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Investing will never be cost-free, but we're getting surprising close.

The latest cost reduction comes from National Bank Direct Brokerage, which has eliminated commissions for online trades of 100 shares or more of TSX-listed exchange-traded funds. The move is an incremental cost reduction compared to the ETF deals from a few other firms. Both Questrade and Virtual Brokers allow clients to buy ETFs at no cost, but they charge a sell commission. Qtrade Investor and Scotia iTrade offer zero-commission ETF trading, but only on a limited choice of funds.

For investors with accounts large enough to make it feasible to buy 100 or more shares, NBDB has completely eliminated the trading costs associated with ETFs traded on the TSX. Depending on which broker you use, a stock or ETF trade can cost a minimum $5 to $10. One exception is Scotia iTrade, where people with less than $50,000 in total assets at Bank of Nova Scotia pay a minimum $24.99.

Choose some cheap ETFs as a NBDB client and your all-in costs for running a portfolio could be as low as 0.12 per cent. That's based on my Freedom 0.12 Portfolio, which includes three ultra-cheap ETFs with an asset-weighted aggregate management expense ratio of just 0.12 per cent. You get full diversification with this portfolio – bonds plus Canadian and global stocks.

The most widely held ETFs listed on the TSX are these days priced between $20 and $30 per share, which means NBDB's new pricing will work only for people able to invest $2,000 to $3,000 per trade. Investors with smaller accounts who want to use ETFs might do well at Questrade, which charges nothing to buy any North American-listed ETF (electronic network fees may apply), and VB, which offers clients the ability to buy all ETFs for free. The usual commissions apply for selling ETFs.

Qtrade offers zero-commission trading on 60 ETFs listed on both Canadian and U.S. markets, but some of cheapest and therefore most appealing funds in the Canadian market are not in the mix. You'll find similar issues with Scotia iTrade's 50 commission-free Canadian ETFs.