When we started our 2020 online broker reviews six months ago, no one knew how the world would change. We recognize that we all are living through a particularly volatile time as we deal with this global crisis, and financial markets have also seen unprecedented change, impacting all investors. Our analysis of the online brokerage industry is, "Commission Cuts, Consolidation, and a Coronavirus Crash."
At the same time, there are literally hundreds of thousands of individuals who buy and sell corporate securities on one of the regulated stock exchanges or the NASDAQ regularly and are successful. A profitable outcome is not the result of luck, but the application of a few simple principles derived from the experiences of millions of investors over countless stock market cycles.
The least demanding way to invest in the stock market is to invest through a fund. There are two types of funds. First is the actively managed mutual funds which have higher fees—92% of these funds fail to beat the underlying index over any three-year period. The second type is the index tracking fund, which typically has lower costs and is more effective in matching the growth of the stock market. This means they are growing in popularity because of the higher return on investment you receive. You should also use the most tax efficient way to invest: using your Investment Retirement Account (IRA) first. It’s best to invest in a low-cost, index-tracking fund through your tax-free IRA.
It’s best if you can automate your actual stock investments. Robo-advisors can do this for you, or if you must, you can manually buy stocks every time you receive a paycheck and have money in your savings or brokerage account. The important point is that you make regular investments so that you aren’t tempted to time the market. Regularly investing the same amount is a form of dollar cost averaging, and it helps reduce risk in your stock investments.
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.
Many online brokerages do not limit their customers to just online stock trading. Full-service brokerages offer banking services including checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and more with deposits of up to $250,000 backed by the FDIC. Bank of America (Merrill Edge) and Chase (Chase You Invest Trade) are two examples of banks that also offer online trading.
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.