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Choosing the Best Online Broker
While many of the top online brokers are companies that offer resources to all types of traders, there are still plenty of online trading companies that are tailored to specific traders. Depending on which products are being traded, the costs and fees an investor wants to pay, and trading experience, there are choices for each person as highlighted by the lists below.
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What Online Stock Trading Features Matter and Why?
Investment Products is a category made up of the markets that an online stock broker makes available for someone to trade. Investment Products includes simple choices, like stocks and mutual funds and more advanced choices, like access to futures, forex, and international markets. Investment Products is an important category, especially for those who are selecting a broker based on a desire to trade a specific investment product.
- Bonds - You can trade bonds.
- Commission-Free ETFs - You can trade commission-free exchange-traded funds.
- Easy to Borrow Stocks - You have access to easy-to-borrow stocks that you can sell short.
- ETFs - You can trade exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
- Forex - You can trade forex or foreign exchange markets.
- Futures Markets - You can trade futures markets.
- International Markets - You can trade markets outside of the U.S.
- Mutual Funds - You can trade mutual funds.
- Options - You can trade options.
- Pink Sheet and OTCBB Securities Market Access - You can trade pink sheet stocks and over-the-counter (OTC) securities.
- Stocks - You can trade stocks.
Mobile Trading is the ability to access a trading account using a mobile device. Mobile Trading takes into account the availability of the app for a variety of devices, the functionality of the features within the mobile app, and how users have rated the application. Mobile trading continues to grow in importance as the quality of applications improve and more traders look for account access on the go.
- Android - The broker offers an app for Android devices.
- BlackBerry - The broker offers an app for BlackBerry devices.
- Create Alerts - You can create alerts with one or more of the mobile trading applications.
- Cross-Platform Integration - The mobile trading application integrates with your trading account in real time, including watch lists, alerts, and other account information.
- Favorable App Store Reviews - The broker's iPhone application has received three stars or greater from users in the Apple App Store.
- iPad - The broker offers a dedicated app for the iPad.
- iPhone - The broker offers an app for the iPhone.
- Mobile Deposits - You can deposit checks or electronic funds into your account with a mobile application.
- Mobile Research - You can conduct research using one of the mobile applications.
- Mobile Website - The broker offers a separate mobile website for accessing your account on the go.
- Other Tablet - The broker offers an app for another tablet device besides the iPad.
- Place Trades - You can place trades using your mobile device.
- Portfolio Tracking - You can track your portfolio using a mobile device.
- Streaming Quotes - The broker offers streaming quotes on mobile devices.
- Virtual Demo - You can demo the mobile trading platform by using a virtual trading account.
- Watch List - You can create watch lists using a mobile app or device.
- Windows Mobile - The broker offers trading on Windows Mobile devices.
Tools and Technology encompasses everything that has to do with being able to make a trade as well as a number of tools to simplify trading or execute advanced trades. The Tools and Technology category includes a variety of features from the most basic, like alerts and watch lists, to the more advanced features, such as automated trading, spread builders, and options tools. Tools and Technology is the most important category when looking at an online stock broker because no trader wants to be limited and getting the best price on each trade is very important.
- Alerts - You can set up personalized alerts for your portfolio or other investment products.
- Automated Trading - The broker allows you to place trades by setting automated triggers to execute a trade.
- Conditional Orders - You can place orders that, when executed, immediately triggers or cancels another trade.
- Customizable Interface - You can customize the layout and look of a trading platform.
- Level II Quotes - The broker gives you access to the book order of individual stocks so you can see live buyers and sellers of that stock.
- Option Chains - You can simply find an options premium by following the corresponding maturity dates and strike prices.
- Options Exposure - You can view a detailed display of your options positions' possible sensitivity to key risks using industry-standard greek calculations.
- Options Tools - The broker offers a variety of options trading tools.
- Platform - Advanced - The broker offers an advanced trading platform.
- Platform - One-Size-Fits-All - The broker offers a platform that is fitting for traders of all levels.
- Quick Order Entry - You have the option to quickly enter or cancel orders faster than normal.
- Real-Time Charts - The broker offers access to charting tools that update in real time.
- Smart-Order Routing Technology - The broker sends orders to different market centers that seek to fill your order quickly and at the best available price.
- Spread Builder - The broker offers a tool to build your own spreads between multiple investment products.
- Streaming Real-Time Quotes - The broker provides streaming real-time quotes so you can see up-to-date prices of investment products.
- Trailing Stops - You can set a stop-loss as a percentage below the market price that adjusts as the price fluctuates to help you secure profits and cut losses.
- Watch List - You can create watch lists to keep an eye on investment products that interest you.
Account and Portfolio Information refers to the data and display options associated with the financial information of an online stock trading account. All of the best online stock brokers will update account information in real time, display account balances, and provide history reports and statements. While Account and Portfolio Information is relatively important, it's safe to assume that most of the best online stock trading software will have the most important features. An investor who requires specific portfolio reporting features may want to take a harder look at the features in this category.
- Account Balances Displayed - Your account balances are displayed on the page where you access detailed portfolio information or account reports.
- Account History Reports - You can create reports or view statements of your portfolio or account information.
- Download Statements - You can download your account statements to your computer.
- Export Data - You can export your portfolio or account statements.
- Gain/Loss - You can run reports to view your gains and losses to determine the impact on your taxable income.
- Order Status - You can quickly view your current trading positions and open orders.
- Portfolio Planner - You can view your current portfolio allocation and create a plan to measure against it.
- Real-Time Updates - Your account balances update in real time, adjusting for any open positions.
Education is all of the resources that an online stock broker provides to help their clients learn about investing as well as executing trades with the software. The online stock trading software that excels in the Education category will offer multiple education levels so that novice investors can advance and seasoned investors can continue to learn. Education is less important to an advanced investor, but a beginner will benefit greatly from the courses and webinars offered by most online stock brokers.
- Courses - The broker offers educational trading or investment courses.
- Education Levels - The broker offers a variety of education levels based on experience.
- Glossary - The broker has a glossary that defines important investment terms.
- Live Seminars - The broker offers live in-person seminars around the country that you can attend.
- Online Community - The broker has an online community to have discussions and share advice with other traders.
- Webinars - The broker offers webinars to help you learn about investment products.
Research is the additional amenities that an online stock broker provides to their clients to help them make calculated decisions and understand market activity. The best online stock brokers in terms of research will offer advanced charting capabilities, third-party research, research reports, and market commentary. Research is an important category for investors who are looking for assistance in making decisions as well as independent traders who are seeking confirmation on a trade or a second opinion. Some of the more self-directed brokers offer less research amenities because they cater to more advanced traders who conduct independent research.
- Blog - The broker keeps an updated blog that includes company and investment information.
- Charts - The broker offers access to charts so you can conduct research on investment products.
- Company Publication - The broker produces and distributes a company publication to account holders.
- Market Commentary - The broker offers market commentary from outside experts.
- News - The broker provides daily market news and updates.
- Research Reports - The broker offers a selection of research reports.
- Screens - You can screen investment products to narrow down the type of investment you are looking for.
- Tailored Research - The broker provides you with research tailored to your current portfolio, watch lists, or interests.
- Third-Party Research - The broker offers independent investment research from outside parties for free.
- Upgraded Research - The broker offers upgraded research at an additional cost.
Support is how well an online stock broker interacts with their clients to provide assistance and the availability of the company's support channels. The best online stock trading software in terms of support will always have basic features, like live chat, social media, email, and phone support. Some of the top online stock brokers also have retail locations where you can speak to someone in-person. Support especially matters for online stock trading because money is involved and often times a quick response is needed.
- 24-Hour Support - The broker offers some form of 24-hour support, which is usually phone support.
- Additional Languages - The broker offers additional languages besides English for some aspect of its business.
- Dedicated Tech Support - The broker offers dedicated support strictly for technical issues.
- Email - The broker offers email support to customers.
- Facebook - The broker has an active Facebook page where you may be able to post questions and get a response.
- Fax - The broker has a fax number displayed on their website.
- Live Chat - The broker offers live chat on their website.
- Phone - The broker offers phone support to customers.
- Retail Location - The broker has a retail location where you can talk to a representative live in person.
- Twitter - The broker has an active Twitter page where you may be able to post questions and get a response.
Account Security is how safe an online stock trading account is based on regulatory membership as well as additional security measures offered by the online stock broker. Some online brokers take the additional step to offer an asset protection guarantee for any losses due to unauthorized account access, while others provide special security measures while logging into an account. Account Security isn't as important simply because every online stock trading software has measures in place to protect a client's account. However, where some of the best online stock brokers stand out is by going above and beyond in terms of security and protection.
- Asset Protection Guarantee - The assets in your account are protected from any unauthorized activity.
- FINRA Listed - The broker is regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
- SIPC Member - The broker belongs to the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, which acts as trustee or works with an independent court-appointed trustee to recover any missing funds.
- Special Security Measures - The broker offers additional security measures to protect your account.
Financial Resources are additional amenities provided by online stock brokers that don't have anything to do with executing a trade or learning about the markets. Many of the major brokers provide financial resources to their clients to capture more than just their trading business. Some of these resources include banking services, retirement planning, savings plans, and credit or debit cards. Financial Resources isn't an overly important category to the masses because only certain types of brokers provide these resources for people who want everything in one place. For those who simply want access to trading, financial resources should mean very little.
- Banking Services - In addition to trading services, the broker offers online banking services.
- College Saving Plan - The broker offers a college savings account.
- Credit Card - The broker offers access to a credit card through its banking services.
- Debit Card - The broker offers access to a debit card through its banking services.
- IRA - The broker offers access to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) that provides tax advantages for retirement.
- Retirement Planning - The broker offers retirement strategies and advice.
- Small Business Tools - The broker offers specific services or plans for small businesses.
- Tax Tools - The broker offers tax planning tools to provide tips and help with your investment strategy.
- Wealth Assessment Tool - The broker offers an interactive program that calculates your wealth so you can see how these factors will affect your retirement.
Incentives are the rewards or offers that someone would receive from an online stock broker. Some of the incentives for using different online stock trading software are introductory offers and a customer rewards programs. Others offer free trading demos so that traders can test out the software before committing to the broker. Incentives aren't considered very important because they're generally not related to using the services of the broker, but for some, it will be nice to be aware of the potential bonuses that could sway a decision between two online stock brokers.
- Customer Rewards Program - The broker offers a referal program or customer rewards program.
- Free Trading Demo - The broker offers a free trading demo so you can try one of the trading platforms.
- Introductory Offer - The broker has a special offer for new traders who open an account.
Learning Materials is the measure of how an online stock brokers assists a new person in using their stock trading software. It's not to be confused with how easy the software is to use. One of the unique features that helps with the learning curve is virtual trading, which actually lets someone use the product with fake money to avoid potential errors with real money. Learning Materials has a lower importance rating because some initial time investment is expected with any new product. Keep in mind that an online stock broker may offer a large amount of detailed material to help learn the software, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's simpler to use, though it is a nice additional feature.
- FAQs - The broker has an FAQ page or pages to answer common questions.
- User Guides - The broker offers some sort of user guide to help understand the product.
- Virtual Trading - You can make trades with a virtual account to test your strategies.