Discussion in 'Men's Economics' started by CubbieBlue, Aug 15, 2011.

  1. CubbieBlue

    CubbieBlue Member

    What/who do you guys use as a stock broker?

    Etrade? Scottrade? ThinkorSwim?

    Why do you use what you use?
  2. bigrobbie

    bigrobbie Member Supporter

    My brother uses Etrade...I'm too poor to invest in the market! LOL! :)
  3. Transhuman

    Transhuman Member

    I liked tdwaterhouse/ameritrade when i used to have money to play with
  4. Michael Scally MD

    Michael Scally MD Doctor of Medicine

    Cut the Cord
    In Barron's 17th annual ranking of online brokers, Interactive Brokers gets the highest marks.

    SATURDAY, MARCH 10, 2012

    "In many ways, the iPad is reinventing portable computing and outstripping the wildest predictions," Apple chief Timothy D. Cook said last week while unveiling the tablet computer's latest upgrade. A bit of hyperbole? Yes, but Cook won't get any argument from online brokers. Barely a year after the first real investment-related applications were designed for it, the iPad has become a viable platform for buying stocks and bonds and is driving gains in mobile-trading activity.

    Big brokers like TD Ameritrade, E*Trade and Fidelity, as well as smaller rivals like MB Trading and OptionsHouse, have all rushed to serve iPad-based customers with new apps. Although no industry-wide figures are available, there's lots of evidence the iPad and other mobile devices are having an effect. Ameritrade says the number of transactions taking place on mobile devices has more than doubled in each of the past two years. E*Trade reports an average of 200,000 unique monthly mobile log-ins and that 5% of its retail trades took place on a mobile device at the end of 2011. OptionsHouse CEO George Ruhana says mobile apps now account for over 15% of the firm's core customer activity.

    And more growth is coming. As Apple's Cook noted: 55 million iPads have been sold since their launch in 2010, with 15.4 million of that total in the most recent holiday quarter alone.

    Should the growth continue, the iPad and its rivals will prompt even more investors to cut the cord as the brokers provide more and better apps. "Our data show that when customers feel they get the same functionality out of a tablet that they do out of their desktop software, they will break the cords and go mobile for active trading," says David Lipsett, president of MB Trading. "You should never have to sacrifice features over the technology venue in which you access our services."

    Barron's was so impressed with the real and potential gains in mobile (though we predicted as much last March), that we've made a significant change to our scoring rubric in our 17th annual ranking of the Best Online Brokers. We've added a mobile category to our rating. To compensate we've combined two categories–trading experience and trading technology–into one. A differentiator this year is the availability and quality of mobile trading and account data, so we looked for streaming real-time data, including charting and news. We looked for ways to trade stock and options on a tablet or smartphone. Cross-platform integration is key; when you set up a watchlist on your desktop, it should be available on your mobile device as well (and vice versa). Brokers who do not offer a mobile app, or who have limited capabilities, suffered in our rankings this year.

    The brokers' creativity extended beyond the iPad to mobile generally. New mobile applications included those that offered simple balance data and the ability to place a stock transaction, on up to streaming graphs and complex options order-entry capability. In addition, an increasing number of smartphone apps can now help you deposit a check using the device's built-in camera. TD Ameritrade's iPhone app even lets you scan a barcode when you're at the grocery store, and get a quote on the stock of the company that makes those cookies you like. It's an exciting evolution in trading technology, and one that we expect to continue this year.

    As important as it is to stay connected to the markets in volatile times, the iPad and mobile weren't the only news in 2011. International trading is hot. With Fidelity launching foreign trading in January, and Schwab's plan to roll it out later this year, retail online investors will increasingly have the ability to place transactions directly on international exchanges. The currency conversion choices vary, from managing the trades in dollar amounts to changing dollars into the local currency, and maintaining the holdings in that foreign currency.

    It's not just about getting information whenever you want, but being able to go wherever you want. Nearly half of the brokers surveyed allow online currency exchange of some stripe, including foreign-exchange trading. Steve Quirk, senior vice president of the Trader Group at TD Ameritrade, says, "Clients are trading during hours of the day that were reserved in the past for sleep."

    Although it may be under attack, the desktop got some serious help in the last year. Schwab and E*Trade are completely rewriting their platforms, while Interactive Brokers rolled out a truly elegant (and much-needed) update to its Trader Workstation. The new kid on the block, Kapitall, has an interface based on gaming technology that is truly unique.

    AND THE WINNERS ARE... We evaluated 27 firms, focusing on what they have to offer for wealthy, active traders. We evaluated these rivals across eight categories, looking for what can be traded online, how the tools work together across platforms, the design and capabilities of mobile platforms, educational offerings and customer service, and the nuts and bolts of placing and executing a trade. When examining costs, we considered stock and options commissions as well as platform or maintenance fees, margin debt and charges for transferring an account. For complete details of our scoring system see the glossary at the end of the story.

    Though we award 4½ stars (out of a possible five) to four brokers this year, we also list the top brokers in six categories–long-term investing, options trading, international investing, high-frequency trading, services for novices and in-person service—to help you decide where you should open (or transfer) an account. We show the brokers who were at the extremes when we calculated the monthly cost of trading for infrequent traders as well as for those who trade multiple times per day.

    And now to the rankings. Thanks to its much improved platform, and its excellent mobile-trading tools, we have a new winner.

    Interactive Brokers ( claimed its victory on points over some tough competition. But let's get the caveats out of the way quickly: This is not a broker for the casual buy-and-hold investor; as a matter of fact, the firm is clearly aimed at hedge funds and very frequent traders. There is a minimum monthly fee of $10, which can be disposed of with a few trades. In addition, some of the data feeds are not free, but if you have multiple accounts at IB, you only have to pay for them once. A $10,000 minimum is required to open an account, and it's clear from online-discussion groups that the customer service available to small account holders is not exactly warm and fuzzy.

    What Interactive Brokers is doing right more than compensates for its social awkwardness. The recently launched update to the Trader Workstation features a new interface called Mosaic, which can be customized to your heart's content. It's much easier to use than its previous incarnation, and the customization features are terrific. We also found Interactive Broker's portfolio analysis and reporting and tax-accounting features superior.

    The Tax Optimizer allows you to select a specific tax lot, but it goes well beyond that. It allows customers to run real-time "what-if" scenarios to choose the best tax lot and profit-and-loss impact methodology for a particular transaction for all asset classes except futures.

    Frequent traders will find this a great way to figure out the tax impact of multiple trades, and the paperwork doesn't have to be submitted the moment the trade is placed. You have until 8 p.m. eastern time the day of the trade to decide what lots you sold so you can examine the tax ramifications of each.

    The Portfolio Analyst lets a client assess his performance at any time, using up to 150 industry benchmarks. One particularly interesting report covers Performance Attribution, which compares your account's return to a chosen index, such as the S&P 500, and explains the difference in return due to variations in sector weighting. In other words, how much of your portfolio change was due to market moves, and how much was due to your investing expertise? Reports can be saved and edited; advisors can set up a batch of their client reports to review.

    IB has a terrific iPad app, mobileTWS, that takes full advantage of the device's expansive real estate. The layout puts the controls along the right and left margins of the app, keeping the main central viewing area from being blocked by your hands when you want to change views. Streaming quotes and graphs are clearly displayed, as well as the full life cycle of a trade, from creation to fill. Very well done.

    The firm's customer-service reputation, or lack thereof, is hard to dispute. For those who are bringing $100,000 or more to a new account, however, IB offers an ambassador who is your single contact through the transition. In addition, the firm's customer-service group has been expanded and there are now reps around the globe, allowing customers to reach someone in support around the clock.

    Commissions and fees are very low, though there are some extras you'll find in data fees for international exchanges, and fees for streaming news in the IB Information Systems research platform. You can get a lot done without paying extra, though.

    MB Trading ( merits the 4½-star mark again, with many improvements to its flagship platform as well as the launch of terrific mobile apps. A goal of the development team was to add customer-requested features to the software, and to unify the look and feel of those features across offerings. MB Trading clients can take advantage of a powerful downloadable software application, MBT Desktop Pro, a very functional Web platform, or its well-designed mobile apps.

    One feature that MB Trading customers asked for–and received–was an improved order-entry process. Customers trading via MBT Desktop Pro or MBT Web can opt to use one-click trading for stocks, options, futures or foreign exchange, defining their preferences for each asset class. Advanced options analytics were added as well as enhancements to charting and technical analysis.

    On the mobile side, the tablet versions support all order types, including a wide variety of conditional orders. The multi-panel layout lets you display quotes, charts, and an order-entry ticket at the same time.

    The charting functionality on the mobile apps is deep, with over 60 technical indicators available and real-time analysis, in all asset classes including foreign exchange. This is one of the very few brokers that has mobile capability for foreign-exchange trading.

    Mac users will be happy to learn that there is a native version of Desktop Pro available, supporting all the asset classes, order types, and market depth displays from the traditional PC-based version.

    MB Trading is a boutique firm; its customer service is terrific when you call a human, but its online community is not very active. Fees are in the mid-range and though its services are aimed at frequent traders, experienced options traders and those interested in foreign-exchange and futures trading can also find a home here.

    TradeMonster ( is our top-rated Web-only broker this year, earning 4½ stars. Though you log into its platform on the Web, it has a downloadable software look and feel, with streaming data pushed into view with every tick. The mobile apps reflect the Web-based features. Options traders will find a wealth of terrific analytic and trading tools here, and those not yet into options will appreciate the education that guides you to the appropriate trading strategies.

    TradeMonster's tradeCycle feature is one we've raved about since it was introduced in February 2010. TradeCycle encourages you to do your homework, using the site's Research Lab, prior to pulling the trigger. One update this year is that news events are color-coded: red for bearish events, such as a drop in earnings, or green for bullish events, such as an uptick in sales. The liveAction scanning tool displays the results of over 100 technical scans running in real-time; you can save the results to a watchlist for future perusal.

    TradeMonster is also very responsive to its customer requests, adding numerous features to the platform such as text message alerts, the ability to adjust the cost basis of a spread and the ability to configure your gain and loss metrics to include commissions and fees.

    When placing an order, you can wrap as many conditions around it as you can imagine. The order-entry ticket has a built-in graphical position analysis, which is especially helpful for those placing options orders. A newly-launched feature called the Quantity Assistant lets you calculate the number of shares or contracts based on a percentage of buying power or percentage of a holding; these calculations can be made across multiple accounts as well.

    Speaking of multiple accounts, tradeMonster offers some slick tools to investment advisors that can also be used by retail investors. One is the Group Order, which lets you send an order for multiple accounts. You can also search across multiple accounts for a particular stock or options contract, or search on tags applied to past trades. Bond trading has been added this year as well as portfolio margining. TradeMonster, which was sixth on our list a year ago, has stepped up to run with the big dogs.

    TradeStation (, last year's winner, didn't keep pace with its rivals' gains, though it definitely deserves its 4½ stars. Its mobile apps fell a little short of others' efforts. There is, however, a lot to like here, including major enhancements to education offerings and dazzling options analytical tools.

    You can trade just about everything in this powerful downloadable software platform, including forex. TradeStation gives you the ability to create your own trading system based on a variety of technical and fundamental data, and test it using several decades' worth of clean data. The order router does a terrific job of finding the best price; active day traders appreciate the superior speed and quality of executions.

    The order router employs logic that seeks out and captures price improvement, designed to account for the fact that the orders displayed in market-depth reports do not reflect what is actually available. Fills are very fast, in spite of the number of markets that are being queried in the course of each order.

    Serious investors who require a variety of professional-grade testing, scanning, and trading tools will also appreciate the TradeStation platform. User requests from TradeStation's very active social network were the inspiration for the major product and service enhancements of the last year. Its OptionStation Pro platform gives options traders new ways to analyze and visualize theoretical and actual options positions. Chart trading adds the ability to trade directly from the platform's readily customizable charts.

    Though TradeStation was acquired by Japan's Monex Group last year, there's been no slowdown in its development. We expect to see more inroads into Asian markets for the firm.

    This software, once again, is clearly not from a broker who is catering to the uninitiated. There's a $99 per-month platform fee if you trade fewer than the equivalent of 5,000 shares of stock per month or 50 options contracts.

    THE FOLLOWING THREE BROKERS were part of a large contingent (seven in all) that earned four stars (click here for the entire list). Each of them merits serious attention, and it's possible that some of their services could better fit your needs than would other brokers higher on the list. We offer them with a brief summation of pros and cons.

    OptionsHouse (

    Pros: Terrific tools for options traders, as you might have guessed from the name. A suite of risk-management tools was just launched, based on professional risk analysis used by OptionsHouse's parent firm, options-market maker Peak6. This suite is designed to give options traders a better picture of what is generating risk in their portfolios across eight different categories. The mobile tools are terrific. Serious options traders will be very happy here.

    Cons: Very limited access to international markets.

    TD Ameritrade (

    Pros: A wide range of technology that brings the world to traders and investors of every experience level. The Web platform gives you access to Trade Architect, which is a bridge application intended to introduce intermediate-level traders to the tools added to the firm with the acquisition of thinkorswim. TD Ameritrade's mobile apps, especially for the iPad, are very well-designed. There are quite a few research amenities available to TD Ameritrade customers that you would pay extra for at other firms.

    Cons: Near the top of the cost scale, but you get a lot of bang for the (many) bucks.

    optionsXpress (

    Pros: Great research tools for those moving into options trading, plus well-designed mobile apps that let you execute complex options orders. Acquired by Charles Schwab last year, optionsXpress kept up its pace of innovation, including the launch of Xtend, which brought streaming data into a Web-based trading platform. The firm plans to maintain itself as a separate brand under the Schwab umbrella for an indefinite period. OptionsXpress customers saw commissions drop this year as the pricing lined up with Schwab's rates. We remain huge fans of the optionsXpress All-in-One Trade Ticket and consider it the industry standard for placing orders in a multi-asset environment.

    Cons: The proliferation of available platforms can be confusing. There's no single platform where all the tools are accessible.

    GIVEN ALL THE TECHNOLOGICALadvances in the online brokerage offerings during 2011, we can't help looking ahead, and to take a few guesses at what we can reasonably expect to see.

    TradeKing (

    Pros: An active and engaged community of traders which includes the ability to interact with CEO Don Montanaro, along with a wide variety of trading professionals. TradeKing is building out its proprietary HTML5 platform, TradeKing LIVE, which is a browser-based application with streaming data that can run on any device. It's got a lot of great tools for options traders, including easy-to-view options chains. The tools are customizable and can be placed wherever you'd like on the page.You can attend live or archived webinars on a variety of topics, and its cost-basis reporting tools (Maxit from Scivantage) are excellent.

    Cons: Mobile trading is limited, though iPad and Android apps are expected later this year.

    PlaceTrade (

    Pros: This firm could be considered a kindler, gentler Interactive Brokers. Trades are executed at IB using a platform they've licensed to CEO Sarah Place, but customers can also access the full-service brokerage offerings as well at a surprisingly low price. New to the survey this year, this firm's rating can be attributed to utilizing the IB trading engine while offering a great deal of personalized service.

    Cons: Website generates a new page with nearly every click, so your desktop gets messy quickly.

    E*Trade (

    Pros: Real-time quotes, once reserved only for active traders, are more readily available via the firm's site redesign, called E*Trade 360. The customizable layout lets you put together a trading and investing dashboard with your favorite items displayed. Education has been a focus for E*Trade as well, with 57 live events offered in 2011 and more planned in 2012. Power E*Trade Pro integrated more options research and trading functionality, including an options screener that's good for finding new ideas as well as hedging current positions. The updated bond center offers additional education as well as analytical tools that echo those available to equities and options traders. E*Trade's iPad app is very well-designed.

    Cons: To fully utilize all the tools E*Trade offers, you'll have to jump from E*Trade 260 to Power E*Trade Pro.

    Fidelity (

    Pros: Fidelity's active-trader application,, combines streaming data, news, and market scanning tools that arefree for customers who qualify. We especially like the searchable news feeds, which start out with news about your positions and watchlists, but can be customized to your heart's content. Options tools, especially for multi-leg trading, have been seriously enhanced, with features like a trading ticket that populates dynamically based on the rules for your chosen strategy as well as your approved trading level. The Fidelity Website received a fixed-income research and education update as well as access to Recognia's technical analysis tools.

    Cons: The most useful streaming tools are only available to qualified customers, and you'll have to flip to the Website for many of the research features.

    Charles Schwab (

    Pros: The granddaddy of them all is trying hard to keep up with the new kids by updating its tools, offering a streaming platform called StreetSmart Edge, which is being developed in-house. It's a great move forward into more modern technology, and there are plans to roll out a cloud-based version that can run as a native Mac app in the near future. The workflow and ability to customize StreetSmart Edge, plus tools like a momentum tracker and enhanced charting, are welcome additions. The expansion of optionsXpress in 2011 gives Schwab some much-needed options tools. Education and in-person help is a comfort for those who still want to interact with a human.

    Cons: You still have to qualify for StreetSmart Edge, and the usual Web platform is looking tired.

    ChoiceTrade (

    Pros: Recently lowered options commissions to $5 plus $0.15 per contract, which is very reasonable. The Web-based service was overhauled; one interesting feature is the ability to stage orders and set up very complex contingencies in The Wheel. The Wheel lets you define a series of conditions that can turn it into either a short-term scalping engine, or a long-term profit managing engine. It's a great step forward for the order-entry process. The options chain displays the intrinsic value of a contract on the screen, which is a unique feature. Frequent traders can use ChoiceTrader Select, a very powerful execution platform powered by eSignal.

    Cons: Several add-ons, including streaming quotes and charts, invoke an additional fee.

    Zecco (

    Pro: The newly-launched trading center includes free streaming real-time quotes and an updated charting application. One intriguing new feature is a dollars-to-shares converter on the order-entry screen. The firm's added a context-sensitive help system that can be toggled off if you'd rather not be bothered. Options-trading tools have been expanded; automatic display of 16 different strategies is now available, which includes the Greeks and a prefilled order ticket. Mutual-fund order entry screens are improved, and show the minimum investment necessary. Zecco has a separate entity, Zecco Forex, for foreign-exchange trading; it requires its own account. Zecco is pushing hard to tie into a variety of social-networking sites, and has also worked to upgrade its customer service.

    Cons: Margin data are updated overnight, which could be a concern for the frequent trader. No iPad app.

    Scottrade (

    Pros: The firm integrated an online-banking service into its brokerage in 2011, giving it more of a "one-stop shopping" feel. Scottrade is known for having branches all over the US; the current count is well over 500, making this firm a reasonable choice for those who want some in-person help. Though the trading platform isn't state-of-the-art, fees are very reasonable and stable. Scottrade set its $7 per trade commission rate back in 1998, and hasn't (yet) budged. Scottrade added a group of Morningstar Focus ETFs that customers can trade commission-free.

    Cons: Portfolio performance reports are based on delayed quotes. Complex options trades must be executed on a separate platform. Limited mobile apps.

    Merrill Edge (

    Pros: Integrated banking services with Bank of America; those with $25,000 or more in cash in a BofA or Merrill Edge account qualify for 30 commission-free stock trades per month. Merrill eliminated tiered pricing, which resulted in a fee drop for approximately 75% of its client base. The fixed-income center added to the Website is nicely laid out, and allows access to a large inventory. Also new this year is an options research center, which includes a strategy builder and some options-related education. The Retirement Center includes a great interactive tool to help plan for retirement. The Research Library contains a wide range of proprietary reports, including the BofAl-ML US1 report. You'll find Merrill financial advisors at 500 BofA branches now; the company's goal is to push that to 1,000 this year.

    Cons: The site feels like it's prodding you to move to a more managed style of account (along with the higher fees). Very limited ability to place conditional orders.

    Lightspeed Trading (

    Pros: A terrific platform for the very high frequency trader who is interested in low-cost trading of stocks and options. The platform includes a very powerful scanning tool, Lightscan, which screens the entire universe of symbols based on customer-defined filters. Lightspeed is the first broker to offer Recognia's Education On Demand, which supplies well-designed text and video tutorials, followed up by quizzes to let you know how much sunk in. Customers can use the List Order Entry window to execute a group of orders at once. Options screening and trading functionality are being enhanced this year, with complex options capability promised for the very near future. Lightspeed plans to add access to global markets in 2012 also.

    Cons: This platform suffers in our rating system because of its limited range of offerings and lack of mobile technology, but its target customers probably aren't bothered by that.

    Just2Trade (

    Pros: Low, low costs with few frills. Some great education offerings from such a low-cost broker. Among them: Recognia's technical analysis system. The order-entry flow has been improved so that a real-time quote is automatically displayed. The Recognia technical events chart is displayed on the order-entry page as well, which is a nice touch. Other additions this year include complex options and fixed-income trading, so this is a good package of products at very low cost.

    Cons: Limited mobile functionality, weak portfolio analysis tools.

    SogoTrade (

    Pros: Now a subsidiary of Wang Investments, SogoTrade survived its clearing firm changeover and is now running smoothly. Simple Website to navigate.

    Cons: Limited customizability on Web, limited mobile functionality. No fixed-income inventory. This broker still seems to be trying to figure out who they are.

    SpeedTrader (

    Pros: Low fees with access to the software platform DASTrader. SpeedTrader has two Web platforms and offers access to two downloadable platforms as well. You can automate your trading strategies on their SpeedTrader PRO platform. This firm focuses on institutional business.

    Cons: Not a terribly friendly environment for the retail trader. Limited portfolio analysis and tax reporting.

    Cobra Trading (,

    Pros: Newly launched Web platform, Venom Trading, is a customizable application written in Microsoft Silverlight, accessible from any browser. Customers can also use the very powerful RealTick platform for an additional fee. Venom is a step in the right direction.

    Cons: Most research tools require additional subscription fees. No fixed-income trading. Confusing to require navigation to a separate Website to log into Venom.

    eOption (

    Pros: Very low costs for options traders, and a low flat rate for any size stock order. Newsletter subscribers can enable automatic execution of suggested trades, defining the maximum amount per trade based on dollars, percentage of account, number of contracts or shares, etc. Quick and easy paperless account opening process.

    Cons: Limited research capabilities, so you may need an account at a broker with better amenities to find trading opportunities. No mobile functionality.

    TradingBlock (

    Pros: Portfolio Hedger points out options-trading strategies that can protect, or even generate, income from, your existing stock positions by putting on a strategy called a collar. To generate trading ideas, you can check out its TradeBuilder tool, which ranks up to 24 possible trades based on your speculative idea. TradingBlock is adding tools to its Website in the next few months intended to help generate income.

    Cons: Occasional issues with quote engine. Few screening tools outside of those for options. No mobile functionality.

    Firstrade (

    Pros: Simple and straightforward Web trading platform that can be switched to Chinese. Updated account notifications in the newly designed Message Center.

    Cons: Limited streaming capability, but the firm is working to fix this objection. No tax-lot selection when closing a position.

    ING Direct / Sharebuilder (

    Pros: Set up automatic trading to build your portfolio for a monthly subscription fee. You can also trade in real time. Interesting carousel view of multiple accounts makes it easy to pick the account you want to work with. This carousel theme is echoed throughout the site. This is a decent choice for those who want to build a basic portfolio of ETFs and invest automatically. Note: Parent firm was recently acquired by Capital One, so the branding may change later this year.

    Cons: Limited range of offerings – no complex options or bonds.

    SureTrader (

    Pros: Two platforms that offer streaming data. Aimed at the high frequency trader.

    Cons: The company has headquarters in the Bahamas, offers no toll-free dial-in from the U.S. and very high margin rates.

    Kapitall (

    Pros: New kid on the block with a game-like trading and research interface. Full review published 2/25/2012 on Barron's Online (Electronic Investor "Shopping for Stocks").

    Cons: For now, you can only trade stocks long with Kapitall – no margin, no options, and no mobile

    We anticipate more interest in tax-related wares, since the Internal Revenue Service has begun implementing its cost-basis reporting rules. Traders and investors are becoming more savvy about the tax consequences of their trades, and are demanding better pretrade analysis. Similarly, a small but noisy subset of traders want direct access to international assets that range from Canadian oil stocks to Brazilian mining stocks.

    Most brokers we polled expect the costs of trading will remain pretty stable. As volatile and punishing as conditions were last year, the markets continue to settle from the upheaval of 2008 and 2009. Some additional small brokers may fall into the arms of bigger rivals interested in their technology, and one or two bigger mergers are possible, but the online brokerage consolidation is mostly done.

    And as for new firms? We just welcomed Kapitall in 2011, and you may see a handful of others in 2012.

    Certainly, you should expect mobile applications to become even more plentiful and interesting, particularly for the tablets like iPad that combine desktop capabilities with smartphones' portability.

    As TD Ameritrade's Steve Quirk says, "We believe that mobile is the future, and the growth trends will continue through 2012."

    We Ranked Our 27 Brokers Using the Following Measures

    Trading Technology: This category represents the overall workflow for placing an order as well as the order routing technology.

    We evaluated the quality of the data available prior to placing an order with an emphasis on streaming real-time data. A real-time quote that is displayed without any additional user input (such as typing the symbol into a separate box or hitting a "Quote" button) receives credit here; if the trader has to make a duplicate entry of the ticker symbol to get a quote, the broker got zero. We checked out the ways a trader is told that an order is executed, such as pop-up notices or an order status screen that is updated when the order fills.

    We looked for prefilled order tickets when selling a position, which eliminates possible errors during the closing process. We also evaluated the options order entry process, as well as mutual-fund, bond, and (when available) futures, commodities and foreign-exchange order-entry screens. Methods for placing conditional orders, such as one-cancels-another or one-triggers-another, were checked out.

    The availability of price-improvement strategies and smart-order routing technology (which finds the best bid or offer) are necessary to earn top ratings in this category. We asked whether a broker's order routing engine used a spray or sequential engine; spray routing contacts multiple venues simultaneously and are less inclined to execute orders via routes that offer payment for order flow. Brokers offering price improvement—a sale above the bid price, a buy below the offer—received a fraction of a point depending on the portion of their transactions that benefited.

    Top marks were earned by brokers who offered a wide array of order types, including conditional orders, and had spray order routing technology. The ability to place a trade from a graph earned a fraction of a point. In addition, we looked for ways to customize the trading experience, such as setting a default number of shares or contracts, to speed order entry. The order entry-and-execution process must flow easily from one step to the next, with streaming real-time information (including buying power and margin balance) available when needed.

    Usability: A 5 here means the site or program was easy to use and well-designed, didn't bog down when moving from screen to screen, and can be tailored to the user's needs. We looked at how easy it is to get started on the platform or website as a new customer. Constant availability of a trading ticket, and easy access to research and account status data is key. Being able to easily switch from one area of the website or program to another is important here, as are customization options.

    Mobile: A differentiator this year is the availability and quality of mobile trading and account data. We looked for streaming real-time data, including charting and news. We looked for ways to trade stock and options on your tablet or smart phone. Cross-platform integration is key; when you set up a watchlist on your desktop, it should be available on your mobile device as well. We also considered the workflow for placing an order and managing an account. To earn a 5 in this category, a broker must offer the ability to place complex options transactions and conditional orders, and be able to share watchlists and trade ideas with the customer's desktop or Web-based offering.

    Range of Offerings: We awarded points for the diversity of investments that can be traded online, with partial points given for those that can only be traded offline. Since long and short stock-trading, as well as single-leg options orders are now standard, we don't award points for those transactions. We asked brokers how many stocks, on average, their customers can sell short, and awarded up to a half-point based on their answer. Complex options trading, and the availability of mutual funds, bonds, futures, commodities and international trading were also considered. A 5 in this category means you can execute all of these transactions online.

    Research Amenities: This category measures the quality and accessibility of research, quotes and charting. We looked for research, news and charting linked to a customer's portfolio and watch lists; the quality of third-party research and its integration with the rest of the site; and the availability of screeners, with special emphasis on options-strategy screeners. Brokers also won points for offering real-time streaming quotes at no additional cost, powerful charting capabilities, and Level II quotes. Partial credit was awarded for features that generated an extra fee.

    Portfolio Analysis and Reports: The emphasis here is on clearly laid-out reports, updated in real time, showing current balances, positions and margin status. Portfolio-analysis reports, with links to news and research, as well as extensive transaction history, are most desirable. Tax reporting also falls in this category. Full credit is given for reports that can be created on the broker's website, with no additional fees or data entry required. Partial credit is awarded to brokers that populate services such as GainsKeeper and Maxit (tax analysis and reporting programs) for an additional fee.

    Customer Service and Education: We sized up online help such as live-chat capability, user guides and frequently-asked-question files. Offline help was assessed by making calls to customer service, and weighing the brokers' reports of the average time spent on hold when a customer calls in. We took a look at the education offerings, both online and live. The ability to visit a broker in person, and to access the account via a mobile device, is taken into account here.

    Costs: We looked at commissions for stock and options trades and margin interest rates, giving more points for lower costs. We scaled the points awarded so that the lowest costs in the group earned the maximum number of points, with fractions (and occasional zeros) given to the more expensive brokers. Stock and options commissions are the biggest factor here, but mutual-fund and other transaction fees are also considered. A 5 could be earned here by very low stock and mutual-fund commissions, $4 or less for 10 options contracts, margin interest rates below 2%, and no account-maintenance fees.

    Making Sure Your Mobile Transactions Are Safe

    Use password protection, question your broker and avoid the free public airwaves to keep iPad data out of harm's way.

    It's tempting to slip your iPad out of your purse to check on your brokerage account while enjoying a cappuccino. But is it a good idea to send your data out over the public airwaves provided free of charge by your favorite coffee shop? Do you risk having your information intercepted by miscreants who want to use it for their own purposes?

    Frankly, the most pressing security issue usually isn't the airwaves so much as theft or loss of the device itself. The ne'er-do-wells who make off with your gear, or those who simply find a wayward iPhone in a restroom, have instant access to your e-mail accounts, log-ins to corporate data systems and social-networking sites, as well as more personal items like photos.

    Your first security measure should be to password-protect your mobile device. The iPhone and iPad can be set up with a four-digit passcode lock, which you should do as soon as you take it out of the box. The passcode can be created so that all the data the device holds, including contacts, text messages, and e-mail login, are erased if someone enters the wrong code 10 times.

    What if your devices are safe and sound, but your wi-fi connection isn't? It's obvious when your iPad is missing. It's not so easy to tell when your data transmissions are being intercepted by bad guys. Thieves use such strategies as packet sniffing, phishing, and pharming–all ways of intercepting data or tricking you by spoofing a financial-services Website.

    Ever since 2006, when customers of several online brokerages discovered that their passwords had been stolen and their accounts used to inflate the prices of some thinly traded stocks (called "pump and dump" schemes), financial-services firms have made mobile security a high priority.

    If you're conducting any financial business from a mobile device, make sure the firms you're working with employ encryption for transmitted data, and that they monitor transactions for unusual behavior. Most banks and brokers are now on the lookout for activity that comes from geographical areas that they know are hotbeds of cyber-criminal activity, and have been successful at stopping the great majority of these intrusions.

    Even so, mobile-security experts recommend avoiding open wi-fi, and going with EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized, learn more at Mobile Broadband - Coverage, Tips, News, Reviews, 4G & 3G Routers, MiFi, Verizon, Sprint, CLEAR Internet : or GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). It's faster, far more secure and not that much more expensive when you realize you won't be wasting time looking for signal or worrying about what you can and can't do on the connection.

    To use EVDO, you just purchase a device from Sprint, Verizon or AT&T and pay a monthly fee for data access. You are your own hot spot when you have one of these, and they work with any mobile device you own, including a laptop. There are some that plug into your tablet's USB port and others that are battery powered and stand alone. GPRS is built in to many smartphones, and is much more secure than open wi-fi. Your mobile device's 3G and 4G connections are secure, though they'll draw on your data usage.

    So hang on tight to your mobile devices, and make sure that when you transmit sensitive data that you are doing so safely. If you're not sure a wi-fi connection is safe, just enjoy the coffee.

    Attached Files:

  5. Michael Scally MD

    Michael Scally MD Doctor of Medicine

  6. zkt

    zkt Member

    :):D;)Nice C&P. If you cant find that out on your own you should`nt be in the market.
    Think or sink bitch. Show me your watchlist. Why dont the emoticons go where i put them? Take a sabbatical for a few months and the whole place goes to hell.
  7. $BlackBeard

    $BlackBeard Member Supporter

    Update for 2020:

    Use Schwab, maybe Fidelity. Anywhere else, it’s a high probability you’re suffering from high costs and/or poor execution quality.
    Logan44551 likes this.
  8. MindlessWork

    MindlessWork Member Supporter

    I have E* few investments are hanging in there.
  9. $BlackBeard

    $BlackBeard Member Supporter

    E*Trade is fine. Just don’t use broker-assisted for trades.

    With $0 commissions, volume means everything now as these firms make profit off this business segment by order routing and selling orders. There will continue to be a lot of consolidation. There just isn’t a reason to have so many small brokerages anymore.
    MindlessWork likes this.
  10. MindlessWork

    MindlessWork Member Supporter

    Exactly, that's where they will get their money...through certain trades that need a human broker's help in executing.