A basic brokerage account that will let you buy and sell stocks will meet the needs of some people. But in today's sophisticated financial world, you really should think about establishing one with bells and whistles that open up a range of investments.

Luckily, investors have a great negotiating position right now. With many people scared to death of anything to do with the market, brokerage firms have redoubled their efforts to retain and attract new customers.

New-account perks
For instance, at many brokers, you'll find valuable incentives for opening an account. Here's a sampling:

Broker

New-Account Perk

Scottrade

Up to $100 cash.

thinkorswim (NASDAQ:SWIM)

Refund up to $100 in transfer fees.

TradeStation (NASDAQ:TRAD)

Free trading services for 30 days.

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)

100 free trades per year.

ShareBuilder

$50 transfer bonus.

TD AMERITRADE (NASDAQ:AMTD)

$100 cash plus 30 days of free trades; up to $500 for IRA rollovers.

E*Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC)

100 commission-free trades.

Charles Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW)

Free dedicated customer service that takes care of paperwork and other account transfer formalities.

Source: Company websites.

As you can see, there's no shortage of offers if you're looking for a new broker. Although most of them have specific terms and conditions that you'll have to meet in order to qualify, a little extra cash or some free trades can make a transition from one broker to another a lot easier to deal with.

Don't let the tail wag the dog
Of course, although you should clearly take advantage of any offer you can get, you don't want the offer itself to be the primary reason for choosing a broker. After all, long after that up-front cash is spent, or your commission-free trades used up, you'll likely want to keep using the same broker. Even the most valuable perks won't make up for a subpar brokerage experience over the long haul.

So in deciding which broker to choose, be sure you keep your focus squarely on the things that are most important to you:

  • Features. If you plan to trade various types of securities, such as foreign stocks, options, and futures, then you'll want to make sure your broker gives you that ability.
  • Costs. Depending on how often you trade, the savings from a relatively small number of free trades could get eaten up by higher commissions later on. Make sure you understand how your broker charges for transactions, as well as any exceptions to their basic commission schedule.
  • Ease of use. The mechanics of buying and selling stocks with a new broker can be quite different from your experience with your old broker. If possible, take a close look at the trading software platform, and make sure you're comfortable with the level of customer support and help provided in using the system. You may find it worth paying a little more for a system that meets your tastes for user-friendliness.
  • Stability. As many brokerage customers have discovered over the past year, Wall Street's turmoil means you can find that your firm has been bought out in an instant. For instance, Merrill Lynch customers now work with Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). While many customers may not care much which firm's name is on the door (or website), you may not want to deal with the hassle of being forced to accept even minor differences in the way you do business with your broker after a takeover.

Keeping these considerations in mind, if you can get yourself a great deal on a new brokerage account, don't hesitate to take advantage. Times may be tough in the financial industry, but that doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits by being a savvy customer.

For more on finding the best broker, check out:

Learn how you can pick the right broker to make the most of your investing prowess. 

Charles Schwab is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger is quite happy with his brokerage accounts, except that they haven't made him much money lately. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy is always rewarding.