Are Zero Commission Rates Good?

Bill Parrott |

Schwab dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when they announced they’ll reduce commission rates on stocks, ETFs, and options to zero! Not to be outdone, TD Ameritrade and E*Trade quickly followed suit. As a result of the announcement, Schwab’s stock fell 14%, TD Ameritrade slumped 28%, and E*Trade plunged 19%. The loss of trading commissions will result in a significant drop in revenue for these firms. Their pain is your gain.

Trading with zero commission reminds me of a visit to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Walking into a buffet is exciting when you see the endless sea of culinary delights. On your first pass through the buffet line, you pile your plate high with a wide variety of food items. You know it’s not a good idea to make a fifth trip through the buffet line, but you need to try several desserts before you leave. Eating at all-you-can-eat buffets will have harmful consequences on your health as will excessive trading on your wealth.

Now that commission-free trading has gone mainstream, this may entice individuals to trade more often, and more trading is not good. During the internet boom, Morgan Stanley introduced a commission-free trading account called Choice. Clients paid a fee based on the level of their assets. As a branch manager, I reviewed accounts and trades. One of our clients was trading more than 200 times a month, and it wasn’t going well. She was not a good trader, incurring significant losses. The losses didn’t detour her because she felt empowered to trade by not paying commissions on each trade.

An unfortunate byproduct of excessive trading is short-term capital gains. Short-term capital gain rates are much higher than long-term capital gain rates because they’re taxed as ordinary income. Another potential issue is the wash rule. The wash rule disallows a loss if you buy or sell the same security within 31 days before or after your trade.

Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg are billionaires because of their stellar business skills and the excellent performance of their company stock. A significant portion of their wealth has come from sitting, not trading. Most of the time, they’re doing nothing with their shares. Do you think Bill Gates and Warren Buffett day trade their accounts? LOL.

Commission rates were deregulated on May 1, 1975. With commission rates no longer fixed, Wall Street firms were now able to set their own rates. Charles Schwab (the person) launched his firm as a result of the new rule, and a revolution was born.[1] Commission rates have been low for years, and some firms already offer free trades through zero-fee trading on ETFs.

Long-term wealth is created by being patient, and one of the best ways to increase your wealth is to buy and hold a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost mutual funds.

As commissions drop, how can you take advantage of lower rates and fees? Here are a few ideas.

  • Move your account to a custodian currently offering zero-rates for trading like TD Ameritrade, Schwab, or E*Trade.
  • Most registered investment advisors work with a custodian to handle client accounts. Make sure your advisor uses one of the custodians from above.
  • Hire a Certified Financial Planner® with low fees, ideally well below the industry standard of 1% of your assets.
  • Conduct a fee audit on your accounts. Brokers post their charges, and advisors list theirs in their ADV. A Certified Financial Planner® can help you review your statements to make sure your costs are low.
  • Hire a firm that offers financial planning in addition to investment management. The financial plan should be included in the fee you’re being assessed to manage your assets
  • Avoid manufactured products like annuities or permanent life insurance. These insurance products have substantial fees and deferred sales charges, meaning if you sell your investment early, you’ll incur heavy penalties.

Are zero commission rates good? Lower rates are a boon to investors. The less you pay, the more you keep. However, there’s no free lunch, so read the small print to find out how your firm makes money.

 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

October 3, 2019

Bill Parrott, CFP®, CKA® is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ than those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor.