Personal Finance

Charles Schwab IRA Review: Is It Right for You?

When you're ready to start saving for retirement, opening an IRA may be a very wise choice. IRAs are one of the most flexible retirement accounts, and they have some particularly attractive tax benefits, too.

But before you can rush into picking investments, you'll need to pick a brokerage to house your IRA. While there are many services to choose from, we'll examine just one, Charles Schwab , to see what it has to offer IRA investors.

Commission prices

Charles Schwab is often credited with pioneering the discount brokerage industry when fixed commissions came to an end nearly 50 years ago. Today it offers competitive prices for trading online. Here are its commission prices in detail:

Stocks and ETFs Stock Options Mutual Funds
$8.95 per trade $8.95 + $0.75 per options contract $76.00 per purchase

Data source: company website.

Schwab's stock, ETF, and option trades are competitive with the rest of the industry, costing less than $10 at the standard price. Its mutual fund pricing sticks out as being higher than average, but keep in mind that Schwab offers thousands of funds that are completely fee-free. For this reason, many investors may find that they can almost completely avoid fees by sticking to the company's list of free ETFs and mutual funds.

Mutual fund selection and commission-free choices

One way brokers differentiate is by offering mutual funds with differing cost structures. Schwab is a leader in fund selection, particularly in no-load, no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds and commission-free ETFs. These freebies can be a huge advantage to fund investors who want to save on transaction fees and commissions.

Total Mutual Funds No-Load, No-Transaction-Fee Mutual Funds Commission-Free ETFs
More than 5,400 More than 3,200 More than 200 (Schwab, Guggenheim, PowerShares and more)

Data source: company representative.

Its collection of fee-free funds includes Schwab's funds in addition to funds managed by other companies. Its commission-free ETFs include its Schwab branded funds, which are frequently some of the lowest-cost ETFs on the market. (The company routinely cuts expense ratios on its ETFs when competitors do.)

Minimum deposit requirement for IRAs

Charles Schwab requires an initial deposit of $1,000 to open an IRA. However, the minimum can be waived for investors who agree to make automatic monthly deposits of $100 or more.

Funds frequently have their own minimum deposit requirements that are independent of the brokerage. Schwab's OneSource list of funds sets the minimum investment to just $100, making them more accessible to investors who are just getting started. Stocks and ETFs technically do not have a minimum, as anyone who can afford at least one share can invest in a them.

Investors who can make a larger initial deposit may qualify for special offers. Learn more about special offers for IRAs to see if you qualify.

Get started with Schwab by making a routine $100 contribution to an IRA. Image source: Getty Images.

Foreign stocks and ADRs

When it comes to foreign stocks, brokerages can differ wildly. Schwab is one of only a few brokers that offer the ability to trade directly on international exchanges.

Type of Investment Availability
American depositary receipts (ADRs) Yes
Stocks on international exchanges Yes (12 markets electronically, up to 30 via Global Services Desk)
Mutual funds and ETFs for foreign stocks Yes

Data source: company website.

Whether international access matters to you depends on how you trade. There's just one thing you should know: Trades placed on international exchanges are typically assessed a higher commission that varies based on stock exchange and currency, as is industry standard.

Mobile app

Whether you're at home or on the road, you can check up on your portfolio and place trades thanks to Schwab's mobile applications. Here's how users recently rated Charles Schwab's apps, as of Jan. 23, 2017:

Apple App Store Google Play
4.0 stars 4.0 stars

Data source: relevant app stores.

Research tools

We tend to believe that free research can be a great perk of opening an IRA with a discount broker. Schwab provides access to its own ratings and research, in addition to help from third-party providers such as Morningstar , Market Edge, S&P, Reuters, and more.

Retirement investors will find handy calculators and worksheets designed to help investors determine if their savings match their retirement goals. Its Quarterly Portfolio Profiles provide additional insight by comparing your portfolio to a "target" portfolio based on your retirement date. These profiles show you how your portfolio compares on allocation, diversification, and performance compared with its model portfolio, making it a good way to better understand the ins and outs of your investments.

IRA fees: maintenance and inactivity fees

We can keep it short here. Charles Schwab doesn't have any annual account fees or inactivity fees for failing to meet certain levels of trading volume. Whether you are particularly active or passive in managing your account, you won't have to worry about having a sneaky fee subtract from your balance each year.

Is a Charles Schwab IRA a good deal for you?

Depending on your needs, Charles Schwab could be a solid choice for an IRA. The brokerage offers numerous commission-free funds and ETFs, access to international stock markets, and no-fee accounts that make it suitable for large and small balances alike. That said, Schwab's commissions are especially high on funds that aren't on its free list, and high-activity investors may find lower commission prices elsewhere.

Realistically, there isn't one brokerage to rule them all. It all depends on how you plan to manage your own portfolio. To be clear, The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular brokerage, but we can help you find one that is a good fit for you. Visit's IRA Center to compare leading brokerages by commissions, investment selection, and special offers for opening a new account.

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