Which Brokerage Firm Is Best... and Cheapest?

By Candice Choi, AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — You should be tickled by the talking babies, even if you're sick of E-Trade's ubiquitous TV ads. They show discount brokerages are vying for your business.

In the past few months, a price war among the biggest brokerages has dropped trade commissions to their lowest levels ever. Fidelity last month slashed its rate to a flat $7.95 per trade, from a sliding scale that ranged from $8 to as much as $19.95. The move came just weeks after Charles Schwab lowered its price to $8.95.

Other costs, such as account maintenance and inactivity fees, have been largely wiped away by competition too. And prices can be even lower at smaller brokerages, where you may also find some unique features.

The only downside to all the choices? Deciding which fits you best. A look what you'll find at the most popular brokerages, followed by pricing snapshots.

THE BIG FIVE: MORE THAN TRADING

It's natural to start your search with names you recognize. The five largest discount brokerages based on customer assets are Charles Schwab, E-Trade, Fidelity, Scottrade and TD Ameritrade, according to the Aite Group. Those companies also happen to be good places to get financial services beyond trading.

Just which features you'll find depends on the brokerage, however.

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