When you've mastered the basics of personal finance, you may be ready to open a brokerage account to start investing for the future. Thanks to brokers like Merrill Edge and Robinhood, it's easier than ever to buy stocks online from the convenience of your own home.
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For today, let's compare how just two brokers, Merrill Edge and Robinhood, on important matters like commissions, international stock trading, research, and more.
Trading costs and commissions
Merrill Edge and Robinhood have vastly different commission structures, but price isn't the only important consideration. Here's how Merrill Edge and Robinhood compare on commission prices.
Data sources: Company websites.
Notably, Merrill Edge charges a commission on each trade, but it offers access to more investments (options and mutual funds) than Robinhood.
It's not as clear as it may seem. Some Merrill Edge clients will qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades each month, depending on their account balances, bridging some of the gap in commission prices. Of course, brokerage special offers are numerous, and frequently change.
Commission-free ETFs and NTF funds
Many brokers have commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds that result in trading costs that are much lower than their standard commission schedules. Here's a quick comparison of the number of commission-free ETFs and NTF mutual funds available at either brokerage.
Data sources: Company websites.
Either Merrill Edge or Robinhood could be a winner in this category. Merrill Edge offers more access to no-transaction-fee mutual funds, whereas Robinhood has the advantage on commissions for ETFs, given it doesn't charge commissions on any ETF trades.
You'll need money to make an investment, but you don't need to be rich just to open an account. Merrill Edge and Robinhood are no-minimum brokerages, meaning that you can start with an initial deposit of just $1.00 if you wanted to.
To actually make a trade, you'll want to deposit enough to afford one share of a stock, ETF, or mutual fund. So, where you don't need a big initial deposit to open an account, it may be advantageous to deposit a little more than the bare minimum so that you can make trades as you need to.
We're big believers in long-term investing at The Motley Fool. We prefer to spend our time holding great stocks rather than trading in and out of them.
Because we're long-term investors, we tend to think the gauge of the quality of a trading platform is simple: If a broker can complete our trades, then its platform is good enough for our needs. Robinhood and Merrill Edge can complete trades without a hitch. There may be just one important limitation: Robinhood's platform is currently mobile-only, meaning you can't make trades from a desktop or laptop computer.
Ultimately, different people will prefer different qualities of a trading platform, so we think this is best left to individual judgment.
Both brokers boast mobile apps that their clients and users rate highly. Image source: Getty Images.
International stocks and ADRs
If international stocks are important to you, you'll want to carefully compare the differences between Merrill Edge and Robinhood in this category. Merrill Edge offers the ability to trade American depositary receipts (ADRs) that are available in the United States, but it does not offer the ability to trade on international stock exchanges.
Robinhood does not support over-the-counter stocks, which includes many ADRs. It only allows international trading in "securities of companies domiciled in Canada and Israel that trade above $5," according to its website.
Research quality and tools
One added bonus to having a brokerage account is that you get access to third-party and proprietary investment research. Merrill Edge clients get access to third-party research from S&P Capital IQ and Morningstar, in addition to proprietary stock picks from BofA Merrill Lynch's analysts. Robinhood doesn't currently offer research perks, which is one trade-off that investors will have to accept in exchange for commission-free stock and ETF trades.
Both brokerages are well-reviewed by their users, who think very highly of their mobile trading capabilities. Here's how each brokers' users and clients rated their iOS and Android apps (as of Dec. 10, 2016).
Data sources: Relevant app stores.
Better broker for online trading: Merrill Edge or Robinhood?
Realistically, depending on your needs, either broker may be the better pick for you. On one hand, Merrill Edge charges commissions, but it offers more in the way of research and mutual fund access, in addition to perks like commission-free trades for investors who keep a certain minimum balance. Robinhood may be limited to a mobile platform, and have less research, but some investors will feel that zero commissions more than makes up for it.
To be clear: The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular broker, but we are willing to help you make an informed decision to fit your personal needs. See Fool.com's Broker Center for current special offers, or visit the IRA Center for deals that are exclusive to investors who open or transfer an IRA account.
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Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.