Besides the basic buy and sell, brokers offer plenty of other services -- some of which you may want, and others it might be better to pass up.
These days, if you'd do it at a bank, you can do it through a brokerage account. Banking features available include:
- Money market sweeps
- Check writing and bill payment
- Visa cards
- Direct deposit
- ATM cards
In addition, many brokerages have opened their own bank affiliates, making it even easier to transfer money back and forth between brokerage and bank accounts.
If you're a frequent visitor to your bank's local branch (say you're frequently depositing cold, hard cash into your account), it may not make sense for you to shift all of your banking to a brokerage account. Also, using broker-sponsored ATM cards at the local bank's machine may result in a pile of fees.
However, your cash will typically earn higher rates in a brokerage money market account than it would in the typical savings or checking account, and that extra interest could make up some of the difference. Also, if you meet certain minimum account levels, some brokerages will reimburse you for ATM fees.
Some brokerages tout research as an incentive -- analyst reports, real-time quotes, and detailed financial data, for example. These offerings can be substantial, but there's plenty of investing research available on the Web (including right here at Fool.com). With the tons and tons of data, tools, and free research available via the Internet, it is unlikely that any brokerage can offer you tools impressive enough to significantly influence your choice.