If you are already a saver with a nice six month reserve and no debt, maybe it is time to venture to a brokerage house and invest in a good quality low risk mutual fund, like a no load T. Rowe Price, or Vanguard fund. When I opened my first brokerage account, I decided to do it with Scottrade. I am still happy with their account set up and their $7 trades ($17 for no-load mutual fund trades). A sign of good customer relations is their personal service, which I used frequently in the first weeks as I struggled to understand what all the terms meant (market order, gtc, and stop limit were all words of a new language to me). They patiently and helpfully guided me through my first transactions over the phone and I had the option of going to their nearby office if I needed a live person. Their service was so good that I moved my retirement accounts over to them. Their customer service has been consistently good through the years; they called to tell me that I had inadvertently sent more than the maximum yearly contribution to my IRA account, so would I prefer to have the excess applied to the following year? YES!

Scottrade is a great way to get your feet wet in the world of stocks and mutual funds. There is only a $1000 minimum to open a money market account and start trading, but you can open a retirement account for less depending on the type you choose to open. Even if you don’t trade, but just want to park your money in a money market and do research through their website, it is easy and worth it. They offer a watch list, with historical and current market analysis tools for stocks and mutual funds, so you can just watch and learn until you are ready to trade.

If you are already well versed in stocks, trading, and have thought about doing it as a career, then TD Ameritrade would be my pick for a brokerage account. They offer a tool called Apex which gives you Nasdaq Level II quotes and a host of strategy and analysis tools that allow you to be proactive in your investments. For this higher level of information and tools, it costs a bit more ($9.99 per trade plus the cost of APEX), but the cost of having more tools may be worth it to your portfolio. As with Scottrade, you can start by just opening up a money market account and learning by doing research until you are ready to invest.

For those who have never invested, the best research is your own. Talk to your accountant, financial planner, or EA about your goals. Read the books written by professional investors and experts, but YOU are the final decider. Taking some expert opinion on a stock or a mutual fund trade is like taking a movie critic’s advice about what movie to see; you may agree or disagree with the critic after you watch the movie yourself. You are the only one who knows if you will like the risk, product, company, and management, based on your own experience and risk tolerance. Be willing to invest the time to learn through sites like Morningstar and Marketwatch, and watch a financial TV program like CNBC every so often to just get an overview of the current financial climate

Most us will read a label before using a product; read the prospectus before investing. Be smart with your money; you earned it, use it wisely.