Published in: Buying Stocks | Aug. 6, 2019

6 Things to Look for in a Brokerage Account

Photo of Lyle Daly

By: Lyle Daly

Opening a brokerage account? Here’s how you can make sure you choose the right one.

Man sitting at a desk reading documents

Image source: Getty Images

You’ve decided to start investing, which is one of the smartest financial decisions that you can make. The next part is where it gets tricky -- you need to open a brokerage account.

This is where many a budding investor has gotten overwhelmed with options. You think that finding a broker will be a quick process, only to discover that there’s a seemingly endless number of them out there.

While there are plenty of great brokerage accounts to choose from, you can narrow them down by looking for a few things in particular.

1. Diverse investment options

To pick a broker, you’ll need to have an idea of how you want to invest. Here are some of the typical investment options that most brokerage accounts will offer:

  • Individual stocks
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
  • Mutual funds

ETFs and mutual funds are popular investment choices since they include a diverse range of assets. If you plan to invest in either of those, then you should make sure that the broker has a wide range of funds available, and that it offers ETFs or mutual funds that you can purchase without a fee.

If you plan on trading futures or foreign currencies, you should also look for a brokerage account that offers access to those, because not every account will.

2. Reasonable commissions

The commission is the fee you pay each time you make a trade. You don’t want to go with a brokerage account that charges too much, because that will cut into the return on your investments.

A good range to look for here is between $4.95 to $6.95 per trade. Many of the best brokers have commissions in this range, so you’ll have plenty of options.

3. No unnecessary extra fees

While commissions are standard with buying and selling stocks, you should avoid brokerage accounts with extra fees. Examples of these include:

  • Annual fees
  • Fund transfer/withdrawal fees
  • Inactivity fees

There are many brokers without these types of fees, so don’t settle for one that has them.

4. An affordable account minimum

The account minimum is the amount of money you need to deposit to open the brokerage account, and this varies quite a bit from broker to broker.

Some brokers require you to deposit at least $500 or $1,000 to open an account. Some require several thousand dollars. And for investors who don’t have that much ready to deposit yet, there are also brokers that have no account minimum.

In this case, "affordable" means affordable to you, so just make sure you pick a brokerage account that has a minimum you can meet without straining yourself financially.

5. Research and educational resources

You’re going to need plenty of information to make the best decisions with your investments. Ideally, you want a brokerage account that puts the information you need at your fingertips. Depending on the broker, this may include:

  • Third-party research
  • Performance analysis of different stocks and funds

You can always get this elsewhere online, but it will be more convenient when you have this available in your brokerage account.

6. Reliable online and mobile access

The last thing you want is to be unable to make a trade because you can’t access your brokerage account. That’s why it’s important to check that a broker has a reliable, easy-to-use website, as there are brokers that have had outages at inopportune moments.

It’s also a good idea to get an account that you can access using a mobile app. After all, you may need to review your account and make trades even at times when you can’t get to a computer.

Finding your brokerage account

Opening a brokerage account is undoubtedly a big decision, as the hope is that you’ll be using this account for years and potentially even decades to come.

To sum it up, you should look for brokerage accounts offering the investment options you want with competitive commissions, no dubious extra fees, and an account minimum that’s within your budget.

Once you’ve found a few potential account options, see what kind of resources they offer, and make sure to choose a broker you can access whenever you want through your computer or your phone.

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