Some of you may remember my first foray into investing. It was an half thought out idea that was, in hindsight, quite stupid. As a result of that I have been working towards a more sane and economical approach to getting some non-retirement funds invested into the markets. I am by no means a day trader or speculator. I just don’t have the knowledge or expertise to start throwing wads of cash at individual companies. So my main goal was to find a company with some decent No Transaction Fee (NTF) mutual funds. Enter Scottrade.
About the Company
Since 1996 Scottrade has been offering online trading to its customers. With over 350 branch offices they are both an online and person kind of shop. As a discount brokerage with a focus for online investing they offer an easy to use online trading platforms for idiots like me. In addition to the simple platform they offer ScottradeElite for true active traders. I am no active trader so their simple interface is all I use. They also offer a mobile site, not to mention that they have local branch offices.
Why I Chose Them
I had initially decided to open an account with Sharebuilder because they had a good automatic investment “plan” that would automagically pull money from your checking account and invest it in your stock/fund of choice. The problem with that was every time I invested my $100 they were going to charge me $4. It was brought to my attention that No Load/No Transaction Fee fund may be the better option for investing minimal amounts of cash. Looking into it I found some decent funds on Sharebuilder but they all required at least $1,000 initial investment. Scottrade on the other hand only required $500 to open an account and their minimum initial investment for a NTF fund was $250. Obviously it works better for me and my piddly amount of cash to go with Scottrade.
Opening an account with Scottrade was relatively painless. In fact it was a lot like opening an account an online bank. They ask you the basic kind of questions you would expect to see with your bank and then presto you have an account opened up. One thing was a little bit different was that you do have to pick a local branch who will then send you out some information as well as a request to send in a signature card. Unlike most online bank accounts you actually will have to send something back to them to get full access to your account, I can’t remember what you couldn’t do without one but it didn’t affect me directly.
Using the Account
Using the account was not quite as intuitive as I thought it could be. I had a little bit of a problem trying to find exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find no load/no transaction fee mutual funds. I went to research and mutual funds but all it let me do was search by symbol. It took me a while to find the mutual fund screener which allowed me to locate no load NTF funds for sale at Scottrade, there were 2915. 2915 was a daunting thing to have to look at so luckily I knew approximately what the symbol was I wanted and zeroed in on my choice. Once I found the fund I wanted buying is was easy as pie. The only thing that I miss about Sharebuilder was the ability to automatically do the investing. I have to remember to go in and buy into the fund when my transfer hits.
So far I haven’t found anything that would make me want to jump ship. Their user interface isn’t the flashiest thing on earth, in fact it is pretty bland but it gets the job done. I have enjoyed it and they make the transfer of funds from bank to brokerage super easy, which is refreshingly nice.
Who do you use for your online brokerage needs?
Ally bank who who prides themselves on being free of red tape and offering no nonsense savings accounts and CD’s is now offering an online checking account. I recently talked about problems with my online checking account and Ally has taken all those things I hate and made them disappear with their Ally Interest Checking account. I feel like I got the real pony from the commercial, not the toy one. Here is the skinny on their checking account offering:
- .50% Interest Rate as of
- $0 Monthly Fee
- Free Bill Pay and online banking (duh!)
- Free Debit Card and Checks
- No ATM Fees at any ATM
- Postage Paid Deposit envelopes
- Direct Deposits available immediately
- ACH/ETF’s available 3-5 days
About the ATM Fees
Saying you won’t be charged an ATM fee is a bit of a stretch on Ally’s part. Let’ rephrase it to you won’t be responsible for any ATM fees you are charged. The ATM you are using is most likely going to charge you for the transaction, Ally will reimburse you for all ATM charges at the start of the next billing cycle. Downside is you lost interest on that $2.00 fee, upside is you didn’t lose the $2 and .50% of $2 isn’t Jack.
Opening an Account
Opening an account takes five steps which they say you can complete in approximately 10 minutes online, I was able to get mine done from start to finish in 3.5 minutes. It was by far the easiest account opening experience I have had yet with an online bank.
What you need on hand
- Social Security Number
- US Mailing Address
- Funding Account Routing Number
- Funding Account Account Number
- A PEN!
The process itself is pretty straight forward. You first need to define if you want a single or joint account, you then select your account type, opening deposit, and account nickname. You then have to fill out the standard personal information including your SSN and date of birth. You then need to fill out the information for the funding source of your new account, including how you want to verify the account if you choose to keep it linked.
When you complete the process you are given the option of ordering an ATM Card and checks and presented with your account information, including your account number. Here is where I screwed the pooch, I forgot to PDF this page or write down my account number. That account number is pretty damn important when you want to setup direct deposit and link other accounts. WRITE IT DOWN. The online interface doesn’t have anywhere that it shows your complete account number so you are going to have to either wait on your checks/welcome letter or get on the horn with customer service.
Why I am Switching
Ally is everything my current online checking account is not.
- They reimburse me for my ATM fees which I am going to get because no matter what bank I am with their ATM’s are never near where I am. It is Murphy’s law.
- They aren’t going to hold my paycheck hostage for three days. My current online account holds my direct deposits hostage, I hate that I have to wait three days after I get paid to touch the money.
- Their Customer service is awesome (well so far). Before I opened the account I used their online chat to pick their brains and they were super helpful answering my questions. After I opened my account I used their online chat to get my account number I failed to write down super helpful again. Unfortunately I forgot to write it down before I closed the window.
If this sounds like something that is up your alley then pop on over to Ally and open an account
iXpenseIt by FYI Mobilware, Inc. allows you to input daily expenses with your iPhone. The system handles budgets based on Type, Category, Subcategory and more. You can set your budgets to daily, monthly or anywhere in-between. A while back I went on a business trip and decided to test out the app for tracking my business expenses against my per diem rate while in travel status.
My per diem is based on the GSA Schedule and I was in the DC area so I setup a daily budget of $71.00. Setting up a new budget was relatively easy and you can limit the budget by Type so I was able to restrict it to only business expenses.
During my trip I was able to record the amounts I spent on each meal or other expenses as they happened. The best part about the app was you can take a picture of the receipt and include it as part of the record for the expense. This meant I didn’t have to keep perfect track of all of my receipts so I could complete an expense report later.
When you get back to the office and need to file your reports you can easily export a report for your travel period using the iXpenseIt reporting capabilities. The application allows you to either e-mail the reports or access them via a wifi connection to your iPhone. One thing I didn’t like was you can only export the reports as either a HTML file or CSV. With the HTML it exports your receipt photos as well but they are still separate and would have to be included if you sent the html file somewhere. It would be perfect for me if you could export the report as a PDF because I am required to turn in any supporting documents in an electronic format such as a PDF.
Screenshots of the App in Action: