Buying stocks is one of the most over-hyped activities in the business world today. Online stock brokers allow you to bridge the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, so you can trade stocks in the blink of an eye with just the click of a button.
I’ve answered questions about “how to buy a stock” before, so let’s explore your options as far as online brokers go. There are many factors that should guide your decision, here are what I feel to be the top factors in deciding which stock broker is right for you:
- Customer Satisfaction
- This is probably the most important aspect of any online broker in my opinion. How do people feel about the service they are getting? This includes a sense of security that comes with the larger brokers with hundreds of thousands of customers and local branches you can visit for support. Does your broker assign an individual broker to every account, or are you doing it alone? On top of support features, people will generally report back on how fast transactions are made, which can be important to getting the best price on your trades.
- Commission Fees
- For me, this is probably even more important than satisfaction since I have less money at stake than the average investor. In short, brokers charge commissions on every trade you make to handle the transaction costs… how expensive are these? These costs can be anywhere from $1 to $20 per trade, so this can be a huge factor… or a non-factor… all depending on how much money you have in your account.
- Minimum Deposit
- Again, to some this is a non-factor, but it is definitely something you should consider if you are an average investor. Do you want that discount broker that has a minimum deposit of just $500… or are you going to look for the full-service kings that require upwards of $10,000 minimum in your account to start off.
- Research / Features
- Research is very important for every broker. Some of these fly-by-night brokers offer you nothing in the way of research. Most of the more established guys will give you free reports from Standard & Poor’s, Goldman Sachs, Reuters and other places that can help you make educated trades. On top of research, features like live stock tickers, after-market trading and even technical chart analysis should be important aspects of your broker. If you have the tools to be successful, you are far more likely to make money.
- The “Catch”
- What’s the catch? You should do your homework before choosing a broker. One reason I like Scottrade is that they don’t seem to have any, as all trades are just $7 forever. Other services have intro-deals that expire after the first month. For example, E-Trade has a free 100 trades deal, but when you read into it… it only lasts for the first 30 days. Other brokers will hike commission fees periodically, or charge you quarterly account fees for holding your cash. Finding all of the hidden terms is important, and can make or break your financing.
Now that we know about what we are looking for in a broker, it’s time to see what stock brokers are out there for you to use, and how the stack up in these five categories that I have outlined for you to apply when deciding where to house your cash. Introducing the Net Fool’s 2008 Value Rankings for Online Stock Broker
- Charles Schwab
- Interactive Brokers’
- TD Ameritrade
- Tradestation Securities
- Options Xpress
- Muriel Seibert
These rankings are based on my own experience, shared reviews from sources such as Barron’s, Standard & Poor’s, Forbes, Kiplinger and MSN Money. Please take note that the rankings are weighted toward lower-commission / lower-deposit “value” brokers, although all satisfaction and features are accurately represented.
Finding the right stock broker can be a real judgment call, and all of the “top 12” options are very good services. While I feel that you would be best off with an E-Trade or Scottrade account, holding an account with ShareBuilder or Zecco wouldn’t be your worst option. If you have a lot of investing money, you should focus more on features and satisfaction, so a brokerage like Schwab, Fidelity or Muriel Siebert to fit your needs if commissions really aren’t a factor for you.
I hope that you all found this guide useful. Online discount brokers are a relatively new phenomenon, and have been improving day in and day out… making it easier, cheaper and faster than ever to place trades and make money in the stock market.