If you’re an active, high-volume trader who dabbles in all kinds of assets, Interactive Brokers is a great option, since you can trade just about anything without losing $5 to $7 on every transaction. The platform interface isn’t nearly as user-friendly as Robinhood’s, nor as intuitive as TD Ameritrade’s; however, if you’re the kind of investor who’d benefit the most from Interactive Brokers (i.e., an experienced one), you’ll know your way around a candlestick chart already.
If you want to trade “futures” (agreements to buy or sell assets in the future), Ally Invest isn’t an option. That’s not unusual for an online stock broker — neither Robinhood, Vanguard, nor Fidelity offer futures trading — but you can do it with some of our other top picks, including E*TRADE, Charles Schwab, Interactive Brokers, and TD Ameritrade.
How do I determine if a brokerage firm is right for me before I open an account? Some key criteria to consider when evaluating any investment company are how much money you have, what type of assets you intend to buy, your trading style and technical needs, how frequently you plan to transact and how much service you need. Our post about how to choose the best broker for you can help you sort through the features brokerage firms offer and rank your priorities.
For the majority, online trading (especially day trading) will not outperform simply buying the entire market, such as the S&P 500, and holding it for many years. Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of all-time, recommends individual investors simply passively invest (buy and hold) instead of trying to beat the market trading stocks on their own. See: How to Retire with at least $1 Million Dollars.
When should you buy and sell stocks for beginners?
While E*TRADE’s baseline fees are a little high ($6.95 for stocks/ETFs, $6.95 plus 75 cents per contract for options) compared to Ally Invest, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity, E*TRADE does offer volume discounts. If you make more than 30 stock/ETFs trades per quarter, the fee drops to a very competitive $4.95, and if you trade more than 30 options per quarter, the contract fee goes down to 50 cents. That makes E*TRADE a good fit for active traders who keep a close eye on the market.
Learning about great investors from the past provides perspective, inspiration, and appreciation for the game which is the stock market. Greats include Warren Buffett (below), Jesse Livermore, George Soros, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch, John Templeton and Paul Tudor Jones, among others. One of my favorite book series is the Market Wizards by Jack Schwager.
Since Vanguard is the largest mutual fund provider in the world, it doesn’t charge a fee for most mutual fund trades. However, other kinds of trading are more expensive, with $7 per option and up to $20 per stock/ETF. For that reason, we don’t recommend Vanguard for beginning or low-volume traders. However, Vanguard is an excellent choice for retirement investors interested in long-term, high-volume earnings, or those looking for a place to take their IRA. In fact, Vanguard is one of our picks for the best IRA accounts.
Like Fidelity and Vanguard, Charles Schwab is one of the older brick-and-mortar investment brokers that successfully modernized its trading platform for the Internet Age. Of all our picks, Charles Schwab is the best option for advanced traders who want a full buffet of options (stocks, ETFs, options, bonds, mutual funds, futures) and an impressive suite of research tools. Best of all, even with all the perks Charles Schwab offers, it’s still one of the lowest-cost trading platforms, with cheaper fees than E*TRADE or TD Ameritrade on most trades.
CAUTION – One of the most common mistakes new investors make is to buy too many shares for their first stock trade; this is a mistake. Taking on too much risk as a beginner who is just getting started will very likely result in experiencing unnecessary losses. Instead, begin with trading small position sizes, then slowly work your way up to buying more shares, on average, each trade.
Articles are a fantastic resource for education. My most popular posts are listed on my stock education page. The most popular website for investment education is investopedia.com. I also highly recommend reading the memos of billionaire Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital), which are absolutely terrific. Naturally, searching with Google search is another great way to find educational material to read.
In terms of the beginning investor, the mutual fund fees are actually an advantage relative to the commissions on stocks. The reason for this is that the fees are the same, regardless of the amount you invest. Therefore, as long as you meet the minimum requirement to open an account, you can invest as little as $50 or $100 per month in a mutual fund. The term for this is called dollar cost averaging (DCA), and it can be a great way to start investing.
CAUTION – Be careful. Many paid subscriptions marketed online, especially in social media, come from one-off traders that claim to have fantastic returns and can teach you how to be successful. 99.99% of them are a really poor investment and come with higher prices of $99 – $149 per month, or more. The worst damage though comes when you try to do what they do, invest way too much in a stock tip, and get burned when it doesn’t work out. See, Day Trading: 10 Lessons That Changed My Career.
How can I build a diversified portfolio for little money? One easy way is to invest in exchange-traded funds. ETFs are essentially bite-sized mutual funds that are bought and sold just like individual stocks on a stock market exchange. Like mutual funds, each ETF contains a basket of stocks (sometimes hundreds) that adhere to particular criteria (e.g., shares of companies that are part of a stock market index like the S&P 500). Unlike mutual funds, which can have high investment minimums, investors can purchase as little as one share of an ETF at a time.
Diversification is considered to be the only free lunch in investing. (If you are new to this concept, check out Introduction To Diversification, The Importance Of Diversification and A Guide To Portfolio Construction.) In a nutshell, by investing in a range of assets, you reduce the risk of one investment's performance severely hurting the return of your overall investment. You could think of it as financial jargon for "don't put all of your eggs in one basket".
Finally, the other factor: risk tolerance. The stock market goes up and down, and if you’re prone to panicking when it does the latter, you’re better off investing slightly more conservatively, with a lighter allocation to stocks. Not sure? We have a risk tolerance quiz — and more information about how to make this decision — in our article about what to invest in.
You'll have to do your homework to find the minimum deposit requirements and then compare the commissions to other brokers. Chances are you won't be able to cost-effectively buy individual stocks and still be diversified with a small amount of money. Given these restrictions, it's probably worth starting out on your investment journey with mutual funds. However, like all aspects of investing, it's up to you to do the research and figure out the strategy that suits you best.