TheStockAdvisor Advice

Brokers, Brokers Everywhere

Looking for a discount broker? New ones appear to be popping up everyday. Each with different bells or whistles to entice an investor to use their service.

Below are 10 factors to consider when choosing a discount broker. Take each of these into consideration and apply importance based on your situation and requirements.

1) Rates - Online brokerages can be put into three general categories:

a) Super-cheap brokers that charge from $4 to $12 per trade. Best used for those that plan on trading very frequently, but satisfactory for buy-and-hold investors as well.

b) Mid-priced brokers that charge between $12 and $20 per trade. These brokers justify slightly higher prices with better known brand names, and possibly additional services.

c) High-priced brokers that charge more than $20 per trade, typically around $29.95 per trade.

2) Other fees - Beyond the price per trade, you will find brokerages may charge other fees, including fees for transferring assets into the account, fees for closing an account, IRA custodian fees, wire transfer fees, account inactivity fees, annual fees, and fees for not maintaining a minimum balance.

3) Minimum initial deposit - Judge your own financial situation. If you are new to investing, or not yet willing to commit large sums of money, look for an account that has a minimum of $2000 for initial deposits or perhaps even less. IRA accounts will typically have lower minimums, and in some cases there is no minimum balance.

4) Customer service, site performance, and interface - Check out each brokerage's website and make sure the interface is intuitive and pleasing. You also want to know what kind of customer service the brokerage has. In researching this you will definitely want to see how the brokerage does at sending you all relevant material you ask for online.

5) Traditional banking services - It is possible now to do everything that you typically use a bank for through a brokerage account. Banking features available include:

  • Money market sweeps
  • Check writing and bill payment
  • Visa cards
  • Direct deposit
  • ATM cards

The higher rates that your cash will typically attract in a brokerage money market account versus the typical savings or checking account could make this an attractive feature. Also, if you meet certain minimum account levels, some brokerages will reimburse you for fees imposed by ATM machines.

6) Research - There is plenty of research available for free all over the Web, but some brokerages have research that you may find particularly useful. Some of the offerings include analyst reports, real-time quotes, and detailed financial data.

7) Mutual funds - The selection of mutual funds at brokerages can differ widely. If you have a particular mutual fund family you are set on using, make sure the brokerage you are selecting offers that family of funds.

8) Investment product selection - Beyond equity mutual funds, there are a number of other investment vehicles you may wish to use. All the brokerages will offer the stocks on the major exchanges. However, if you are interested in over-the-counter bulletin board stocks (OTCBB), you will have to see which brokerages offer them. Other choices such as options, government bonds, corporate bonds, and the like are not available through every brokerage.

9) Other methods of getting your investment choices executed - Check out whether the brokerages you are looking at also have touch-tone phone trading, and how that works. Sometimes you just might want to place an order through a real, live individual, and many discount brokerages offer that possibility, too.

10) Other freebies and perks - Beyond the low costs, some brokerages will give you frequent flier miles, books, months of Internet access, or just plain old money for you to open up an account. The reward for opening an account can go as high as $100, so keep that in mind.

Seems like there is a lot to consider. But the bottom line is, use the discount brokerage you feel comfortable with. It is your money and you should have the final decision and control. The above are just some features to consider and compare.

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