As banks gear up for tax season - the most popular time for putting money into individual retirement accounts - a California bank is hoping for a hit with its new self-directed IRAs.

Harbor Bank of Long Beach has teamed up with Bankers Pension Services, Tustin, Calif., to sell the individual retirement accounts. The product will be marketed to the bank's own customers and to other retirement savers around the country.

The $185 million-asset bank will serve as the depository and custodian, while Bankers Pension Services will administer the accounts.

Self-directed IRAs are actively managed by account holders, who instruct custodians on how to invest the money on their behalf.

Most corporate and U.S. government securities, as well as limited partnerships, are eligible investments for these accounts, although other, more speculative, investments are not. The off-limits investments include collectibles and precious metals.

Most brokerage affiliates of banks offer self-directed IRAs. However, they generally restrict the investments they will handle to a limited range of securities, said Janet Briaud, president of Briaud Financial Planning, Bryan, Tex.

Harbor aims to accommodate a wider range of investments than most banks, without giving preferential treatment to any particular investments.

"This partnership allows our customers to invest where they want without someone trying to sell them a product or push them into one investment over another," said James H. Gray, Harbor's chairman and chief executive.

The bank also hopes the new self-directed IRA will help it get more banking clients.

Selling self-directed IRAs helps attract "a good core deposit base, but it's an even better marketing tool down the road for our small business and construction loans," Mr. Gray said.

Earnings on investments made through an individual retirement account are tax-deferred until retirement. Withdrawals before age 59#1/2 are normally subject to a 10% penalty.

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