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Many recent messages have asked about reliable discount brokers and low/no fee IRAs. A few months ago, when I was searching for a discount broker to serve both my cash account and IRA account needs, I came to the unsurprising conclusion that there is a common tradeoff between the lowest commission prices and the lowest general fees.

For my own purposes, I have a lot of separate accounts but make very few trades, so paying more per trade ($12 with Waterhouse, for instance) made more sense than paying annual fees. One should also look carefully at different rates for trades executed by telephone or with a "person," which is the interesting word brokerage firms use to describe the voice that answers when you call.

In addition, participating in DRiP plans is thorny. If a brokerage doesn't offer it, you can have the certificate transferred to your name after you buy it through them, but that can range in price from $0 to a whopping $50, thus cancelling out many years' worth of profit from DRiP reinvesting (literally). If a brokerage does offer it, they still may not offer the sweetheart deals (cash purchasing options at a discount, automatic quarterly purchases, etc.) that the company's real DRiP does.

Overall, I believe you should spend at least three stocks' worth of time and effort finding the right brokerage. It can make affect the financial and emotional well-being of every future investment you make.

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