USAA, long known for its insurance coverage, has also provided brokerage services since the 1980s. Unlike the company’s insurance policies, which are available only to active or retired members of the military and their families, both military and non-military families are eligible to trade with the firm. There’s a lot to recommend USAA — notably, its well-deserved reputation for customer service — although some of its offerings are limited.
Members consistently praise USAA’s responsive and knowledgeable customer service staff. The brokerage’s associated banking services are also a major point in its favor. Customers active with both branches of the company have access to a comprehensive list of account types and can easily link accounts and transfer funds. Banking clients with at least $5,000 invested may also opt for an Asset Management Account, entitling them to a number of banking and brokerage services (like check-writing) fee-free.
USAA’s Gold Plan, the default for all brokerage clients, is on the more expensive side for both stocks and options. Its bond and mutual fund fees are also similar to other, higher-priced brokerages. On the other hand, USAA’s list of service fees is surprisingly short and doesn’t include charges for penny stocks, after-hours trading, account maintenance or account transfers. More-active traders can also receive discounted commissions by qualifying for the firm’s Platinum Plan.
USAA’s trading tools and research are outranked by many competitors’, and while it offers most asset classes, the number of funds or stocks available is often smaller than through other firms. The brokerage’s trading tools and website have all of the standard features — including screeners, interactive charts, and third-party research from Standard & Poor’s — but little to set them apart from the competition. In addition, some users complain of site design flaws that make trading difficult at times.
Because of USAA’s unimpressive educational resources and trading tools — and relatively high fees — it likely won’t be the first choice of most investors, whether beginning or more advanced. Current USAA banking customers, though, might find the easy account-linking and friendly customer service a good deal.
Pros & Cons