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How to Invest in Index Funds

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Few investment products become popular enough to make it into the general lexicon, but everyone seems to be talking about index funds these days. Index funds have doubled their share of asset management dollars since the financial crisis of 2008 ended, and they could surpass actively managed mutual funds in popularity as soon as 2024, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Even Warren Buffett, one of history’s most successful active investors, regularly touts index funds as the only strategy the average investor really needs.

Despite the buzz, index funds are not the most exciting investments at first glance. They are passive and powered by a computer model — without a manager attempting to pick winning holdings or to get rid of losers when they are down. Instead, an index fund tracks the performance of a set group of companies included in a major market index and produces returns in line with that benchmark.

An S&P 500 index fund, for example, provides exposure to the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. that make up the S&P 500. It’s like buying the performance of the benchmark U.S. stock market — and at a very low cost. With an index fund, you generally won’t outperform or underperform a given market, as you own the market.

Why investing in index funds has become so popular

While they may not be the kinds of investments you brag about, index funds consistently outperform hot-shot actively managed mutual funds over time.

Here are four reasons passive investing is winning out.

Index funds are low-cost

“One of the major factors to investing success is fees,” said Joseph A. Carbone Jr., a certified financial planner with Focus Planning Group in Bayport, New York. Lower fees help boost performance in any market because you are losing less of your investment to the cost of the fund. Without an expensive fund manager to pay, index funds charge an average annual expense ratio of 0.09%, compared to an average of 0.59% for actively managed mutual funds, according to the Investment Company Institute. At the extremes, Fidelity, the giant broker typically known for its actively managed mutual funds, offers no-fee index funds. Actively managed funds can charge as much as 2.5% in annual expenses, not including added sales charges.

Index funds are consistent

Mutual fund managers are sometimes guilty of “style drift,” or diverging from intended investment categories, which can impact the fund’s underlying asset allocation and risk profile. With index funds, the investments are set, so there is no risk of drift.

Active management isn’t adding value

For the past 15 years ending in June 2018, 92.43% of large-capitalization mutual fund managers, 95.13% of mid-cap managers and 97.70% of small-cap managers failed to outperform index benchmarks on a relative basis, according to midyear data from SPIVA. With those odds, why pay a stock or bond picker in an attempt to beat the market?

There are tax advantages to investing in index funds

“Passively managed investing is a lot more tax-efficient than actively managed,” said Carbone. Managers are able to buy and sell assets to take advantage of market opportunities, but that trading creates taxable capital gains, which can be a drag on performance. Because indexes generally shift infrequently, trading within index funds happens a few times a year at most.

What are the downsides to index funds?

Plenty of professional investors will tell you that index funds have their downsides. Here are a few of the most common arguments.

Index funds aren’t strategic

Many of the strategies that fuel market success stories — stock picking, concentrated positions, value investing, hedging — are not as easy to index.

They don’t weather downturns

Unlike a mutual fund, an index fund is not able to react when markets turn volatile. This should help actively managed funds handle downturns better than nonreactive index funds.

According to a 2018 analysis by Morningstar, the odds of an active U.S. equity fund beating its benchmark are almost twice as good during “down” market periods, regardless of asset class. It also found that funds that beat the benchmarks during down periods do so by a wider margin than in “up” markets. However, that performance was not sustained, and those funds that did well during a single three-year period tended do badly the following period.

Index funds may not be best for every asset class

OK, so maybe a manager can’t add value in the large domestic stock market, which is so well covered by analysts that there’s virtually no way to have an edge on other investors. But what about, say, small-cap international stocks? Surely there are managers who can uncover something there or in similar markets we don’t know much about.

For some years, this is true. In 2017, 55% of managers in foreign large-cap blend and diversified emerging markets funds beat their benchmarks, up from 36% in 2016, according to Morningstar. Active U.S. small-cap managers did well in 2017 too, with 48% of them beating their benchmarks, up from 29% in 2016. “In theory it makes sense, but the numbers don’t bear this out,” said Carbone. Over the long term, however, asset managers lag significantly in most asset classes.

They can be boring to some people

If your idea of fun is buying individual stocks in the hope of finding the next Apple or Netflix, index funds probably are not your speed. On the other hand, some financial advisors prefer index funds because they feel like less of a gamble than other investments.

Index funds vs. mutual funds vs. ETFs

Mutual funds are actively managed, while index funds are passive. Otherwise, the two investments are fairly similar. Then there are exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are index investments that trade on the stock exchange.

How to make sense of it all? Here’s a chart to help you compare the differences.

 Mutual FundIndex FundETF

What is it?

A pool of money through which large groups of investors can own a variety of stocks, bonds or other assets strategically selected by an asset manager or management team.

A pool of money through which large groups of investors can track the performance of a stock or bond market index. An index fund is a type of mutual fund without a manager.

A security that tracks the performance of a stock or bond market index or selection of assets. Think of an ETF as an index fund-stock hybrid.

How often can you trade?

Once a day at net asset value (NAV) or daily share price.

Once a day at net asset value (NAV) or daily share price.

All day at intraday share price.

Where can you buy it?

Purchase directly from a mutual fund company or through a broker.

Purchase directly from a mutual fund company or through a broker.

Trade shares on the stock exchange through a broker or online brokerage account.

How do you pay for it?

Through an ongoing expense ratio or percentage of assets. The average expense ratio for equity mutual funds is 0.59% per year. Some mutual funds have sales loads or commissions paid when you buy or sell shares.

Through an ongoing expense ratio or percentage of assets. The average expense ratio for index equity funds is 0.09% per year.

Through an ongoing expense ratio or percentage of assets. Index equity ETF expense ratios average between 0.20% and 0.50%. There are also trading fees when you buy and sell.

What’s the minimum investment?

Typically $500 to $3,000. Fidelity has no minimum investment funds.

Typically $500 to $3,000. Fidelity has no minimum investment funds.

None, other than the cost of a share plus the cost to trade it.

Source: 2018 Investment Company Fact Book

Carbone uses ETFs to build portfolios for clients but doesn’t always recommend them for the individual investor. “There’s a lot less that can go wrong when you’re purchasing a mutual fund or index fund versus an ETF.” said Carbone. “A mutual fund is much more user-friendly.”

How to select an index fund

Ready to invest in an index fund? These three steps can get you started.

1. Find a fund company

You can purchase an index fund directly from a mutual fund family, such as Vanguard, the company that pioneered index funds. Firms such as Schwab and Fidelity offer index funds and are large enough to offer products to handle all your investment needs. Keep in mind that index funds don’t really vary from firm to firm. So look for a provider with a good reputation for offering low-cost, no-load funds.

You also can purchase an index fund through a broker, and some discount brokerages will trade mutual fund shares without a transaction fee. If you still can’t decide, compare a couple of options and pay attention to things such as the expense ratio, minimum initial investment and account minimum. Vanguard and Schwab both offer a wide range of low-cost index products with relatively low minimums. Fidelity offers a handful of no-fee, no-minimum accounts, but the fund giant still makes its money through active investing.

2. Select your index

A recent finding by the Index Industry Association found that there are almost 3.3 million stock indexes around the world.

Where is a good place to start? Buffett recommends a simple S&P 500 index fund for the average investor. Or you can get even broader exposure through the total-market Wilshire 5000. Looking for just small caps? The Russell 2000 represents the smallest U.S. stocks. Looking for global exposure? The MSCI global equity index is popular with international investors.

You also can choose between equal-weighted and market-weighted index funds. Market weighted means the companies are represented according to their market value, with the largest companies representing a greater portion of the index. With an equal-weighted index, all companies are represented equally. Each strategy has its benefits: Market weighting tracks more closely to the market’s performance, but equal weighting helps reduce your risk and tends to outperform over time.

3. Balance your assets

Should you buy just one, or is it better to buy multiple index funds? For investors who want to keep things simple, a single broad domestic index fund, such as an S&P 500 fund, is a good start. But if you’re ready to diversify, you can build a world-class equity portfolio with as few as three index funds, said Carbone.

Start with an S&P 500 and add an international equity stock index, such as MSCI, he said. “This gives you global diversification.” For a bond portion, Carbone recommended a Barclays investment-grade bond index fund, a common benchmark for bonds.

How much you put into each fund will depend on your own goals and risk tolerance, but the three components represent all the diversification you need at a combined cost of less than one percentage point.

Bottom line

Any active manager or investment trader will tell you that outperforming the market is not easy to do. Take fees into account, and an active manager has to work even harder to beat a passive investment. So why not consider jumping on the index fund bandwagon? This is one popularity contest investors can win.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Melissa Phipps
Melissa Phipps |

Melissa Phipps is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa here

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Investing

Vanguard vs Fidelity: Which Broker Should You Choose?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When it comes to building long-term wealth, investing in markets is the key to growing your money. Vanguard and Fidelity are two brokerage giants you’ve probably heard of. In fact, we have ranked both companies among our top picks for the best online brokerages. While it may seem difficult to choose between Vanguard and Fidelity, we’ve broken down each company’s fees, account minimums and special features to help you decide which broker is best for your needs.

For beginner investors who don’t have a lot of money stashed away, Fidelity is the clear winner since it has no account minimum. Established investors who want more personalized attention or who want to invest their money in futures may prefer Vanguard. Read on to find out more about these brokers and how they differ from one another.

Vanguard vs. Fidelity: Feature comparison

VanguardFidelity
Stock trading fees
  • $7 per trade for the first 25 trades per year, $20 per trade thereafter for accounts with less than $50,000
  • $7 per trade for accounts with $50,000 to $500,000
  • $7 per trade for accounts with $50,000 to $500,000
  • $2 per trade for accounts with $500,000 to $1M
  • $0 per trade for accounts with $1M to $5M for the first 25 trades per year, $2 per trade thereafter
  • $0 per trade for accounts with more than $5M for 100 trades per year, $2 per trade thereafter
  • $0 per trade for accounts with $1M to $5M for the first 25 trades per year, $2 per trade thereafter
  • $0 per trade for accounts with more than $5M for 100 trades per year, $2 per trade thereafter
  • $4.95 per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $1,000 for Vanguard Target Retirement Funds and Vanguard STAR® Funds; $3,000 for most other Vanguard funds
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Forex
  • Crypto-currency
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures / commodities
  • Forex
  • Crypto-currency
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $20 annual fee for account balances below $10,000; waived if you have at least $10,000 in Vanguard funds or ETFs or sign up for statement e-delivery
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Ease of use
 
 
Mobile appiOS, Android, Fire OSiOS, Android, Fire OS
Customer supportPhone, EmailPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 190branch locations
Research resources
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases

Vanguard vs. Fidelity: Fees & account minimums

When deciding between Vanguard and Fidelity, it’s important to understand the companies’ different brokerage account options, fees, and account minimums.

Fidelity offers three investment management services:

  1. Fidelity Go: Fidelity Go is a robo-advisor program featuring an annual management fee of 0.35% of your account balance and a $0 minimum to open an account.
  2. Fidelity Personalized Planning and Advice: Fidelity Personalized Planning and Advice is a hybrid robo-advisor that also gives you access to a team of advisors for coaching, for a 0.50% annual management fee. You need to have at least $25,000 in total minimum investments across all Fidelity accounts to be enrolled in this service.
  3. Portfolio Advisory Services: Portfolio Advisory Services gives you access to professionally managed investment accounts, with annual management fees ranging from 0.50% to 1.50%, depending on your investment balance. There is a $50,000 minimum investment.

Vanguard offers four options, including:

  1. Target Retirement Funds: For novice investors or those who prefer a hands-off approach, you can invest in a Vanguard Retirement Fund based on your targeted retirement date. The account is automatically rebalanced as you approach your retirement date, so you don’t have to worry about manually shifting your investments from stocks to bonds. You’ll need to have at least $1,000 to get started. The average expense ratio on Target Retirement Funds is 0.12%.
  2. Vanguard STAR Fund: The Vanguard STAR Fund is an option that invests 60% of your money in stocks, and 40% in bonds. It allows you to instantly diversify your portfolio across asset classes. To invest in a STAR Fund, you need a minimum of $1,000. STAR Funds have an expense ratio of 0.31%.
  3. Actively-managed funds: For more seasoned investors, you can opt for an actively-managed fund where a portfolio manager hand-picks the fund’s investments. You’ll need a minimum of $50,000 to invest in most actively-managed funds. The expense ratio is dependent on the fund; expense ratios average 0.12%.
  4. Personal Advisor Services: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is a hybrid robo-advisor option with a 0.30% annual advisory fee for accounts with $5 million or less in assets. To get started, you need to have at least $50,000 in managed assets with Vanguard. Individual investment accounts, IRAs, trust accounts, and Vanguard Variable Annuity accounts all count toward the $50,000 minimum.

You may also be subject to an annual service fee with Vanguard. For example, brokerage and mutual fund-only accounts have a $20 annual fee.

When it comes to transaction fees, Fidelity is much simpler than Vanguard. Fidelity charges a flat transaction fee of $4.95 for any online trades that you make. With Vanguard, your fee is dependent on the kind of security you’re trading and whether you do it by phone or online. For example, you’ll pay $0 to trade ETFs online, but you’ll be subject to a $25 fee per trade if you complete the transaction over the phone.

In terms of expense ratios, Vanguard’s average expense ratio is 0.10% — that’s 83% less than the industry average. However, Fidelity reported that it offers lower expense ratios than other major companies, including Vanguard. Fidelity recently launched four new zero expense ratio index mutual funds that have no minimum deposit requirements.

Vanguard vs. Fidelity: Tradable securities

While both Vanguard and Fidelity allow you to invest in stocks, bonds and CDs, there are other security options to consider:

  • Mutual funds: Fidelity offers over 10,000 professionally managed mutual funds. By contrast, Vanguard allows you to invest in its own mutual funds, or thousands of outside mutual funds. As of August 2019, there are 129 Vanguard-exclusive mutual funds available.
  • Options trading: With options, you can sell securities at a preset price over a set period of time on the options market. Fidelity allows you to invest in the options market, and you can get up to 500 commission free trades over the course of two years. Like Fidelity, Vanguard also allows you to invest in the options market. However, the process to get started is more involved. You’ll have to submit an application and include information about your finances, investment experience and your objectives. Also, your application could be denied.
  • Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Fidelity has over 500 commision-free ETFs. Vanguard offers commission-free trading on 1,800 ETFs from the company, and about 100 from outside companies.
  • Foreign exchange trading: If you want to invest in the foreign exchange market, you can do so by signing up with Fidelity FOREX, LLC, a Fidelity subsidiary. You’ll get access to currencies from over 35 countries, and you can transfer money from your brokerage accounts. By contrast, Vanguard doesn’t offer a foreign exchange option.
  • Futures: As of August 2019, Fidelity doesn’t offer futures trading. Vanguard recently launched the Vanguard Commodity Strategy Fund, an actively-managed commodity futures fund.
  • Cryptocurrency: Neither Fidelity or Vanguard allow you to invest in cryptocurrency.

Vanguard vs. Fidelity: Special features

  • Trading platforms: With Fidelity, you can get access to Active Trader Pro if you make at least 36 trades within a 12-month period. This tool gives you real-time insights, actionable alerts, and detailed analytics so you can make informed investing decisions.
  • Investor centers: If you want in-person advice, Fidelity operates over 140 brick-and-mortar investor centers throughout the United States. You can meet with an advisor to get financial and investment guidance, including one-on-one retirement planning or college planning services.
  • Advisor access: With Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, you can schedule an appointment and talk with an advisor via phone, email or chat.
  • Comprehensive assistance: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services doesn’t just offer help with your investments. You can also contact an advisor for guidance on Social Security, health care funding or the right approach for withdrawing from your retirement savings.
  • Robo-advisors: Both Vanguard and Fidelity offer robo-advisor options. However, Fidelity’s program — Fidelity Go — has a $0 minimum to get started, whereas Vanguard Personal Advisor Services has a $50,000 minimum.

Vanguard advantages

  • Investment options: Vanguard’s funds have low expense ratios and excellent past performance records. You can choose index funds or actively managed funds so you can maximize your investment.
  • Complete financial planning: Vanguard’s programs will take into account your outside investments, such as a company-offered 401(k), when building your personalized financial plan. Taking those other accounts into consideration will ensure your investments are properly balanced for your goals.
  • Actively managed funds: For seasoned investors who have more assets, opting for a Vanguard actively-managed fund can be a smart move. The company offers more than 70 U.S. based actively-managed funds, including a range of stock, bond and balanced funds.
  • Past performance: Vanguard has an outstanding record. The company boasts that 88% of its funds have performed better than peer-group averages over the past decade.

Fidelity advantages

  • Low account minimums: Vanguard has account minimums ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the account, which makes it harder for new investors to get started. Fidelity allows you to get started with just $0, making it a great choice for beginners.
  • Technology: For those who prefer online trading or using an app, Fidelity is more technology-friendly. And, the firm’s Active Trader Pro platform is a powerful resource.
  • Flat transaction fees: Unlike Vanguard, which has different transaction fees depending on the type of security and how you complete trades, Fidelity has a flat $4.95 fee, so there are no surprises.
  • Investor education: Fidelity has a robust library of investor education resources, including articles and videos, so you can become better informed on investing topics.

Vanguard vs Fidelity: Which is best for you?

Vanguard and Fidelity offer excellent investment options for investors of every experience level, allowing you to grow your money with confidence. When looking at which company is best for you, it’s important to consider your starting point and the level of attention you think you’ll need.

With Fidelity, you can get started with $0 and can take advantage of flat transaction fees and its educational tools. And, if you do need to speak to someone in person, you can meet with an advisor at one of its investor centers.

If you’re a more established investor with a significant amount of assets, Vanguard may be a better choice for you. You can take advantage of Vanguard’s low cost funds and its low fees, and get access to comprehensive financial planning.

If you’re researching all of your investment options, make sure you check out the best online stock brokers of 2019.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kat Tretina
Kat Tretina |

Kat Tretina is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kat here

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Investing

E*Trade vs. TD Ameritrade

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

E-Trade and TD Ameritrade are two of our picks for the best online brokers available in the market today. While these firms share broad similarities in the services they offer, there are some important differences that can hopefully help you make an informed choice between these two key industry players.

Based on our comparison, E-Trade is less expensive for high volume traders who do more than 30 trades per quarter. TD Ameritrade seems to offer a wider range of trading options, including foreign exchange and cryptocurrency, plus more portfolio management options for larger balance accounts.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Feature comparison

E-TradeTD Ameritrade
Current promotions

For customers who deposit at least $10,000, E-Trade offers up to 500 commission-free trades for each stock or options trade executed within 60 days of funds becoming available.
For new accounts with a deposit of at least $25,000, you'll also receive a cash bonus, which can range from $200 to $2,500 depending on the amount deposited.

Deposit $3,000 or more and get 60 days of commission-free online equity, ETF and option trades.
Stock trading fees
  • $6.95 per trade (less than 30 trades per quarter)
  • $4.95 per trade (more than 30 trades per quarter)
  • $6.95per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $500
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures/Commodities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures/Commodities
  • Forex
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $25 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 yearly inactivity fee
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Ease of use
 
 
Mobile appiOS, AndroidiOS, Android, Windows phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 30 branch locationsPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 364 branch locations
Research resources
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases
  • Earnings call transcripts
  • Earnings call recordings

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Fees & account minimums

Some brokers charge an annual or monthly fee to maintain your account. Neither E-Trade nor TD Ameritrade impose such a fee, nor do they charge a fee if your account is inactive during the year. However, E-Trade does impose a $500 minimum to open an account at the firm. TD Ameritrade requires no minimum account balance.

E-Trade and TD Ameritrade charge investors a flat fee for each stock trade. At E-Trade, the charge is $6.95 a trade for the first 30 transactions in a quarter. When you make more than 30 transactions per quarter, E-Trade drops its commission to $4.95 per trade. TD Ameritrade charges a flat $6.95 commission per trade. This makes E-Trade less expensive for high volume traders. Both firms offer a range of commission-free exchange traded funds (ETFs) and the ability to purchase mutual funds without a transaction fee.

Both brokers charge fees for professional account management services. At E-Trade, fees range from 0.30% to 0.90% of assets under management, depending on the services chosen by the investor. At TD Ameritrade fees are similar, ranging from 0.30% to 0.90% of assets the firm manages.

E-Trade charges a $75 fee for a full account transfer and a $25 fee for a partial transfer. TD Ameritrade charges the same $75 fee for a full account transfer. However, at TD Ameritrade, partial account transfers are free, offering investors additional flexibility.

Many online brokers offer special incentives to attract investors. E-Trade and TD Ameritrade both currently offer commission-free stock and options trading. At E-Trade you get $600 (and up to 500 free trades) for a $10,000 deposit. At TD Ameritrade you must deposit at least $3,000 to get 60 days of free trades. In addition, you get $100 if you deposit $25,000, $300 if you deposit $100,000 and $600 if you deposit $250,000. Offers vary over time.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Tradable securities

In addition to trading stocks and bonds, E-Trade and TD Ameritrade offer their customers a wide range of investable asset classes to choose from:

  • Mutual funds: For investors interested in the professional management that mutual funds offer, at E-Trade you can invest in more than 4,400 mutual funds with no transaction fee. Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade offers more than 13,000 mutual funds.
  • Options: An option allows an investor to sell a security at a predetermined price for a certain period of time. At E-Trade investors can trade options at regular commission rates plus an additional fee of $0.75, which drops to $0.50 with 30 or more trades per quarter. TD Ameritrade permits investors to trade options for $6.95 plus $0.75 per contract.
  • ETFs: Including ETFs in your portfolio is a great way to add an element of diversity. E-Trade gives investors access to more than 250 ETFs free of commission. At TD Ameritrade, investors have access to more than 550 ETFs that are commission-free.
  • Foreign exchange trading. At TD Ameritrade, investors can access the currencies of more than 20 countries. E-Trade does not offer foreign exchange trading.
  • Futures. If you decide to trade in futures you are essentially agreeing to sell a security or other asset at a set price at a predetermined time in the future. E-Trade offers futures trading for $1.50 per transaction. TD Ameritrade gives investors access to more than 70 futures products.
  • Cryptocurrency. TD Ameritrade recently began offering cryptocurrency investing through ErisX, a regulated exchange for cryptocurrency trades. E-Trade does not offer the ability to invest in cryptocurrency.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Special features

E-Trade offers two levels of managed account services. Core Portfolios is the company’s robo-advisor product, which offers you an automated portfolio of ETFs customized to your investment goals. Just complete a five-minute online questionnaire to get started, which includes information about your goals, timelines and attitudes about risk. The minimum investment is just $500 and the annual fee is 0.30% with no commissions.

Blended Portfolios is E-Trade’s second level of managed accounts. Investors work with a financial consultant to tailor a portfolio that meets their needs, however you need a $25,000 minimum balance to gain access to Blended Portfolios. Annual management fees range between 0.65% and 0.90%, depending on the total amount of money invested under the service.

TD Ameritrade offers investors three levels of managed portfolios. Essential Portfolios is the firm’s robo-advisor option, offering five goal-oriented ETF portfolios. The minimum investment is $5,000 and the annual management fee is 0.30%.

Selective Portfolios offers more personalized service, and invests in both ETFs and mutual funds. A financial consultant helps you set investing goals, and a support team that regularly updates you on how the account is tracking towards those goals. The minimum investment is $25,000, while annual fees range from 0.55% to 0.90% depending on account balance.

Personalized Portfolios provides TD Ameritrade’s highest level of service, with tailored advice and portfolio construction. It gives you a one-on-one relationship with a financial consultant, plus extra guidance and support from a team of investment professionals. The minimum investment is $250,000, and annual fees range from 0.60% to 0.90%, depending on portfolio type and the total amount invested.

E-Trade advantages

  • If you are a high-volume stock trader, after you do 30 trades in a quarter, the cost per trade drops to $4.95 from $6.95. TD Ameritrade offers only a flat fee of $6.95 per trade.
  • E-Trade offers its clients access to solid research tools including market news, recordings and transcripts of earnings calls as well as the ability to analyze companies with fundamental stock research, technical research and bond, mutual fund and ETF research tools.
  • E-Trade has a “better” bonus for new clients. For a deposit of only $10,000 you get $600 and up to 500 free trades. While TD Ameritrade offers 60 days of free trades for only a $3,000 deposit, you need to deposit $250,000 to get a $600 cash bonus.

TD Ameritrade advantages

  • TD Ameritrade does not impose a minimum balance to open an account. At E-Trade, the minimum initial investment to open an account is $500.
  • Some transfer fees at TD Ameritrade are lower. For example, there is no charge for a partial account transfer while E-Trade imposes a $25 fee.
  • TD Ameritrade has 364 branches located around the country to provide customer support. E-Trade has only 30 branches.
  • TD Ameritrade offers investors access to more mutual funds and ETFs that are free of transaction fees. For example, TD Ameritrade offers more than 13,000 mutual funds, nearly three times the number of mutual funds at E-Trade(4,400).

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Which is best for you?

When the time comes to choose between E-Trade and TD Ameritrade, E-Trade is likely to appeal to high volume traders, since the cost per trade drops to $4.95 after 30 trades in a quarter. Similar price cuts are available for options as well. TD Ameritrade will appeal to investors who are looking to trade foreign exchange and cryptocurrency. And for investors who are looking for stronger portfolio consulting options, TD Ameritrade offers a wider choice of customized investing advice for larger account balances.

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Peter Fleming
Peter Fleming |

Peter Fleming is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Peter here