Now is the time to buy gold and silver. But from whom do you buy? Fortunately, precious-metals investors never had more options than they have today. You probably have one or more coin shops in your hometown, and you certainly have your choice of several within reasonable driving distance. But often, your best bet is to deal with the national retailers of gold and silver, whose big size give them economies of scale that translate into lower prices. In this article, Silver Monthly reviews ten major online dealers of bullion products, and ranks them in order from best to not-so-great, based on the following criteria:
- Business reputation
Without further ado, here are the rankings and company profiles.
APMEX is the American Precious Metals Exchange. Although the firm makes no promises to have the lowest prices around, its prices are competitive, and – unlike many other dealers – APMEX doesn’t hit customers with hidden charges. As of March 5, 2012, APMEX was selling 2012 Gold Eagles at $1,787.59 – $81.59, or 4.8% above spot. You could buy fifty one-ounce 2012 Silver Eagles at $18.33 – $3.57 over spot. U.S. shipping is $24.95 for orders between $1,000 and $25,000.
APMEX is among the largest bullion dealers. This heavy volume allows it to make little on individual transactions and still stack remarkable profits. APMEX has economy of scale, and it passes on these savings to its customers. It also buys gold and silver from customers, in a hassle-free process. One customer we interviewed was even able to orchestrate a silver-for-gold trade – after speaking with an APMEX rep, he simply sent them the silver, and they gave him an equivalent amount of gold, with the difference paid in cash.
APMEX also offers financial-planning services. The firm says it is dedicated to protecting the hard-earned assets of its clients, as well as helping clients build new wealth. APMEX believes everyone should keep a minimum of 10-20% of their assets in precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. This, APMEX says, serves as a hedge against inflation and economic uncertainty.
APMEX has great service. They are open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week to accept orders. APMEX makes two-way markets in all products it sells, and is available to buy Monday through Friday, from 7:00am to 5:00pm, central time. The firm is consistent with its low prices, and has an excellent reputation for reliability. Over the past three years, APMEX has had fifty-one Better Business Bureau complaints, which isn’t too bad considering the size of the company and the number of transactions it has made in that time. The number of satisfied customers greatly outweigh the few unhappy ones. In fact, the BBB gives APMEX an A+ rating.
APMEX has an ultra-wide variety of products. It sells gold, silver, platinum, and palladium products. APMEX’s website has special sections for IRA products, clearance and specials, and gift ideas. In addition to bullion, it sells Pre-1993 U.S. gold coins, silver coins, jewelry, “elite” $2,500+ coins, and old bank notes. Its gold products include American Gold Eagles, gold bars, Canadian Gold Maple Leafs, Austrian Gold Philharmonics, South African Gold Krugerrands, Gold Buffalo coins, Chinese Gold Pandas, Mexican Gold Pesos, and many, many more. Pretty much anything you could possibly desire can be acquired from APMEX.
2. Provident Metals
ProvidentMetals.com is a subsidiary of Provident Metals, LLC. The website was founded at the request of customers who were looking for an online destination as reliable as Provident’s trade-show business. Provident’s numismatists are members in good standing of the American Numismatic Association, as well as the Texas Numismatic Association. Provident Precious Metals itself is a member of the Professional Coin Grading Service, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the Numismatic Conservation Service, and the Paper Money Guaranty Corporation.
Provident Metals promises fast, courteous, and complete service. The Better Business Bureau backs this up, giving Provident an A- rating. This means that Provident has a commitment to make a good-faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. Of six complaints filed against Provident Metals, all were resolved to customers’ satisfaction.
Provident Metals has a huge selection. In addition to the coins and rounds you’d expect, one particular noteworthy product on the Provident Metals website is the Ron Paul 1/10-ounce gold round. These were selling at around $200 over spot, per-ounce, or roughly $20 over the spot value of each 1/10-ounce round. By contrast, APMEX was selling 1/10-ounce gold Eagles for roughly the same price, (actually about $0.30 more per coin).
Other products include gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and copper products – one-ounce copper rounds can be purchased for less than $1.30. Provident sells U.S. and foreign coins, wholesale bullion products, and IRA bullion products. Finally, Provident also sells food and survival products, for those of us who believe Hyperinflation Meltdown is more than apocalyptic fantasy.
3. JM Bullion
JM Bullion new to the bullion space made waves by speed, service and sales they've done in a short amount of time. Located in Lancaster, PA, however, the online store front remains most impressive. With one of the cleanest shopping experiences, JM Bullion showcases the basic silver bullion coins needed for most all bullion investors. While the selection didn't compare to the selection of APMEX or Provident Metals, JM Bullion still carried enough for the bullion investor.
JM Bullion gave three size selections for the Silver Eagles, 1 oz, 20 oz tube, or the green monster box. Silver Eagles were about $3.30 over spot, cheaper than both APMEX and Provident Metals. As for silver rounds, JM Bullion has a mid level selection of rounds. The most popular silver rounds are covered--there's more than enough different rounds for the bullion investor. Apart from silver eagles and silver rounds, JM Bullion has a limited selection of silver coins.
JM Bullion remains average with customer reviews. While the Better Business Bureau gives JM Bullion a high mark, customers rate JM Bullion near average. While most customers rated JM Bullion on competitive pricing, great customer service, a number of customers noted a few orders had longer shipping times than expected.
4. Westminster Mint
Westminster Mint has offices in Minneapolis, MN and Madison, WI, but it also sells via the web at coin-rare.com. The website is not the most visually appealing, but Westminster’s business record speaks for itself: it has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, although it doesn’t have a great design, the rare-coin.com website does have a lot of content, including a pictorial breakdown of how Westminster Mint makes its fine silver bars.
Westminster Mint sells some gold products, but its selection is not that great. It has random-year Krugerrands, Canadian Maple Leafs, Austrian Philharmonics, and Chinese Pandas; 2011 Gold Buffalos; 2010 American Gold Eagles; and a couple of gold-bar products. Its prices are a little high, though: its 2010 Gold Eagles were selling at $180 above spot. Westminster’s silver selection is much greater, with twenty-one coin products and sixty-two silver bullion (including rounds) options. Here, Westminster’s prices look better, as it is selling 2012 Silver Maple Leafs for $0.28 less than APMEX. Coin-Rare.com also has a copper section, where Westminster Mint sells copper rounds at $1.50 apiece, or in 500-round monster boxes for $750.
Westminster Mint also offers a depository service. Customers can sign a storage agreement that is insured and safe – Westminster does not do any silver leasing. All assets are held in the customer’s name and off the balance sheet of the depository. Since the depository is based in Delaware, there are numerous tax advantages. Fees start at $50 per month, but go up based on account value. There are also additional charges for withdrawals from the depository.
Westminster Mint's website: http://www.coin-rare.com/
5. Northwest Territorial Mint
Northwest Territorial Mint’s business is divided into three segments: (1) custom minting, (2) bullion sales, and (3) online store.
The custom minting business has been operating since 1984, and has been a top choice of novelty coin-makers, corporations, the Boy Scouts of America, and even the U.S. military. Northwest Territorial Mint can make coins, medals, medallions, knives, belt buckles, cuff links, lapel pins, and much more. It can also mint color coins.
The bullion sales division buys from and sells to investors large and small. Silver, gold, palladium, and platinum products are all available, at what they say are competitive prices. As of March 6, one-ounce Silver Eagles were selling at $3.67 over spot, with a minimum buy size of thirty – this was about ten cents over what APMEX was charging at a twenty-coin minimum.
The online store division of Northwest Territorial Mint sells novelty items, such as Harley Davidson coins, military medallions, religious items, knives, lapel pins, challenge coins, Boy Scouts products, and other such items. The separation online store website also sells various bullion products, but it is very difficult to navigate.
Northwest Territorial Mint is an authorized retailer of products from the United States Mint, the Royal Canadian Mint, and the Austrian Mint. It is a member of the International Precious Metals Institute, the American Numismatic Association, and the Washington State Coin and Bullion Association. It does not have BBB accreditation, but it does have an A+ rating from the Bureau, with just fifteen complaints against it in the past three years – quite good for a company its size.
Northwest Territorial Mints' website: http://nwtmint.com/
6. Quality Silver Bullion
Quality Silver Bullion (QSB) is based in Orem, Utah. It has over eleven years in the minting business; minting its own, high-quality silver rounds. Each silver round minted by QSB is guaranteed to be at least one solid troy ounce. When weighed and graded, the rounds must meet the standards of .999+ purity, correct weight, and a clean polished finish. QSB claims high customer satisfaction and links to several video testimonials on its website.
QSB is predominantly a mint, so its selection is limited, mostly to its own products. QSB produces fractional rounds, selling 1/10-ounce silver rounds at as low as $0.60 over spot. It also makes half-ounce and full-ounce silver rounds, and circulated American Silver Eagles at $2.65 over spot. QSB also deals in a few gold products, too: 1-ounce Gold Perth Mint bars, 5-gram Gold Perth Mint bars, and 1/10-ounce American Gold Eagle coins, which were selling at around $250 per-ounce over spot as of March 5, 2012.
Quality Silver Bullion has zero Better Business Bureau complaints, but the BBB cautions that this is in part because QSB has not been in business for that long. Also, a firm like QSB does not have the volume of one like APMEX. Still, QSB’s record is impressive, and they also offer a three-day return-for-refund policy, and that’s hard to beat. The BBB gives QSB an A- rating.
Quality Silver Bullion's website: http://qualitysilverbullion.com/
7. Gold & Silver, Inc.
Gold & Silver, Inc. runs GoldSilver.com, which is headed by gold and silver expert and promoter Mike Maloney. Maloney is probably most famous for writing the Rich Dad Advisors’ Guide to Investing in Gold & Silver, which is definitely one of the best books on the subject you could ever hope to read. Maloney is affiliated with investment guru Robert Kiyosaki, and has been a supporter of Ron Paul in his political efforts. But how does Gold-Silver stack up to other bullion dealers?
Gold-Silver is unique in that it is an education-first company, providing information and education on gold, silver, and finance, free of charge. Gold-Silver is also not just simply an online bullion site, but an investment company that invests in gold and silver right alongside its customers. The company also offers secure storage and IRA services.
2012 American Gold Eagles sell at Gold-Silver for $104 over spot, or about $16 more than APMEX. Other gold products at Gold-Silver include fractional Gold Eagles, and gold Buffalos, Maple Leafs, Krugerrands, Austrian Philharmonics, and various bars. Silver Eagles can be purchased in twenty-ounce minimums, at prices that were about $1.50 per ounce higher than APMEX as of March 11. One interesting product sold by Gold-Silver is the Rich Dad silver round.
Gold-Silver has an A rating from the Better Business Bureau. It has just five complaints against it in the past three years, all of which were closed to customer satisfaction. The BBB withheld an A+ rating from Gold-Silver because of its comparative lack of time in business. The BBB does say, however, that Gold-Silver has few complaints for a business its size, has responded to complaints and resolved them adequately, and has provided sufficient background information to the BBB.
Gold & Silver, Inc.'s website: http://goldsilver.com/
8. CSG, Inc.
CSG, Inc. operates online under the name OnlyGold.com. This is a strange and inappropriate name, since the company also sells silver, platinum, and palladium items. CSG does specialize in gold, though, and it buys gold bars and coins, but not other precious-metals items.
CSG, Inc. is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and has been in business since 1991. It has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, with zero complaints over the past three years, and six positive reviews in that time.
One negative thing about OnlyGold.com is that it has a minimum purchase size of ten ounces of gold – that’s more than $18,000 worth at today’s prices. Selection is also extremely limited, with the site stocking only 2012 Gold Eagles as of March 11. Prices aren’t that great, either – you can buy one 2012 Gold Eagle from APMEX at a lower per-unit price than you can buy ten from OnlyGold.com – but OnlyGold obviously has plenty of satisfied customers, and apparently no dissatisfied ones.
The minimum silver purchase size is 300 ounces. The minimum platinum size is ten ounces, and OnlyGold only sells bars, not rounds or coins. These high minimums, unspectacular prices, and extremely limited selection make CSG, Inc./ OnlyGold.com one of the least attractive online bullion dealers, despite their sterling reputation.
CSG, Inc.'s website: http://onlygold.com/
BullionVault claims to let you buy pure physical gold and silver at the lowest possible prices. Instead of selling coins and bars and shipping them to customers, BullionVault stores its customers’ gold and silver offsite. The firm takes care of approximately $2 billion worth of precious metals for more than 34,500 users, making it the world’s biggest online precious-metals investment service. Bars are stored in high-security vaults in Zurich, London, or New York. Customers can sell at any time, without penalty, and deposits are normally credited to accounts within one business day. Customers can also withdraw physical bars.
Setting up a BullionVault account is free. You can buy any quantity of physical bullion within as little as two hours of opening your account. There are different sell/buy (bid/ask) prices for New York, London, and Zurich. As of March 11, 2012, the New York sell price for gold was $2.50 over the spot bid price, and the New York buy price was $4.50 over the spot ask price. Silver can only be bought from and sold to the BullionVault’s London Vault.
BullionVault is based in the United Kingdom, and as a result, is not reviewed by the BBB. The website ResellerRatings.com, however, does have three user reviews for BullionVault, and two of them are quite unfavorable. One customer complains that BullionVault’s representatives were “extremely unprofessional” with him on the phone, and that bank wires – which should only take one business day – took five days all three times he wired money into his BullionVault account. “I strongly recommend you avoid this company at all costs,” says the reviewer. Another reviewer complained about transferring money into his account, too, saying that a large deposit was mishandled by BullionVault.
BullionVault’s business model is unique, but given customer complaints, the business’s foreign location, and a lack of a BBB review, it might be best for those outside of the UK to avoid using this service.
BullionVault's website: http://www.bullionvault.com/
10. Monarch Precious Metals
Monarch Precious Metals is an Oregon-based mint that also sells gold and silver products via its online store. Monarch is most notable for its own silver products, especially its silver fractional rounds. It also sells 1-ounce Silver Eagles, Silver Maples, and Silver Philharmonics; Mexican silver coins; and a variety of silver bars. Monarch produces and sells its own gold products, too, including 1-gram gold rounds and 1/10-ounce gold rounds.
Monarch’s prices are pretty good. As of March 13, Monarch was selling uncirculated 2012 Silver Eagles for $0.20 less than APMEX. Monarch also sells 1/10-ounce silver rounds for $4.54 apiece, with price breaks at the 50- ($4.34), 100- ($4.14), and 1,000- ($3.94) round levels. One-gram silver rounds can be purchased for as little as $2.03. Monarch also makes and sells 1/4-ounce and 1/2-ounce silver rounds.
Unfortunately, Monarch hasn’t sought Better Business Bureau accreditation, and it has no rating from the agency. While businesses are under no legal obligation to seek BBB accreditation, and BBB accreditation comes with a fee, this is a bit troubling, considering all other U.S.-based businesses reviewed here were at least rated by the Bureau.
Monarch Precious Metals' website: http://www.monarchpreciousmetals.com/
While there are many options for buying gold and silver online, if you are purchasing small-to-large quantities of more standard gold and silver products, you can’t go wrong with APMEX. If you’re looking for other specialty services, like help with precious-metals IRA products, then companies like Gainesville Coins and Provident Metals may be your best option. Northwest Territorial Mint gives you the ability to make your own silver products, and companies like Monarch Precious Metals offer a variety of unique fractional items. BullionVault and other firms let you store your silver offsite – really, the modern gold and silver investor faces an overwhelming number of good choices.
But let’s not forget the offline, brick-and-mortar coin dealer. While their prices and scruples may vary, a good, reliable dealer you can meet and establish a relationship with can be worth his weight in gold. Shopping offline also lets you save on shipping charges, which can make up for the potentially higher prices on smaller buys. Getting in good with a local dealer also allows you to sell your coins and rounds back at better prices – possibly because he’ll give you a better deal, but definitely because you won’t have to pay the return shipping.
In all honesty, a diverse approach is probably best when in the accumulation phase of your gold and silver products: buy some locally, get some from the big retailers like APMEX, shop smaller sites for specialty products, use companies like Gold-Silver and Northwest Territorial Mint for larger buys. This way, all of your bases are covered. Good luck!