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Do it monthly and keep it cheap.

If you want to get started as a do-it-yourself investor, there's your plan. Make monthly contributions to your investments by automatic electronic funds transfer, and focus on index-tracking exchange-traded funds that are cheap to both buy and own. Which online brokerage firms are best for this type of investing? Let's take a broker-by-broker look

BMO InvestorLine
BMO has a minimum account of $5,000 (RESPs and TFSAs excluded), so that may put some beginners off. Low-cost exchange-traded funds can be bought online for a flat $9.95, but that would add up for small accounts if done once per month.

CIBC Investor's Edge
You can get your commissions down to $6.95 at CIBC if you have $100,000 in business with the bank, including your mortgage. Otherwise, a beginner with a small account would pay $28.95 per trade for ETFs. Pass.

Credential Direct
At $19 per stock or ETF trade for small accounts that don't do a lot of trading, not a contender.

A flat $9.95 commission for ETFs and other stocks.

HSBC InvestDirect
Accounts with less than $50,000 in assets pay $28.88 per trade.

National Bank Direct Brokerage
$9.95 flat trading for ETFs and other stocks.

Qtrade Investor
Put them on your short list. Qtrade charges zero commissions on a reasonably comprehensive list of 60 ETFs listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges. Here's the list of available ETFs.

Zero buy commissions on Canadian and U.S.-listed ETFs, which makes this firm ideal for newbies who want to invest regularly. You pay normal commissions to sell.

RBC Direct Investing
$9.95 flat trading for ETFs and other stock.

Scotia iTrade
Another candidate for beginners thanks to a program that makes 50 ETFs available commission-free. There are quite a few fringe ETFs on the list, but also some basic portfolio builders. Here's the full list.

TD Direct Investing
$9.99 per online ETF purchase, but never mind that. Instead, check out the low-cost TD e-series of index mutual funds for ultra-low fees and zero buy or sell commissions.

Virtual Brokers
Another name for the short list thanks to zero-commission ETF purchases. Or, check out the firm's limited menu of ETFs you can buy or sell at no cost.

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