NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There are lots of brokerage firms out there. Each of them will likely tell you that they can offer more for your investing dollar than any of their competitors can. But when you get right down to it and you're ready to start investing, what should you look for in a broker and what do you need to do to get set up?
One of the first questions you'll want to ask yourself when you start your search for a broker is, "Which brokers will let me open an account?" Some brokers have restrictions that limit who will be able to open an account with them. These restrictions usually boil down to age and money.
If you're young and interested in investing, keep in mind that in order to open your own brokerage account, you'll need to be a legal adult (usually 18 years old). If you're not considered a legal adult yet, you can still invest, but your parents will need to set up a custodial account with your broker.
A custodial account is essentially an account set up for a minor where the parents bear the legal responsibilities on behalf of the minor. With a custodial account, you'll still be able to trade stocks just as you would with your own account, except that Mom's and Dad's names will be on the account as well.
Money.Another thing you'll have to think about is the minimum account balance required by your broker. Most brokers require a minimum account balance for the same reason that banks do: They make money by lending your cash out to other customers in exchange for interest. Because it's expensive for a broker to maintain your account, they have to be sure that you're bringing in enough incremental revenue to cover the expenses of having you as a customer. As points of reference, minimum balances for online discount brokers are usually between $500 and $1,000.
Know Your BrokerDeciding whether or not a broker meets your needs is just as important as figuring out if you meet the broker's criteria for doing business. Important things you'll want to know about a broker:
- Can you walk into the broker's office and get one-on-one help?
- Does the broker even know what they're doing?
- How can you get money into your account?