Business: Stocks easier to trade, especially for students

By Jeff Lipsey

First, let me start by saying that few people have reasons not to put money into the stock market. It is no longer as difficult as finding a trustworthy broker and making many phone calls. In fact, you can do all your trading without even leaving your desk, from starting an account to buying and selling stock.

Many people believe that you must have excess thousands just to start out. While it would be nice to have that kind of cash, most college students do not have that luxury. Just like every product and service in the world, all brokerage firms claim to be the best in a specialized field, if not at everything. Based on your monetary situation and other personal needs, choose an online brokerage right for you. There are several factors that you should investigate before choosing to invest in a broker.

The first thing to decide on is how much you plan on trading. If you plan on doing some long-term investing, you want to watch out for brokerage firms charging inactivity fees. If you aren’t the day trader, these inactivity fees can be a hassle. Some charge on a yearly basis, others on a quarterly basis. Charles Schwab, for instance, charges $45 per quarter when $10,000 isn’t invested. Fidelity, on the other hand, charges $50 per year regardless of how much you have invested, and Scottrade has no inactivity fee whatsoever.

Most college students would be hard pressed to come up with the thousands to just get started in the market, but if you research enough you will find a number of options. According to their respective websites, Charles Schwab has a minimum balance of $1500, Ameritrade $2000 and TDWaterhouse of $1000.

As an investor, you also need to look at commissions per trade. TDWaterhouse will charge you $18 per trade unless you have over $100,000 in your account. Charles Schwab has a reasonable $13 per trade and Ameritrade charges $11.

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Not everything has to do with dollars and cents when choosing an online brokerage firm. The intangibles should not be ignored. The number of nation-wide offices and the customer service ranking for each brokerage should add weight in your decisions as well. E-trade only has 12 offices nationwide and Ameritrade a measly 3; Scottrade has a respectable 236 offices while Charles Schwab leads the pack with 284.

After going over the aforementioned numbers, I would choose Scottrade. They have a minimum balance of only $500 and a flat fee for most trades at $7. I don’t want to sound like a Scottrade employee, but I really have had no problems with their service, and would currently recommend them over any other broker.

If you are just coming back to school from an internship, more than likely you have some extra money in the checking account collecting zero interest and waiting for you to spend. Do yourself a favor and put some in a brokerage account and get involved in the market. Do your own research before choosing a broker, and choose one that fits your needs.

Stock Pick of the Week

In this section I plan to throw out a stock pick and by the end of the semester I’ll tally them up and see how I do. My pick for this week is Cryptologic, Inc (CRYP). Down 36 percent from its price Aug. 4 and over 50 percent from its 52 week high, Cryptologic is a European company with poker making up roughly 25 percent of its business.

It took a large hit after finding out that Betfair, one of its online poker sites, was straying from the company to become private. Betfair contributed anywhere from 3 to 9 percent of Cryptologic’s TOTAL (not just poker) revenue. Seems to me that losing 9 percent of revenue is not worth a 36 percent price drop. I’ve already bought my shares. Current Price: $18.12.

Jeffrey Lipsey is a senior in Business. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column will apear every Thursday.