Investing is tricky business as many would-be tycoons found out in 1999 when the Internet bubble burst. Many day traders went back to real jobs after that. Two recessions since 2000 haven't made things any easier, but calm, carefully planned stock trading is still in the grasp of the private investor without heavy brokerage fees or long wait times. Online investing continues to thrive, so much so that many of the top trading websites are online-only business. The big firms all have an online presence, but the field is dominated by companies that weren't players back in the stodgy days of leaving a message for your broker.
E-Trade got a little stale in the mid 2000s, but it is riding a wave back to prominence based on its low commission structure, intuitive trading tools and trusted brand name. Or maybe it's the talking baby ads. Either way, as a one-stop shop that offers full banking as well as brokerage services in a slick site that's easy to use, E-Trade stands out among the throng.
Little known Trade King burst on to the scene and took the big boys by surprise. It landed on a lot of top lists in 2008 based on its steeply discounted $4.95 discount structure. It is still among the cheapest in the business, its website tools are adequate, but its lack of integrated banking services is a drawback
One of the big brick and mortar shops to firmly entrench itself in the online trading world, Fidelity has succeeded due to its one-second trade guarantee and trusted brand name. The commission structure ranges from $8 to $20 per trade which is a little rich for some day traders, and it requires a $2,500 initial deposit to open an account.
optionsXpress, another discount broker, offers a flat-fee trading structure and no minimum account balance. The discount broker label applies here, but it doesn't skimp on tools, offering the TradeWizzard and Xspreads utilities.
Schwab offers new and long-time investors a trading rock-solid trading environment backed by decades in the business, and the presence of 300 brick and mortar shops for banking deposits and personal visits makes Schwab the choice of more traditional investors. You can open an account with just $1,000, and there are three trading platforms depending upon your investment activity.
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