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Online broker review: OptionsHouse

OptionsHouse logoThe brokerage firm OptionsHouse may be a particularly attractive option for investors who place smaller trades because of its commission structure. OptionsHouse was recently named one of the top online brokers in MoneyRates' annual survey, Best Online Brokers 2017.

OptionsHouse is owned by E*Trade, and has been registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) since 2007. During that time, it has kept a very clean regulatory history, with just two disclosure events in the past 10 years. Along with its solid history and competitive commission schedule, OptionsHouse also has been awarded four stars by Barron's for its trading platform, including its mobile trading apps.

Who is a good fit for OptionsHouse?

Trading costs cut into investor returns and, thus, they are something to keep a careful eye on -- especially if you are an active trader. This is an even more important consideration for smaller investors. The evolution of the brokerage industry toward flat-rate commissions means that trading costs represent a much bigger percentage of small trades than they do of large ones. Thus, people who tend to place smaller trades should look for a broker with relatively low trading fees.

Best online brokers for small investors

OptionsHouse charges $4.95 per stock trade, with an extra $0.50 for options trading. In its most recent online brokerage survey, MoneyRates found the average stock commission to be just over $6, so OptionsHouse is cheaper than the average of its peers. Another attraction for smaller investors is that OptionsHouse does not have a minimum account size requirement. OptionsHouse also does not charge inactivity fees, another type of expense that can hit smaller investors disproportionately hard.

Taking into account its low commissions, no minimum account size and no activity fee, OptionsHouse was tied with two other brokerage firms in the recent MoneyRates survey as the best option for small investors, and placed second out of 19 brokers overall.

For investors who plan on using margin, OptionsHouse charges a margin interest rate of 7.75 percent for $25,000 margin balance, which is about middle of the pack in the survey. This rate drops off considerably for larger balances, so this may be one instance where OptionsHouse is better suited to larger accounts.

With its competitive pricing, OptionsHouse appears to be making an active effort to court new investors, and this is underscored by a current deal it has for anyone opening a new brokerage account. OptionsHouse is offering 60 days of commission-free trading for new customers. This might be a good opportunity to check out its trading platform and see if it fits your needs.

Other considerations

In terms of investor support, OptionsHouse appears to place its emphasis on trading technology more than on fundamental securities research. It may be suited more for people seeking to employ technical trading strategies than for buy-and-hold stock-pickers.

It is also noteworthy that while OptionsHouse charges a reasonable $4.95 for stock trades, it charges a somewhat steeper $20 for mutual fund trades. Especially when you consider round-trip commissions (i.e., both buy and sell transactions of a given fund) this cost could take a significant bite out of your return unless you make fairly large mutual fund trades.

In short, OptionsHouse seems best suited for investors who generate their own, individual stock and options investment ideas and are looking for a technologically efficient and cost-effective platform for executing those ideas.

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