When you've balanced your budget and put away some emergency savings, the next logical step might be to start putting away some money for the future. Taking control of your retirement by opening an IRA account is a great way to save for retirement in a way that shelters your money from Uncle Sam.
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But with all the flexibility that IRAs provide, where you choose to open an account can have a big impact on what you pay, and your ultimate investment results. Let's look at just two brokers, OptionsHouse and Interactive Brokers, to review what they have to offer individual investors.
How much it costs to trade
Online discount brokers are popular because they're inexpensive compared with traditional full-service brokers. Both OptionsHouse and Interactive Brokers have relatively low prices for investments ranging from stocks to funds.
Data sources: company websites.
The primary difference between these two services is how their commission prices work. OptionsHouse employs primarily fixed pricing, whereas Interactive Brokers' commissions are generally variable and change with the size of the transaction.
Before spending too much time comparing these two on cost, consider that there's more to a broker's commission prices than the stated prices. Some funds and ETFs are available fee-free, and special offers for IRAs can defray much of the cost of making trades over time.
Mutual funds, ETFs, and commission-free choices
The following table compares these two brokers on fund selection, with an emphasis on the availability of funds you can buy or sell for free as a client of either brokerage.
Data sources:Barron's, company websites, and representatives.
Account minimums for IRAs
While you don't need to be extraordinarily wealthy to start saving for retirement, some brokers do require a minimum deposit to open an IRA account. Interactive Brokers requires a minimum deposit of $5,000 to get started, whereas OptionsHouse does not have a minimum deposit requirement for IRAs.
The ability to monitor your portfolio from a mobile app has become a standard IRA account feature. Image source: Getty Images.
Investing in foreign stocks and ADRs
The internet enables everyone to research and invest in stocks all around the world, but depending on the broker you choose, your actual investment options may be limited.
OptionsHouse and Interactive Brokers, like most discount brokers, enable their clients to trade American depositary receipts (ADRs) that trade over the counter or on U.S. exchanges. Since many "megacap" foreign companies have ADRs, investors usually find it easy to invest in large foreign companies regardless of which broker they choose.
That said, if you want to trade stocks that are only listed on international exchanges, you'll have to pick from a short list of brokers. Interactive Brokers currently offers the ability to trade on 100 markets around the world, whereas OptionsHouse only offers American markets.
Mobile app reviews
Have a phone or tablet? If so, you can trade anywhere you have an internet connection with each broker's mobile application. Here's how each broker's users and customers rated their mobile trading apps, as of March 23, 2017.
Data sources: relevant app stores.
IRA account fees and service charges
Fees can come in many shapes and sizes, but there are two that you should know about. The first are maintenance fees, which are charged to clients just for keeping an account open. The second is an inactivity fee, which brokers charge to customers who don't meet minimum trading requirements.
OptionsHouse doesn't have either type of fee. Interactive Brokers customers who don't have at least $100,000 in their account must generate at least $10 in monthly trading commissions. For example, if a customer pays $4.00 in commissions in February and doesn't have at least $100,000 in his or her account, the commission charge will be increased by $6.00 so that he or she pays a minimum of $10.00 in commissions that month.
OptionsHouse vs. Interactive Brokers for IRAs
Let's review a few features that make both of these brokers a good choice for different types of investors. OptionsHouse's flat commission prices, lower account minimums, and no-inactivity-fee accounts are the kind of features that would typically appeal to investors who don't tend to trade all that much, or who are just getting started. Interactive Brokers excels in international stocks, and for investors who are very price sensitive, but its inactivity fees may turn off investors who don't have $100,000 to deposit or who don't plan to trade very much.
Ultimately, it's all about how a broker's offerings align with your portfolio. To be clear, The Motley Fool doesn't endorse any particular brokerage, but we can help you find one that's a good fit for you. VisitFool.com's IRA Centerto compare several leading discount brokers on one page.
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