I could only avoid the siren song of $4.95 trades for so long, here are my opinions of TradeKing in 2,144 words and 4 screenshots. Last week, I joined the masses and opened a TradeKing brokerage account . I did so partly because I wanted to understand the process and answer some of the emails I’ve been receiving, and partly because I was impressed by their Options Education Center and wanted to dip my toe in the waters of something I never really understood. I had heard that TradeKing offers the easiest way to pull off multiple options related transactions (because they’re often used as hedges) at once. More on that later, let’s get to the basics.
Account Application Process
I opened an individual account (with margin enabled) and Level 1 – Covered Calls options trading. Opening an account at TradeKing takes about five minutes and three screens (plus a confirmation screen). They asked for all of your standard brokerage account information details like name, address, social security, employer information, financial information, trading experience, whether you want to be able to trade on margin and with options, etc. Nothing remarkable, quick and easy.
One interesting security measure they put in place was a pop-up keyboard for the password entry. You click on buttons to enter your password, a measure that seems a bit like overkill, though it’s nice that they thought of it. I’ve never seen a company use that during the account opening process. (this is the same keyboard used for logging on to TradeKing)
After the application process, you are asked to agree to several agreements. The agreements run the gamut of agreeing to accept real time quotes, certifying that you’re a nonprofessional, etc etc. After you agree to all those, you’re allowed to join the TradeKing “community!” Yay!
The TradeKing Community is TradeKing’s attempt to leverage the social media craze and create a place where traders can share thoughts, opinions, and ideas. I believe Zecco has a similar Zecco community but very few other brokerages do this. I know for a fact that there is no Vanguard or TD Ameritrade or E*Trade community like the one at TradeKing and Zecco. At the moment, it’s very slick looking but lacks a bit in participation. I’ll explain more later.
The major parts of the community are:
- Community Home (shown right): The community front page captures a taste of every other section of the community, including three huge buttons in the header going to Trading Activity, Trade Notes, and the Forums.
- Trading Activity & Trade Notes: You can trade with funny money and track your progress here, with the aggregate data of trades being listed in Trading Activity. You can tell that the community is still quite small as on this day (May 29th, 2008) the most active stock is Ford with 10 trades. Most of the notes have zero or one vote.
- Groups & Forums: You can think of Groups as almost like forum categories and the forum as the big list of every discussion going on. The groups themselves are still of a reasonable size (Beginning Investors has the most with 126 members) but vary in terms of quality, scope, and purpose. Anyone can start a group, so you have groups with intuitive names like “Value Investing” and then ones that have less intuitive names (Street Addicts is one). Some groups have membership rolls in the single digits (Socially Responsible Investors has one member).
But let’s be honest, you don’t sign up with a brokerage because you want to meet friends, you sign up because you want to make money in the stock market.
Step one to making money on the stock market, after opening an account, is getting funds into that account. They make it pretty easy, simply go to the navigation menu up top and click on Services > Transfer Money. I went with the ACH transfer, which required the basic information (ABA routing #, account #, etc). Unfortunately, there’s a mandatory minimum five day hold after you setup an ACH link. 🙁
After linking my account, you can only have one account link at any one time. If you want to link another account, you have to delete your current ACH linkage and add the other one (including five day wait). Another minor annoyance is yet another five day hold on ACH deposits if they exceed your account balance (if you deposit less than your account balance, there is no hold).
The TradeKing trading screen is pretty slick. I like how you get a quick quote on the ticket you enter into the ticket trade form, it appears immediately with useful information (Bid, Ask, Last, Change, Volume, and Company name). It’s nice not to have to click “quote” or something silly like that. (ignore the fact that my account balance says $0.00, I took the screenshot before making any trades… five days is a long time to wait!)
Disable Preview Step: If you hate previewing your order, it’s nice that they allow you to disable the preview step (you can also setup a default stock and option trade quantity on the same page, though I find that probably won’t be too useful). There is a link underneath the Preview Trade button that takes you to your Settings, then just click the “Bypass Order Preview Screen.” You’ll notice your trading button changes from Preview Order to Place Order. (if you want to change it back, it’s under Services > Settings > Trading & Real-Time Quotes)
Options: The screen to your right is the Covered Call Trading Screen and it, on one screen, lets you buy both the underlying stock and write/sell the Call option to go with it. I’m still very much a novice when it comes to Options, so the terms Butterfly and Condor and all that jazz are meaningless to me, but the Covered Call is something that’s pretty easy to understand. A call option is the right to buy the stock, “call for it,” at a specific price. When you write/sell a call option, you’re selling someone the right to buy a stock from you at a specified price. A covered call means you’re writing a call for shares you already own. This screen lets you buy the stock and write the option, two things at once, and is clearly more convenient than forcing you to buy the stock and write the option on two different screens.
I plan to read more about options trading, enough to become comfortable (I talk about the education center later, where I read their options playbook) and then I may speak to this section in greater detail.
Finally, the backend systems of TradeKing rely on Legent Clearing. Everything from actual trades, securities clearance to settlement is done through Legent and they service a bunch of well-known clients such as Pointe Capital, MyStockFund Securities and OptionsXpress .
Maxit Tax Manager
TradeKing offers a Maxit Tax Manager, by Scivantage Maxit, that tracks your gain and loss, including the following listed features:
- Tracks all transactions and running cost basis of your securities.
- Automatically adjusts cost for corporate actions (splits, mergers, spin-offs, etc.)
- Automatically identifies and adjusts cost basis for wash sales
- Sets default standing orders for matching sells to tax lots such as Minimize Tax, First In–First Out, Last In-First Out.
- Calculates Unrealized and Realized Gains and Losses
- Generates Tax Reports, such as the Schedule D automatically
As of this review, I haven’t really gotten a chance to look too much in depth about this because I haven’t sold anything.
Trading is nice, but what about the information you need to make informed decisions? Most brokerages offer third party reports (or their own analysis) to help you made decisions. TradeKing uses a system called MarketGrader. MarketGrader describes itself  as essentially a big quantitative calculator that crunches all sorts of factors and gives you a number. Yep… a number.
In the screenshot to the right, you can see Yahoo’s analysis. Growth got a B-, Value got a B, Profitability got a B-, and Cash Flow scored a B+. End result? A 48.8 and a flashing red Sell rating. If you want more information, the PDF Report doesn’t really provide it. There’s a paragraph explaining each of those four categories with a few pages of pretty graphs and charts. Surprisingly, the report’s Overall Grade of 42.8 didn’t match the initial Overal Grade of 48.8, which was strange.
Research overall isn’t bad at TradeKing, but the individual stock reports were a little disappointing. They did, however, garner four stars for research in the latest Smart Money 2008 Best Online Brokers survey , likely on the strength of their other data. Comparatively, E*Trade offers (for Yahoo) analyst reports from Credit Suisse, Reuters, Standard & Poors, Rochdale Research, Sabrient, Thomson, as well as a Jaywalk Consensus Report (by BNY Jaywalk). TD Ameritrade offers reports from The Street, Standard & Poors, Ford Equity Research, Market Edge, and the Jaywalk Consensus Report. Both firms received five stars from Smart Money (and both charge more for trades).
This is probably one of my favorite parts of the site and I devoured their Options Playbook chapters, authored by Brian “The Options Guy” Overby. I knew very little about options and this little “playbook” gave me enough information to be dangerous to my bank account. It went through all the terminology, all the plays, all the scenarios for all the plays (especially valuable), and was done in an entertaining (a lot of jokes, some of which were bad jokes) that made it fly by. You don’t need an account to view the Education Center .
Customer Service is very responsive, I was connected to a CSR via their online live chat in less than five seconds. I asked him a litany of general account related questions (I was trying to clarify the whole ACH hold issue I mentioned above) and he was very responsive and informed. If I run into any “real” customer service interactions, I’ll post them in the future.
One interesting tidbit I learned was that the ability to add multiple bank links was not a priority at this moment, which is understandable.
So, trading looks good, the community is young but growing, everything seems on the up and up with TradeKing… is there a catch? If there ever was a catch (can you tell I’ve been reading Gotcha Capitalism?), maybe it’s in the fees… but they’re not. $4.95 a trade, no minimum balance requirement, no account maintenance fee. Mutual funds trades are a little pricier at $14.95 a trade for no-load mutual funds but they beat a lot of their competitors (TDAmeritrade costs $49.99, E*Trade costs $19.99). If you are only going to get funds from one brokerage, say Vanguard or Fidelity, then I’d recommend opening accounts with them rather than buying through TradeKing; otherwise TradeKing looks good on the transaction fee category.
There is a $50 fee for account inactivity but can be avoided if you have a combined account value of over $2500 or make one commission-charged trade in the last 12 months. If you want paper statements, those will cost you $2.50 a piece and trade confirmations will cost $1.00. I recommend going paperless anyway (or just print up the documents yourself).
My experience with TradeKing  so far has been good. There were a few small annoyances like waiting five days for the ACH link, then another five days on the first deposit, but overall it’s been a solid experience. The TradeKing “community” area looks nice but I don’t know how great that’s going to be considering they’ve had it open for a while and it still appears to be in its infant stages (or at least it’s only a toddler).
The one area I was quite impressed with was the educational areas where they taught you about options. Options can get tricky so explaining all the scenarios is certainly a plus and if you fancy yourself an options house, which I believe TradeKing does to a certain extent, you definitely need a place where you teach people how to do those types of transactions. While I won’t be entering into any Butterflies or Condors in the near future, at least I’ll know what the heck they are.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading, this is by far the longest and most comprehensive review of… anything, that I’ve ever done. Hopefully you found it valuable!