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I'm looking for a way to do automatic investments (say to put $100 every month into an index fund). I use Sharebuilder for my regular investments, but it looks like they charge $4 per transaction for automatic investments.

Aren't there any brokers that do automatic investments for less? 4% of my principal is pretty heavy.. There are no transaction fees for my biweekly 401K deposits, so I'm guessing there must be something similar for individual investors too.

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Almost all major no-load mutual fund families allow you to do the kind of thing you are talking about, however you may need an initial investment of between $1000 to $3000 depending on the fund. Once you have it however, annual fee's are usually very little, and the fees to buy that companies funds are usually zero if it's a no-load company (Vanguard, TRowPrice, etc) With the larger companies that means you have a pretty large selection of funds, but generally EACH fund has a minimum initial purchase, once that's met then you can buy additional amounts in small quantities without a problem.

For someone on a smaller budget, many low cost brokers (ETrade as mentioned by Litteadv, Scottrade as mentioned by myself in another similar question today) allow you to start with smaller initial balances and have a small selection of funds or ETF's that you can trade from without commission. In the case of Scottrade, they have like 15 ETF's that you can trade comission free. Check with the various low cost brokerages such as ETrade, Scottrade, and TDAmeritrade, to see what their policies are, and what if any funds/ETF's they allow you to trade in without commissions.

Keep in mind that for Mutual funds, there may still be a fund minimum initial investment that applies, be sure to check if that is the case or not. The lack of any minimum investment makes ETF's a slightly more attractive option for someone who doesn't have the 'buy in' that many funds require.

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    Good advice. Just wanted to point out that some fund families offer funds with low barriers to entry for new investors. Examples include many Schwab Funds, which offer minimums as low as $100. I believe Vanguard had a similar offering at one point as well. – duffbeer703 Aug 4 '11 at 14:58
  • I actually checked with vanguard (since they are one I use personally) but was told there don't have anything appropriate for someone like this right now, there might be one I missed, but the lowest min I found for one of their appropriate funds was $1000. Great info on the Schwab funds however, that makes that a real option for this person. – Chuck van der Linden Aug 4 '11 at 19:34
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For your purposes, I would recommend using direct investment in a no-load mutual fund. I mostly use Vanguard and would recommend them. They just about invented index funds, usually have the lowest (internal) expenses for index and many other funds, if you take electronic instead of paper statements there is no maintenance fee, have no transaction commission, can do periodic automatic investment from a bank account etc. A typical index fund there would require an initial $3000 investment and would have a minimum of $100 for each additional investment. If you can't come up with an initial sum of that size, you might be able to find a broker with a lower minimum and suitable free ETFs trades as others have suggested.

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ETrade allows this without fees (when investing into one of the No-Load/No-Fees funds from their list). The Sharebuilder plan is better when investing into ETF's or stocks, not for mutual funds, their choice (of no-fees funds) is rather limited on Sharebuilder.

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Previously (prior to Capital One acquisition -- it's kind of like K-Mart buying Sears) Sharebuilder offered 12 automatic (i.e. pre-scheduled) stock purchases per month if you subscribed to their $12/mo "Advantage" plan. So, 12 trades for $1 a trade. Great deal. Except then they flattened their pricing to everyone's acclaim (that is, everyone except for the non-millionaire casual investors) and jacked it up to $4 per automatic investment.

As far as I know, Sharebuilder's 12 no-fee investments for $12/mo was rather unique in the online trading world -- and now it's very sadly extinct. They do have no-fee mutual fund investing, however, for what it's worth.

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If you are not worried about timing the market and want to buy primarily "blue chip" stocks to hold for a while, consider using Loyal3. They don't charge any commission. The downside is that trades are executed at the end of the day and there's only about 60 companies currently available (but there are some really good ones currently available).

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