If you're looking for a new brokerage to handle your investments, check out the August 2006 issue of SmartMoney magazine, where you'll find ratings for lots of brokers. You should also visit our own Broker Center, where you can read about how to choose the best brokerage and can compare four solid brokerages with a handy broker comparison table. Three of the four are among SmartMoney's top "Premium Brokers," where they rank first, second, and fifth.

Of course, remember that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to brokerages. If you trade a lot, then low commissions will be important to you, and you'll be happy to know that some brokerages charge as little as $8 to $12 per transaction. If you favor mutual funds, you might want to look for a brokerage that offers a wide variety of them -- but also keep in mind that you can usually invest in a mutual fund directly through the fund company.

You can also gather details for comparisons straight from the horses' mouths -- brokerage websites. Here are some of the major players in the brokerage world:

  • Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER)
  • Raymond James Financial (NYSE:RJF)
  • Citigroup's (NYSE:C) Smith Barney
  • TD Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD)
  • E*Trade (NYSE:ET)
  • ShareBuilder
  • Fidelity
  • Scottrade
  • Charles Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW)
  • Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Firstrade
  • TradeKing
  • UBS

As you compare brokerages, try to figure out which ones offer the most services you want, and how much each will cost you in various fees and commissions.

And pay attention to those fees. These days, as SmartMoney notes, many full-service brokerages, such as Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, and Morgan Stanley, now charge customers an annual fee that's fixed as a percentage of assets. So if you have $500,000 invested and are being charged 1.5%, you'll be forking over some $7,500 per year. You'd better be getting phenomenal advice and results for that!

Charles Schwab is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, and Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try out any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.