You can transfer an entire brokerage account or particular securities from one brokerage to another. Generally you can transfer an entire account using a system called the Automated Customer Account Transfer Service, or ACATS. If you have stock you bought directly from a company or even an old-school paper stock certificate, you can transfer that to a brokerage too. It's often better for tax purposes to transfer stocks from one brokerage to another rather than selling them and repurchasing them at a new brokerage.
You can use the Automated Customer Account Transfer Service, or ACATS, to transfer stock between different brokerage accounts.
Understanding ACATS Transfers
If you simply want to transfer an entire account and everything in it to another brokerage, the brokerages will likely be working with a centralized system called ACATS designed for exactly this purpose.
To make such a transfer, talk to the brokerage where you want to move your account. The company will ask for information like your address, Social Security number and proof of identity, as well as your account information from the old brokerage.
The companies will coordinate back and forth through ACATS to match your accounts and get your stocks transferred over, generally within about a week. Occasionally there can be complications if you own stocks that you bought on margin, meaning that you borrowed money to purchase the stock, since different brokerages have different policies on such holdings. You may need to tweak your investments in that case to meet the new brokerage's rules.
Some brokerages will charge fees to transfer accounts in and out of their systems, but many will waive fees for incoming accounts and even compensate you for what your old brokerage charges. Naturally, it's a good idea to see what fees are involved and how you're expected to pay them before the transfer begins.
Exploring Other Transfers
If you're only transferring some stocks from one brokerage to another, they may not use the ACATS system, and the process can sometimes take longer. Not all brokerages support non-ACATS transfers. Fees may still apply.
The procedure, though, is generally the same. You'll want to contact the brokerage where you're transferring the stocks, which will likely ask you information to verify your identity and about your account at the other brokerage, as well as how many shares of which stocks you want to transfer.
If you own stock that you didn't purchase through a broker, you may still be able to transfer that to a brokerage account. This may apply if you bought stock directly from a company or hold a paper stock certificate.
You can generally still add these stocks to your brokerage account. Contact the broker to see what your options are and what you'll have to pay to do so.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.