I’ve been bugging my wife to open an individual retirement account (IRA) in addition to her state retirement plan. Of course, she’s looking to me for the basics like…”OK, where do I open the account?”
Easy question; tricky answer.
I didn’t have bad experiences at either broker, but I’m hesitant to immediately recommend either. For one, both brokerages are big and clunky. They may be great for sophisticated and active traders, but we are decidedly the opposite. (And unless you inherit millions at 22, young investors don’t need anything fancy from a broker).
What to Look for In an IRA
When opening an IRA—whether it’s a Roth IRA, a traditional IRA, or a rollover—young investors should look for:
- A Selection of Low-Cost Mutual Funds — These funds are great for the long-term buy-and-hold investing most of us will do with our Roth IRAs.
- No Minimum Investment — You should be able to open a Roth IRA even if you don’t have the $2-5k many brokers and fund companies require to open an account. Fortunately, many places will waive this requirement if you enroll in an automatic investment plan.
- Low Trading Fees — If you do want to buy stocks or ETFs for your Roth, you shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg. Why would you? It’s not like you’re starting your own hedge fund, you just need to make a few trades now and then.
So who has it?
Before writing this article, I turned to my blogging friend Mike Piper of The Oblivious Investor who has covered this topic before and says the best place to open a Roth IRA is either Vanguard or TradeKing.
He recommended Vanguard for buy-and-hold investors because of their widely-respected and low-cost mutual funds; TradeKing for investors who want to trade a bit and not pay big commissions. His recommendations make sense to me, but I’m also going to throw in Zecco as an option for active traders with larger IRA balances (read on to see why).
I definitely agree with Mike that if you’re going to invest in mutual funds for the long-term, Vanguard is the place to be. It’s where I’ll recommend my wife open an IRA, and eventually I’ll even get around to moving mine there, too.
Vanguard has an incredible reputation for being on investors’ side, which is reflected by their costs—or lack thereof. By Vanguard’s calculation, their funds have an average expense ratio of 0.23% compared to an industry average ratio of 1.19%. That’s an annual saving of $96 per $10,000 invested. You can imagine how that adds up over the lifetime of your IRA.
The downside to Vanguard is that most mutual funds require a $3,000 minimum investment. Probably not a problem if you want to open a rollover IRA, but the minimum may be discouraging if you want to start investing with smaller monthly contributions. Finally, Vanguard isn’t the place to invest if you’re going to make more than 25 trades per year. If you have less than $50,000 invested, your first 25 trades in a calendar year are $7 and all other trades are $20. (Trades get less expensive if you have more invested). Finally, all investors can trade Vanguard ETFs for free.
Though Mike and I are both buy-and-hold guys, I think we both recognize that some investors just need to trade. And for you, there’s TradeKing†.
TradeKing is a solid but no-frills (in a good way) online discount broker that has no minimum balance requirements, no annual fee, and $4.95 stock/ETF trades…all the time. The downside with using brokers for IRAs, however, is that trading no-load mutual funds is pricey. TradeKing charges $14.95 for no-load fund trades, although this is cheaper than many (E*Trade charges $19.99, TDAmeritrade $49.99). Hence, it’s a good idea to decide on an investing strategy (buy and hold in funds or trade stocks and ETFs), or at least maintain separate accounts for each.
Another good place to open an IRA for active investors is Zecco†. In a nutshell, Zecco offers 10 free stock trades every month if you have at least $25,000 in assets or make 25 trades per month. Otherwise, trades are $4.50 (for everybody). Zecco also has no minimum balance requirements, but they do charge a $30 fee.
Finally, you can trade no-load mutual funds at Zecco for just $10 each (or $19.99 with broker assistance).
When it comes down to TradeKing vs. Zecco, I’m slightly biased towards Zecco’s online interface (but I tend to be a snob about those things). As you can imagine, if you don’t qualify for Zecoo’s 10 free trades a month, the pricing differences between the two brokers are subtle. If, however, you make 30 stock trades a month, Zecco could save you $650 or more in commissions per year.
What do you think? Where’s the best place to open an IRA online? Where do you have yours? Are you happy?
† This site accepts advertising from the following businesses mentioned in this article: Zecco and TradeKing. For more, please read our disclosures.