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If you are looking into buying shares of stocks of any kind, you will first need to get an online broker account. Choosing which broker you use is one of the biggest decisions you will make.
Before you go looking into which online broker you should use, you need to think about a few things. These things include the type of platform you need or want if you would like access to educational resources and other things of nature. Newcomers to the industry may find this to be a daunting and scary task, but that is what we are here to help with.
We are going to break down what you need to look for in a broker and then give you some options for the best online brokers available for those just starting out.With markets being everchanging and unpredictable, you need to be sure you can count on your broker.
Best Online Brokers for Beginner Traders:
Interactive Brokers - Best Package For Starters
Interactive Brokers offers services for both retail and institutional investors. It stands out from the pack as a broker that is best for gaining access to the worldwide markets. Interactive
IB offers a complete brokerage service. It not only caters to individual clients, but prop traders, family offices, hedge funds, money managers, and small businesses. This makes Interactive suitable for global traders. The company recently aggressive campaigning to encourage retailer traders, who can benefit from the experience, background, and resources the company gained through big business dealings.
While it may not be the cheapest broker around, the access to global financial markets, competitive pricing, and premium technology make Interactive an interesting proposition.
- Stocks - 125 markets worldwide
- Options - 40+ years’ experience – low commissioning gives access to sophisticated trading strategies
- Futures - Future options, commodities, futures, on 35 market centers in the world
- Forex - Transparent low commissions to trade 23 currencies worldwide
- Metals - Spot gold and silver on London bullion market
- Bonds - Access a full universe of U.S. government securities, corporate bonds, municipal securities and more
- ETFs - A large variety of ETFs, leveraged and short included
- Mutual Funds - Over 18,000 funds from 270 different fund families
- EFP - Exchange for Physical – sell stock and buy it back for future delivery
- Hedge Fund Investing - Choose from a wide range of independent hedge funds available on the IBKR’s network
- Easy to Navigate Website
- Free Trial
- No Pressure To Open An Account
- Amazing Educational Services
- Turnkey Solutions For Institutions
- IBKR Lite Account Needs Improvement
- Heavy Focus On Institutions
- High Inactivity Fees
Ally Invest - Best For Technology Experience
Ally Invest is a leader in the digital financial services niche and offers two methods of investing: Self directed trade or through a managed portfolio.
Self-directed trade allows hands-on investors to trade stocks, options, and ETFs in a low commission environment. However, Ally also considered those potential investors with limited knowledge or those who don’t want the responsibility for investing their own funds. Through its managed portfolios, every type of individual investor has an option with Ally. Additionally, the minimum amount is just $100.
Ally Invest is a great option for those who are interested in margin trading. The company’s margin account rates are among the lowest in the industry, and there is a range of products to trade.
- Stocks - Commission-free trading on all U.S. exchange-listed stocks
- ETFs - Wide selection from Vanguard, GlobalX, IShares, and more
- Options - Option-trading for just $0.5/contract
- Bonds - Government and corporate bonds to diversify the portfolio
- Mutual funds - Invest in various mutual funds worldwide
- Forex - 50 F.X. currency pairs to trade the world’s largest market
- Margin account - Trade on margin by borrowing from the broker
- Socially responsible - Invest in companies with environmental-friendly initiatives
- Tax optimized - Maximize your investment when making after-tax contributions to an investment account
- Core - Fixed-income, internationally diversified portfolio
- Income - High dividend yields while maintaining a conservative risk profile
- Managed Portfolios
- Simplified Process To Transfer Individual Stocks
- SIPC Protection
- No Minimum Amount To Open And Fund An Account
- 24/7 Support For Managed Portfolios
- Demo Forex Account Available
- Dedicated F.X. Platform + MetaTrader
- Low Margin Account Rates
- Little Or No Information On Several Products Offered To Trade
- Unclear Pricing Policy For Fixed-Income And Mutual Funds
- Markups on Fixed-Income Trading
- Poor Trading Education
- Little Details On The Main Trading Platform
- No International Clients Accepted
E-Trade - Best Education Source For Beginners
E-Trade is a complete financial advisor and brokerage service for residents in the USA. Both the desktop and mobile trading platforms offer in house assistance and tutorials. The E-Trade knowledge center covers most investment services and can be an invaluable resource for newbies who need an introduction into the world of financial market investments.
This platform suits active and passive investors. Active traders are likely to welcome the commission structure. E-Trade offers commission free trading on most stocks, mutual funds and ETFs, and low commission on options and futures. Passive investors will appreciate the variety of managed portfolios, as the advisory arm is one of E-Trade’s core strengths. E-Trade also has excellent retirement planning assistance, creating an ideal environment for beginners, particularly those new to the stock market.
- Mutual funds
- Rollover IRA
- Roth IRA
- Traditional IRA
- Beneficiary IRA
- E-Trade Complete IRA
- IRA for Minors
- Small Business Retirement Accounts
- Managed Accounts
- Futures Trading Options
- Full Cover of US Market
- Knowledge Center
- Commissions And Fees Exceptions
- Poor Promotions, Only For US Residents
Zacks Trade - Best For Active Individuals Traders
Zacks Trade is a popular U.S. Broker that may offer access to global financial markets, but it is less well known internationally. Zacks offering low commissions and products catered more for individuals and active traders. There is also a simple and easy to understand commission and fee structure.
However, there are limited products on offer. Zacks Trade does not facilitate Forex trading. Additionally, many of the products have limited information. This focus on a limited number of products aims to create better trading conditions. Just be aware that Zacks lacks trading education and would benefit from a clearer presentation of account types and information.
- ETFs trading
- Mutual funds
- U.S. government bonds
- One Of The Lowest Margin Rates In The Industry
- Powerful Research Department
- No Extra Charges For Broker-Assisted Trades
- Extra Layer Of Security
- Offers International Accounts
- No minimum deposits
- Withdrawal Fee
- Difficult To Find The Account Types Offered
- Minimum Deposit Requirement
- Poor Presentation Of The Products Offered
- No Trading Education Provided
Robinhood - Best For Amateur Traders
Robinhood is one of the most popular brokerage platforms. With its introduction of fractional shares, Robinhood caters to traders who are cost-sensitive. The company also offers access to cryptocurrency markets.
Robinhood understands that while traditional brokers have more account types and cover more markets, they lack the ability for quick responses to customer changes. So, they aim to give clients the power to participate without the bulk from the traditional industry.
- Stocks and funds
- Simple and User Friendly
- Low Trading Costs
- Fractional Shares
- Easy to Open an Account
- Crypto Trading
- Extensive, Easy to Understand Trading Education Section
- Only Market Orders For Fractional Shares
- Fractional Shares Illiquid Outside the Robinhood Platform
- Margin Trading Available on Robinhood Gold Accounts
- Only US Clients
- Limited Account Types
Table of Content
Online brokerages are quite common nowadays. Due to their large number, most of them try to differentiate themselves in some way and find a niche market. Thankfully, one of the most common niches is targeting beginner investors.
If you are a beginner investor, then you are going to need all the help you can get. As such, we have gone ahead and curated an ultimate guide for those that are just starting out in the world of investing.
What is a Stockbroker?
A stockbroker is someone that buys and sells stocks on behalf of clients. While this only revolved around stocks of companies previously, stockbrokers nowadays cover a wide variety of asset classes.
There are various kinds of brokerages and brokerage accounts. Traditionally, stockbrokers used to double as investment advisors. Not only would they perform the trades for their clients, but they would also guide them on what to purchase.
Nowadays, the advent of discount brokerages has changed all that. Many stockbrokers no longer offer investment advice. Instead, they just execute the trades on behalf of their clients.
Another huge shift that has occurred is the switch to online trading. Instead of placing your orders by phone, you can now trade instantly through your computer. The automation of the trading process has led to some of the lowest trading fees in history.
How to Start Investing in Stocks
Although the actual process of investing in stocks is easier than ever before, that doesn’t mean that you should just open an account with a brokerage and begin investing.
The most important thing that you must do is learn how to invest. Mainly, you need to decide whether you want to be an investor or a trader. Trading involves you selling and buying stocks at a rapid speed, often closing your positions within a day. Investing, on the other hand, is based on buying and holding stocks to slowly build your wealth. Trading is high risk and high reward whereas investing is low risk with low reward.
Whatever you decide, you should teach yourself the ins and outs of that approach. If you do not have the time, then you can opt to invest your money in a low-cost index fund or a mutual fund with good past performance.
Once you have understood your investment goals and have the know-how of how to achieve them, you should begin to look for brokerages. Remember that even though you have done your research, the reality of investing is a lot different than its theory. As such, you will want to look for a brokerage that does its best to assist you along the way.
Once you have selected a brokerage that is suitable for you, opening an account and making your first investment will only take you a few minutes.
Types of Brokerage Accounts
In short, there are a total of 4 different brokerage account types that you will need to choose from:
- Standard account
- Custodial account
- Educational account
- Retirement account
Instead of explaining what each of them does, we will instead directly tell you which account to go for.
If you are investing so as to plan for your retirement, then a retirement account will have a lot of advantages for you. These advantages may include employer-matched contributions and tax breaks.
Educational brokerage accounts are similar in the sense that they get you a lot of tax breaks and help you make money faster. However, you will only be able to withdraw money from the account for verifiable educational expenses.
A custodial account will not offer you a lot of benefits, as it is quite similar to a standard brokerage account. However, it will allow you to open the account in a beneficiary’s name and have it transferred to the beneficiary at a certain point in time.
Unless you want to open a brokerage account for one of the aforementioned reasons, a standard account is your best bet. This is because there are a lot of limitations on all of the other account types. These limitations do not only apply to withdrawals and the uses of the funds, but also to the type of investments you can make.
Simply put, opt for a standard brokerage account if you want the maximum control over your investments. Only opt for one of the others if that is your main investment goal.
What Kind of Online Brokerage Account Should I Choose?
As stated in the previous section, the type of account that you should choose should depend on your needs and investment goals.
One important thing to remember is that you do not need to be constricted to a single account type. If you want, you can have a standard brokerage account along with a retirement account. How you divide your money between them is entirely up to you.
One important thing to remember is that if you have a large amount of capital in your hand and want to open up multiple accounts, it is better to utilize multiple brokerages as opposed to a single one. This is because SIPC insurance only provides limited protection that applies to all your accounts at a particular brokerage.
For example, if you have two different accounts with a total of $1 million at the same brokerage, you will only be covered for up to $500,000 in case the brokerage fails. Having that amount across two brokerages will cover you for the entire amount.
What is Micro-Investing? And What Are the Best Micro-Investing Apps?
Micro-Investing is a term that has become quite popular in recent times. Essentially, micro-investing allows you to purchase fractions of shares, thereby allowing you to invest in tiny increments. Previously, if a share was worth $100, then you would have no choice but to spend $100 on one share, $200 on two shares, and so on…
Now, you can purchase 10% of that share for $10. This makes investing very easy as you can invest your spare change. Let’s take a look at a couple of great micro-investing apps.
Acorns uses micro-investing and Robo-advisors to invest your money in an automated way. Their best feature allows you to round up all your purchases to the nearest dollar and invest the difference. The average Acorns user invests $30 monthly using this feature.
Apart from that, Acorns also allows you to invest your money smartly. All you need to do is to define your investment goals and Acorns will invest the money for you. Isn’t that great for a beginner?
This is a great app for those that are extremely new to the world of investing. The great thing about Robinhood is its simplicity. The interface is so simple that a child could use the app and invest money.
That said, Robinhood is no slouch when it comes to functionality. You can make simple and advanced trades, and you will not feel like you are limited by its functionality even once you understand all the intricacies of investing.
How do Stockbrokers Compare?
There are a ton of ways to compare different stockbrokers. However, as a beginner, there are three specific things that you need to be aware of. They are:
- Ease of use
- Brokerage fees
- Educational Tools
Let’s dive into each of them!
Ease of Use
This is perhaps the most important thing that you need to consider. Since you do not have a lot of prior experience in investing, you need to make sure that the platform provided by the brokerage is easily usable by you.
Most of the brokerages offer a demo account in which they allow you to test their platform. Use that demo account to see whether you can quickly figure everything out and make trades with ease.
Also, take into account how polished the interface is and whether the platform has appropriate mobile apps. It is possible that you need to enter or exit a position quickly while on the go and having a mobile app that is not usable will only be a hassle.
If you are using an online brokerage, then you will be able to opt for a platform that has zero-commission trading. Zero-commission trading does not require you to pay any fees when purchasing or selling a stock. However, keep in mind that the brokerage may charge a lot for other services, such as when you want to make a trade through a representative.
Many of the world’s best traders have been quoted saying something to the tune of “An investor’s education never ends.” That is completely true. And as a beginner, it applies to you more than anyone else.
Most of the better brokerages in the market have their own educational platforms that can assist you in making better decisions and improving your skills over time. You should opt for a platform that not only helps you save money on fees and is easy to use but can also improve your knowledge so that you can progress as a trader in the future.
Ways to Learn Investing For Beginners
There are many ways to learn investing for beginners. Practically every form of media offers some kind of investment education due to how in-demand it is. Here are the major ways through which you can learn to invest:
- YouTube and Online Investment Classes
Books are easily the best way to learn how to invest. Some of the best investment books were written in the first half of the last century, and they still hold to this day.
However, it is important to remember that investment books are best for learning how to invest and perform fundamental analysis. Traders would be better suited to learn from other means.
For those that are looking to get into the world of trading and technical analysis, this is the best way to learn. This is because you will be able to see live examples of the trades being performed and will gain practical knowledge about the subject.
Those looking to invest can also learn a lot if they find the right courses. Book summaries can be a great way to get through many books in a short amount of time, and YouTube has some great book summaries.
Mentorship involves you learning directly from an instructor. However, unless you know someone personally who can teach you for free, this method is not ideal. This is because the time of an experienced and successful investor is valuable, and anyone capable of properly teaching you investing would charge a lot of money.
Remember to Practice
No matter how much you learn, practice is what makes you perfect. Remember to hone your craft by practicing on the simulator. And once you are ready, begin investing properly.
How do I Start Investing with Little Money?
One of the central concepts to investing is diversification. Diversification is based on the fact that no matter how sure you are about an investment; it can still fail. As such, it is best to spread your risk by investing in multiple assets and reducing your exposure to each of them.
If you only have access to a little bit of money, then diversification can be difficult. A good alternative to that are various funds that let you expose yourself to many stocks at once. For example, an S&P 500 index fund would allow you to invest in 500 different stocks, even if you only have $100 to invest.
If you don’t like the idea of that, then it is best to diversify across multiple industries that are not related to each other. For example, let’s assume you are invested in airlines but are worried about a possible rise in oil prices.
The easiest way to hedge your risk would be by purchasing oil production companies, as their price would rise in this case. There are numerous advanced financial instruments to manage your risk as well, but you should stay away from them as a beginner.
Alternatively, you can also micro-invest i.e. purchase fractional shares. We explore micro-investing in detail towards the end of the guide.
Best Games For Learning Stock Market Strategies
One important thing to remember when playing stock market games is that they are not ideal for investors. This is because the profit realization of some of your investments maybe years down the line. Considering that even the most patient person would not want to wait years for simulated results, you can see the problem with stock market games.
That said, here are three stock market games that will help you learn how to invest.
HowTheMarketWorks is a very in-depth tool that can help you study your strategies and see how they perform in real-time. It also allows you to compete with your friends, although you will only be competing for bragging rights.
The game allows you to have multiple portfolios to test which one of them works the best. On top of that, you can invest in both stocks and forex.
If you have been learning how to invest, you will almost certainly know about Investopedia. The Investopedia Simulator is used by over 700,000 people and is considered to be one of the most complete investment simulators out there.
If you want a near-perfect recreation of what it is like to invest in the markets, this is the simulator you should go for.
Wall Street Survivor
Wall Street Survivor may not be as serious as some of the other games on this list, but it is a great tool for beginners to learn trading. They have a lot of tools to help you get started, including stock ratings to help you make your bets.
What Should I Invest in as a Beginner?
The world of investing is incredibly tricky. It is quite easy to get lost looking up futures, options, and other alternative investments.
However, as a beginner, you should stick to the basics. You should have two goals when investing as a beginner:
- Not to lose my money.
- Learn as much about investing as possible.
To achieve this, it is best if you only invest in stocks with low volatility and large caps. On top of that, it is best to have some sort of diversification. Whether you achieve that with stocks or funds is up to you.
Make sure to avoid high-risk, high-return assets such as penny stocks. You may be tempted by the returns some of these stocks have had, but hindsight is always 20/20. Chances are that you will almost always lose money when investing in these assets.
Sure, once you understand the world of stocks, you can branch out to other areas. Until then, it is best to master the basics.
How do I Open an Online Brokerage Account?
Thankfully, opening a brokerage account no longer takes a few days, and nor does it require you to fill out endless forms.
All you need to do is to select a broker that is right for you and sign-up for it online. It is best to compare the brokers on features that we have already outlined above.
Once you have chosen the broker that you will be using, head to their website and click the option that opens a new account.
Now, you will need to fill in all of the necessary details. Depending on your country, you will need to comply with KYC procedures. This could include providing identification documents that let the brokerage verify it truly is you opening your account. While this may seem like a hassle, it is necessary to protect you from fraud.
1. What Information Will I Need to Open an Online Brokerage Account?
The SEC has a complete guide on all the data that you need to provide to a brokerage when opening an account. If you just want to know simply about the documents and information that your brokerage will require from you, it is:
- Social Security Number (or equivalent)
- Telephone number and E-mail address
- Residential address
- Government-issued identification (e.g. passport or driver’s license)
- Date of birth
- Occupation and employment status
- Net worth and annual income
- Your basic investment goals
Apart from this, any additional information that you need to provide will not be required by the government but the brokerage instead. As such, if you feel like the brokerage is asking for too much information when you sign up, feel free to question them on why they require it.
Once you have completed the sign-up process, it may take a short while before you can access your account. Brokerages may require you to open your account with a minimum balance. In that case, you will need to deposit that balance when signing up. In other cases, you will be able to add funds to your account once it is open.
Most brokerages will allow you to add funds through PayPal and similar payment methods. However, for larger amounts, you will probably need to use a wire transfer or a direct deposit. Once the funds are in your account, you are free to invest them as you see fit.
2. How Are Brokerage Fees Calculated?
Brokerage fees are calculated in different ways. It would be impossible to list all of them here. However, here are the types of fees that you need to be aware of:
- Trading commissions
- Maintenance fees
- Equity fees
- Additional charges
Trading commissions may be based on a percentage or a fixed fee per trade. However, a lot of online brokerages now charge no trading commissions.
Maintenance fees are charged to maintain your account. These are annual fixed fees that you must pay to use the brokerage. Equity fees, on the other hand, are usually a percentage of your total account value and charged annually. Some brokerages do not charge this fee, so you may be better off using them if you have a lot of money to invest.
Lastly, other charges include anything that you may incur when using additional services provided by the brokerage. For example, zero-commission brokers usually charge a lot of money if you need assistance (e.g. a phone call to a broker) when placing an order.
3. How Much Money do I Need to Open an Online Brokerage Account?
To be quite frank, as little as $5 will be enough. There are a few online brokers, especially those that utilize Robo-advisors, that will allow you to open an account with almost nothing.
However, most proper online brokerages will require at least a few hundred dollars of deposit at the beginning. This is not bad, as building a proper portfolio that will allow you to achieve sufficient diversification will require at least a few thousand dollars. If you do not have that much cash at hand right now, you might be better off investing in funds until you do.
What’s more important is that if you deposit enough money, you can avail promotions that will make investing very easy for you. We discuss some of these promotions later on.
4. What can we Learn From J.D Power Research About The Different Brokers?
In early 2020, J.D Power Research conducted a study into the various online wealth management services. Their findings concluded that the main cause of concern for investors was the website downtime and other network issues that the wealth management firms faced.
This is something that you must keep in mind when looking for a broker. It is best to read their reviews and determine their website uptime before you select a brokerage. If you have a hot investment idea and the window of opportunity passes because the brokerage service is down, you will never be able to make that investment again.
Additionally, you also need to have human support to fix any problems that arise. Timing is everything when it comes to investing, and brokerages that are unable to solve your problems in a pinch will only hamper your progress as an investor.
5. What Can We Learn From Trustpilot and BBB Ratings?
Trustpilot and BBB ratings are two things that you must look at before you choose a broker. BBB is an organization that rates various companies on how well they interact with customers. Their ratings range from an A+ (being the best) to F (being the worst).
However, the ratings of companies are not enough on their own. Brokerages may interact differently with them, and their processes may be biased no matter how impartial they aim to be. As such, taking a look at user reviews is a must.
This is where Trustpilot comes into play. Trustpilot lets users review websites and services on everything from performance to their customer service. Ratings range between 1-5 stars and should give you a very good idea of what to expect from a brokerage.
Of course, BBB and Trustpilot are not the only sources for brokerage reviews. Before you pick a brokerage, it is best to acquire as much information about it as you possibly can. This way, you can avoid the hassle of having to switch later on.
Can a Non-US Citizen Open a US Brokerage Account?
Yes, non-US citizens can open a brokerage account in the US. Most of the larger brokerages offer foreigners the option to directly open an account with them. However, a select few countries may be prohibited from opening an account in the US. It is best to check with a brokerage whether it supports your country before you begin the registration process.
Alternatively, you can also open a brokerage account in the name of a Limited Liability Corporation. This will require a little bit of work on your end and will cost around $150. However, once you do that, you will be able to open a brokerage account through that LLC.
Is My Money Safe in a Brokerage?
For the most part, your money is safe in a brokerage. Brokerages are heavily regulated to make sure that they do not go under.
That said, you should still stay on the safe side and go with a well-respected, large, and experienced brokerage. This will reduce your risk as it will take a lot of mistakes from the brokerage for it to go bankrupt.
On top of that, we have already discussed how brokerage accounts are insured by the SIPC for up to $500,000 per person per brokerage. If you are worried about the default risk, you may want to utilize multiple brokerages.
Just remember that the SIPC insurance only covers cash of up to $250,000. If you have $500,000 in a brokerage account that is made up for $100,000 of stocks and $400,000 of cash, you will only be covered for $350,000 ($250,000 cash and $100,000 of stocks).
Make sure that your brokerage is covered by SIPC insurance if you are going with a firm that is not that well known. Many smaller firms that offer some of the best fee structures and promotions do so because they are not bound by SIPC regulations, and thus are a risky way of investing in stocks.
What Are Online Brokerage Promotions?
The world of brokerages is more competitive now than ever before. With an increasing number of online brokerages, it is extremely difficult for even the leading brokerages to differentiate themselves from the competition.
As such, most brokerages now offer promotions of some sort to encourage you to sign up with them. These promotions can be of big help to beginner investors, and you should try to look for a promotion yourself!
How to Look for a Promotion?
The easiest way to look for a promotion is to go on the brokerage’s website. Promotions are usually visible on the Home Page or the Signup Page.
Remember that you should only start looking for promotions once you have narrowed down the list of brokerages that you want to use to your favorite ones. Picking a subpar brokerage just because they have an enticing offer will work very well for you in the short-term but will eventually be detrimental to your investment goals.
Benefits of a Promotion
The benefits of promotional offers will become self-evident once we take you through a few examples of such promotions:
- Bonuses on deposit (e.g. deposit $20,000 and receive $250 as a bonus).
- Receive a random stock when signing up with a qualifying amount (e.g. invest at least $5,000 and receive a free stock. If you’re lucky the stock could be worth a few hundred dollars).
- Get a fixed number of commission-free trades after you sign up (many brokerages now offer commission-free trading in general, but this offer is worthwhile for those that don’t).
As you can see, these bonuses can help you get started on the right track by offering you a little bit of extra cash (either directly or indirectly). Some brokerages go a different route and allow you access to a portfolio advisor so that you can understand how to make investments that fit your goals and your needs.
Whatever you end up doing, take into account how the promotion will benefit you in the long run when choosing your broker.
Can I Withdraw Money From a Stockbroker?
It should go without saying, but yes! You can withdraw money from a stockbroker. The money that you give to a brokerage is yours, and the only job of a stockbroker is to provide agency. They are supposed to make trades on your behalf and are not allowed to use your money without your consent.
However, different brokerages have different withdrawal methods. Make sure that the brokerage you choose can deposit the money through the method that is the most convenient for you.
You should also confirm how long it takes to usually make withdrawals. Suppose you have an urgent expense that will require a few thousand dollars from your brokerage account. There is no point in receiving those funds two weeks from now, is there? A brokerage that can quickly provide you the funds you need will save you a lot of hassle later.