The Best IRA Accounts

By Markets Fool.com

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Saving for retirement is getting easier and less expensive. Brokerage firms and investment companies all want to be the go-to company for traditional and Roth IRAs, rolling out consumer-friendly options that reduce fees, therefore improving investors' returns.

Here are some top-rated IRAs for every kind of investor, plus an important tip for any IRA you open.

Brokers for individual stocks

Unless you plan on making hundreds of trades in any given year -- which you probably shouldn't do -- there aren't all that many differences between discount brokers. Of the major online discount brokers, the difference in cost amounts to just a few dollars or cents per trade.

Brokerage

Stock Commissions

Capital One

$6.95 or $3.95 for automatic investments

Scottrade

$7.00

Fidelity

$7.95

Vanguard

$7 for the first 25 trades, and $20 thereafter

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Data sources: Capital One, Scottrade, Fidelity, and Vanguard.

Capital One's brokerage (formerly known as ShareBuilder) has an interesting commission schedule that allows you to invest in individual stocks for as little as $3.95 per trade. The catch is that the purchases must be automatic -- trades are completed on every Tuesday the market is open. Admittedly, if you want to invest in individual stocks, you probably don't want to buy a stock regardless of the price, so the $3.95 option may not be ideal for most people.

Fidelity, Scottrade, and Vanguard (if you make fewer than 25 trades per year) are also fairly inexpensive. One caveat: Scottrade was recently acquired by TD Ameritrade, and it's possible its commissions may be increased to match the $9.99 price charged by TD Ameritrade on its platform.

IRA providers for ETFs

Where most brokerages charge $7 to $9.99 to trade stocks and exchange-traded funds, some waive commissions on certain ETFs. This allows you to build a diversified portfolio and pay next to nothing to do it. If ETFs are what you'd like to invest in, there are plenty of great options for you.

Broker

Number of ETF Sponsors

Number of Commission-Free ETFs

Charles Schwab

16

210

TD Ameritrade

9

101

Fidelity

2

83

Vanguard

1

55

Data sources: Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, and Vanguard.

Charles Schwab's list of commission-free ETFs is the most exhaustive, but of the funds on its list, Schwab's ETFs are the most compelling. Its "Core" ETFs for stocks and bonds -- foreign and domestic -- can be used to build a diversified portfolio with an average annual fee of less than 0.10% per year.

TD Ameritrade allows you to trade select Vanguard and iShares ETFs commission-free. iShares' ETFs are perhaps your best choice, because you can buy its S&P 500 ETF and compliment it with iShares' small- and mid-cap ETFs. Fidelity also offers commission-free trades on Fidelity and iShares ETFs, while Vanguard's list is limited just to its own ETFs.

IRAs for mutual funds

Buying mutual funds through independent brokers can be both clunky and costly. Don't be (small-f) fooled. Go straight to the source. If it's Vanguard's funds you'd like to invest in, open an IRA with Vanguard. Similarly, if Fidelity's funds strike your fancy, then a Fidelity IRA is best for you.

Unfortunately, most brokers will charge you an arm and a leg ($20 to $80) to buy funds that aren't their own. And while they may tout their long lists of no-transaction-fee mutual funds, brokerages make up for lost commissions by collecting fees from mutual fund managers. Not surprisingly, most brokers' no-transaction-fee fund lists are dominated by mutual funds with loads and high expense ratios.

Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and Vanguard will allow you to invest in their funds without paying commissions. Similarly, mutual fund companies that do not have brokerage businesses will happily set you up with an IRA to buy their mutual funds without paying a commission to do so.

A universal tip for IRAs

IRA providers frequently charge maintenance or custodial fees, the price you pay just for having an account. In almost every case, you can avoid this annual expense by maintaining a minimum account balance or by opting to receive statements and documents electronically.

In other words, if you agree to save your account provider on postage, most will waive some annual account fees for you. Select this option to save on fees when possible. It's basically free money.

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Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends TD Ameritrade. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.