Stumped about which discount broker to entrust with your investing cash? If you find yourself deadlocked, customer service can be a persuasive tiebreaker.

If you're making only five, six, 10, even 20 trades in a year, the difference between paying $7 per trade and $20 per trade isn't significant. (Comparing commission schedules is pretty easy.) We think it's better to make customer service a priority and not sweat about most of the other stuff. After all, how much did you ever worry about which bank to open your first checking account with? The differences are about the same.

Here are a few ways to ascertain what kind of service you can expect:

Visit the website: Customer service includes website performance and interface. Check out each brokerage's website. Is the interface intuitive? Can you find what you're looking for without having to click 65 links? Is it speedy? If talking to a live human is important to you, test their phone service. Does the brokerage answer the phone promptly? Is there an office nearby, just in case you need to talk face-to-face? (Not everyone does, but if that's important to you, put it down on your checklist.) You'll definitely want to see how the brokerage does at sending you all relevant material you ask for online.

Weigh non-brokerage services: If you want to consolidate your PINs and pennies, think about looking for a brokerage account that can accommodate your banking needs. Many brokers now offer:

  • Money market sweeps
  • Check writing and bill payment
  • Visa cards
  • Direct deposit
  • ATM cards

Your cash will typically attract higher interest rates in a brokerage money market account versus the typical savings or checking account.

Review their research and tools: Some brokerages market their research as a real plus. That's fine, but you probably don't want to pay for it. There's plenty of research available on the Web (including right here at Some of the offerings include analyst reports, real-time quotes, and detailed financial data.

Consider the freebies: We wouldn't suggest making too big a deal about the freebies. After all, they are one-time things, and $100 or a new Koosh ball probably isn't going to be worth the hassle if you soon find that you've made the wrong choice and have to move your account elsewhere. Still, free money is free money (and Kooshes are a great way to relieve stress).

See whether any of the discount brokerage sponsors in our Broker Center make the grade. We line them up side by side for your shopping pleasure.