How to Choose the Best Online Broker
With more than 15 online brokers to choose from, selecting the most suitable one for you can take some time. Your first inclination may be to focus on fees, but there’s a lot more to online trading than a fee schedule. Read on for tips on choosing the best online broker.
Assess your trading style. Before sorting through online broker descriptions and consulting our online stock trading review, determine how you’re going to trade. Some investors continue to look at a buy-and-hold strategy as a smart approach to investing, while others have shifted their trading to move with the market and trade more often. Whichever approach you determine is right for you, make sure you do a considerable amount of research on your approach, and consider the current state of the market before you begin trading. Then look for a broker that can provide the tools you need for the trades you want to make.
If you’re a buy-and-hold investor, look at online broker services and research functions. When you decide to commit to a basket of stocks for the long term, you want to be able to access as much online research as possible before making your trades. So the best online broker for you will be one that provides a constant flow of information on your stocks, their fundamentals and up-to-date news. Look for brokers that provide user-friendly platforms for your research.
If you’re a more frequent trader, look closely at fees. Here is where fees become more important. Frequent traders can see commissions eat away at their gains, so make sure you’re clear on how much each trade will cost you, and make sure you’re comfortable with giving up a chunk of cash with each transaction, whether you sell for a profit or loss. Consulting our Online Stock Trading Review chart, you’ll see several brokers offer commissions in the under $10 range for orders you execute yourself. Broker-assisted orders typically are more expensive.
If you’re mobile, look for tools to help you trade on the go. Some investors prefer to stay home and engage in market activity from a desktop computer, while others – particularly frequent traders – need the flexibility of taking their trading with them wherever they go. If you’re in the second group, look for mobile apps that are compatible with your devices. Some online brokers offer no mobile support; some offer apps for BlackBerry, iPad and iPhone formats but not Android devices; and other brokers provide mobile support for all of these devices. If you choose a broker based on its mobile apps offerings, familiarize yourself with the app's functionality before you begin trading.
Consider investments beyond stocks. With all the hype surround online stock trading services, it’s easy to forget that online brokers offer a full slate of other investment options, including mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, education savings plans and, in some cases, access to international stock and foreign currency exchanges. If you know going in that you’ll want to assemble a broad spectrum of investments with your online broker, sort through fee schedules so you know what you’ll pay for each purchase or service.
As you try to settle on the best online broker for your needs, you may find several that fit the bill. In this case, visit broker websites to learn more about what’s available, and review trading demos if they’re offered by your potential picks.