To buy stocks, you’ll typically need the assistance of a stockbroker, since you cannot simply call up a stock exchange and ask to buy stocks directly. When you use a stockbroker, whether a human being or an online platform, you can choose the investment that you wish to buy or sell and how the trade should be handled.
In this vein, there are two broad categories of brokers to choose from: a full-service broker or an online/discount broker. Below, we discuss how you can use these options to trade stocks on your own. We’ll also talk about a third option: the direct stock purchase plan (DSPP), whereby investors can obtain shares directly from certain public companies.
To trade stocks, you’ll often need to use a broker to place your orders on an exchange.
A full-service broker, while more expensive, provides expert investment research, advice, and commentary in addition to comprehensive financial planning.
A discount broker is a cheaper option that provides basic execution services for investors who do their own research and analysis.
Today, many online brokers offer commission-free trading along with free tools and screeners, making it easier than ever to trade stocks on your own.
Where to Buy Stocks
Most of the time, stocks are listed and traded on exchanges, licensed venues where buyers and sellers meet, often with the assistance of a broker or other intermediary. These intermediaries will be members of the exchange and use their access to buy and sell shares on your behalf. Major exchanges in the United States include the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq market.
Smaller companies with less liquid shares and minimal market caps (sometimes called penny stocks) may alternatively trade over-the-counter (OTC) on more loosely regulated platforms such as the OTC Pink Sheets. Shares of these companies are often more volatile and risky, so investors choosing to trade on the OTC market should engage in extra due diligence and understand the risks involved.
oday, most brokerages will have access to both major exchanges and OTC markets.
Buying Stocks With a Full-Service Broker
Full-service brokers are what some people visualize when they think about investing—well-dressed businesspeople sitting in an office and chatting with clients. These are the traditional stockbrokers who will take the time to get to know you personally and financially.
They will look at factors such as marital status, lifestyle, personality, risk tolerance, age (time horizon), income, assets, debts, and more.1 By getting to know as much about you as they can, these full-service brokers can then help you develop a long-term financial plan.
These brokers can not only help you with your investment needs but also provide assistance with estate planning, tax advice, retirement planning, budgeting, and any other type of financial advice—hence the term “full service.” They can help you manage all of your financial needs now and long into the future and are for investors who want everything in one package.
In terms of fees, full-service brokers are more expensive than discount brokers, but the value of having a professional human investment advisor by your side can be well worth the additional costs. Accounts today can be set up with as little as $1,000. Most people, especially beginners, would fall into this category in terms of the type of broker whom they require.
Those who want a set-it-and-forget-it approach to investing but don’t have the money or time to hire a full-service broker can opt for a roboadvisor. These are algorithmic investment platforms that you can manage through an app or website for a fraction of the cost of a traditional financial advisor.
Buying Stocks Online
Online/discount brokers, on the other hand, do not provide any investment advice and are basically just order takers. They are much less expensive than full-service brokers, since there is typically no office to visit and no certified investment advisors to help you. Cost is usually based on a per-transaction basis, and you can typically open an account over the Internet with little or no money. Once you have an account with an online broker, you can usually just log on to its website and into your account and be able to buy and sell stocks instantly.
Remember that since these types of brokers provide absolutely no investment advice, stock tips, or investment help of any kind, you’re on your own to manage your investments. The only assistance that you will usually receive is technical support. Online (discount) brokers do offer investment-related links, research, and resources that can be useful. If you feel that you are knowledgeable enough to take on the responsibilities of managing your own investments, or if you don’t know anything about investing but want to teach yourself, then this is the way to go.