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Online Brokerage - There Are More Options Out There Than You Think!

Aug 17, 2007
Everybody knows the big online brokerages - Ameritrade, E-Trade, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity. Those in the know are familiar with the hot new online brokerage, OptionsXpress. And of course, there are the super-low cost online brokerages like FirstTrade, ScottTrade, and Sharebuilder.

But were you aware that there were many more online brokerages, and that some of them rated higher than their more famous counterparts in a recent study?

Online Brokerages - Some You Might Have Missed

One online brokerage you're probably not familiar with is thinkorswim Webtrader. Despite it's funny name, thinkorswim is an online brokerage that delivers serious service, or at least, that's what Barron's says.

Thinkorswim's Webtrader platform ranked second, only to OptionsXpress, among the 14 most popular online brokerages in Barron's most recent annual survey.

Another online brokerage you might not know is Muriel Siebert & Co. Muriel Siebert, the person, was one of the first women to become a big-time broker on Wall Street, and instead of retiring, she went on to found her own online brokerage.

Muriel Siebert & Co. ranked the highest of all 14 online brokerages in customer portfolio analysis and reports. This means that the company does a great job providing well-laid-out reports, updated in real-time, showing you your current balances and positions - definitely something to think about when selecting an online brokerage.

You know Ameritrade, but have you heard of Ameritrade Apex? It's a special brokerage for premium accounts. E-Trade also has a premium brokerage called E-Trade Serious Investor.

Some of the lesser known online brokerages that you would be better off to avoid include Wall Street Electronics and Trade King. Each of these unknowns ranked in the bottom half of Barron's survey.

Beyond the Web Browser

Serious, full-time traders tend to prefer software platforms over the more basic web-browser-based ones. With a software-based online brokerage, you install a program on your computer that has enhanced features and connectivity to the internet. Typically, these programs have a lot of charting capabilities that the browser-based online brokerages do not.

In Barron's most recent annual survey, there was a tie for first-place among the software-based online brokerages. MB Trading and thinkorswim each scored 36.2 out of a possible 50.

MB trading was strongest in trade technology (advanced order routing strategies for big volume traders), trade execution (finding the best bid and ask prices), and costs. Thinkorswim fared best in research, customer portfolio analysis and reports, and customer service.

Other software-based online brokerages include TradeStation, Interactive Brokers, Terra Nova Trading, RushTrade, and ChoiceTrade. Some of the ones you might want to avoid are Fidelity Active Trader, Preferred Trade, CyberTrader, and E-Trade Power.

The worst of the bunch are ScottTrade Elite and AB Watley, which were particularly bad in trade technology and customer service, respectively.

Don't Forget About OptionsXpress

OptionsXpress has been making a lot of noise lately, but it still isn't nearly as well-known as Ameritrade and E-Trade. For that reason, it's probably prudent to take a closer look.

In 2006, OptionsXpress was recognized by Barron's as the top browser-based online brokerage - for the fourth consecutive year. It rated a 4.7 in trade execution, 4.1 in usability, 4.3 in offerings (stocks, options, mutual funds, etc.), 4.8 in research, 4.7 in customer portfolio analysis and reports, 4.4 in customer service, and 4.0 in costs.

The only category in which OptionsXpress didn't do well was trade technology (3.8).

Although OptionsXpress charges $13.95 per trade, versus $7-10 with other online brokerages, you get what you pay for. Amertirade, for example, charges an additional $9.95 per month for real-time streaming quotes.

OptionsXpress gives you the quotes for free. It can be amazingly frustrating to try to buy a stock on Ameritrade and not even know what the stock is selling for at that very moment.

The good news is that you're not limited to using one online brokerage. Most allow you to open an account with as little as $1,000 (or less). There are no fees associated with opening an account, checking it out, and then switching if you're not satisfied.

So with that in mind, don't limit your choices - go out there and find the online brokerage that's right for you!
About the Author
William Smith the author provides much more financial information on many subjects as well as the secret to his success in the market along with 5 Free power stock picks emailed daily so grab your Free subscription on his website at Online Brokerages (All is Free)
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