Many of us use an online broker account  to help us with investment transactions. An online broker can be cost effective, and help you quickly set up transactions. Many online brokers also provide research that can be helpful to the average investor, as well as the option to talk to a professional if you feel as though you are stuck.
Once you choose a broker, though, it doesn’t mean that you have to keep with the same company for the next few years. Indeed, you should not just continue to use the same broker for years without checking in every so often. In some cases, it might make sense to switch brokers. Regularly review your current broker, to make sure all of your needs are being met. It doesn’t have to take very long. In fact, you can do it under 55 seconds:
- Review the fees you pay: Most brokers have a fee schedule on a page of the web site. It is generally easy to find. Check this fee schedule. I like to use tabbed browsing as I do this exercise, but you could also take a screen shot so that you have easy reference back to your broker’s fee schedule. (8 seconds)
- Consider the offerings: For beginners, almost any online broker will do, since you can get invest in most individual stocks, and in a variety of mutual funds/index funds . Many also offer IRAs. However, if you are looking for more advanced investment products, you might need to try a full-service brokerage web site. Do a little poking around to see if your current broker has what you want. (14 seconds)
- Reflect on customer service and research: Take few seconds to think about the customer service you receive, and about the quality of research available on your site. Consider, too, whether you can set up alerts and what other tools are available. (7 seconds)
- Skim the other possibilities for brokers: Now that you have reviewed some of the basics of your broker, it’s time to quickly skim the other possibilities. There are a number of tools, including Bankrate’s broker comparison tool , that can help you look through your options, including minimum balances. You might even see if you can get a bonus for switching accounts. (26 seconds)
Making your final decision will take a little bit longer. However, this exercise will help you focus on your options, and will force you to consider whether you are really getting the best bang for your buck with your current broker. If you find that you are paying higher fees than you could be paying elsewhere, or if you don’t have access to the investing options you want, it might be time to consider switching.
Online brokers have made it possible for almost anyone to invest. You can choose from a variety of options, and you can send in trade orders, as well as automate your investing and use the strategy of dollar cost averaging . However, don’t be complacent about your broker. Take the time to periodically review your broker, and determine whether or not it is time to switch things up.
(Photo: Ahmad Nawawi )