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Beware bank-owned brokers, rookie investors.

Policies vary among the digital brokers owned by the big banks, but it’s typical for them to charge $25 a quarter for registered and/or non-registered accounts with less than $10,000 to $20,000. These fees provide zero value – they’re simply in place to discourage small accounts.

In the latest Globe and Mail digital brokerage ranking, TD Direct Investing took top spot. But TD charges $25 a quarter for accounts with less than $15,000 in assets. The best brokers for rookie do-it-yourself investors have no account fees of any type, and they either charge nothing to trade or they have commissions that come in below the big banks. Here’s a rundown on some good options for investing newcomers of any age with just a few thousand dollars in hand:

Wealthsimple: No fees or commissions on the Wealthsimple app, and you can buy fractional shares. It’s best for cost-conscious newcomers to avoid U.S. stocks. You either pay $10 a month for accounts that can hold U.S. dollars, or you pay a stiff foreign exchange fee in having your Canadian dollars converted to U.S. currency.

TD Easy Trade: An app that offers 50 free stock trades a year, and unlimited buying and selling of TD’s own family of ETFs. You can’t buy ETFs from other companies, but TD has a reasonable selection on its own.

Questrade: Trades cost a minimum of $4.95, but there are no account fees to worry about. Questrade has one of the most beginner-friendly apps, and you can buy ETFs with no commission. Regular commissions apply when you sell.

CI Direct Trading: Charges an account maintenance fee of $24.95 a quarter, but it’s waived if you have more than $5,000 in your account. Commission-free ETF purchases, and stock trading commissions are as low as $1.99.

Do not scoff at the impact of $100 in account maintenance fees a year. With $5,000 in an account, $100 a year amounts to a 2 per cent drain on your returns. You get zero value in paying that fee.

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Q: How safe is EQ Bank? They seem to have the best deposit rates.

A: EQ is safe. Deposits with this online bank are protected through parent Equitable Bank’s membership in Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. EQ offers more of a digital chequing account with solid interest than a pure savings account, and its rates are mid-pack right now.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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