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Stock Brokers - Questions to ask to select the right one for you

Proper investment strategies should always include researching your broker, but in today's world of new technologies and online investment, what questions should you be asking?

The following are some key questions to ask your broker, which can save you both time and money:

  • What tools are available from your broker? Stock quotes, news, charting, level II data and advanced order types are among many key tools for traders. Be sure your broker has the tools you specifically need.
  • How fast are orders being executed? Keep in mind that online trading can significantly speed up the order process in comparison to placing orders over the phone.

    For example, RushTrade offers Direct Access Trading, which allows you to direct your order to the execution venue of your choice. This can result in faster executions, improved price and greater control of your orders.

  • Does your broker get paid for order flow? Some brokers may receive payments for sending orders to preferred market makers. This can lead to a conflict of interest. Make sure you know your broker's policy.
  • Do they offer a trading demo? Find out whether there is a cost involved for a trading demo. RushTrade, for instance, offers a demo of its Direct Access software free on its Web site.
  • Is the Web site or trading software easy to use? Dealing with a slow or unwieldy site can really hamper your trade executions when speed is the name of the game.
  • Can I trade after hours? Ask yourself whether this is important for your investing needs. RushTrade's Direct Access software will allow after-hours trading.
  • Are there any hidden fees? Brokers might tout low commissions but then hit you with unexpected fees. Look for brokers that do not charge low balance, inactivity or maintenance fees.

It is true that even though you can choose your own investments you must still use a stockbroker to execute the orders. You do not have to rely in their advice though it may be helpful. You can make your own selections but you will still require their services to invest. There was a time when you had no choice about the type of stockbroker to utilize. There was only one type of broker, the full service brokers, and they controlled the market. The commissions that they demanded for their services were very high but this was the industry standard. This contributed to the notion that the stock market and stock market investment were beyond the means of the average person and only for the very affluent.

The initial loss of control of the market by these full service brokerages occurred in 1975 and discount brokers emerged. They charged a fraction of the fees the full service brokers did and as such were a big hit on the market. They offered the same great services but were affordable to the average individual as the cost were significantly lower. Another great innovation was the introduction of the internet. This was a great innovation as there was greater trading efficiency as a result.

The overall effect of all the changes on the stock market was that individuals now had access to a ton of information that was never accessible to them previously. It is a debate however whether these avenues have in fact enhanced investments and made better investors. In the case of persons that do their homework and seek out the truth behind the hype the answer is a definitive yes. The investors out their can now choose the type of broker they require from the range available.

There are four categories of brokers. These are the discount/online broker, the discount broker that provides advice, the full service broker and the money manager. The discount/online broker is basically an order taker. They do not offer advice and will not tell you when to buy or sell a stock. There may be research available and other account management tools but the choice of investment in the stock market is entirely up to you. The variation of the discount/online broker that assists customers is the nest type. They do not offer full consultation services but will have more research than order taking sites. They will offer newsletters and investing tips but most likely not recommend particular stocks. You are not totally on your own with this option but you will still need to do a lot in terms of deciding on the best stock investment.

The full service broker will provide recommendations on specific stocks and the broker will also access your financial situation to determine your needs and investment options. This service is suitable for the investor that does not have the interest or time in making their investment decisions. The money manager is made for the investor with a hefty investment sum. This broker will handle only significant portfolios and will invest and manage the entire account for a percentage of the assets under investment. This option can be expensive but very worthwhile in the long run. Whichever option that you choose make sure it suits your purpose and that you are covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. Ask about backups and other options in case of technical problems and ensure that your broker has your best interest at heart.

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.

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.