Whether you are a novice investor looking to get started or an active trader handling your own investments, it’s important to understand that commissions and fees limit your total returns over time. By learning how to trade stocks for free, you’ll not only save money, but your investments will potentially compound at a faster rate.
Investing in the stock market is commonly referred to as a zero-sum game: for every transaction, there must be a winner and a loser. Sometimes the buyer of the stock wins the game, sometimes the seller comes out ahead. Either way, the net gain or loss must always reach a balance of zero.
In this scenario, there is a third-party participant that always comes out ahead: the broker charging commissions to both the buyer and the seller. Regardless of who wins the trade, the broker makes money by charging both sides to play the game.
Historically, commissions were fixed-rate and were based on the share price and the amount of shares purchased. Shares of stock were usually purchased in even lots, or quantities of 100 shares. Professor Charles M. Jones of Columbia Business School published a study called “A Century Of Stock Market Liquidity And Trading Costs” and found that
“At the end of 1962, the average NYSE share price was $40. Trading 100 shares of such a stock would result in a one-way commission of $39, or 0.975% of the money involved. This is a substantial fraction.”
On May 1, 1975, deregulation allowed for brokers to charge variable commissions rather than fixed rates, encouraging competition and leading to the rise of Charles Schwab and other discount brokers. This was a game-changer, opening the door for the DIY retail investor to participate in the market while paying more manageable commissions.
The rise of discount online brokers like e*Trade in the 1990s brought about a drastic reduction in commission charges. Competition for the active investor’s business has heated up to the point that commissions have never been cheaper. Big names like e*Trade and TD Ameritrade charge $6.95 per trade, while Charles Schwab and Fidelity have lowered their commissions to just $4.95.
As if that wasn’t cheap enough, I’ve found several methods for investors to trade stocks for free. If there’s one thing consumers like more than low-cost services, it’s something obtainable for free. Using these platforms to invest can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.