Full-Service, Discount and Online Stock Brokers - Read Reviews, Compare and Select the Best One
Selecting online stock broker is an important initial step of every trader or investor. Take smart decision with reviews, tools and articles published here.
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Factors to Watch When Selecting a Broker
Online stock brokers are only one of many choices these days to buy and sell stocks, whose major advantage is definitely extremely low brokerage fees. If this type of broker will suit your needs is something that you have to find out and understanding what a broker actually does, will help you a lot. Broker is a salesperson working for a brokerage house whose purpose is to make money for themselves and their sales staff by caring out your transactions; broker interests are not necessarily aligned with yours.
To become a broker one must first pass licensing exam or more of them. Only then is allowed for them to advise you, solicit business from you, and to execute your transactions for you. A broker can advise you, try to sell you, and do your trades for you and their level of service is the main difference between a full-service stock broker and discount stock brokers; full-service brokers offer you advice and hand holding while the discount and online stock brokers just execute your trade orders and perhaps try to solicit more business from you.
Full-Service Stock Brokers
Full-service brokers usually offer a wide variety of financial products as well as investment advice and research. They charge higher fees than discount brokers.
Discount Stock Brokers
Discount stock brokers do not offer any advice or research - they just execute your trade instructions. At least that's the way it used to be with a discount stock broker. These days, however, there is a wealth of research from third parties that many discount stock brokers can offer you within your account at their website.
Because a discount stock broker doesn't have to hire expensive stock analysts and expensive stock brokers, discounters can charge considerably lower fees than full-service brokers.
Online Stock Brokers
Online stock brokers a similar to discount brokers in the level of their service only that they only offer online computer order entry services and can therefore be even cheaper for you.
Choosing Among Online Stock Brokers
It's essential that you determine the level of service you need! If you aren't willing to do your own homework on choosing investments in the stock market, then a full service broker might be for you. If you plan to mostly buy investments for the long term and hold on to them, then you won't be trading so often and the higher commissions won't matter so much in the big picture. On the other hand, if you are planning to trade more often, then online stock brokers are ideal for you. They give you the lower costs of trades, which matters a lot since you'll be trading more often.
The next step in choosing online stock broker is to compare each broker to evaluate the best broker that meets your needs; even within this group of stock brokers they can offer you different services and features.
This is a fee you are charged for buying or selling through your online account and it the most important cost of trading. They can be expressed on a per unit base or in percentage terms, depending on the market you are trading. There is often a sliding scale offered to you, meaning the more units you purchase in a single transaction, the less the "cost per unit" you will pay. Compare each broker and read the fine print within contracts.
Account Holding Fees
Account handling fees will vary depending on the type of cash management account you use. If the broker supplies their own account then the cost will be minimal. Look for any hidden fees and be careful also about fees concerning corporate actions, fees for withdrawing money... All fees should be listed in the terms and conditions and presented to you before opening an account.
Online brokers usually supply their own trading platform. The software that you use can be simply web based or separate application that has to be downloaded and installed on your computer. If foreign currency trading is your preferred platform, you can view forex charts at fxcm.com and place and manage trades directly from the charts. Most brokers will offer you at least the web version of trading platform for free, but there can be a big difference among them in data and data quality they provide you. While delayed data from exchanges is mostly free, they can charge you different fees for providing you real-time stock quotes and other data, like Reuters News for example.
Online services can go down during hours of service. Interruptions to broadband services, power outages and computer problems can stop you from accessing information you need at critical points. This is why you must have phone access to your online broker. Most online brokers accept also telephone orders in this case, but they charge you a higher fee for these trades.
Customer service becomes an important issue with an online account as you need to access this at some stage. You can check their accessibility before you join. You should check that you are not keep on hold for extended periods of time. Not only is this annoying, it also means that others are having issues with their accounts or trading platforms.
Most brokers have a cash account facility that is linked to your trading account which means you can access your money anytime. For the cash holding on the trading account brokers normally pay you interests, not as high as saving accounts, but this can be a factor of decision, especially in bear trends, when you step out of stock positions and hold cash for an unknown period of time.
All online brokers should offer you financial statements so that you can reconcile your accounts. This becomes important at tax time and when discrepancies occur in your account.
Terms And Conditions
Carefully read the terms and conditions offered by online brokers. Compare minimum account balances and possible other minimum requirements, like minimum trades per month.
Many brokers will give you extra incentives to open an account with them. Some brokers offer cost-free trading for a limited period of time or for a limited period of trades; others will offer free reports on the markets you are interested in. Check these bonus offers if all other equal between your potential brokers, but not make this number one criteria.
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Written by: Goran Dolenc