Where to Turn for a Last-Minute IRA

We all procrastinate from time to time. That's OK with relatively trivial things in life, like taking out the trash and unloading the dishwasher. But it's not acceptable when it places your financial future in jeopardy.

Tick-tock
The deadline for making a 2012 IRA contribution is April 15. So, with less than one week left, time is of the essence. Remedy the situation by opening an IRA and funding it today. Luckily for you, there are many online discount brokerage firms more than willing to help out. Several offer no annual maintenance fees, low-cost investing options, and a huge menu of stocks and mutual funds.

If you need a refresher, familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of IRAs, IRA rules, and a brief explanation of how to open an IRA. Then hop back over here.

Providers that can help you at the last minute
What you desire in an IRA provider may point you to one discount broker instead of another. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding what firm is best for you.

Discount brokerages offer very inexpensive stock-trading fees. Scottrade boasts extremely low $7 online trading fees. Trades at Fidelity and Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCHW  ) will cost you as little as about $8 and $9 each, respectively. And TD AMERITRADE's (NYSE: AMTD  ) and E*TRADE's (NASDAQ: ETFC  ) $10 fees are only a hair more. Vanguard charges $7 for the first 25 stock and non-Vanguard ETF trades in each calendar year, then $20 for each subsequent trade. If you need extra help placing trades, TD AMERITRADE and Scottrade have local offices and offer broker assistance. And if you open an IRA and fund it with $2,500, ShareBuilder, a part of Capital One Financial (NYSE: COF  ) , will give you 25 free trades.

As exchange-traded funds have become increasingly popular retirement account options, brokerage firms have tailored their lineups accordingly. Schwab rolled out commission-free ETFs a few years ago, but recently expanded its menu of offerings with its OneSource platform.  Schwab's OneSource boasts more than 100 different ETFs, including State Street's (NYSE: STT  ) hugely popular SPDR ETFs. Fidelity's recently expanded partnership with BlackRock now offers its customers the greatest number of commission-free ETFs online from iShares, including all 10 iShares Core ETFs. Not to be overlooked, TD AMERITRADE boasts over 100 commission-free, non-proprietary ETFs while Vanguard offers all of its Vanguard ETFs commission-free.

Most discount brokerage firms require no account minimums and charge no annual maintenance fees. Keep in mind that Schwab requires a $1,000 account minimum for an IRA, which is waived if you set up a direct deposit of at least $100 per month. Meanwhile, Fidelity obligates account holders to contribute $2,500 for an annual fee waiver, unless you direct deposit a monthly minimum of $200.

Before getting started, think about what you want from your IRA provider. Are you dead-set on iShares ETFs for your IRA? Are broker-assisted trades important to you? Do you intend to set up a monthly direct deposit for your IRA contribution, or do you think you'll make your entire contribution all at one time? Only you can determine which of these providers best suit your needs.

Foolish bottom line
Even though the deadline is fast approaching, don't sweat it. Many IRA providers can provide last-minute help. Our Foolish IRA Center can put you in touch with the resources you need to get your IRA opened and funded today.

Making the right financial decisions today makes a world of difference in your golden years, but with most people chronically under-saving for retirement, it's clear not enough is being done. Don't make the same mistakes as the masses. Learn about The Shocking Can't-Miss Truth About Your Retirement. It won't cost you a thing, but don't wait, because your free report won't be available forever.


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