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.
Not everyone who buys and sells stocks is a stock trader, at least in the nuanced language of investing terms. Most investors fall into one of two camps. Depending on the frequency in which they transact and the strategy driving their actions, they’re either “traders” (think Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street”) or “investors” (as in Warren Buffett).
TV is another way to monitor the market each day with CNBC being the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden an investor’s knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news be a nuisance, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and are overall full of junk recommendations. This is a natural evolution; you are not alone!
Keep good records for the IRS. If you’re not using an account that enjoys tax-favored status — such as a 401(k) or other workplace accounts, or a Roth or traditional IRA — taxes on investment gains and losses can get complicated. The IRS applies different rules and tax rates, and requires the filing of different forms for different types of traders. (Here’s an overview of the IRS rules for stock traders.) Another benefit of keeping good records is that loser investments can be used to offset the taxes paid on income through a neat strategy called tax-loss harvesting.
At $4.95 per trade, with no inactivity charge and a $50 full outgoing transfer fee, Ally Invest’s fee structure is about as low as you'll find. Even though a rash of brokers dropped their commissions in 2017 to be competitive with Ally Invest’s $4.95 flat rate, Ally keeps its edge with a zero account minimum and enticing discount for active investors — equity trades drop to $3.95 for users with 30-plus trades each quarter or a balance of $100,000.
The capital gains tax rate favors long-term investments. An investor who buys and sells their stocks within a few months will face a higher capital gains tax rate (25%) on their profits than an investor who buys and holds their stocks for a full year (15%). The larger your investment, the bigger the difference. Granted, there’s a risk to holding an investment for longer, but if you’re close to that one-year cutoff, it might be worth it to sit tight for a few more weeks.
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.
Choose your trading partner wisely. To trade stocks you need a broker, but don’t just fall for any broker. Pick one with the terms and tools that best align with your investing style and experience. A higher priority for active traders will be low commissions and fast order execution for time-sensitive trades (like our picks for best online platforms for active traders/day traders). Investors who are new to trading should look for a broker that can teach them the tools of the trade via educational articles, online tutorials and in-person seminars (see NerdWallet’s round-ups for the best brokers for beginners). Other features to consider are the quality and availability of screening and stock analysis tools, on-the-go alerts, easy order entry and customer service.
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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.
E*TRADE credits and offers may be subject to U.S. withholding taxes and reporting at retail value. Taxes related to these credits and offers are the customer’s responsibility. Offer valid for one new E*TRADE Securities non-retirement brokerage account opened by 12/31/2019 and funded within 60 days of account opening with $10,000 or more. Cash credits for eligible deposits or transfers of new funds or securities from accounts outside of E*TRADE will be made as follows: $1,000,000 or more will receive $2,500; $500,000–$999,999 will receive $1,200; $250,000–$499,999 will receive $600; $100,000–$249,999 will receive $300; $25,000–$99,999 will receive $200. New funds or securities must: be deposited or transferred within 60 days of enrollment in offer, be from accounts outside of E*TRADE, and remain in the account (minus any trading losses) for a minimum of six months or the credit may be surrendered. The credit will appear in your account within one week of the close of the 60-day window. Multiple deposits made to eligible accounts will be aggregated and will receive a credit on a pro-rata basis once the new account has been funded with at least $10,000. An account funded within 60 days of account open, with a minimum deposit of $10,000 will receive up to 500 commission-free stock and options trades executed within 60 days of the deposited funds being made available for investment in the new account (excluding options contract fees). You will pay $6.95 for your first 29 stock or options trades (plus 75¢ per options contract) and $4.95 thereafter up to 500 stock or options trades (plus 50¢ per options contract). Your account will be credited for trades within a week of the executed trade, after paying the applicable commission charge. You will not receive cash compensation for any unused free trade commissions. Excludes current E*TRADE Financial Corporation associates, non-U.S. residents, and any jurisdiction where this offer is not valid. This offer is not valid for retirement or E*TRADE Bank accounts. One promotion per customer. E*TRADE Securities reserves the right to terminate this offer at any time. Must be enrolled by December 31, 2019, the offer expiration date.
Measure your returns against an appropriate benchmark. This is essential advice for all types of investors — not just active ones. The bottom-line goal for picking stocks is to be ahead of a benchmark index. That could be the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (often used as a proxy for “the market”), the Nasdaq composite index (for those investing primarily in technology stocks) or other smaller indexes that are composed of companies based on size, industry and geography. Measuring results is key, and if a serious investor is unable to outperform the benchmark (something even pro investors struggle to do), then it makes financial sense to invest in a low-cost index mutual fund or ETF — essentially a basket of stocks whose performance closely aligns with that of one of the benchmark indexes.
Paying for research and analysis can be both educational and useful. Some investors may find watching or observing market professionals to be more beneficial than trying to apply newly learned lessons themselves. There are a slew of paid subscription sites available across the web, the key is in finding the right ones for you. View a list of the services I use myself. Two well-respected services include Investors.com and Morningstar.
The solution to both is investing in stock index funds and ETFs. While mutual funds might require a $1,000 minimum or more, index fund minimums tend to be lower (and ETFs are purchased for a share price that could be lower still). Two brokers, Fidelity and Charles Schwab, offer index funds with no minimum at all. Index funds also cure the diversification issue because they hold many different stocks within a single fund.