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When selecting a new online broker, the first step is to read reviews and see what features matter most to you. Are low-cost trade commissions most important? What about customer service, the trading platform, mobile app, investment research, ease of use, or education? With many brokers specializing in different areas, it is crucial to evaluate all categories by reading full-length broker reviews.
The biggest obstacle to stock market profits is an inability to control one’s emotions and make logical decisions. In the short-term, the prices of companies reflect the combined emotions of the entire investment community. When a majority of investors are worried about a company, its stock price is likely to decline; when a majority feel positive about the company’s future, its stock price tends to rise.
Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
A full-service broker might charge you as much as $300 in fees to invest $10,000 in a mutual fund or up to $100 to invest that same amount in a stock. On the other hand, a discount broker typically charges no commissions for online trades and has a list of no-commission mutual funds. That means the cost difference alone is reason enough for new investors to use a discount brokerage firm.
Normally a broker will offer their customers a branded trading platform that’s more or less unique to that individual broker, but there are also independent platforms that can connect to multiple brokers. An independent platform can be a good choice for the experienced trader, while using a broker’s own platform is the easiest way to get started for beginners.
TD Ameritrade, one of the largest online brokers, has made significant efforts to market itself to beginner investors through social media. Work is still being done to further streamline its web and mobile experiences and make them more accessible to new users, but the resources new investors can already access are exceptional. Education is a key component of TD Ameritrade’s offerings. You’ll find expanded learning pathways, ranging from beginner to advanced, to help clients understand everything from basic investing concepts to extremely advanced derivatives strategies. You can open an account and poke around without making a deposit, and take advantage of all the learning opportunities until you’re comfortable. TD Ameritrade wants new investors to become more confident, and to trade additional asset classes as their skills grow.
Depending on your goals, investing in individual stocks may be more trouble than it’s worth. Choosing index funds in a specific sector can provide your portfolio with the tilt you want, but with fewer dramatic swings. There are three criteria that can be leveraged to help guide fund choice. The most discussed is “expense ratio,” where lower means fewer fees to you. The second is the number of stocks in the fund. The higher the number, the more diverse the fund. Just as important is “total assets” under management. The more assets, the more other people also agree this is a great fund. When comparing two mutual funds, I’ll line up these three criteria for funds in the same category to make an informed decision.
Understand the risks associated with the stocks you are investing in. In the company’s 10-K, there is an extensive section that talks about the company’s risks. You also need to understand your own tolerance for risk. If you invest in a stock that is highly volatile and you are not comfortable with market fluctuation, owning the investment will make you anxious and more likely to sell when it does not make sense strategically.
Schwab is a full-service investment firm which offers services and technology to everyone from self-directed active traders to people who want the guidance of a financial advisor. It has a wide variety of platforms from which to choose, as well as full banking capabilities. It is, however, Schwab’s ETF screener on the StreetSmart Edge platform that will capture the attention of ETF investors. The StreetSmart Edge ETF screener has over 150 criteria that can combine fundamental, technical, and third party data. The ETF screener is extremely customizable and your criteria combinations can be saved for future re-use. Schwab’s news and research offerings overall were also among the deepest of all the brokerages we reviewed, sealing up this category for the industry giant.
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.
TD Ameritrade, one of the largest online brokers, has made significant efforts to market itself to beginner investors through social media. Work is still being done to further streamline its web and mobile experiences and make them more accessible to new users, but the resources new investors can already access are exceptional. Education is a key component of TD Ameritrade’s offerings. You’ll find expanded learning pathways, ranging from beginner to advanced, to help clients understand everything from basic investing concepts to extremely advanced derivatives strategies. You can open an account and poke around without making a deposit, and take advantage of all the learning opportunities until you’re comfortable. TD Ameritrade wants new investors to become more confident, and to trade additional asset classes as their skills grow.
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