Zecco to Limit Free Trades in 2008

I just received an email from Zecco about a change to their fee structure, effective 01 Jan 2008, and below is a comparison of the changes as I can tell.

Description Current Future (01/01/08)
Free Trades per Month 40 10
Min. Balance* $0 $2,500
$ Per Trade $3.50 $4.50

*Minimum Balance: Under the new structure, you only get 10 free trades a month if you have a balance over $2,500. Those with balances under $2,500 will not get any free trades. So, while the account has no minimum balance, to qualify for ten free trades you must have more than $2,500 in that account.


This likely will have little effect on the majority of Zecco users as Zecco claims that 98% of their investors will not be affected, that is, 98% trade less than 10 times a month (good!). I bet you that they saw a large percentage of their costs being eaten up by day traders and so they decided to change the structure such that they can start charging those “power users” without upsetting the majority of their customers. This also allows them to add a number of features they’ve wanted to such as increasing the number of service representatives, adding 3 and 4 legged options strategies (butterflies, condors, etc.), releasing options analytics, and building up their ZeccoShare social network (all these were described in the email).


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!


Investment Newsletters: Outsourcing Fund Managers

Last week I asked whether investment newsletters were worth it (the jury is still out), but when I talked to some people about it yesterday (the same co-worker), I had a revelation. When you sign up for an investment newsletter, what you’re actually doing is outsourcing the job of manager for your personal retirement or investment fund.

If it’s only $199 for the subscription to the Motley Fool’s Hidden Gem newsletter and you’re planning on putting $10,000 into it, you’re looking at an actively managed fund with a minimum expense ratio of 1.99%. Once you start adding in your own trading expenses, that numbers gets bigger, but essentially that’s your expense ratio (especially if you start trading with Zecco, thus taking out the buying and selling fees) if you want to compare it to some actively managed funds.

While it won’t compare to the low low expense ratios of an index fund but remember that you’re not really comparing your newsletter fund with an index fund, you’re (well, the newsletter is) actively managing its holdings.

 Investing, Reviews 

Opening A Zecco Free Stock Trading Account, Part 1

Update: Zecco came in dead last in customer service again in Smart Money’s annual survey, so I decided against funding my account. Zecco only offers 10 free trades a month, hardly a great offer versus a mere $4.95 per trade for TradeKing.

I guess it’s time for me to jump on the Zecco free stock trade bandwagon now that it’s been a few months since they launched and had some time to work out some kinks (like a streamlined application process).

Stopwatch in hand (not really), I think I opened an account in approximately ten minutes but you will need some form of government issued id (Driver’s license, Passport, or Military ID). There are four relatively quick pages. Just a few quick notes, with page 1, where you sign up to myZecco, don’t use a password you use anywhere else, I’ll explain later. Page 2 being the bulk of the application, asking for investing history, employer, affiliations, and income. Unfortunately, you will have to fill out the “annual income” and “income source” fields of the normally optional (elsewhere) Financial Information section, but you can leave the rest out.

Now I wait for my two emails:

You will be receiving two automatically generated emails. The first confirms that we have received your application and is generated immediately. The second is generated as soon as your account is approved and opened. Receipt of this second email may take a few minutes to a few business days.

Okay, never mind, I just checked my email about two minutes (no joke) after I applied and both emails are sitting in my inbox… guess the approval process is pretty quick.

Now, why shouldn’t you use a password you use anywhere else? Well, so far the only thing I haven’t liked about Zecco was how, after signing up for myZecco, they sent my password to me in plaintext in an email… seriously, don’t send the password out like that, you’re in the financial industry, you should know better. If you don’t know what I meant by plaintext, I meant it wasn’t encoded or encrypt or anything, anyone who picked up the packets in the middle would’ve known what my password was and that’s just plain stupid. So if you do signup, don’t use a password you use anywhere else.


Is Zecco A Scam or Legitimate?

(Updated Sept. 17, 2009) Zecco recently updated their free trades program to have a requirement of a $25,000 balance!

Anytime I hear free I immediately think “scam.” Let’s be honest, the person offering up something for free is looking for some sort of benefit and unless I can find out what the benefit is (especially if I’m giving them all the information they need to steal my identity), I’m going to assume the benefit for them is to steal my identity.

So, is Zecco legitimate or a scam? I let time do the testing because most people are savvy enough to sniff out a scam relatively soon, especially if you let mainstream media do the vetting. Right now, they appear legitimate and that’s because they’re actually a division of Equinox Securities, Inc. According to the NASD Broker Check, Equinox Securities (CRD# 135398, SEC# 8-66916) registered as a corporation in California on 01/21/2005 and is located in Ontario, CA. It’s currently not suspended by any regulator and has not yet had any Arbitration Awards, Disciplinary and/or Regulatory Events. I downloaded the full Equinox Securities report and you can see Zecco Trading listed on page 4.

So, the NASD knows about them but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re 100% legit, brokers with fraudulent intentions can register – they just can’t have committed fraud yet. That’s where the second line in their little fine print comes into play, they are a member of SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation), an organization created by Congress in 1970. What do they do?

When a brokerage firm is closed due to bankruptcy or other financial difficulties and customer assets are missing, SIPC steps in as quickly as possible and, within certain limits, works to return customers’ cash, stock and other securities. Without SIPC, investors at financially troubled brokerage firms might lose their securities or money forever or wait for years while their assets are tied up in court.

Now, just because they say they’re in the SIPC doesn’t make it so, but I was able to confirm it through SIPC’s member check. Equinox Securities Inc. located at 2084 E Francis Street, Ontario CA 91761, an address that matches the NASD information. It’s a Cold Fusion script so I couldn’t link directly to the results but they’re in there.

Again, is participation in this program a guarantee it’s not fraudulent? Of course not, but that’s a lot of hoops to jump through if you’re a scam. So, after a brief bit of research, Zecco passed the extensive sniff test for me but to be honest, all the talk of their abysmal customer service makes me think you get what you paid for. Trades are cheap, why not go with a firm that has some credibility in the marketplace? I, for one, am going with TradeKing, twice named Smart Money’s #1 Discount Brokerage of the Year 2006 & 2007 (they removed the discount category after 2007), where trades are only $4.95. Smart Money put Zecco dead last in customer service.

I think customer service in a brokerage is crucial. If I have a problem, I don’t want to wait on hold.


Zecco Minimum Opening Balance Drops To $0

I just received an email from Zecco that they’ve lowered their minimum balance from $2,500 to $0. I still haven’t opened the account (and provided a review) like I said I would, a bit busy lately with some other projects and haven’t had a chance to dig up the necessary documents, but I still plan on doing it. Those who want to trade on margin, a risky endeavor, will have to have a minimum balance of $2,000.

For comparative purposes, TradeKing requires no minimum balance, ETrade requires a minimum balance of $1k, TD Ameritrade requires a balance of $2k, and Charles Schwab requires a balance of $2.5k.

I’m not yet advocating you open a Zecco account, I haven’t myself, but their offering is getting more and more tempting.


Freetrade: Commission-Free Trading

Update: Ameritrade has officially terminated FreeTrade and turned it into TDAmeritrade Izone, but you can get $0 commission trades through Zecco and $4.95 trades through TradeKing

Is this legitimate or even possible? Freetrade claims to give you your first 20 trades (market, limit, stop, stop-limit, short sell, odd-lot and OTCBB) for free. Your next 80 trades are only $3, the 100 after that are only $2, and anything else is $1. Your first thought would be SCAM until you see “by Ameritrade (not TDAmeritrade)” right next to its name. The next cheapest brokerage house is BrownCo at $5 a pop. Still skeptical? So was I so I signed up.

How can they afford to do this? Well, you know how ING Direct is all virtual and so they can give you such good rates? Freetrade follows that philosophy and all your interaction with Freetrade will be entirely electronic. You won’t be able to call them up and ask a question, all correspondence will be via email. You won’t receive a paper statement and you can only place trades via the Internet or through the automated telephone system. You will not be able to talk to a human being. Again, if you’re not comfortable with that then I would strongly suggest you don’t use them.

I wanted to see how it worked so I signed up for a “Cash, Margin & Option” account. You’ll be required to fill out all sorts of personal information including your current profession, salary, and employer so have that information handy. The entire process took me only a few minutes and before I knew it I had directions on how to wire them money. Since it’s automated, I could either pay them $25 to initiate a wire transfer or simply do it myself (and pay my own bank fees) with their provided directions. After your initial wire, all other transfers can be ACH. There is a minimum account balance requirement of $5,000 for it to become and remain Freetrade” account, otherwise it considered an “Ameritrade” account with $10.99 trades!

The account itself is like most other brokerage accounts except you don’t have real time quotes (you can buy Ameritrade’s Screener for $9.99/month) and you don’t get access to any research. For me, that’s not important because my Roth IRA is held at TD Waterhouse (now TD Ameritrade) so I can use the research and RT quotes there (At nearly $18 a trade, I better). A few other niceties that you won’t are automatic dividend reinvestment and fractional share purchases, but that may not be significant for you.

Any hidden fees? There are a few that they don’t advertise (obviously, but hardly hidden) and that you should check out. Click on Account Services and then on the link for Fee Schedule and you should see them. Your first two incoming or outgoing wire transfers are free, otherwise they’re $25, and brokerage transfers are $25 inbound and $50 outbound.

I have yet to wire money into the account (I opened it yesterday) or enter any orders in but I will update this article as soon as I do and let you all know how it goes. Anyone any experience with Freetrade? For me, the Ameritrade name gives it legitimacy and I’m not too worried about it.

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