Personal Finance 
34
comments

Best Online Discount Brokers

Open a TradeKing account todayIf you visit the E*Trade homepage, you’ll see a big yellow star that names E*Trade the #1 premium broker of 2007 by Smart Money magazine and “Best of the Breed” in Money Magazine in August 2007. If you visit the Scottrade homepage, you see a blurb about a J.D. Power and Associates Award for “Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Online Services” award. And if you visit Zecco homepage, they don’t have any awards posted. Does that mean E*Trade is better than Scottrade and Scottrade is better than Zecco? Maybe, maybe not! So I wanted to match up all the awards and ratings and come up with my own ranking of the best online discount broker.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Personal Finance 
0
comments

Stock Market Brokerage Phone Numbers and Contact Links

Need to absolutely reach your brokerage right now? Here’s a handy resources of all the brokerages I am aware of, their phone numbers, hours of operation, and a link to the brokerage’s contact page. On that page you’ll usually find a Fax number, overnight mail address, regular mail address, email addresses, and sometimes even an online chat. In many cases, there are multiple telephone numbers listed, I chose the one for existing brokerage clients (if that’s not what you need, just hit up the link and you’ll find the whole list).

Brokerage Phone Number Hours of Operation Contact
Charles Schwab 800-435-4000 24/7 link
E*Trade 800-ETRADE-1 7AM-Midnight ET link
Fidelity 800-544-6666 Unknown link
Firstrade 800-869-8800 8:30AM-9PM ET M-F link
Merrill Lynch 800-MERRILL 24/7 link
optionsXpress 888-280-8020 9AM-5:30 ET M-F link
Scottrade 800-619-SAVE Unknown link
Sharebuilder 800-747-2537 8AM-9PM ET M-F link
TDAmeritrade 800-669-3900 7AM-8PM ET M-F link
T. Rowe Price 800-225-7720 8AM-8PM ET M-F link
TradeKing 877-495-5464 8AM–6PM ET M-F link
UBS None Online only link
Vanguard 877-662-7447 24/7 link
Wachovia Securities 877-879-2495 8AM-8PM ET M-F link
WellsTrade 800-TRADERS 24/7 link
Zecco.com 909-657-6655 9AM-6PM (EST) M-F link


Did I miss your brokerage? Let me know and I’ll add their phone number.


 Investing 
19
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Starting A Roth IRA With $500

Nashawn recently asked on my post about opening a Roth IRA right this minute for some advice as to how she should invest $500 with a Roth IRA. She’s looked at Vanguard’s mutual fund accounts and ran into the minimum balance requirement for each of the funds. At Vanguard, the STAR Fund has the lowest minimum balance with $1,000 – a good $500 more than what Nashawn has at the moment. If I were her, this is what I’d do…

Wait Until April 15th Next Year

You have until tax day next year to contribute to your Roth IRA this year. That is, you have until April 15th, 2008 to contribute to your Roth IRA for 2007, giving our heroine a good nine months to try to get her balance up to $1,000. This is predicated on the fact that you are sold on Vanguard’s mutual fund accounts.

Consider Another Brokerage

You don’t have to go with Vanguard and you don’t even have to go with their mutual fund account, with a regular brokerage account your account balance minimums are lower than $3,000. TradeKing, Sharebuilder and Zecco are atypical brokerages that don’t have account minimums and both are known for their cheap/free trades. That’s crucial for a balance of $500. TradeKing has no custodial fee but Zecco charges $30/yr and Sharebuilder charges $25.

When it comes to the bigger brokerages, your pickings get slimmer. Fidelity will waive their minimum of $2,500 if you can commit to a $200/month contribution (Fidelity has no annual fee). If you can commit to that, you might as well wait a few months and go with Vanguard (if you wanted).

Summary: If you’re sold on Vanguard and can wait, wait; otherwise there are plenty of other options out there whether you want a discount brokerage like TradeKing or a more traditional name like Fidelity, just keep an eye out.

If you know of any brokerages with low account minimums and low annual fees for Roth IRAs, please share!


 Investing 
6
comments

Broker Commission Fee Schedule Comparison

Thinking about investing in some securities? Well you’re going to need a brokerage account. While it’s hard to compare the qualitative differences between each brokerage, it’s easy to compare one of the big quantitative differences – fee schedules. So, below I’ll compare the fee schedules of each of the major brokerages in easy to understand language and hopefully it’ll make your decision just that much easier. In the discussion below, I only talk about online trades – no phone or in person (broker-assisted) transactions.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Investing 
78
comments

Online Brokerage Comparison: I Gave Up on Scottrade!

This is a guest post authored by frugal at My1stMillionAt33.

Before I tell you about my terrible experience with Scottrade, let me first compare several online brokerage firms in terms of commission costs:

  1. TradeKing: Best for active traders. $4.95 per trade, even broker assisted trades, very cheap rate for option contract at $4.95 + $0.65 per contract. They’ve also won numerous awards from the likes of Barron’s, SmartMoney, etc. They were named Smart Money’s Best Discount Broker many years in a row.
  2. Scottrade: Best for casual traders and/or investors. $7 per trade. $0 for loaded mutual fund, but $17 for most other non-loaded mutual funds. Option contract at $7 + $1.25 per contract. Has offering on CD & fixed income bonds. Can only do the following option trades: buying put/call, or sell covered call.
  3. ETrade: More expensive compared to both Ameritrade Izone and Scottrade, unless trading more than 1500 trades per quarter.
  4. Sharebuilder: Good for long term investor. $4 for automatic investment, and can be as low as $1. Selling is $12 to $20 depending on the plan. The biggest downside is that you give up the control on the market timing for your buy order. Instead you will do time-averaging through automatic investment.
  5. BuyAndHold: Best for asset allocator and long term investor. I will recommend this to anyone who is currently using Sharebuilders. I like their $14.99 per month for unlimited number of “window” trades which get routed 3 times a day. With $120 $180 a year, you can buy and build 1000 stock portfolio if you want (just kidding, but it’s true). I don’t think you can beat this deal, especially after http://www.freetrade.com/ (under Ameritrade) is gone.
  6. FirsTrade: Even better than Scottrade. I’m sure everyone has lamented the reduction in the NTF program for mutual funds at Scottrade. Well, if you use FirsTrade, you can get it back. Yes, ALL mutual fund trades are FREE. And the stock trades are 5 cents cheaper at $6.95. Their pricing model is essentially the same as the old Scottrade. But they don’t have any physical branches.

Enough of cheap commissions, but if it is not reliable, it is pretty much useless. So back to my Scottrade bad experiences. My problems with them is that their internet servers are getting so unreliable, especially the first half hour right after the market opens, that it is no longer usable.

  1. One time I tried to day trade a stock, and I almost got sacked by Scottrade. I placed limit order, and I was barely able to cancel and modify my entry price in time because their servers kept non-responding.
  2. The second time, it was pretty much unforgiveable. I put in a limit order, and when I attempted to cancel the order, I simply cannot cancel it, even though it is still showing on my screen as open order. Somehow somewhere there is a server problem. Minutes later, my limit order became executable. I called up customer services, and they could not determine whether my order was filled or not. After an hour, my order got executed with a timestamp of an hour later. Scottrade claims that the timestamp is the reporting time, not the executed time, and my order was filled minutes later, instead of an hour later. Scottrade refused to correct anything, but simply blaimed everything on the delays of the market makers.
  3. Yesterday, again, stupid me, I was doing trades near market open. I am so certain that I cancelled my order. But I had some problem with their server again in the morning. After a couple of hours, I finally found out that my “un-cancelled” order got executed. They claimed that I never cancelled the order. They really have a big problem with this process. At the end of cancellation screen, there is never a confirmation number given out. I can never write down any # to prove that I have attempted to cancel my order. So after a long talk of repeating the same information over and over, and an eventual non-callback, it appears again that they will not do anything to my phantom trade becoming real and losing significant money in such a big down day.

I know that FirsTrade has its problems, especially with market quotes right after market starts. But at least there is never a problem with non-responding servers that give you a page-not-found error. Probably because they are smaller company. In any case, I am moving majority if not all of my money out of Scottrade. I’m so fed up with their parrot-talking customer non-service. I was planning to move my tradings to Ameritrade Izone, but after reading some comments at Dogs of the Dow, I’m a little hesitating now. If you have recent positive experience with Ameritrade or any online brokerages besides Scottrade, would you please suggest them to me? I don’t really know where I could find a reasonable priced and reliable brokerage now. I plan to use FirsTrade for now. Since I never tried their streamer, maybe FirsTrade streamer will not have quoting problem. I can always use the other online brokerage accounts for quote too, so it won’t be such a problem.

Thanks in advance for your online brokerage suggestions to me. Cheap commission is not everything. Without reliability, all (stock) bets are off. I’m planning to take my complaints to NASD. By the way, I really miss the reliability offered by Datek, which was bought by Ameritrade. That was my first reason of moving to Ameritrade since I assume that the platform would be similarly reliable. And I hope you will find both FirsTrade and BuyAndHold useful.


 Banking 
30
comments

How To Invest With Only $100

All the “where to invest $100″ articles telling you to buy CDs and open money market funds are dead wrong. Absolutely dead wrong. Where should you be investing $100? Look for promotional offers from online bank accounts (where you can generate some more income by referring friends and relatives), brokerage firms, and other financial institutions to get the most bang for your $100. Then, after you’ve earned enough through those offers you can start thinking about “conventional” investment vehicles.

Don’t have $100 you want to invest, consider signing up for a credit card that offers statement credits or gift cards that you can convert to money to invest.

To learn more, plow onward!

1. Sharebuilder

First step is to open up a Sharebuilder account using a promotion code that will give you free money. Currently there’s a $50 bonus code 50GO28 if you deposit some funds and make a purchase. Stock purchases are a mere $4 but stock sales are a pricy $14.95. Let’s say you put in $50, make a purchase, get the $50 bonus money, and then sell your stock back at your purchase price. Net result is a gain of $30.05 ($50 less $4 purchase commission and $15.95 sale commission) which is a 60.1% gain on a $50 investment. Now you have $130.05 to invest. Some have reported being able to repeat this process over and over again on multiple promotion codes. I list all of the codes I know of on this Sharebuilder promotion code post.

2. Bank of America

BoA frequently has promotional offers for opening a checking account such as this $50 promotion (MYA). The minimum you need to open most accounts is $100 and account fees are lower if you setup a direct deposit into the account. The “cheapest” account is the MyAccess Checking account which actually has no minimum and $5.95 monthly fee, waived if you have a direct deposit. Once you open an account, the $50 bonus will be deposited into your account within 50 days. Deposit $50, wait 50 days, get the $50 bonus. You can sign up for a BoA promotion every 60 days. According to their representative, the verification department runs a credit bureau report and a report from ChexSystems. After doing this once you’ll have $180.05 waiting to “invest.”

Now you’re on a roll… you can repeat these types of signup deals until you reach $250… (here’s a great list of bank signup promotions)

3. ING Direct

This promotion is for only $25 but it’s an easy $25. Just get someone who already has an ING Direct account to send you a referral (I have some available, hit up this self-serve $25 ING Direct promotion page if you’d like one). All you have to do is deposit $250 and ING will send $25 your way, a quick painless $10% gain with no risk. In return, your friend will get $10. Now, you can give out twenty of your own referrals and start earning a little extra cash with no risk whatsoever. If you get all twenty, that’s $200 in your pocket. So, now you have $450 to “invest,” where to turn now?

4. Virtual Bank eMoney Market

Virtual Bank has a $20 referral bonus, much like ING, except the referrer gets $20 too and you can refer up to fifty people (that’s $1,000 in your pocket, contact me if you need a referral). This offer is available to new accounts only, you’ll have to ACH money from an existing bank account, and the $20 isn’t available for the first 30 days. That’s all pretty standard online banking terms and conditions. So, after your account is approved you’ll immediately be eligible to start referring your friends. After you sign up, refer fifty people and you’ll have $1470 to invest.

Now that you have close to $1500, you should start moving towards conventional investments like investing in those stocks you always get emails about (just kidding!). Vanguard’s STAR fund with a minimum account balance of $1000 is an option but it’s up to you what you’d like to do. You can always peel off some of that money and go back into doing bonuses but at least now you can read “How To Invest $1000″ articles which are typically more exciting.


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