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LAST UPDATED: June 27th, 2019
USAA is a diversified financial services company that's been around since the 1920's. It mainly caters to active or retired members of the military and their families. While it's well known for its insurance coverage services, it's less known for its other features. For instance, the company began providing brokerage services as far back as the 1980's. Unlike its banking services, the brokerage firm caters to both military and non-military families looking to make investments and trades.

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The Good

  • Price
  • Availability
  • Integration with banking service
Users of the brokerage firm consistently appreciate USAA's customer service. Its representatives are known for being responsive and knowledgeable. The brokerage firm's banking service is also another favorable highlight as customers active with both branches of the company experience major perks like linking accounts and transferring funds. Other benefits include:

Price

USAA offers its investors two commission levels, Gold, and Platinum. It provides a flat rate fee of $8.95 for trading stocks, ETFs, and options for its Gold level (base level) investors. The brokerage firm provides a clear incentive for its active investors (Platinum level) as they are charged a flat rate fee of $5.95 for stocks, ETFs, and options. This means that Platinum level investors benefit from reduced stock, ETF, and options commissions if they meet a trading threshold. To qualify for this low rate, investors must execute 25 or more trades in a 90-day period or have $50,000 or more in applicable assets. In addition to these perks, investors with $5,000 already invested in the market can opt for an Asset Management Account. This account ensures they're eligible for certain banking and brokerage services at no additional fee. Gold level investors also experience certain perks when it comes to USAA's pricing structure. Unlike other brokerage firms, USAA has fewer hidden fees and charges associated with common practices like account maintenance or account transfers. Additionally, investors using the brokerage firm can expect to utilize standard trading tools to facilitate their investments, including interactive charts, screeners, and third-party research.

Availability

Another major advantage to using the brokerage firm is the fact that anyone can create a USAA brokerage account and can do so without investing a dime or passing a member eligibility test. When creating an account, investors simply have to enter "0" if they're not ready to deposit funds just yet. That way, they navigate the online system and see what appeals to them. Another great feature of the site is its 52-Week Range tool, which shows investors the price ranges for certain stock over the last 52 weeks. These ranges help to show what the current stock price is in relation to its highs and lows over the course of the 52 weeks.

Integration with Banking Service

Current users of USAA's other services like its banking and insurance features receive more advantages to using the brokerage firm than other investors are likely to experience. For instance, current USAA clients can link their banking accounts to their trading accounts, which makes it easier for them to transfer funds as needed. The brokerage firm's mobile app is another great perk of the company's as it's available for iPhone, Windows, Android, and Amazon Fire, providing investors with real-time quotes, research, and the ability to place trades on the go.
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The Bad

  • Additional costs for gold level investors
  • Online presence
  • Resources and tools
Despite offering a number of quality and helpful investing tools, prospective clients also need to be aware of the USAA limitations. Drawbacks to the platform include the following items:

Additional Costs for Gold Level Investors

Investors who are looking to trade a small number of stocks, ETFs and options will incur high costs with USAA as base level investors. Their Gold level status means they miss out on the low rate fees unless they begin to place more trades or have a set minimum in applicable assets, two very binding requirements. These higher than average commissions are primary reasons why investors look elsewhere to meet their investing needs. Other brokerage firms are known to offer more appealing pricing structures to rival USAA's $8.95, and also offer more features for the commission rates they charge. Additionally, USAA charges $0.01 per share for Gold members and $0.005 per share for Platinum members for each share over 1,000, which is another cost investors have to consider. The number of funds and options available with USAA also pale in comparison to the variety of trading choices investors can find at other brokerage firms.

Online Presence

While USAA's website is easy to use and offers basic features, it fails to rise above average expectations for brokerage firms. The charts on the website, for instance, lack substantial, in-depth information and only offer surface level details about the company and the type of trades. For investors looking to gain a quick, concise, and thorough understanding of a potential trade, these charts can generate frustration. Users also describe the resources and tools on the website as slightly disorganized, compared to more streamlined tools found on other brokerage firms' sites.

Resources and Tools

While USAA provides helpful tips and customer service, its educational resources are unimpressive at best and are clearly outranked by its competitors who offer webinars, guides, and helpful investor courses. Beginner investors are thus more likely to turn to other online communities where they can ask questions, communicate with experienced traders, and share investment ideas. USAA's research also lacks substance and fails to provide extensive information that can be found in the research that other brokerage firms provide. These firms tend to use revered, investor research groups to offer clients top-notch, data-driven information. Thus, the lack of advanced and intricate research, coupled with the lack of advanced trading tools, means professional, active traders will also seek to meet their investing needs with other brokerage firms.
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The Bottom Line

USAA offers exceptional customer service to its clients and has few additional fees associated with placing trades. Its website is fairly easy to use and provides all of the standard features investors would expect from a basic brokerage firm. Additionally, the 52-Week Range tool, the widely available mobile app, and the low commission rates for Platinum clients also provide advantages to using the brokerage firm. However, these reasons are seldom enough for a beginner or advanced investors to join the brokerage firm. It's unimpressive educational resources, lack of advanced trading tools and high commission fees encourage investors to find investment options with other brokerage firms. Current USAA banking customers, on the other hand, could find the brokerage firm very appealing. The ability to enjoy USAA's banking services, link accounts and transfer funds makes for a streamlined investment process, which could appeal to any current USAA client who wants to begin or continue placing trades.
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