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Greetings, Ruxter, and welcome. You asked:

<<I'm planning to open a self-directed Roth IRA with one of the online discount brokers, putting the first year's $2000 into either Vanguard's S&P 500 Index fund VFINX, or into a SPY spider. Can I expect all my money (less any fees) to be invested giving me a fractional number of shares, or would I only recieve a whole number of shares with the balance kept in a cash account? Does it depend on the broker, or the type of security -- stock or mutual fund ? Thanks.>>

As others have noted, the fund will allow purchases of fractional shares. SPYs, though, trade like individual shares of stock and must be purchased as whole units. BUT - Some brokers may allow the reinvestment of stock dividends in fractional shares. Those are paper accounting transactions based on the broker's own holdings in those shares. So, it really depends on the broker you're using and the individual security. Generally, normally, usually you can expect to purchase shares in whole units and funds in fractional shares. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the rule.

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