Why have I not heard of this before?

The Self-Directed IRA has been around since the creation of the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in 1974. They are essentially one and the same. When most people think of an IRA, however, they probably think of what banks, brokers and financial advisors typically have to offer. These vendors usually have a portfolio of stocks, bonds and mutual fund investments from which you may pick, and their salespeople are trained and incentivized to sell those specific investment products to you.