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.
Risk Disclosure: Trading in financial instruments and/or cryptocurrencies involves high risks including the risk of losing some, or all, of your investment amount, and may not be suitable for all investors. Prices of cryptocurrencies are extremely volatile and may be affected by external factors such as financial, regulatory or political events. Trading on margin increases the financial risks.
Matt is a Certified Financial Planner® and investment advisor based in Columbia, South Carolina. He writes personal finance and investment advice for The Ascent and its parent company The Motley Fool, with more than 4,500 published articles and a 2017 SABEW Best in Business award. Matt writes a weekly investment column ("Ask a Fool") that is syndicated in USA Today, and his work has been regularly featured on CNBC, Fox Business, MSN Money, and many other major outlets. He’s a graduate of the University of South Carolina and Nova Southeastern University, and holds a graduate certificate in financial planning from Florida State University.
Don't borrow money to use for stock market investment. On the stock exchange, borrowed money is known as either gearing or leverage. It is typically used either by companies (to help them finance growth), investment banks and hedge funds (to help juice their returns) or very aggressive traders. There are many spread betting (information here), options trading and day trading strategies that use borrowed money to enhance returns, but it also has a very profound impact on the risks being taken with each trade.
Imagine owning stocks in five different companies, each of which you expect to continually grow profits. Unfortunately, circumstances change. At the end of the year, you might have two companies (A & B) that have performed well so their stocks are up 25% each. The stock of two other companies (C & D) in a different industry are up 10% each, while the fifth company’s (E) assets were liquidated to pay off a massive lawsuit.
Finally, trading platforms may have specific requirements to qualify for their use. For example, day trading platforms may require that traders have at least $25,000 in equity in their accounts and be approved for margin trading, while options platforms may require approval to trade various types of options before being able to use the trading platform.
This is an excellent learning experience and one that is vital to the long-term profitability of anyone in the stock market. To get the real experience, purchase some graph paper and chart the stock price movements each day by hand. Learn to compare this with the overall movements of the equity market or index and a whole new world of investment and money will begin to open up to you!
Risk tolerance is also affected by one’s perception of the risk. For example, flying in an airplane or riding in a car would have been perceived as very risky in the early 1900s, but less so today as flight and automobile travel are common occurrences. Conversely, most people today would feel that riding a horse might be dangerous with a good chance of falling or being bucked off because few people are around horses.
While that may sound like outdated advice, in late 2012, an American marketing executive explained how he had turned $20,000 into $2 million during the recession. Chris Camillo explained that Wall Street is quite homogenous and tends to be behind the curve on trends involving females, young people and those on low incomes. Camillo invested in stocks that anyone could have, he just spotted trends before the investment bankers did and was able to make some very sizable profits.
In contrast to finding an expert or two that seems to make valuable and careful decisions, do your best to avoid listening to share market 'tips' from friends or work colleagues. Typically these people will know less than you and have very little to base their suggestion on. No matter how well meaning it may be, advice from someone who knows next to nothing about the topic in question is not advice.
If investing in single stocks may be too risky for you, consider investing in good growth stock mutual funds. Mutual funds are a simple, even boring, investment plan, yet they work well for most people. Of course, all investing requires a degree of risk; there really is no sure thing. But mutual funds are a great balance of reasonable risk and excellent returns. They have built-in diversification that will keep you from putting all your eggs in one basket.

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.
Buy in thirds: Like dollar-cost averaging, “buying in thirds” helps you avoid the morale-crushing experience of bumpy results right out of the gate. Divide the amount you want to invest by three and then, as the name implies, pick three separate points to buy shares. These can be at regular intervals (e.g., monthly or quarterly) or based on performance or company events. For example, you might buy shares before a product is released and put the next third of your money into play if it’s a hit — or divert the remaining money elsewhere if it’s not.
To make comparisons between companies, sectors and markets a little easier, there are a number of mathematical models used. The most common and often the most helpful is the P/E ratio. The Price to Earnings ratio takes the share price and is divided by the earnings per share. It is possible to calculate this using past earnings, projected future earnings and with all sorts of moving averages ;-) Therefore, this is one number that it is vital for any investor to know and understand.
Diversification allows you to recover from the loss of your total investment (20% of your portfolio) by gains of 10% in the two best companies (25% x 40%) and 4% in the remaining two companies (10% x 40%). Even though your overall portfolio value dropped by 6% (20% loss minus 14% gain), it is considerably better than having been invested solely in company E.
When deciding between trading platforms, traders and investors should consider both the fees involved and features available. Day traders and other short-term traders may require features like Level 2 quotes and market maker depth charts to assist in decision-making, while options traders may need tools that are specifically designed to visualize options strategies.
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