Brokerage Fees: Low or High?

It can be a little more complicated than you might expect to find the best brokerage for yourself. Sure, you could simply find one with ultra-low commission fees. But if you don't trade very often, those commissions shouldn't be a paramount concern.

If you're not the richest person on your block, here's something you should pay attention to: minimum assets needed to avoid maintenance fees. I was reminded of this when reviewing a chart that rated online brokerages in Consumer Reports'Money Adviser newsletter. (I'm an equal-opportunity newsletter consumer. I get a lot out of our own Fool newsletters -- check their impressive results! -- and non-Fool ones, too.)

The top-rated brokerage (based on criteria that focused to a large degree on mutual fund offerings and fees) was Firstrade (www.firstrade.com), followed by Trading Direct (www.tradingdirect.com), neither of which is too familiar to me. The third brokerage is one I am familiar with, as it's featured in our Broker Center: Brown/Co, a division of J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) . All three of these reportedly require no minimum asset amount in order to forgo account maintenance fees. That's a good thing.

In case you're thinking this isn't a big deal, think again. According to Money Adviser, Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCH  ) , a major player, requires at least $25,000 in assets or two trades per year -- otherwise, customers can expect to be charged a whopping $160 per year. Think about this. If you have built a little nest egg worth $2,000 and don't meet the two-trade minimum, you'll be charged 8% of your account's value in a single year! What's the point of investing, with fees like that? Schwab isn't alone, though it's well on the steep end of the spectrum. T. Rowe Price (Nasdaq: TROW  ) requires a minimum of $10,000 or two trades per year, or it charges an annual $25 fee. Wells Fargo's (NYSE: WFC  ) WellsTrade unit requires a minimum of $20,000 or two trades per six months -- otherwise, expect a $60 fee.

Fool, if you think your asset size or trading habits put you at risk of getting socked with account maintenance fees, look for a brokerage with low or no minimum requirements. Our Broker Center's handy comparison table might help. TD Waterhouse, a unit of Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE: TD  ) that is merging with Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) , for example, sports no maintenance fees.

Finally, know that some fees are negotiable. On our Discount Brokers discussion board recently, member kahunacfa explained that when he transferred an account from Schwab to another brokerage, "Schwab charged me a $60 exit fee. I made a copy of my very large [remaining] IRA account statement, enclosed that in a letter to Schwab, and told Schwab that I would transfer that account, too, unless they refunded the $60 exit fee for the smaller account. I had a $60 check from Charles the next week."

Learn more about the brokerage biz at our Discount Brokers discussion board and in these articles:

LongtimeFoolcontributorSelena Maranjiandoes not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.


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