Key Takeaways Access to the financial markets is easy and inexpensive thanks to a variety of discount brokers that operate through online platforms. Different online brokers are optimized for a different type of client—from long-term buy-and-hold novices to active and sophisticated day traders.
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Choosing the right online broker requires some due diligence to get the most for your money. Follow the steps and advice in this article to choose right. The answer will be slightly different depending on your investment goals and where you are in the investment learning curve.
Are you looking to establish a retirement fund and focus on passive investments that will generate tax-free income in an IRA or k?
For now, however, start with these four crucial considerations to help you determine which of the brokerage features we discuss below will be most important to you. Do you see yourself eventually leaving the 9-to-5 grind and becoming a full-time investor? Or, instead, do you want to find a few solid investments to hold for the long haul with little or no day-to-day interaction?
How much do you already know? What kind of trades will you want to execute? Are you going to be the type of investor that knows what they want to do and just needs a platform that makes it easy and quick to execute trades, or do you want a broker with a broader range of resources to help you identify opportunities?
What kind of securities are you focused on? Stocksmutual fundsETFs? If you are more advanced, do you also want to trade options, futures, and fixed-income securities?
What about margin trading? Do you need access to conditional orders, extended-hours trading, and automated trading options? Do you want help? What kind?
Do you want to go the DIY route, learn how to interpret charts and financial data to find and execute your own trades, or would you prefer to hire which trading platform is normal pro? If you want to do it yourself, where are you on the learning curve? What sort of resources will you need to further your knowledge? Will you need easy access to support personnel, or are you able to learn what you need to know through online educational resources? Are you happy to execute trades online, or will you want to call in to have a broker assist you with the process?
What are your goals? What are you investing for? Why are you choosing to invest?
Are you trying to supplement your regular income to improve your current standard of living? Is there a specific event or expense you want to fund? Do you intend for this to eventually become your primary income source? Are you trying to build up retirement savings and, if so, do you already have a retirement account or will you want to open a new one with your chosen brokerage?
There are no wrong answers to these questions. Be honest with yourself about how much time, energy and effort you're willing and able to put into your investments. Just start with where you are right now.
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While there are certain brokerage features that will be more important for some investors than for others, which trading platform is normal are a few things any reputable online brokerage should have. With such a wide range of available options, checking on these basic necessities is a great way to narrow the field quickly.
There will typically be some kind of notation or disclaimer at the bottom of the home page.
You can quickly look up the brokerage on the SIPC website. This should also be very clearly noted in an easy-to-find location.
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If the brokerage offers checking or savings accounts, or any other deposit products, are they covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation FDIC? Investment products — such as brokerage or retirement accounts that invest in stocks, bondsoptions, and annuities — are not FDIC insured, because the value of investments cannot be guaranteed.
What kind of insurance do they provide to protect you in case the company fails? If the company adheres to the Customer Protection Rule, it should also provide additional coverage above and beyond the basic requirements of the SIPC. Is there any kind of guarantee of protection against fraud? Will the company reimburse you for losses resulting from fraud?
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Make sure you double check what the brokerage requires of you in order for you to be reimbursed. Find out if you have to provide any documentation or take specific precautions to protect yourself.
What are current customers saying? Try searching online for consumer reviews of the brokerage, using keywords like " insurance claim ," "fraud protection" and "customer service.
However, if there are several users from different sites all lodging the same complaint then you may want to investigate further. Does the brokerage website offer two-factor authentication?
Do you have the option of activating a security feature in addition to your password? Common options can include answering security questions, receiving unique, which trading platform is normal codes via text or email, or using a physical security key that slots into your USB port. What kind of technology does the broker use to keep your account safe? Find out if the broker uses encryption or "cookies," and if it clearly explains how it uses them to protect your account information and how they work.
Does the company ever sell customer information to third-parties, like advertisers? The answer should definitely be no. What kinds of accounts does the broker offer besides standard taxable investment accounts? For example, if you have dependents, find out if you can open an Education Savings Account ESA or a custodial account for your child or other dependents.
Can you open a retirement account? Look into whether the broker offers Roth or traditional retirement accounts and if you can roll over an existing K or IRA. Are there different products for different investing goals? For example, find out if the broker offers managed accounts.
Also, find out if there investment minimums for different types of accounts. Can you manage retirement accounts for employees through the brokerage? This applies if the only employee in your small business is you. For some, a small premium may be justifiable if the platform offers features that its cheaper competitors lack.
In general, however, you want to lose as little of your investment returns as possible to accounting fees and trading commissions. Broker Account Fees Does the broker charge a fee for opening an account? Is there a deposit minimum? Are there any annual or monthly account maintenance fees? If so, are they waived for larger accounts or is there an easy way to avoid them even if your account balance is small?
For example, Vanguard waives its annual fee if account holders agree to receive documents electronically. Does the broker offer access to a trading platform as part of their free membership? Is there a Pro or Advanced trading platform that is pay-to-play?
Some advanced platforms are free for customers who agree to place a minimum number of trades per year or invest a minimum amount. What are the margin rates?
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Margin trading is only for very experienced investors who understand the risks involved. Trading Commissions Do trading commissions depend on how much you have invested through the brokerage or how often you trade? Make sure you look at the prices that will most likely apply to you based on your anticipated account balance and trading activity.