If you find your brokerage statements bewildering, you're not alone. A "Perplexity Poll" recently conducted by the brand strategy firm Siegel & Gale discovered that 42% of us scratch our heads when trying to decipher our brokerage statements.
Of course, the more experienced you become as an investor, the less confusing such statements are likely to be. But even so, you don't have to put up with obfuscation, no matter your investing sophistication. Not all brokerages' statements are alike. Some are easier than others to figure out.
Understanding what your brokerage statement is telling you is critical. You need to have a handle on how much your account is worth, how much income you're receiving in dividends, how much (if anything) you're paying for margin debt, and how your individual holdings are doing. Many brokerages don't reveal certain numbers of interest at all, such as how much you've gained or lost since the last statement. That does seem sneaky and self-serving, as the brokerage may not want you to get discouraged and lose interest in trading should you be doing poorly. But not following such progress each month is actually not such a terrible thing for us Fools, as we shouldn't be drawing conclusions based on how we do from month to month. What really matters is the long run.
A less common problem with brokerage statements happens when an unscrupulous broker (or "broker") sends you fake statements to cover up fraudulent shenanigans in your account. Looking out for mistakes -- or anything suspicious -- is worthwhile.
So what can you do if you'd like easier-to-understand brokerage statements? Well, for starters, certainly tell your brokerage what you'd like. It's valuable for it to know if it's letting you down. Then shop around a little. Chances are, the brokerage you use may not be the one best suited for you -- not only because of brokerage statement clarity but also perhaps because of commission costs, account maintenance fees, customer service responsiveness, availability of local branches, the range of mutual funds offered, and so on.
Contact a healthy handful of brokerages and gather information on them. Ask for a copy of a sample statement to see what it looks like. I invite you to poke around our Broker Center, too, as it offers additional guidance on comparing brokerages, as well as details on several brokerages that support the Fool.
The North American Securities Administrators Association and the Securities Industry Association offer a brochure, "Understanding Your Brokerage Account Statements," which is helpful.
You might also be interested in these articles:
- Don't Get Blindsided by Your Broker
- Rating the Low-Cost Brokers
- Finding the Best Brokerage
- Which Brokerage Is Best?
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.