When you open a brokerage account with a brokerage firm, you transfer money into the account that you can use to start investing. While some brokerage accounts may set an account minimum, there is typically no limit to how much you can deposit or when you can withdraw your money.
With a brokerage account, investors can invest in a variety of securities, including stocks, bonds, ETFs, and more. There are many brokerages, but the steps to open a brokerage account are similar among most of them.
How Do I Open a Brokerage Account?
There are a few simple steps to opening a brokerage account. We’ll dive deep into each one below.
1. Choose a brokerage provider.
2. Sign up for an account.
3. Transfer money.
4. Start trading.
Step 1: Choose a Brokerage Provider
There are several types of brokerage accounts, and the type you choose will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish.
• Full-service brokerage firms not only allow clients to trade securities, they may also offer financial consulting and other services—though the price may be steep, compared to the other options here.
• Discount brokerage firms typically charge lower fees than full-service, but as a result clients don’t have access to additional financial consulting or planning services.
• Online brokerage firms are typically online-only, allowing clients to sign up, transfer money, and make trades through their website. These firms typically offer the lowest fees.
The accounts above are known as cash accounts: You must buy securities with funds you put in your account ahead of time. You may also encounter other more complicated types of brokerage accounts known as margin accounts, which allow you to borrow money from your brokerage to make investments, using your case account as collateral. These accounts tend to be for sophisticated investors willing to shoulder the risk that investments bought with borrowed funds will lose value.
Before working with an individual investment advisor or a firm and opening a cash or margin account, it can be a good idea to run a check on their background. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers online broker checks where you can enter a broker’s name, or the name of a firm, to learn whether a broker is registered to sell securities, offer investment advice, or both. And you can learn about a broker’s employment history, regulatory actions, and whether there are past or current arbitrations and complaints.
Step 2: Sign Up for a Brokerage Account
Most brokers of all kinds allow you to open and access your brokerage account online. When you open the account, you will likely be asked to provide your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number, your address, date of birth, driver’s license or passport information, employment status, annual income and net worth. You may also be asked about your investment goals and risk tolerance.
For the most part, they should not charge you a fee for opening an account. While some may require account minimums, others allow you to open an account with no minimum deposit.
There is no limit on the number of brokerage accounts you can open, and you may be able to hold multiple accounts with multiple brokerage firms.
Step 3: Transfer Money
You will need to fund your new brokerage account before you can purchase any types of securities. You can deposit money in a brokerage account like you would in a traditional bank account.
Step 4: Start Trading
Many brokerage firms will offer a way for you to earn interest on uninvested funds so that your money continues to work for you even when not invested in the market.
💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.
How Do Brokerage Accounts Work?
The brokerage firm with which you hold your account maintains the account and acts as the custodian for the assets you hold. In other words, the custodian provides a space for investors to use their account in the way that it was intended.
However, you own the investments in the account and can buy and sell them as you wish. The brokerage firm acts as a middleman between you and the markets, matching you with buyers and sellers, and executing trades based on your instructions.
For example, if you place an order with your brokerage to buy a certain number of shares of stock, the brokerage will match you with a seller looking to sell those shares and make the trade for you.
What’s the Difference Between Brokerage Accounts and Retirement Accounts?
Brokerage accounts are also known as taxable accounts, because profits on sales of securities inside the account are potentially subject to capital gains taxes. Generally speaking, these accounts offer no tax advantages for investors.
Retirement accounts, on the other hand, offer a number of tax advantages that may make them preferable to taxable accounts if you’re planning to save for retirement. Retirement accounts place limits on how much money you can contribute and when you can withdraw funds.
If retirement planning is your main concern, you may consider saving as much as you can in both a 401(k) if your employer offers one, and a traditional or Roth IRA. If you have funds left over, you may choose to invest those in your taxable brokerage account.
💡 Quick Tip: How much does it cost to set up an IRA? Often there are no fees to open an IRA, but you typically pay investment costs for the securities in your portfolio.
Is My Money Safe in a Brokerage Account?
The money and securities held in a brokerage account are insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) . The SIPC protects against the loss of cash and securities held at failing brokerage firms. If your brokerage firm goes bankrupt, the SIPC covers $500,000 worth of losses, including $250,000 in cash losses.
The SIPC only provides protection for the custody function of a brokerage firm. In other words, they work to restore the cash and securities that were in a customer’s account when the brokerage started its liquidation proceedings. The organization does not protect against declines in value of the securities you hold, nor does it protect against receiving and acting upon bad investment advice.
It is important that any investor realizes and accepts that investment comes with a certain amount of risk. While security prices may gain in value, it is also possible that you could lose some or all of your investment.
Opening a brokerage account is a simple process that allows you to invest in securities. Effectively, you’re depositing money at a brokerage, which will allow you to buy investments such as stocks, bonds, or ETFs. There are numerous brokerages out there, and different types of brokerage accounts.
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