The best way to practice: With a stock market simulator or paper-trading account. Many brokers offer these virtual trading platforms, and they essentially allow you to play the stock market with Monopoly money. Not only do you get to familiarize yourself with trading platforms and how they work, but you also get to test various trading strategies without losing real money. The link above has a list of brokers that offer these play platforms.
It is also important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest. For example, you might want to purchase a home, fund a child’s college education, or build an adequate retirement nest egg. If you set financial goals at the outset—and match your investments to achieve those goals—you are more likely to reach them.
In contrast, professional fund managers (information here) do not want tips. They have dozens of good ideas of their own. They won't be sharing those ideas with you and they will not be expecting you to share yours. Instead, they ask about how you allocate money. "Which sectors and markets do you like and why?" The difference between these approaches is like night and day.
Full-service brokerages: This label is given to traditional brokerage firms, primarily those that operate out of brick-and-mortar offices. Their main selling point is service, meaning that they offer more than just the ability to place a trade. A full-service brokerage firm might offer retirement planning help, tax tips, and guidance on which investments to buy or sell. Full-service brokers offer more hand-holding, and will probably even mail you a "happy holidays" card in December, but this service comes with a luxury price tag.
Diversify your portfolio to make sure that you don’t have too much exposure to one sector. This will help lessen your risks. Make sure to ease into your positions. You don’t need to invest all your money at once, and by easing in, you cost-average your position. Understand that investing in the market is a long-term strategy and historically, with time, the market goes up.
For the active trader, execution speed and fill price are very important. I won’t get too in depth here but I have tested many of these brokers and there can be noticeable differences in trade execution times and quality. For the majority of investors, saving a penny per share on a 100 shares order isn’t the end of the world, but for active traders it is something to look into. To understand Order Execution, read this guide.
Day trading is the act of buying and selling a financial instrument within the same day or even multiple times over the course of a day. Taking advantage of small price moves can be a lucrative game—if it is played correctly. But it can be a dangerous game for newbies or anyone who doesn't adhere to a well-thought-out strategy. What's more, not all brokers are suited for the high volume of trades made by day traders. Some brokers, however, are designed with the day trader in mind. You can check out our list of the best brokers for day trading to see which brokers best accommodate those who would like to day trade.
NerdWallet’s ratings for brokers and robo-advisors are weighted averages of several categories, including investment selection, customer support, account fees, account minimum, trading costs and more. Our survey of brokers and robo-advisors includes the largest U.S. providers by assets under management, plus notable and/or emerging players in the industry. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include advisory fees, branch access, user-facing technology, customer service and mobile features. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.