Penny stocks — often called OTC or over-the-counter stocks — are a lot like they sound, though they don’t actually cost a penny. Generally defined as stocks that trade for less than $5 per share, penny stocks are traded outside the major stock exchanges. (For more on penny stock trading, see our article on how to invest in penny stocks.)
Five dollars a share seems like a steal when stacked against companies that trade for $500 or more. This is where the backstory is important: These stocks are cheap for a reason. Because they are issued by small, yet-to-be-established companies, penny stocks can be volatile. They are often hard to research and accurately value, and they trade infrequently, which means they can be tough to sell. Bottom line, there are plenty of other ways to expose your portfolio to stocks without ponying up a high share price — here are a few suggestions.
Choosing a penny stock broker
In case the above didn’t make this clear: NerdWallet does not recommend taking on the risks that come with trading penny stocks unless you are a sophisticated investor and you understand this market. You'll also want to be aware of the following when selecting an online broker to trade penny stocks:
Trade surcharges: Some brokers add a surcharge to stocks that are valued at less than a certain dollar amount, or don't extend their free commission offers to unlisted stocks. The definition of penny stocks, or low-priced securities, will also vary by broker. Some consider anything trading under $5 to be a penny stock, while others put the cutoff at $2 or $1.
Volume restrictions: The best penny stock brokers allow trades of unlimited shares without additional fees, but a few charge more for large orders. For example, TradeStation's $0 commission applies to trades of 10,000 shares or less. Some brokers also limit the number of penny stock shares you can trade in one order or in one day, slowing your ability to trade and forcing you to pay another commission for a second order.
Trading restrictions: Watch out for firms that require you to trade penny stocks by placing a phone order or that impose limits on the types of trades you can execute. Ideally, your penny stock broker will allow you to trade penny stocks with the same online platform used for other stock trades.
Below are NerdWallet’s top brokerages for penny stock traders. You'll notice that many of these brokers also appear on our list of the top online brokers for stock trading; they're all well-rounded brokers that also offer a uniquely strong suite of features for penny stock trading.