February 24, 2017
If you've made it to a point in life where you're ready to start investing, or at least start thinking about investing, you may consider opening a brokerage account. But you're not alone if the thought of choosing a brokerage firm is foreign to you.
While brokers have helped individual investors buy and sell investments for decades, the relationship and services have changed over time. For instance, rather than calling their brokers, today many investors use a sleek online platform or mobile app to place orders.
Fees associated with maintaining a brokerage account and investing have also changed. Whether you've been investing for years, or are just diving in, it's wise to occasionally compare brokerage firms' offerings and costs, including those listed below, and find the option that's right for you.
Trading-platform fees might not be necessary. A trading platform is downloadable software or an online app that you can use to make trades, view real-time quotes and news, perform analysis and set up your trading strategies. While platform fees can cost hundreds of dollars a month, many high-quality options are completely free. Others are free as long as you meet minimum account balance requirements.
Trading fees are common, but prices vary. Brokerage trading fees can vary widely depending on the financial product and broker. Many online brokers charge a flat fee, typically somewhere between $5 to $10 per online trade for stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Some brokers alternatively charge a fee per share, which could be a better option for day traders.
Making a trade over the phone or with the help of a broker rather than on your own online could incur an additional fee (sometimes between $20 to $50).
Mutual fund transaction fees may be higher than the cost of trading stocks, although some brokers have a list of no-transaction-fee funds. More advanced trading tactics, such as options, also may have additional fees.
Higher trading fees don't necessarily indicate better service, but the fees could help the brokerage firm invest in its trading platform, customer service and research tools. Therefore, you'll want to compare each firm as a whole, not just the trading fees.
Avoid annual fees. Some brokers charge an annual fee, often around $50 to $75. You might be able to avoid the fee by maintaining a minimum balance in your account, or there are a number of brokerages that don't charge this fee regardless of your account balance.
Don't overthink account closure or transfer fees. It's common for a brokerage to charge $50 to $75 to close your account or transfer your holdings to a different brokerage. However, many brokerages will reimburse you when you open a new account with them.
Optional services are just that – optional. There are a few services, such as paper statements or premium research tools, that often cost money but are easy to opt in or out of based on your preferences.
How much could you save by choosing a low-fee brokerage? Unless you're an advanced investor, there are likely a variety of brokerages that can fulfill your needs. Review the fees you're paying at your current brokerage, or at a brokerage you're considering, and the competition's offering.
Paying $5 versus $10 per trade might not be significant for every investor. However, that's the difference between receiving $95 or $90 worth of stock when you invest $100. Everything being equal, spending the extra $5 means you take an immediate 5-percent loss, plus you miss out on potential gains.
Bottom line: Choosing a brokerage with low fees helps ensure that your money goes towards your investments rather than overhead expenses. Low-fee brokerages aren't necessarily worse either. Some still offer high-end services, advanced trading platforms and mobile apps that can satisfy the needs of most beginner or intermediate investors.
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