While most stock today is held in "street name" for you by your broker, stock certificates are still available from some companies. A stock certificate is a special piece of paper that represents your ownership of a piece of the company. It contains all of the information needed to track it and your ownership of it.
A stock certificate usually contains a group of numbers on its face. Each certificate has its own certificate number, issued by the company, which allows it to be tracked. It also has a CUSIP number issued by the Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures that is also used to track the certificate. Finally, it also has the number of shares that it represents written on its face.
Names and Dates
A stock certificate also has a series of names. It carries the name of the company whose stock is represented. Your certificate will also have your name on it, certifying that you are the owner of the stock. Finally, the certificate will be dated -- indicating the day on which you became the owner of the shares.
Signatures, Seals and Artwork
While some stock certificates are relatively plain, others are highly decorative, featuring artwork that represents their businesses. In fact, there's even a term for people who collect stock certificates that may be worthless from an investment perspective, but who like their aesthetic value -- scripophily. Most certificates are signed by a company representative and by the person responsible for registering them. They may also contain a seal of authenticity.
High Transaction Fees
Choosing to do business with stock certificates carries a big drawback, though. Most brokerages don't like to deal with them because they're inconvenient and expensive to handle. As such, while you might be able to trade stocks online for a few dollars a trade, it's not uncommon to have to pay fees that run into the hundreds of dollars to trade using your stock certificates.
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