Most of the buying and selling on the stock market is handled by stock brokers on behalf of their clients, who are the investors. Many different types of brokerage services are available.
“Full-service brokers” offer a variety of ways to help clients meet their investment goals. These brokers can give advice about which stocks to buy and sell, and often have large research departments that analyze market trends and predict stock movements, for their clients.
Such services are not free, of course. Full-service brokers charge the highest commission rates in the industry. Your decision whether to use a full-service broker will depend on your level of self-confidence, your knowledge of the stock market, and the number of trades you make regularly.
Investors who wish to save on commission fees generally use discount brokers. Brokers in this category charge much lower commissions, but they don’t offer advice or analysis. Investors who prefer to make their own trading decisions, and those who trade often rely on discount brokers for their transactions.
Taking the discount concept 1 step further, online brokers are the least expensive way to trade stocks. Both full-service and discount brokers usually offer discounts for orders placed online. Some brokers operate exclusively online, and they offer the best rates of all.
Whichever type of broker you choose, your first order of business will be to open an account. Minimum balance requirements vary among brokers, but it is usually between $500 and $1000. If you’re shopping for a broker, read the fine print about all the fees involved. You’ll find that some brokers charge an annual maintenance fee while others charge fees whenever your account balance falls below a minimum.
Cash Or Margin?
Brokerage accounts come in 2 basic types. The “cash account” offers no credit; when you buy, you pay the full stock price. With a “margin account,” on the other hand, you can buy stock on margin, meaning the brokerage will carry some of the cost. The amount of margin varies from broker to broker, but the margin must be covered by the value of the client’s portfolio.
Any time a portfolio falls below a specified value, the investor will have to add funds or sell some stock. A greater opportunity exists for realizing gains (and losses) with margin accounts, because they allow investors to buy more stock with less cash. Involving greater risk than cash accounts, as they do, margin accounts are not recommended for inexperienced traders.
Selecting The Right Broker For You
You should carefully consider your needs as an investor before making the choice of a broker. Do you wish to receive advice about which stocks to buy? Are you uncomfortable making trades on the Internet? If so, you will be best served by a full-service broker. If you are comfortable buying on the Internet, and you have the knowledge and confidence to make your own trading decisions, then you will be better off with an online discount broker.
After deciding which type of broker you want, do some comparison-shopping between competitors. Significant cost differences can show up when you factor in all the annual fees and brokerage rates. Estimate how many trades you expect to make in a year, how much cash you can deposit into your account, whether you want to use margin accounts, and which services you need. Armed with this information, you’ll be prepared to compare your actual costs for various brokers, and to make an educated choice.