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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Firstrade Review

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Structure of fees Just to summarize the structure of fees in Firstrade, we can define that they have generally low fees for direct trading operations and low indirect trading fees as well. This statement is because there are no fees or operations on United States stocks, on ETFs, or on mortal fund investing, but there are fees for operating with bonds. There are also fees for margin trading that we will discuss below as well. These are the ones we call financing rates. We do not expect it free of any interest rate, as this is a loan that the broker is furnishing to the investor but anyway they have high interest rates for margin trading if you consider the main competitors Fidelity, Tastyworks or ETrade. And for indirect trading fees you do not have deposit fees, you do not have inactivity fee unless the account is dormant for many years, and there is no fee for withdrawals provided that you do it through ACH. You will have to pay a withdrawal fee if you perform the withdrawal using a wire transfer or bank transfer. When we analyzed the fees structure in Firstrade, we worked with the same criteria as with the other companies that are the Firstrade competitors in order to make the comparisons much easier. We take direct fees and indirect fees. The direct fees are the ones that you are obliged to pay when you perform a trade. An example of this direct fees are overnight fees, conversion fees and commissions. The indirect fees are the ones that are charged to you by items that are not related to any operation you performed. Of course, we expect that these indirect fees are very low or directly they do not exist. An example of this indirect fees are deposit fees, monthly maintenance fees, fees regarding an inactivity for a certain period of time or fees that you are obliged to pay when you withdraw funds from your Firstrade account to transfer them to your bank account. Let´s see these direct and indirect fees for Firstrade in detail.

Direct Trading Fees

For trading On United States stocks activities Firstrade does not have any fees an in this case we are in the same position as other competitors like Robinhood, Tastyworks, Fidelity and Etrade. There are other rates that you have to pay in Firstrade, and this is the case of the margin rate. You will always be charged for an operation when you are trading on margin because in these margin operations it is like you are taking a loan from the brokerage service that allows you to complete the operation. For this money that you borrowed from the broker you must pay an interest. And this is what we call the overnight charge or the financing rate. Financing rates are usually high. In Firstrade the financing rate is 9.3%. It is lower than other competitors like Fidelity and ETrade. This financing rates however depend on the volume of your debit balance so there is a tiered rate depending on that volume. If you have a debit balance of more than $10,000 you would be enjoying a lower rate of nine percent for the financing rate. In Firstrade you can also perform investments in mutual funds. This is something interesting to mention because in other competitors like Webull or Tastyworks you cannot operate with mutual funds. In Firstrade you are not paying any commissions for mutual fund investing. These are excellent news because with the competition you would be paying a pretty high commission. For example, if you purchase mutual funds for $2000 you are not paying anything in Firstrade, but you would be paying 37.50 in Fidelity and $20 in ETrade. Firstrade is for us the best broker to operate with mutual funds. In Firstrade you can also operate with bonds and we will return to the bonds and to the mutual funds later when we discuss the product portfolio availability that you can utilize in Firstrade. But in this paragraph, we are only dedicating to the structure of fees in Firstrade. So, regarding bonds, there is a huge scale of commissions. But as usual we will take only one kind of bond and see the commission there. So, we calculated the bonds for United States Treasury bonds. In Firstrade you must pay a minimum commission of $40 and this is for me very high because in Fidelity and ETrade even must pay anything for operating with bonds. only secondary CDs have to pay less: a $30 commission. Now let’s see what happens when you do trade of options. In this case it is similar to when you operate with US stocks mutual funds and ETF’s in Firstrade. It is completely free of the payment of any commission. And this is better than the closer competitors, because in Fidelity you would pay $6 and you will be paying the same in ETrade. So that is all for the direct fees and we can see that the direct trading fees are not high: there are some fees but are not high and in some operations like mutual funds, US stocks and ETFs it is totally commission free. When we discuss later the product portfolio, we want to pay a lot of attention to the funds because I am sure that Firstrade is the best brokerage service right now for funds. But we will discuss that later and now we will concentrate in the indirect fees. Indirect Trading Fees Regarding the indirect fees so the fees that are unrelated to any trading operation also Firstrade has low fees. There is no account fee in the sense that you do not have to pay a maintenance fee like you have to pay in some brokers or the ones that you have to pay in consumer banking for some credit cards specially secured credit cards that you have to pay a maintenance fee. Well this is not the case. However, we discovered that there is an inactivity fee if you keep your account without being used for many years. So, there is $100 let’s call it “penalty” for having a dormant account. But I could not find exactly for how many years you need to have this account dormant so that you have to pay this processing fee. No indirect fees except this dormant account fee for physical persons this is for individuals like you and me. However in the case of companies, corporations, LLCs,  (these are called legal entities) they have to pay $100 for the opening of the account and $200 annually and this is a maintenance fee . So this means non trading fees for the individuals except the dormant account fee and yes, there are indirect trading fees for legal entities for account opening and an annual maintenance fee. If you are going to perform a withdrawal you must use an ACH transfer in order to have it for free. if you are not going to use an ACH for the withdrawal transfer and you are utilizing instead a local bank, the wire transfer will cost you $30. If this wire transfer is performed to a foreign financial institution it will cost $50. So as a summary of the fees we have as conclusion that there are generally no fees for operations with US stocks, ETFs and mutual funds. Regarding indirect fees these are very low: there are no indirect fees for deposits for individuals. There are only indirect trading fees for legal entities as there is a fee of $100 for the opening of the account of a legal entity and $200 as an annual maintenance fee. account opening process The account opening process is fast and easy to complete. To become a Firstrade investor you must be a resident of a reduced list of eligible countries. They do not work with customers from all over the world. The eligibility to become a Firstrade customer is limited to United States residents and other countries outside the European Union, for example China Japan, Mexico on South Korea. But the list is very short and there are no countries of the European Union and only one In Latin America that is Mexico. About minimum deposit it is good news to inform that there is no minimum deposit. Does not matter if you are US customer or if you are a client from one of the few countries that are allowed to operate with Firstrade, there is absolutely no deposit defined. However, if instead of cash account you are working with a Martian account as you are operating with money you are borrowing from the brokerage service you are required to fulfill a minimum deposit of $2000. The reason here is because you are trading on leverage and you are taking a loan from the broker.  That is why it is required to deposit $2000 . For accounts to perform day trading operations, as typical, you are required to deposit a minimum of $25,000. Type of accounts that are offered by Firstrade. Firstrade is very generous in the type of accounts that you can open with them. You probably remember when we reviewed companies like Webull That we were only allowed to work with individual accounts. Likewise, in the case of Tastyworks we have more options because we could open joint accounts, but we were limited in some other possibilities. In this case with Firstrade we can work with a mosaic of accounts. For foreigners that opened an account with Firstrade, only individual and joint accounts are offered. Obviously, an individual account is the one owned by a physical person and registered with his name, that is not a legal entity. The joint account is when the account is owned by two or more physical persons or individuals. Therefore, for legal reasons the following account types that are offered by Firstrade correspond only to United States residents wherein the American laws are valid. These are custodial accounts and business accounts. The latter are the ones owned by legal entities like LLC’s, corporations, trusts,  etc. We include in this list of account types for US residents, the retirement accounts. These are the retirement accounts of the subsection 401K. As this 401K is a subsection of the Internal Revenue Code this type of retirement accounts apply only for United States residents. If you are a foreign resident and anyway you want to operate with retirement accounts, there are other options like Degiro and some European brokers that work with European retirement accounts. Process of opening the account As we introduced earlier to our readers, opening the account in Firstrade is very easy and has to be done exclusively online. There is a form that is an online application that takes something like 10 to 20 minutes to be completed. After this you press submit and there is a background process for verification. This process takes more time some readers said that it took to them many days. For us it took four working days until the verification process took place successfully. In the online application form you must enter all your personal information.  You have to select which account type you want to open, for example if you want a retirement account, a joint account, or a personal account. You are required to explain if you are going to operate with day trading or not and in this case if you put “no” you are not required to do a minimum deposit as we explained before. After this you have to add more data like the Social Security Number (SSN) and your phone number. Put a real number because you will need this for the registration process and for verification of your account. You will be requested to inform in the online application about which is your level of knowledge of trading. Furthermore, you can introduce here your bank account to do the association between your bank account and your new Firstrade account. This is something that you will have to do anyway at some moment if you want to do trading operations. This is valid for cash accounts. In margin accounts you are required to link your bank account and when your account is validated after a couple of days, deposit two thousand dollars as a security deposit without any deposit fee. As happened with all the other services that we reviewed you will be indicated to scan your identification or passport that you have and upload it. All these controls and verifications seem like a very complex and tedious scrutiny process but is required by financial and trading best practices and compliance regulations to satisfy the principle “know your customer”. Process of deposit and withdrawal Now let’s see the process of deposit money in the Firstrade account and the withdrawal process thereof. The deposit process is when you transfer from your bank account to your Firstrade account. The withdrawal process on the other hand is when you do the transfer from the Firstrade account to your bank. In Firstrade we found this process as fine with many points that can be improved anyway. For deposits, notice that there are no fees for deposits. If you are a resident of the United States, you can use ACH, bank transfers or checks. As it was typical in most of the brokers we reviewed, you cannot utilize credit cards, electronic wallets or debit cards to perform the deposits. If we compare this with the closest competitors like Fidelity and ETrade we will see that they are pretty much in the same page. However, in Fidelity you can utilize electronic wallets. An ACH transfer takes three business days. Before you do this ACH deposit you have to link your account with the Firstrade brokerage account. So, everything good about the deposit. Normally you will see in many companies that this process is free because they want you to deposit money in your broker account so you can start trading as soon as possible and as frictionless as possible. Now let´s go to the withdrawals of funds in Firstrade. Regarding withdrawals, there are no fees either.  If you utilize an ACH withdrawal, transferring electronic funds in United States there is no fee. If it is a domestic wire transfer, it will cost $30 whereas a bank transfer to an international financial institution will cost $50. When you use ACH there are no fees so I will always recommend you utilize ACH to do a withdrawal and do not use the wire transfer because of the high fees. In this sense the closest competitors are also in the same boat because with Fidelity and Etrade, you do not have to pay any withdrawal fee with the condition that you do it through ACH. It takes 2 days after the withdrawal to see the money in your bank account. To perform the withdrawal in Firstrade you have to log in you go to your dashboard and you will see many tabs like “Home” “My Accounts” “Trading” “Research and Tools”, ”Retirement and Planning”, “Education”, and “Customer Service”. The second tab is “My accounts”. So, go to the option “Deposit/ transfer” and select the option called “Withdraw from Firstrade”. Here you have to choose which is the external account with the financial institution that you have associated and select which kind of transfer type you want to do. You have to also introduce the quantity and I recommend it to be ACH because it is free of commissions. Otherwise you have to pay $30. User experience within the platform. Our methodology here is to utilize the different environments available to the customers to operate with the brokerage service.  In the case of Firstrade,  we will study the web environment, the mobile application and the desktop platform. Let’s start with the web trading platform. This is the platform that you can access with an URL and worked very well for me in the Chrome browser. It is easy to use; I did not have any difficulties and the design is fine with tones of darker blue and lighter blue. Very few customization options, just cosmetic changes to the arrangement of tabs. The way to navigate is through different tabs that are the different features offered in the service. You have a tab for “Customer service” for “Education” for “Retirement and Planning” for “Tools” for “Trading operations” and what is called the “Investor home” workspace . Here you have information about your account chart about the market with gainers and losers and which are the percentage of gainers and losers and some links to news and notices. The login is, as we see in most of the cases a one step login, unluckily. We referred many times that this is not secure, and we prefer that the brokers establish more secure protocols and work with a two step authentication. One step authentication is fine in some websites that you log in but here I understand that we would require more security so we would like to have a two-step authentication. Furthermore, in Firstrade you can open an account with a legal entity and legal entities for compliance reasons dislike to log in company data with one step authentication. Specially when in their internal corporate environment, they have established policies and security protocols of two step authentication. Now let’s see the search functions. I always talk about the search functionality because I am the type of user that likes to go into my dashboard, and enter in the search box the ticker or the name of the company that will be here the asset and start filtering from there. In the web environment, this search is good.  For example I started to write in the search box AM….. and AMAT appeared as dynamic proposal for AMAT Applied Materials Incorporated.  Very good search functionality in the web trading application. In Firstrade web application you have the ability to work with many order types and this is very good too.  Let’s see which ones are available: “Market”, “Limit”, “Stop”, “Stop limit”, “stop trailing” and “stop limit trailing” . It is possible that you are familiar with some of these order types and not with others.  I suggest you go to my article where I explain the order types. Not all the order types will be available in all the brokerage services, but it is good that you know them because you can get a lot of advantages if you know them well. I understand that knowing the order types make you excel in order management, so this is something you have to know well. On these orders, you can also establish limits like an AON (all or nothing) an “Good till 90 days”. It is very easy to do this in the environment. To perform an order there, you have to go to the tab called “Trading”. Inside there you select which operation you are going to do because you can select options like mutual funds, or stocks/ ETFs. What I did is I select “order entry”. There I select the transaction that can be “buy” “sell” “sell short” or “buy to cover”.  I select the asset introducing the symbol for example AAPL for Apple and you have to select the order type. When done you can press the button “Send Order”. Quite simple and no difficulties here. you can setup also alerts, and the system will send you an alert to the email you have declared when you created the account with the brokerage. To create this alert is easy. You probably think like me that you have to go to the “My Accounts” tab but it is not there. It is in the “Research and Tools tab”. And this is fine because think the alert functionality as a tool for the trader. Therefore, it is fine if the alert via emails has to be setup in the Tools menu of your dashboard. Now let’s see the mobile trading platform that is the app that you will download for free in your Android system or Apple iOS. As usual, I have tested it with the Apple iOS because it is easier for me as this is the cell phone that I have. It is available only In English, Cantonese and Mandarin. It is not available in other languages like Spanish and this is curious because one of the countries that is allowed in the application is Mexico and it means that the customers of Firstrade coming from Mexico should be using only English language. The mobile trading application is limited in the portfolio that you can handle. You can only work with US stocks, options and ETFs. This is quite limited because you have much more options in the web trading platform that we analyzed in detail a couple of paragraphs above. About the user experience it was fine despite the fact that the screens are smaller in a mobile device. I did not have any problem to operate anyway. There is also here a one-step login and we have the same criticism as for the web application because we prefer always a two-step authentication. Nevertheless, if you are using an iPhone you can activate the biometric authentication for a touch ID and face control. This biometric activation is not exactly a two-step login but offers an additional layer of security if you compare it with the classical one step login. Furthermore, I have also tested the search functionality. I did the same test for example I wrote AM…. And AMAT was suggested for Applied Materials assets. As soon as I start entering the first letters in the search box, I want to see that the dynamic search start to propose me several options. This was done very well in the mobile application and I was not missing the web environment at all. Placing orders in the mobile application is also very simple when you select the order placement functionality. You have all the options available in your screen. I did not find any difficulty to use it. What I could not do in the iPhone is to set a price alert. Therefore, it seems that in the mobile application it is not possible to set alerts and you have to do it in the web application only. Desktop trading platform Firstrade does not offer any desktop trading platform. Therefore, you can only operate in the web application or in the mobile application of your iPhone or Android based phone. This is for me a pity because I like to use desktop trading platforms. I find that the workspace is less cluttered that I have more real estate for my dashboard and I work easier. In close competitors like Tastyworks or Robinhood you have a fully functional desktop trading platform. Availability of product portfolio and market range Firstrade offers several classes of assets to operate.  However, it comes with some limitations. They cover only United States markets and the present portfolio does not include important asset classes like forex, cryptocurrencies or futures to name a few that are not included in the roster of assets. As a summary, we can say that Firstrade offers options, bonds, mutual funds ETFs and US stocks. So, it means that they do not have into their product portfolio Forex, cryptocurrencies, CFD, or futures. About stocks and ETFs, they cover only the United States market. In the comparison with similar brokers they are in the same position as ETrade, that also covers only the United States market. However, competitor Fidelity provides access to their customers to foreign stock exchanges too. In what really Firstrade excels is in the number of funds provided. They work with more than 400 mutual funds. Thus, if you are an investor whose profile is oriented to mutual funds, then surely Firstrade would be the brokerage service that you should consider as a clear option for your market operations. About bonds now: Firstrade does not have a good bond selection. If we compare it with the main competitors such as ETrade and Fidelity, it really stays quite behind them. Fidelity, for example, has more than 100,000 bonds in their selection of bonds whereas Firstrade has less than 40,000. When we talk about bonds, we include the corporate bonds and the government bonds. Research tools and education In this chapter is where we normally include all the online resources that could be videos, articles or audio files that the broker provides you to help you gather market information and research. We also include here the tools that you have available to perform your work like trading ideas, updated news, heat maps, fundamental data or also some brokers that include an economic calendar. We also include here resources that help you to understand better the platform in which you are working. In Firstrade, for example, we have the web application, mobile application, in form of video, or Adobe PDF documents, or written articles. Furthermore, we also include here other educational resources that could be videos or articles about how to do online trading that are suitable for beginners. Therefore, this paragraph encompasses all information that the investor requires to do better decisions to learn to use the platform and to learn trading and investing in general. Firstrade is one of the brokers that offers the most quantities of research tools. This can be compared to what Tastyworks is offering and to what Robinhood is offering in their Robinhood Gold product. These resources are easy to find. You have to go to your dashboard and then you go to the tab “Research and Tools”. You have there a plethora of information like quotes, key ratios and recent news in form of short snippets. Also, you will find fundamental data statements, financial statements for even ten years. Tastyworks offered you fundamental data only for the last five years and you will find also information in detail about the revenue, about the gross profit, about operating expenses, operating income, interest expense, income before taxes, and much more information. For example, you can easily disaggregate in the Firstrade platform the following data: you take the gross profit of a company, and for the gross profit you can subtract and disaggregate operating expenses such as research development, general expenses, and administrative expenses. A lot of detailed of information. You can spend probably hours looking at the fundamental data. Also, the charts are quite good. They are easy to customize, and you can do it fast to obtain easily the view that you are looking for. It is better in the web application then in the mobile application though. There is also a news feed but nothing spectacular. It is just fine. there are other screens to look at that have also technical indicators and filtering options. This is an API that connects you with a functionality called the “Option Wizard”. It is developed by optionsplay.com and it is useful if you are working with options. It is developed by this third party and it is free for all the registered users. Now let´s see it from the strictly educational point of view. So now we are moving into the topic of educational resources for beginners into trading and more experienced investors that however want to get familiar with the web application or with a mobile application. It is easy to access the educational resources that are in the dashboard in the “Education” tab. This “Education” tab is divided in five chapters according to the different classes of assets: stocks, fixed income, mutual funds, ETFs and options. Inside each of these you will find tutorial videos that are about the platform itself and general educational videos and webinars archived. I could not download the educational materials. It is possible to watch them online only. There are webinars and the frequency of update is about one per week. As we said above it is possible to watch old webinars archived. In these webinars it is discussed about trading in general and about trading specifically in the Firstrade platform. Customer service The Firstrade support is good. This is because you can contact them by many means and the answers provided were fine as well. There is phone support where I had to wait between 3 and 9 minutes for my turn. There is also a chatbot, but very simple and then once you start to ask questions that are more complex the chat box cannot answer. The email works well and it seemed that the person answering was very knowledgeable. As always, we test the customer service in the same way: we ask for a simple general question for example, about the fee structure and another more complex question that requires a more detailed and technical answer. In both cases the mail support responded very well but it took several days. I cannot complain about this because if you require an answer rapidly you can always call by phone. This is much better than other companies like Webull or Tastyworks where the customer service was much more limited. I like in Firstrade that you can call them by phone and in about fifteen minutes, have an answer. Instead, in the other brokers normally it is more difficult. For example, with Webull I found that the message center does not offer enough interaction with the customer as a phone call would do. As a comparison with close competitors, in Tastyworks I felt that the customer service could be improved and that is to put you a couple of examples of competitors of Firstrade. But here in Firstrade I like the customer service because it offers me a fast response through the phone and a slow response through the email. The responses in the email and in the phone were very good and customer service person who spoke with us spoke an American English. The support is not working 24 hours like the message center of Webull. It is working only in office hours Eastern Standard Time, they are based in NY. There is also a fax service in case you needed for contracts agreements and forms but that one we did not test. When we had to upload the passport to register, we uploaded a PDF with the passport scanned within the registration form so we did not use any kind of fax, just the upload function inside the online application form. As with Charles Schwab and Fidelity there is a corporate headquarter in New York. in Flushing to be more precise.  It is not informed if they do customer service here also in person, but they put in the website the office hours. So, if you are in New York it seems that there is a personal customer service available. I suggest that before you go physically there, you contact them by phone or by email to know if they do customer service in Flushing. It is not clear in the website and it could be only a corporate headquarter where they do not serve customers in person. Regulatory status and safety Firstrade gives me a lot of confidence because it exists since 1985. So, if you compare it with Weibull that exists since 2017 there is a great difference. More time in the trading market provides the customers with more trust. As happens with all this US based companies that we are reviewing, Firstrade is also regulated by federal top agencies like the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) an FINRA that is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. There is a protection for the investor of half a million dollar and a quarter million in cash. There is no negative balance protection. If you want to know more about this negative balance protection and how it can help you, please go to our article where we explain this in detail. Firstrade does not have a banking license and this is something that we pretty much see in the cases of brokerage services. It is regulated already by these two agencies that are the SEC and FINRA and this is enough protection for a company that offers this kind of service. Conclusions Drawbacks I find that in Firstrade is that you can only transfer money deposits and withdrawals through wire transfers and ACH. Therefore, you cannot use electronic wallets, credit cards or debit cards. Also, it is limited only to the US market. If you are a US resident that wants to operate in the US market or a Mexican resident who wants to operate in the US market, Firstrade is a very good option for you. However, the majority of the features we analyzed are pros for Firstrade. It is one of the largest stockbrokers founded about forty 40 years ago. It offers a decent portfolio of products: stocks, ETFs, options and mutual funds. All free of direct trading commissions. Unless you have the account dormant for many years you do not have to pay inactivity fees or any kind of account fees. And as you have very low fees to operate, no commissions and no inactivity fee you could be trying Firstrade and see if this is the platform suitable for you in the link below.
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