Q: How much should I be paying in commission to buy a bond? I have heard that at some investment houses it should be no more than $1.
A: A buck for a bond? I’d check the fine print because there is usually a minimum charge of about $25. But your question brings up a great topic. Bond commissions are one of the least transparent fees in the business. What you pay depends on a number of factors: Where you buy the bond—say an online broker or a full service investment firm; what type it is—U.S., Canadian, corporate or government; and how much of it you want—the price can go down the more you buy, so institutional investors usually get a better price.
For example, at discount brokerage Qtrade, when you buy a Canadian bond with a face value under $25,000 you’ll pay $24.99. Add another $45 if it’s a U.S. bond. If you deal with a fee-based financial adviser, the commission is already included in their fee. And if you work with a full service broker, the commission may be accounted for in what’s called the “spread,” costing you around 1%, depending on what you can negotiate. New disclosure regulations beginning in July 2016 will require annual reporting of fixed-income commissions, which will hopefully make things clearer. But the bottom line is that for the average retail investor a bond mutual fund or ETF is a better way to go: You get diversification and easy execution at a cheap price.
Bruce Sellery is a frequent guest on financial television shows and author of Moolala. Do you have your own personal finance question? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org