, a new question has emerged: could Bitcoin ETFs play a role in accelerating 401(k) growth?

Notably, Bitcoin ETFs track the price of Bitcoin, allowing investors to gain exposure to the cryptocurrency without directly buying it.

Potential Benefits Of Including Bitcoin ETFs In 401(k)s

  • High returns: With the potential for substantial growth, Bitcoin has consistently beaten traditional investments. 
  • Diversification: You can lower overall risk and diversify your portfolio by including Bitcoin ETFs in a 401(k). 
  • Inflation hedge: Bitcoin has been viewed as an inflation hedge, which may be advantageous in the future. 

Potential Drawbacks Of Including Bitcoin ETFs In 401(k)s

  • Volatility: The erratic price movements of Bitcoin are well-known and may pose a risk to certain investors.
  • Uncertainty about regulations: Since Bitcoin regulation is still developing, there may be some uncertainty.
  • Lack of a long-term track record: Since Bitcoin is a relatively new asset class, its performance over the long term is yet uncertain.

Should You Include Bitcoin ETFs In Your 401(K)?

It is entirely up to investors whether or not to add Bitcoin ETFs to their 401(k). There are possible advantages as well as disadvantages to think about. The choice will ultimately be based on one’s level of risk tolerance, investing objectives, and overall financial circumstances.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Age: You might want to continue making more conservative investments if you are getting closer to retirement.
  • Risk tolerance: Bitcoin ETFs might not be a suitable fit for those with a low tolerance for risk.
  • Investment objectives: Bitcoin ETFs can be a smart choice for those whose main objective is to maximize returns.

However, it’s crucial to conduct research and consider taking financial advice when including Bitcoin ETFs in 401(k).


The integration of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies into retirement planning, particularly through 401(k)s and IRAs, marks a worthwhile shift in the evolution of retirement assets. From the traditional reliance on gold and paper-based assets to the digital revolution of blockchain-powered cryptocurrencies, investment strategies are adapting to include these new asset classes. 

Bitcoin IRAs, offer the potential for high returns and diversification, come with their own set of challenges, including high volatility, regulatory uncertainty, and security risks. The introduction of Spot Bitcoin ETFs provides an alternative for those seeking exposure to Bitcoin’s price movements without direct cryptocurrency ownership. However, the decision to include Bitcoin or Bitcoin ETFs in retirement portfolios, such as 401(k)s, should be carefully weighed against individual risk tolerance, investment objectives, and the evolving landscape of cryptocurrency regulation. 


Is investing in Bitcoin through a 401(k) or IRA suitable for all investors?

Investing in Bitcoin through a 401(k) or IRA may not suit everyone, as it depends on individual risk tolerance, investment objectives, and proximity to retirement, requiring careful consideration and ideally financial advice.

How does including Bitcoin ETFs in my 401(k) benefit my retirement account?

Bitcoin ETFs offer potential diversification and returns, providing an alternative asset class within your retirement portfolio.

Are Bitcoin ETFs suitable for American savers considering the perceived risk of cryptocurrency investments?

While Bitcoin ETFs can offer growth opportunities, it’s crucial to carefully assess your risk tolerance and investment goals before integrating them into your retirement strategy.

What regulatory safeguards exist for American investors incorporating Bitcoin ETFs into their 401(k)?

Regulatory approval and oversight, exemplified by the SEC’s endorsement of certain Bitcoin ETFs, contribute to a more secure investment environment within the U.S. market.

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