Investing 
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SmartMoney 2011 Broker Survey

InvestWhen I first started investing, I put a lot of stock into these broker rankings because I didn’t have any of my own experiences to draw upon. I didn’t know how I would use a broker, what features were important to me, and whether or not a deficiency really matter. Price was the number one factor, as is the case for a lot of investors.

Then, as I started to invest more and more, I realized that price wasn’t everything because I didn’t make a lot of trades. While it seems silly to pay $20 a trade when there are brokers offering trades for less than $5, it may make sense if the broker offers other features that you value. Nowadays, the differences in prices is much lower anyway and so the “other” factors, like customer service, fund offerings, and banking services become more important to me.

You have to review these rankings through your own rubric. There isn’t really a #1 broker for everyone, but there will be a #1 for you.

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 Bank Deals 
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Fidelity Investments 200 Free Trades Offer

Fidelity InvestmentsIf you have $100,000 in cash and/or eligible securities, you can take advantage of Fidelity’s 200 free trades offer. It’s not uncommon for brokers to offer free trades to entice you to transfer your funds, TradeKing has a $100 refer a friend offer and a $150 transfer reimbursement offer, and 200 seems to be a nice round number that has the “wow factor” they’re looking for. If you want to do a dollar comparison, Fidelity trades are $7.95 a piece so this offer has a potential value of $1590, if you were to use all the trades.

Some basic ground rules:

  • The funds have to come from an external account, so you can’t transfer from another Fidelity account.
  • The free trades must be used within 90 days.
  • The offer ends June 31, 2011.

I personally prefer cash bonuses, but that’s because I don’t think I’ll be making 200 trades in 90 days. The trade-off between a cash bonus as a free trade bonus is that the cash is immediately reported on a 1099. With free trades, it’s not clear how the promotion is going to be reported to the IRS but at worst it’ll be the cash value of the free trades you actually use. I find it difficult to believe they’d 1099 you for $1590.

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 Investing 
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Remember to Comparison Shop Index Funds

For as long as I’ve been reading and writing about personal finance, index funds have been popular because they offer a low cost way for investors to get diversified into the market. I’ve long been a customer of Vanguard and index funds have always been popular with its founder, John Bogle.

Lately, index funds and index ETFs have exploded in popularity because people are starting to buy into low cost investing as the best way forward. Active funds remain popular but index funds usually win out, after expenses are considered.

So when you start looking at index funds, does it really matter if you invest with one broker or another? Surprisingly there is a little variation with mutual fund companies and it really pays to do your homework.

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 Investing 
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2011 Kiplinger’s Best Online Brokers

Every year Kiplinger’s magazine puts out a survey of the best online brokers. Every year, I take a look at the list because I’m curious how the different brokers stack up. I’d like to know if anyone has made any big changes or improvements to their service, it might change my mind about who I do business with.

Usually the lists don’t change all that much. As you scan this year’s list, you’ll see the same ones near the top, the same ones near the middle, and the same ones near the end. The meat is in the article detailing the different categories (like commissions and fees, investment choices, etc.) because it adds a little color to an otherwise robotic list.

One important thing to remember as you peruse this list: the best online broker is the broker that satisfies all of your requirements. All the bells and whistles in the world don’t matter if they don’t offer exactly what you need. With so many brokers, many of which are inexpensive, you should be able to find your best broker, online or offline, if you’re diligent.

Let’s get to the list…

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 Investing 
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Smart Money 2010 Best Online Brokers

Smart MoneyEvery year, Smart Money takes an in-depth look at online brokers, from their trading platform to their customer service, and rates them based on their performance. They open up accounts and make trades, they call up customer service and pore through the reviews, and they share all of their experiences with you – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

One thing that does surprise me is how little the list changes each year. For yet another year, the top five are the same, though their order has changed a little, and the back of the list sees the same faces. You would think that these brokers would look at these problem spots and at least make some steps to address them.
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 Retirement 
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120 Rule vs. Target Retirement Funds

Have you ever heard of the 120 Rule? The 120 Rule is a basic asset allocation rule. Take your age and subtract it from 120. That is the percentage you should be invested in stocks and the balance should be in bonds. If you’re 40, then you should have 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds. If you’re 50, then 70% stocks and 30% bonds. It’s one of those age old “rules of thumb” that can be a good starting point for deciding asset allocation but bad as an end point. As a retiree at the age of 65, do you really want the majority (55%) of your investments in stocks? Maybe, maybe not, but your reasoning should go beyond the 120 Rule.

When it comes to Target Retirement or Lifecycle funds, not all funds are created equally.

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 Investing 
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Why Dividends Stocks Rock

If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. . . . The world will be yours and everything in it, what’s more, you’ll be a man, my son.

That’s a famous line from Rudyard Kipling’s If and if you followed that advice the last year (the first part anyway), especially in the stock market, you would’ve done very well and kept a few gray hairs at bay. Since the S&P hit its low in March of 676.53, it’s come roaring back a stunning 63.4% since then. While it’s still down from where it was before the recession (it was 1251 on Sept 19, 2008, down 11.64%), you have to admit it’s a pretty amazing recovery in such a short period of time.

We benefited from being young, with decades until retirement, and one thing we’ve been looking into is dividend yielding stocks in our regular non-retirement brokerage accounts.

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 Investing 
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BVC #23: Your Mutual Fund May Be Ripping You Off [VIDEO]

When it comes to investing, you can’t predict the future. What you can predict, with 100% certainty, is how much your broker is going to charge to get you there. If you’re like me, the majority of your stock market investments are in mutual funds in retirement accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. While we can’t control how they will perform, we can be smart about where we invest by picking good funds with reasonable costs.

In this video, I look at some index funds, the easiest type of fund to compare, and how picking a low cost one can make a huge difference in your retirement nest egg.

Bargaineering #23: Your Mutual Fund May Be Ripping You Off from JIM WANG on Vimeo.



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