Can IRAs hold investments other than mutual funds, such as individual stocks? They sure can. An IRA itself isn't an investment. Think of it instead as a container that helps you avoid income taxes on earnings (and sometimes on your contributions, too) until you begin withdrawing money years later. In your IRA, you're free to invest in a broad array of securities to be held in the account by a custodian. The custodian may be a bank, a broker, a mutual fund, or an insurance company.

If you want to invest in stocks yourself, establish your IRA with a brokerage in something called a "self-directed account." Then you can deposit your annual contributions, directing your broker when you want to buy, and what shares to buy or sell within that account. In this self-directed account, you can also trade in just about every security offered by the broker, such as CDs, bonds, T-bills, notes, and mutual funds.

There's actually a benefit to holding and trading stocks in an IRA account -- you get to avoid current taxation on any capital gains. Trade stocks in a traditional IRA account and the tax is deferred. Trade in a Roth IRA and, assuming you follow the rules, you'll be trading tax-free!

Learn more about retirement issues in our retirement area. We've got 401(k), IRA, and annuity information available, too. To learn more about brokerages and possibly find a better brokerage for yourself, check out our Broker Center.

Our Rule Your Retirement newsletter can also help you with guidance to help you set yourself up for a comfy and enjoyable retirement, as well as with specific investment recommendations. Try it for free and see for yourself -- it's easy to read in a single sitting. Robert Brokamp heads it up, and you can get a taste of his smarts and style in these articles:

And by the way, if thinking about retirement makes you wish you had a financial pro with whom to discuss your specific personal situation, that's not a bad thought. An advisor can help ensure that you're saving enough, and in the right way, to meet all your retirement needs. Read more about TMF Money Advisor, a valuable new service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial pros.