No. of Recommendations: 2

I want to open our first Roth IRA account, and I am looking for some advice. My investing experience to date consists of setting up our (my wife and I) 401(k) accounts, and trying to educate myself over the past year or so. I am 26 years old, so I am looking to have the money in this account for 30+ years.

I have talked with a financial advisor recently, and he had recommended that Ameritrade would be a good place to set up an IRA if I decide to go out on my own, rather than work with him. If I do go on my own, I would like something that allows me to trade stocks, bonds, and mutual funds as cheaply as possible. I would probably start with something like an S&P 500 index fund, until I decide on something more specific. Ameritrade looks pretty good, but Brown|Co seems to be potentially cheaper. Does anyone have an opinion of either of these companies, or any other company?

It seems from what you have said that you are most interested in "investing" for your retirement and really not in "trading" stocks. In my opinion - there is a very big difference. So, which brokerage to look at is really not of primary concern - which fund company would offer the best quality product at the lowest cost, is. Keeping costs low over an extended period of time (your 30+ years) with the right investments can make all the difference.

First of need a Personal Investment Plan. Try running your personal situation and goals through Vanguard's Planner:

Creating a proper asset allocation (Stocks/Bonds/Cash and percentages of each) is the primary reason for establishing an investment plan. This allocation should be kept in mind when considering all of your investments. Your reason for investing, your time-line, your age and risk aversion, as well as where your investable assets will come from are all elements of an investment plan.

The generic priority list of investment vehicles goes like this:

1) Contribute to your 401k up to the "match" (Free money from your employer).
2) Max out a Roth IRA
3) Continue contributing to your 401k up to the max (Dependent upon the selection quality of available funds).
4) Taxable account (If you still have assets available for investing and/or lousy fund selection in 401k).

This way you take advantage of the free money (aka "The Match") as well as diversifying the tax issues (401k and Roth IRA). I don't know how familiar you are with the Roth IRA, so here's a primer:

Next you have to consider which fund, or funds, you will place in each of your investment vehicles (401k, Roth IRA, Taxable). There are many to consider. One thing to think about is how tax-efficient each investment is. Bonds and REITs, for example, are not very tax-efficient, but stocks and stock funds are (short list). Another thing is how "Hands-on" do you want to be in managing your portfolio? Do you like the idea of doing the annual rebalancing yourself, or would you lean more towards a "Life-Cycle" or "Targeted Retirement" type of fund that all you have to do is "feed-it-and-forget-it"? These funds have a built-in diversification and adjust, over the years, to the investor's age (more equities when you are young - more bonds as you get older).

I have another, more general investing question, regarding dollar-cost averaging. I have read of the advantages of dollar-cost averaging, but it seems that if I were to invest $500 a month, doing 2-3 purchases/trades a month, commission costs on stock/mutual fund trades could eat up a lot of my gains. Would it be better to just invest once a year, or am I missing something? I am interested in taking the free trial on a couple of the Motley Fool newsletters, but I don't know if it is worth the cost of the subscription fee, plus a couple potential trades each month.

Automatic investment options are usually the best for both 401k's as well as IRAs. This is a simple procedure you set up between your bank and the fund company that lets you DCA on a regular, periodic basis and usually doesn't cost anything. The idea of Dollar-Cost-Averaging is that when the price is up - you buy fewer shares, and when the price is down - you buy more. Over time the average is usually superior to lump summing ever so often.

Last suggestion - stay away from individual stocks and stick with stock funds and bond funds. You will sleep better at night and you will risk a great deal less when the next bear-market hits or a company folds (Like Enron).


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