For example, if you want to consolidate all your accounts in one place, take a look at E-Trade and Schwab. Both offer banking products such as checking and savings accounts, in addition to standard brokerage services.
Or you might value having a branch office nearby where you can get live help. If that's a priority, check the company's Web site to see if there's a location near you. Note that Scottrade says it has the largest physical presence with more than 450 branches across the country, while Schwab has more than 300.
If a concern is saving for retirement and finding a good mutual fund, Fidelity offers nearly 4,000 no-load funds while Scottrade offers nearly 3,000. No-load funds don't charge an upfront sales fee, but may include other fees.
If the ability to analyze investments is a selling point for you, Fidelity says it provides the most independent research reports of any of the big five.
Once you have a better idea of which brokerages suit you, check out the basic pricing below. Even if one has a lower trade commission, you might not like the other terms. For example, Fidelity and Schwab provide free paper statements, but the other three charge $2 per statement. And there's often a fee to close an account or even transfer a portion of your money out.
Trade commission: $8.95
Trade via phone: $13.95
Trade via broker: $33.95
Outgoing account transfer fee: $50 for full transfers, $25 for partial transfers
Minimum balance: $1,000
Extra: 150 free trades when you open an account with $50,000 and agree to make 36 trades per year