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Top Picks for Brokers

Investors of all stripes can find standout brokers that offer the services they value most. From Kiplinger's annual survey, www.Kiplinger.com, here are the top picks based on the type of investor.

Best for exchange-traded fund investors: Firstrade. Its industry-leading roster of more than 2,200 commission-free ETFs beats most brokers by a mile. (Vanguard, which declined to participate in our survey, offers some 1,800 such funds.) Investors shopping among Firstrade's free funds will find every member of the Kiplinger ETF 20 (our favorite ETFs) and thousands more.

Best for mutual fund investors: Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade. Each offers more than 3,900 mutual funds that you can buy with no sales fee or fee to trade. Interactive Brokers, Schwab and TD Ameritrade win for breadth: Each list cracks 4,000 funds. E*Trade boasts the highest percentage of no-transaction-fee funds with three-star ratings or better from Morningstar. Fidelity offers four funds with 0% expense ratios and 27 funds (including those four) that have no investment minimum.

Best for active traders: Firstrade, Merrill Edge, Interactive Brokers and TradeStation. You'll pay no commission to trade stocks at Firstrade, and Preferred Rewards customers with a combined $100,000 balance at Bank of America earn 100 free trades per month at Merrill Edge. Wheeler-dealers can pay fractions of a cent per share at Interactive Brokers and TradeStation, and both offer tons of tools geared toward active traders.

Best for margin traders: Interactive Brokers. Investors with $100,000 in an account looking to trade with borrowed money will pay 3.89% on margin loans. The nine other firms in our survey levy between 7.7% and 9.5%.

Best for investors who hold cash: Fidelity. Fido offers the highest interest rates among brokers in our survey on "sweep" accounts (the accounts that hold clients' uninvested cash). The default account, Fidelity Government Money Market (symbol SPAXX), yields 1.82%. Investors can also use Fidelity Treasury Money Market (FZFXX), yielding 1.81%, as their sweep account or a cash account called FCASH, which pays 1.07% in interest.

Best for beginners: Merrill Edge. The "story" features on this easy-to-use platform walk investors through investment analysis and decision-making. The "Stock Story" mode leads the investor to questions, for instance, about a company or its shares. The answers are full of digestible analysis and actionable advice.

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