Take for example the S&P 500 market index, which is comprised of 505 companies. Buying shares in 505 different companies would be very difficult to do. Thanks to mutual funds and ETFs, we can simply buy one single security that holds shares in all 505 companies. The largest S&P 500 mutual fund is the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) and the largest S&P 500 ETF is the State Street Global Advisors SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).
A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, or any individual that has a fundamental understanding of the stock market. A good mentor is willing to answer questions, provide help, recommend useful resources, and keep spirits up when the market gets tough. All successful investors of the past and present have had mentors during their early days.
In the stock market, for every buyer, there is a seller. When you buy 100 shares of stock, someone is selling 100 shares to you. Similarly, when you go to sell your shares of stock, someone has to buy them. If there are more buyers than sellers (demand), then the stock price will go up. Conversely, if there are more sellers than buyers (too much supply), the price will fall.
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.
Unlike most online stock trading platforms, Robinhood doesn’t charge a commission fee every time you buy or sell stocks, ETFs, or options. If you’re a high-volume trader, or a beginner without much cash to spare, that makes Robinhood an attractive alternative to the $5 to $7 fees per trade offered by competitors. However, Robinhood does rake in “payment for order flow” by rounding regulatory fees up to the nearest penny and pocketing the difference. “That means if you buy a stock for $100.00, Robinhood earns 2.6 cents from the market maker,” says co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev, whereas “other brokerages earn rebates and charge you a per-trade commission fee.”
Brokers are either full-service or discount. Full-service brokers, as the name implies, give the full range of traditional brokerage services, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare and everything related to money. They usually only deal with higher-net-worth clients, and they can charge substantial fees, including a percent of your transactions, a percent of your assets they manage, and sometimes a yearly membership fee. It's common to see minimum account sizes of $25,000 and up at full-service brokerages. Still, traditional brokers justify their high fees by giving advice detailed to your needs.
New investors need two things from their online stock trading platform: an easy learning curve and lots of room to grow. E*TRADE has both. Its platform boasts a library of educational videos, articles, and webinars for each type of investor. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, read up on market news, reports, and commentary from E*TRADE analysts. You can also take advantage of one-on-one assistance: Branch appointments are free to book, and online chat tools and 24-hour hotline are there to guide you from anywhere in the world.
The 2010s have been a boom era for online stock brokers. According to Statista, between 10% and 15% of all U.S. adults used an online broker at least once in 2018. While some major brokerages have remained the same (Charles Schwab), others have gone through mergers and acquisitions (E*TRADE acquired OptionsHouse; TD Ameritrade and Scottrade merged; TradeKing is now Ally Invest), and a new generation of millennial-focused brokers (like Robinhood and Acorns) has kept the old guard on its toes by lowering commission rates and minimum deposits. After digging into 25 trading platforms, here are the factors that set our top picks apart from the crowd.
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.
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We found Robinhood’s trading interface — both via its mobile app and its website — the most user-friendly of all candidates, making it a perfect option for the first-time trader. The design is minimalist, interactive, and easy to navigate. “Robinhood is a good fit for new investors because it offers a slick, modern app that allows you to trade efficiently,” says James Royal, a stock analyst and investing and wealth management reporter at Bankrate. “And of course, it's free, allowing you to invest money that would have otherwise gone into a broker's pocket.”
With the advent of online trading, there are a number of discount brokers with no (or very low) minimum deposit restrictions. One of the most popular online trading sites is ShareBuilder. You will, however, be faced with other restrictions and see higher fees for certain types of trades. This is something an investor with a $1,000 starting balance should take into account if he or she wants to invest in stocks.
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.