Today I'm seeking readers' help on the topic of taxes, and I'm touching on a variety of other What Works matters.
In This Column
Best brokers at tax time
On taxes, my colleague
and I are trying to sniff out which brokers do best by customers during tax season. Which brokers give away free tax software, like TurboTax? Which ones let customers download statements directly into tax software? Let me know how you think your broker rates during tax time, and what other features and services of brokers Tracy and I should be looking at. Please send an email with your full name to
So Long, Suretrade
a low-cost online broker, is being absorbed by
Quick & Reilly,
the broker that established Suretrade four years ago as a separate firm. What this means for Suretrade customers is higher commissions but more "services." Suretrade market orders are $7.95, with $2 more for limit orders (which give investors more control over the price they may pay). Once they become Quick & Reilly customers, on March 3 (presuming a regulatory thumbs up), Suretraders will find themselves paying $14.95 for market orders and $19.95 for limit orders.
A Quick/Suretrade spokesman emphasizes that Suretrade customers will now have access to Quick & Reilly's "personal financial consultants," who help with things like asset allocation and selecting a mutual fund but don't give stock recommendations. Also, licensed brokers will be available 24 hours/7 days, rather than 10 hours/5 days at Suretrade. (Again, no stock picks forthcoming.)
Suretraders, if these services appeal to you, stick around. A spokesman says Quick & Reilly plans to offer active trader commission discounts after the switchover, though he did not have details on when or how much.
If instead you can manage your own mutual fund screens and like cheap trades, consider another broker. Some low-cost alternatives are
($8 market order, $13 limit order),
($9.99 market and limit) or
($7 market, $12 limit).
SiebertNet and Fidelity Funds
In a recent
column I praised
for being the first broker I had found that offers some
funds to its customers without a transaction fee (besides Fidelity). I had said that SiebertNet "basically eats costs" so that it can offer the Fidelity funds. That comment perhaps portrayed SiebertNet as a bit more altruistic than circumstances dictated. Turns out that
National Financial Services
, a Fidelity subsidiary, handles all "clearing" services for SiebertNet -- basically managing the delivery and settlement of all trades. As part of the Siebert/NFS overall relationship and contract, SiebertNet offers the Fidelity funds.
This "back end" reason doesn't change the end result -- SiebertNet investors can get some Fidelity funds sans fees -- but those interested in the innards now have the full picture.
Several readers disagreed with my
Schwab item Friday in
's new Upshot column. I wrote about
flip-flop on whether it would force staffers to take three Fridays off in February and March to help the company's bottom line. The broker had first called the days off mandatory but later called them voluntary after it realized the mandatory method raised legal issues. My comment -- that the voluntary approach put employees in an awkward position -- was deemed insensitive and wrongheaded by a few readers.
Schwab user Paul Lue praised the company and its employees, saying, "I suspect they are good employees because they are treated well by the management. I have more sympathy for the company because I suspect they must be hurting based on clients like myself" who trade less. "I know they are hurting, and the employees are probably aware of it as well. ... Be careful, who knows one day your company may be faced with a similar situation. Think positive."
One reader who said she worked at Schwab maintained she was grateful to get unpaid time off and keep her job.
I still think the policy puts employees in the uncomfortable position having to be a team player when it comes to their vacation time. But if Schwabbies feel comfortable with it, then that's good for them and a tribute to their employer.
Chat and Book Review
Please join me for a chat about selecting an online broker, on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. EST, here on
Also, have you read Charles Schwab's new book: "You're Fifty, Now What?" I'll be reviewing it here in my
column. Let me know what you think of the book with an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org, and please include your full name.