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.
How much money do I need to get started investing? Not much. Note that many of the brokers above have no account minimums for both taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs. Once you open an account, all it takes to get started is enough money to cover the cost of a single share of a stock and the trading commission. (See “How to Buy Stocks” for step-by-step instructions on placing that first trade.)
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Seminars can provide valuable insight into the overall market and specific investment types. Most seminars will focus on one specific aspect of the market and how the speaker has found success utilizing their own strategies over the years. Examples include Dan Zanger and Mark Minervini, both of which I have attended and reviewed thoroughly here on the site. Not all seminars have to be paid for either. Some seminars are provided free, which can be a beneficial experience, just be extremely conscious of the sales pitch that will almost always come at the end. Whatever is offered, just say no!
How can I trade online without a broker?
The main difference between ETFs and mutual funds is in how they trade. ETFs trade like stocks, which means you can buy and sell them throughout the day and they fluctuate in price depending on supply and demand. Contrarily, mutual funds are priced each day after the market closes, so everyone pays the same price. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum investment than ETFs.
$4.95 commission applies to online U.S. equity trades in a Fidelity retail account only for Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC retail clients. Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee (from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal). Other conditions may apply. See Fidelity.com/commissions for details. Employee equity compensation transactions and accounts managed by advisors or intermediaries through Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions® are subject to different commission schedules.
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Shouldn’t I just choose the cheapest broker? Trading costs definitely matter to active and high-volume traders. If you’re a high-volume trader — buying bundles of 100 to 500 shares at a time, for example — Interactive Brokers and TradeStation are cost-effective options. Ally Invest offers $3.95 trades ($1 off full price) for investors who place more than 30 trades a quarter. Commissions are less of a factor for buy-and-hold investors, a strategy we recommend for the majority of people. Most online brokers charge from $5 to $7 per trade. But other factors — access to a range of investments or training tools — may be more valuable than saving a few bucks when you purchase shares.
The best investors are in it for the long haul. Checking your account too often might make you react to the fluctuations in the market too quickly. Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has written that you should check your investments “probably every few months, with a major review every year.” On many sites, you can also set an alert if a stock dives. Other than that, just set up a quarterly recurring appointment to check in.
Give yourself a few thousand in fake money and play investor for a bit while you get the hang of it. “Just start. Even with just a virtual portfolio. Start and then commit to building over time,” says Jane Barratt, CEO of investment education and advisory company GoldBean. “Don’t expect anything major to happen in a short time — build your money muscles by taking risks in a virtual portfolio.” To experiment with trading before getting your feet wet with real money, try TD Ameritrade's paperMoney, a virtual trading platform.
That's because — get this — the wealthiest 10% of households own 84% of all stocks—and that includes pension plans, 401(k) accounts and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) as well as trust funds, mutual funds and college savings programs like 529 plans. That means 90% of American households own the remaining 16% of all stock. These sobering stats come courtesy of Edward N. Wolff, an economist at New York University, who tells the New York Times “For the vast majority of Americans, fluctuations in the stock market have relatively little effect on their wealth, or well-being, for that matter.
Now, imagine that you decide to buy the stocks of those five companies with your $1,000. To do this you will incur $50 in trading costs, which is equivalent to 5% of your $1,000. If you were to fully invest the $1,000, your account would be reduced to $950 after trading costs. This represents a 5% loss, before your investments even have a chance to earn a cent!
Three other common strategies you may hear traders refer to include momentum trading (buying shares of very fast growing companies and selling them for a profit before they inevitably peak in price), swing trading (using technical analysis to identify a trading range, and then buying and selling shares as the stock trades within that range), and penny stock trading (buying shares of very small companies whose stocks trade for less than $1 a share).
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First things first, let’s quickly define stock trading. Stock trading is buying and selling shares of publicly traded companies. Popular stocks most Americans know include Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX), and more recently listed companies such as Uber (UBER) and Pinterest (PINS).