alternative investmentsInterest rates are low.

That's a fact in today's world, where the Federal Reserve Bank is struggling to keep the economy humming and home buyers are gobbling up housing almost as quickly as it can be put on the market.

But it's not necessarily good news for investors, who either have to accept the fact that they'll earn very little interest on their money through traditional investments or accept an incredible amount of risk in order to maximize returns.

But what if there were better, alternative investments?

What if you could put your hard-earned money into alternative investments that deliver higher rates of return without all the risk?

You can and you should. In fact, you cannot afford to ignore these five alternative investments:

Self-directed IRAs

Self-directed IRAs are great alternative investments for people who want a non-correlated investment (one that doesn't rise and fall with the stock market) but already have a sizable amount of money in their 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement plans – plans that only offer a limited amount of actual investment opportunities.

A self-directed IRA allows you to "direct" where your money goes, rather than simply having to choose from a limited number of options.

You can put your money where you want it, whether that's in livestock, precious metals, oil and gas, or farmland.

Life settlements

Life settlements are one of the few win-win-win alternative investment opportunities.

The investors win because they get low double-digit returns without losing or sacrificing principle. The sellers win because they get more money than they would have had they cancelled the policy. And your broker wins because they are delivering a high-quality investment that takes the without having to constantly worry about how the ups and downs of the stock market will impact their clients.

Life settlements are a great way to grow and protect your money.

Short-term commercial bridge loans

Short-term commercial bridge loans are great for people looking to invest relatively modest amounts of money (as little as $25,000).

These flexible loan arrangements allow you to provide businesses with a short-term loan so they can expand. In return, you receive interest on your money that far outpaces the current interest rate.

You can also turn a short-term commercial bridge loan into a cash-flow device by contracting with a company that sources the loans and holds a second position. Contracting further reduces your risk and can deliver reliable monthly payments.

Real estate

When most people think about alternative investments, they think about real estate. And why not? Using rental properties for cash flow has stood the test of time and helped countless people build wealth.

The nice thing about investing in real estate is that you don't have to go big right away. You can (and probably should) start small. You should also get a good real estate attorney, maintenance person and have enough cash on hand to deal with the unexpected.

Peer lending

You've probably heard it called peer-to-peer lending or "P2P." And if you're like a lot of Americans you have probably never considered it as an alternative investment.

But you should.

It cuts out the middlemen (banks and large credit card companies) and lets you help others while helping yourself. It also allows you to get valuable hands-on experience investing.

Thanks to and, you can begin peer lending for as little as a few hundred dollars (although you would want to have your dollars involved in more than a dozen loans to really make it pay off).

And the payoff can be good, with returns in the high single digits or low double digits.

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