No-Minimum Brokerages: Capital One vs. OptionsHouse

By Jordan Wathen Markets Fool.com

When you've built some savings and have some extra room in your budget, it might be smart to open a brokerage account to start investing for the future. If you've done your homework, you've probably discovered that there are seemingly as many brokerages as there are investments. It can be overwhelming.

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Today we'll take a look at just two brokers, Capital One and OptionsHouse, to see how they compare on prices, features, and other matters that are most important to long-term investors.

Trading costs and commissions

The truth is that discount brokers all offer relatively inexpensive trades, making the differences between them less substantial than in the past. Capital One and OptionsHouse have roughly similar commission prices for most types of investments.

Broker

Stocks/Options

ETFs

Mutual funds

Capital One

$6.95 per trade + $0.75 per options contract

$6.95 per trade

$19.95 per purchase

OptionsHouse

$4.95 per trade + $0.50 per options contract

$4.95 per trade

$20.00 per purchase

Source: Company websites.

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As you can see, the differences come down to a couple of dollars for most trades, and a mere $0.05 for mutual fund transactions. In truth, many investors pay much less than the standard published rate.

Brokerages frequently offer some commission-free trades, in addition to alternative services with lower prices. Capital One's Sharebuilder and PortfolioBuilder services can be used to make time-insensitive trades in individual stocks and funds, or whole portfolios of stocks and funds, for a flat price of $3.95 or $18.95, respectively.

Special offers and bonuses can add up, too. Check out some of the special offers for brokerage accounts and IRA accounts, which include commission-free trades and cash bonuses valued at $2,000 or more.

Commission-free ETFs and NTF Funds

If you like funds, you should love fee-free funds. Many brokers offer commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds that can be bought and sold without paying a brokerage charge. The table below compares fee-free fund availability at both brokers.

Broker

Commission-free ETFs

NTF Mutual funds

Capital One

None

400+

OptionsHouse

None

None

Source: Company websites.

Capital One certainly has a leg up on commission-free trades, given that it offers more than 400 fee-free mutual funds. However, if you prefer ETFs to mutual funds, we note that OptionsHouse has lower standard commission prices on ETFs than Capital One. Realistically, the particular funds that are commission free is generally more important than how many funds are commission free, but lists are always changing, and we don't have the space to list hundreds of mutual funds and their tickers.

Account minimums

Online discount brokers make it possible to get started without having thousands of dollars to invest. Both Capital One and OptionsHouse are no-minimum discount brokers, meaning that you can open an account without having to satisfy an initial deposit requirement.

No minimum brokerages can be a great way to get started as an investor. Image source: Getty Images.

Trading platform

As buy-and-hold investors, we at The Motley Fool tend to trade infrequently. We like to invest in great businesses to hold them for years, and thus we don't make many trades, or use many of the features of a trading platform.

Although the quality of each brokers' platform can be debated, we think it mostly comes down to personal preference, so we'll defer to your opinion. For us, our simple requirement is that we can make a trade easily, and virtually every brokerage can meet our simplistic trading needs.

International stocks and ADRs

If you'd like to invest overseas, you'll find that Capital One and OptionsHouse make it possible to invest in foreign companies, subject to some limitations. The table below compares the capabilities of each broker.

Investments

Capital One

OptionsHouse

American Depositary Receipts (ADRs)

Yes

Yes

International stock markets

No

No

ETFs/Mutual funds of foreign stocks

ETFs and mutual funds

ETFs and mutual funds

Source: Company websites.

Many large foreign companies have ADRs that trade on domestic exchanges, and you'll be able to trade them at either broker. However, neither brokerage offers the ability to trade foreign stocks listed on foreign exchanges. (To be fair, only a few brokers offer this capability.)

Research quality and tools

In general, do-it-yourself investors can benefit from having access to research tools and second opinions. OptionsHouse and Capital One both have a wealth of research tools, including quantitative fund and stock screeners, and portfolio analysis tools. Capital One's research center is powered by Morningstar data, and allows you to quickly assess funds and companies and compare them to one another. OptionsHouse offers pre-market reports, daily webcasts with guest analysts, and ResearchLAB reports for many of the most popular stocks.

Discount brokers no longer fit their stereotype of being no-frills brokerages with zero research capabilities. The truth is that both brokers have a lot to offer, and depending on your needs, you can find plenty to like about the research you find at either brokerage.

Mobile app

You can now trade from just about anywhere thanks to mobile apps. Here's how each broker's users and clients rated their iOS and Android apps (as of 12/19/2016).

Broker

Apple App Store

Google Play

Capital One

4.0 stars

3.0 stars

OptionsHouse

2.0 stars

3.0 stars

Source: Relevant app stores.

Best broker for long-term investors: Capital One or OptionsHouse?

There isn't just one broker to rule them all, but there is a brokerage that is a best fit for your portfolio. On one hand, Capital One offers more fee-free funds and less expensive trades through specialty services like Sharebuilder and PortfolioBuilder. On the other hand, OptionsHouse has lower standard commissions, and investors who do more options trading may value its lower per-contract commission rate.

It's all about how you manage your portfolio. To be clear: The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular broker, but we can help you compare brokers to find one that fits your style. Compare online discount brokers by features and special offers by visiting Fool.com's Broker Center. If you're in the market for a retirement account, Fool.com's IRA Center is a great place to compare brokers on features that are specific to retirement investors.

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