Investing
September 24, 2015

How to Choose an Online Brokerage Account

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

An online brokerage account allows you to invest in stocks, certificates of deposit, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and more. Whether you’re just getting started or are an experienced trader, an online brokerage account offers convenience and flexibility. Since you can do everything online, you won’t need to meet with a broker when you want to purchase stock or make a trade.

Online brokerage accounts put you in control of your investments. With a multitude of online brokerage accounts all advertising competitive fees and different benefits, it’s tough to know which one to choose. But there are some key factors to consider that can make deciding a little easier.

Online brokers generally charge a flat-rate fee per transaction. Some brokerage accounts may advertise exceptionally low trading fees for an introductory or promotional period, but tack on annual or account maintenance fees. Rates from most companies vary from $0 to $40 per trade. Read the brokerage account’s full fee schedule to uncover any hidden fees before signing up for an account. Fees are often higher for limit orders, options and trades placed over the phone.

While some companies have no minimum deposit required to get started, others require as much as $10,000. Generally, most companies require between $1,000 and $2,500 to get started. If you don’t have that much to invest, the minimum deposit may be one of the first features you’ll want to compare when choosing a brokerage account.

  • Customer service. When choosing an online brokerage account, find out what type of customer service they provide. Contact the brokerage account’s customer service line just to get an idea of the expected wait times or operation hours.
  • Research tools. Some accounts provide valuable research and education tools to help you make informed trading decisions. Useful tools include charts, calculators and screeners.
  • Ease of use. Some brokerage accounts are very user-friendly, while others are more complex. Get an idea of how the order tickets work, how quotes are streamed, and how to navigate the dashboard.
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