So you are ready to open your first investment account! Believe it or not, this is the easiest step in your plan to start investing, and you have a few choices. Here is a quick look at your options and the pro's and con's of each:
1. Full Service Advisor
This is your best option if your goal is to tackle your finances as a whole and not just your investments. Advisors handle the investing for you, but they also can handle everything from budgeting questions and debt strategies to retirement concerns and emergency funds as questions come up over time. Note, though, that "Financial Advisor" can mean a lot of things—RIA's, CFP's, and Brokers all have different roles and requirements (click on the terms for a quick look at their meanings).
A lot of what you are paying for with a full service advisor is the personalized financial and investing advice. If you just want someone to keep an eye on your investments, and you don't have a particularly large amount to invest, you might consider option two...
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2. Automated Advisor
Often referred to as Robo-Advisors, these are online platforms that give you a bare minimum of investment help for a low charge. They are fairly new to the market but all offer you an easy way to allocate your money in different investments once you've signed up and answered the basic questions. Some (like ours) hold the money with a designated custodian and do the rebalancing and re-allocating for you over time. Others give you limited access to advisor to help you follow your plan in your own accounts. If you really want to go it alone, try option 3 or 4...
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3. Brokerage Account/Discount Broker
These are the "stock accounts" we've all heard about. Once upon a time, they were the domain of the wealthy, but discount brokers like eTrade and Scottrade have made brokerage accounts available to just about anyone. Online brokers usually give you access to a long list of stocks, ETF's, Mutual Funds, and other publicly traded investments, but no advice on what to buy or sell. You pay them a commission, usually called a "transaction fee" for each trade you make.
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4. Fund Company Account
Let's say you have set out your investment strategy and realized that you plan to only invest in ETF's and mutual funds that are all from the same company. If that's the case, you may be able to open an online account directly with the fund company. Investing directly with a fund company can help you avoid transaction charges and account minimums and keep your investing simple.
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