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Which is the best online broker for me?

When you're looking for a way to invest your money, comparing online brokers can seem like more of a hindrance and a hassle than a necessary part of the process. Nobody expects that investing will necessarily be easy, but it seems that actually getting to the point of making trades should be.

But selecting the right online broker can mean a dramatic difference in how effective your investment strategy ultimately proves to be, and you should always be careful to closely consider all of your various options.

Though online brokers are often referred to as "discount" brokers, this does not mean that they all provide the same stripped-down services for rock bottom prices, only that they manage to beat the high prices of traditional full-service brokers.

As much as one online broker might seem much the same as another at the most basic level, even a brief side-by-side comparison illustrates the broad diversity in costs, benefits and requirements.

Some of these services ask for as much as $5,000 minimum to open an account, on rare occasion even more. Others impose no minimum at all, allowing you to dip your toes into the investment market with however much you are comfortable risking.

Usually these brokers will look to recoup the difference in investment size by charging more per trade. Meanwhile, some online brokers are willing to offer you hundreds of free trades as you become accustomed to the interface and the nature of trading.

Some services specialize in entirely different fields - though the focus is usually on equities and direct investment in companies, options, futures and other types of derivatives are a growing field of investment even for comparatively casual traders.

Where you go, and even what you want to look for, will depend entirely upon the strategy you develop for your investments before you even start to really compare online brokers.

You should certainly look at what kinds of options you have available, so that you can use different cost structures and requirements to inform your investment strategy. But choosing a broker before you know how you plan to use their services might leave you with a strategy you aren't actually comfortable with, or a broker that's ill-suited to your strategy.

While it may take some research, investing your time now in comparing brokers will save you grief when you're actually investing money.

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See also: Online FOREX Brokers