A penny saved may well be a penny earned, but sophisticated investors understand that simply saving money is hardly adequate to ensure your financial future. Brokerages provide varying levels of services and assistance to investors large and small. The right brokerage for you depends on many factors, including how much money you have to invest and your purpose for investing. It goes without saying that you should check out the reputation of any brokerage service you're considering before investing any money. In addition, utilizing the categories included below can guide you in choosing the best brokerage service for your purposes.
Investment Types and Service Levels
There are a wide range of investment vehicles available. In general, riskier vehicles have a larger potential for both gains and losses. Stocks, futures, options and FOREX (currency trading) are among the riskiest investment vehicles. Less risky ventures with somewhat lower yields include municipal bonds and mutual funds. Experienced investors will be drawn to brokerages offering a range of investment vehicles, while novices may focus on one or two types of investment.
Brokerages also vary according to the level of service offered. Full service brokerages feature traders who suggest or actively make investment decisions on behalf of their clients, while so-called self service brokerages provide tools for investors to make their own transactions, with little guidance. Naturally, full-service brokerages tend to be more expensive, but the expense may be worthwhile for novices.
Online versus Desktop Platforms
There are two major types of brokerage platforms: online and desktop. Online platforms are generally easier to use, and therefore often suitable for novices. Online platforms also frequently include mobile options, either through dedicated apps or mobile friendly websites. Desktop platforms are more sophisticated and can be modified to fit the individual needs of experienced brokers.
Available Trading Tools
Among the standard brokerage features to look for include real-time quotes, filtering tools that allow users to monitor particular stocks or set limits according to price, volume, return on investment (ROI) and other factors. You should also look for brokerage services that allow you to create watch lists that include multiple buying and selling points for individual stocks. Experienced investors should seek brokerage services that allow users to add technical indicators and visual representations.
Education and Customer Service
Especially for novices, the availability of educational materials and responsive customer service is highly desirable. In particular, online FOREX platforms routinely include practice accounts with “funds” that novices can use for practice investments at no charge before venturing into real trades. Virtual trading platforms are also frequently available with other types of online brokerage platforms. Finally, portfolio management services can be useful for novices and experienced brokerage investors alike.
For modest investors or investors seeking to boost their bank balances, fees are often an important consideration. Common fees include commissions for ordering trades, contract fees for options, and fees for broker assistance. Fees vary according to the level of assistance provided – and sometimes according to the amount of money involved in a transaction, or by the number of transactions completed within a month.