Looking to diversify your portfolio? Choose investments with a low correlation to stocks and bonds. Hard assets like oil, real estate, natural gas, and other commodities fit the bill. But seasoned investors usually go for physical precious metals.
Because physical precious metals carry no counterparty risk. The security of being able to hold your investment in your hands if things go sour makes them the perfect insurance against any financial turmoil.
However, with so many options for buying metals, it’s crucial to do your due diligence before dipping your toes into the market. In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to buy precious metals:
All investors should have an allocation to physical precious metals. Here are four main reasons why:
1. Precious metals are largely uncorrelated to stocks and other investments.
When traditional investments take a tumble, gold and other metals tend to rally. This makes them an excellent hedge against catastrophic loss during periods of financial downturn.
While silver, platinum, and palladium are slightly more correlated to stocks due to their role in the industry (more on that later), they still offer many of the same protections as gold: namely that they won’t evaporate in an instant the way paper assets can. How many stocks and bonds have lasted for centuries the way precious metals have?
2. Precious metals don’t expose you to counterparty risk.
Physical metals are the only financial assets that are not simultaneously someone else's liability. No bank, government, or brokerage firm needs to back them. When you own them, you own them outright.
This is significant when you think about stocks, bonds, and ETFs (including gold ETFs), which all require another party to make good on a contract. If our financial system ever collapses (or just goes into crisis), these types of investments will be at high risk.
Precious metals protect against financial turmoil like no other asset. Inflation or deflation, recession or depression, terrorism, debt implosions, credit defaults, bank failure—some of these will happen in your lifetime, and precious metals will protect your portfolio from the fallout.
3. Precious metals are a safe haven in worst-case scenarios.
Precious metals are tangible monetary investments backed up by their own intrinsic value. They’re durable, universally recognizable, easily divisible, and value dense.
With inflationary fiscal policy devaluating fiat currencies, the benefit of maintaining a sufficient precious metals stockpile is obvious. And while we hope it never comes to this, gold, silver, platinum, or palladium coins can be used to buy goods and services if our paper currency ever collapses.
4. Besides being a hedge, precious metals can deliver decent capital gains.
Gold has never gone to zero, and its value has steadily increased over time, making it a solid long-term investment. Look at the chart below, which shows the significant spike in the gold price over the last 30 years:
Silver prices are much more volatile than gold's, but that’s just part of the landscape in a small market. The advantage of these big price swings is that buying on down days can pay off when the price shoots back up again (it never takes long).
The investment potential of platinum and palladium is still in its infancy; industrial use of the metals far outweighs the demand from investors.
But like silver, the platinum and palladium markets are small. Demand keeps soaring, but supply is limited. In short, these metals are riskier and more speculative, but their gains can be much higher.
Precious metals are something you buy and hold on to. You may want to evaluate your position on an annual basis and adjust up or down accordingly, but generally, you keep metal as portfolio insurance and you hope you never have to use it.
How much to invest in precious metals is a personal decision. But the three core benefits of owning precious metals are:
- Risk reduction
- Long-term store of value
- Crisis insurance
So, how much of your portfolio should you invest in metal? It depends on the level of these benefits you want or need, but the conventional wisdom is 5–15%.
If your main concern is preserving your wealth, you should choose an allocation on the larger side.
Consider that the dollar has lost 98.2% of its purchasing power since 1900—and the trend is not going to reverse. Here’s how gold has offset the loss of the purchasing power of the US dollar:
Insider’s Tip: Buy a meaningful amount of bullion—enough that will make a difference to your wealth and standard of living if things go sour.
To get the absolute most protection, it pays to diversify within your metals holdings, too. While the different metals are closely correlated, there are unique properties of each that you should understand to make the best allocation for your needs.
Here’s what each type of metal has to offer.
As mentioned above, gold has intrinsic financial traits and offers a level of wealth protection unmatched by any other asset. Take a look at the pros and cons of owning gold:
|Gold Pros||Gold Cons|
|The price is relatively stable (especially compared to silver). Gold’s value has climbed steadily higher for decades.||Gold doesn’t have the strong industrial demand that silver, platinum, and palladium do.|
|It is extremely liquid. Because gold is highly valued, you’ll always be able to find someone who wants to buy it.||In worst-case scenarios, it would be difficult to make everyday purchases with coins worth $1,000 or more.|
|There’s strong investment demand for gold, from both central banks and individual investors. And in times of financial turmoil, the demand for gold only grows.||Fractional coins can be used for everyday purchases, but they come with higher premiums than 1-oz coins.|
Investor Takeaway: Gold belongs in every portfolio as wealth insurance. It is intrinsically valuable, uncorrelated to stocks and other investments, highly liquid, and its price has steadily grown for decades. Gold is for every investor and should make up the largest portion of your precious metals allocation.
Silver is a sound addition to a precious metals portfolio. Like gold, it has intrinsic value, is highly liquid, can be used as money, and is largely uncorrelated to stocks and other investments.
What makes silver unique is its growing industrial demand. Currently, more than half of the silver mined is used in manufacturing to produce things like electronics, solar panels, and medical equipment.
As this demand continues to increase, it will put a squeeze on supply. Any investor holding a meaningful amount of silver will be positioned for high profits.
Here are some pros and cons of silver as an investment:
|Silver Pros||Silver Cons|
|Silver delivers the safety of a hard asset and the potential for significant returns if industrial demand outpaces supply.||Silver comes with a little more risk than gold because of its ties to industry. If manufacturing drops off, silver will stagnate.|
|Silver is more practical than gold for making everyday purchases. Because it is a smaller store of wealth, it’s easier to trade for goods and services.||Silver’s price volatility can make trying to buy on the “right” days frustrating for investors.|
|Because the silver market is smaller than gold, it doesn’t take as much money moving into silver as an investment to move the market up.||Silver is not bought by central banks, so one source of demand for gold is not present with silver.|
Investor Takeaway: Silver is a good portfolio diversifier. With its many industrial applications and relatively small supply, growing demand for silver is expected to drive prices higher. Silver isn’t for the faint of heart—its price volatility can discourage some investors—but it is an inexpensive, practical store of wealth that has considerable investment potential. Silver shouldn’t be the only asset you own, but it would be a mistake to not have a meaningful amount.
Platinum & Palladium
Platinum and palladium are perhaps most recognized as popular metals for making jewelry. But like silver, they are also used in manufacturing—mainly in the auto industry.
This makes their prices in large part determined by auto sales and production numbers. This can be good or bad.
On the upside, both metals are extremely rare, and their rising demand could easily outpace supply. In fact, palladium is already struggling to meet industrial demand:
The downside is that their performance is more dependent on the health of the global economy than gold or silver.
The supply and demand dynamics of platinum and palladium offer the opportunity to invest at the beginning of a potential bull market. But a diversification into platinum and/or palladium has its own set of pros and cons:
|Platinum/Palladium Pros||Platinum/Palladium Cons|
|There’s growing demand for platinum and palladium in both the industrial and investment worlds.||Due to the very small supply, prices can be more erratic than silver and gold.|
|As industrial demand grows and supply is squeezed, investors could eventually see significant returns on their holdings.||Because they aren’t as popular a proxy to cash as silver or gold, platinum and palladium coins are not as liquid.|
|The industrial value of platinum and palladium makes them less vulnerable to dips in the precious metals that affect gold.||Investment demand at this point is mostly speculative.|
Investor Takeaway: Platinum and palladium both have investment potential, mostly because growing demand from the auto industry is expected to deplete supply and drive prices higher. They’re not absolutely essential to your precious metals portfolio, but can be a reasonable way to further diversify. If you choose to make an allocation to platinum and/or palladium, it should be only a fraction of your silver and gold holdings.
There are many types of precious metals, but they all boil down to two categories: paper precious metals and physical precious metals. ETFs are on the rise due to their convenience, but how do they measure up to the real thing?
While each offers investors its own set of benefits, ETFs and bullion are very different investments. Here are the main benefits of each.
If you’re looking for…
- precious metals you own and control directly
- a low-risk, enduring asset
- a last line of defense in an economic crisis or bank collapse
- an asset that’s always available for physical delivery
- no counterparty needed to make good on the investment
- a long-term store of wealth and portfolio insurance
…your best bet is buying gold, silver, platinum, or palladium bullion. When you buy bullion, you own it outright—no one can default on your investment. And physical precious metals are easier than ever to trade via online platforms similar to ETFs.
If you’re looking for…
- a convenient, low-cost way to gain exposure to the precious metals market
- no physical ownership of the metal
- no delivery/storage fees
- a highly liquid asset that’s easy to trade
- the ability to employ leverage with options
…you may want to consider a precious metals ETF. If you don’t plan to take delivery of any metal, and are comfortable with a higher degree of risk (there are counterparties involved), ETFs can be great for quick trading and short-term gains.
But investor beware: there are potential hazards inherent in the structure and operation of gold ETFs.
Gold ETFs use what’s called a custodian to source and store gold for the fund. Usually this entity is a large bank.
Before buying shares of a gold ETF, decide how much do you trust the banking system. That’s who makes good on the investment—and ultimately, who is most positioned to put it at risk.
Because a bank is likely to be impaired if a crisis were to happen (not to mention that they’re hardly trustworthy to begin with), gold ETFs don’t offer the portfolio insurance that real, physical bullion—stored in a non-bank vault, of course—gives to investors.
Not only that, but If the fund’s management, structure, chain of custody, operational integrity, regulatory oversight, or delivery protocols break down, that also places your investment at risk.
Insider’s Tip: Precious metals ETFs can be good products for traders, but they’re no substitute for the long-term security an investment in physical precious metals can provide.
Picking the right dealer is as important as knowing how to buy precious metals—if not more.
Here, we’ll cover the different types of dealers and what each has to offer so you can decide who you’ll be most comfortable doing business with.
First thing’s first: do not buy gold or other precious metals from TV dealers or gold shows. They have high premiums, very little selection of bullion products, and mostly traffic in numismatic (collectible) coins with high margins and questionable investment value.
Stick with local coin shops or online dealers for a better investment experience.
The coin shop around the corner isn’t the best place to make major purchases, but it offers a few benefits to investors who just want a couple of coins to have on-hand for emergencies:
- You can see and touch the metal before you buy it.
- No need to wait for delivery—you can take your metal home immediately.
- A face-to-face transaction gives you the opportunity to negotiate prices and buyback fees.
- They usually give repeat customers their best deal.
However, there are some drawbacks to buying local:
- Brick and mortar stores have overhead costs to recoup, which typically translates to higher premiums on products.
- Local shops usually have limited selections.
- A neighborhood dealer is unlikely to be able to fill large orders (or make large buybacks).
If you do decide to buy precious metals locally, visit a few stores and look for a dealer who isn’t pushy. You want someone who acts as a resource for how to buy precious metals, not someone who is only interested in pressuring you into a sale. If you feel even a little unsure about someone, move on.
Insider’s Tip: Avoid any dealer who tries to steer you into rare coins, collectibles, or other products you didn’t ask for.
For investors who know exactly what they want and have enough knowledge about precious metals to recognize a good deal, eBay can be a decent place to buy gold or silver. But for those not familiar with how to buy precious metals, it’s probably not the best place to invest.
Unscrupulous sellers can misrepresent their products or artificially inflate prices by bidding up their own listings. And counterfeit products (often from China) sometimes wind up on the site.
Purchasing precious metals from an online dealer offers two distinct advantages that buying from other types of dealers doesn’t:
- 24/7 trading
- lower premiums
Online dealers make it possible to invest and take delivery with just a few clicks as well as manage your trading account around the clock.
They can also offer lower prices than other dealers since they don’t have the overhead of a physical store. Some online dealers even give you access to volume pricing because they trade on a platform shared with institutional investors.
In addition to convenience and cost savings, online dealers offer a variety of options for how to buy precious metals. There are a number of account types available for individuals and corporations, and investors can even set up a precious metals IRA or UTMA.
It’s easy to find a precious metals dealer online, but a little more difficult determining who you can trust. Before you hand over any money, be sure to do the following:
- Find out how long they’ve been in business, ensure they have a physical address, and check their reputation via online reviews and consumer protection agencies.
- Check the spot price of the metal you wish to buy and compare prices from a few different dealers to determine their premiums (note: the lowest isn’t necessarily the best—look for the dealer that offers the most value).
- Know your all-in costs, including commission, shipping, insurance, and credit card or bank wire charges.
- Get a quote for the delivery timeframe before you place an order. It should be within 14 days (30 at the absolute most).
- If you plan to make a sizable investment, place a small test order for delivery first.
Here are some other things to know to make the most of your investment:
- Bullion coins are legal tender and therefore have a universally recognized value. They require no authentication for resale.
- Every gold bar should have its weight, purity, refiner, and registration number stamped on it.
- Never buy at or below spot; the metals are probably fake.
- Coins have higher premiums than bars.
- The larger the bar, the smaller the premium per ounce you’ll pay over spot, but we recommend 1 oz. bars for the inexperienced investor. Large bars can be easy to counterfeit.
- If you think you will ever want to sell some of your metal, buy coins. They are highly liquid because of their small, tradable size and status as legal tender.
- If you’re in North America, buy US or Canadian coins. They’ll be easier to resell than coins from other countries.
- Don’t put your entire investment in one form of metal. A mix of large bars, small bars, and coins is ideal.
- Watch out for hidden fees. Be sure to get all costs upfront.
- Don’t accept “free” storage offers. If a dealer offers to keep your metal in escrow—or if the company has a free storage program—there’s a chance you’re being sold imaginary gold.
- Beware of bait-and-switch tactics. Don’t be lured in by offers of gold at 1% over spot, don’t buy numismatic coins, and never leverage your investment.
Now that you know how to buy precious metals, let’s talk about where to keep them. If you’re buying more than a few coins to keep in a home safe for emergencies, you’ll want to weigh your storage options.
Here’s a breakdown of the options along with the advantages and disadvantages of each:
|Bank safe deposit box||Close to home, convenient, and keeps your items relatively secure.||Contents are not insured against fire, theft, or natural disasters.|
|Private vaulting facility||Private, secure protection for your metals; operates outside the banking system.||Metals may need to be audited before the vault will accept them for storage.|
|Buy-and-store programs||No hassle of sourcing non-bank storage yourself; unbroken chain of custody from dealer to vault.||Not all dealers let you diversify your holdings internationally.|
For our money, we recommend working with an online dealer that offers a buy-and-store program. Not only is this the most convenient option, but because the dealer transports your metal directly to a depository with a separate custodian, it also is the most secure option.
Once you’ve found an online dealer with a buy-and-store program that you’ve vetted thoroughly and feel has competitive pricing, it’s time to think about how to manage your precious metals investments.
Here are three ways experienced investors maximize the value of their holdings:
- They dollar-cost average their purchases.
Rather than tracking the daily price of gold, silver, platinum, or palladium and chasing the market, veteran investors automate incremental buys to dollar-cost average into their positions. To do this yourself, decide the amount of metal you want to own, divide your capital into equal dollar amounts, and spread the purchases out over time. (Note: not all online dealers offer this feature, so be sure the dealer you work with does.)
- They diversify their holdings internationally.
Every country on earth has its own set of political risks. Investors serious about their precious metals as a safe haven asset store their holdings all over the world. Just as diversifying a portfolio makes sense, and diversifying your precious metals allocation makes sense, diversifying your storage is the best way to ensure complete wealth protection in any scenario.
- They include precious metals in their retirement strategy.
Seasoned investors know that tying their retirement savings exclusively to unstable financial markets is dangerous. To put protections in place, they turn to precious metals IRAs. Find an online dealer with a fully integrated IRA program, and you can buy precious metals, arrange storage, and assign custodial services in one simple transaction.
Every investor portfolio should contain an allocation to gold or other metals. You’ve taken the first step toward ensuring your financial future by reading this primer on how to buy precious metals. With all of the uncertainty in today's global economy, it has never been more important to diversify and add the security of physical precious metals to your investment strategy.