I look at three main criteria:
- The reputation of the seller.
- The price.
- The terms.
I have to tell you that I also have a strong preference for a web site where I can learn everything I want to know without submitting my information or even talking to a human. Why should I have to commit at all to find out what you've got for sale?
I also tend to trust a site where I can buy with a credit card. I don’t, because I don’t want to pay the extra 3% fee which is common for credit card purchases of bullion. If you use a card to buy bullion without an extra fee, your seller is almost certainly charging too much for their merchandise.
Price really speaks for itself. Of course I’d always like the best price, but again, I’d rather be sure of the dealer and pay a few dollars more.
Terms are important too. How must you make payment? How and when will your purchase be shipped? What else is critical in your mind?
Some common forms of payment include bank wire, cashier’s check, and credit card. I find the bank wire to be too time-consuming and too expensive. Maybe if you’re a big shot your bank will do a wire over the phone. Mine wants me to stop in and then pay for the wire. Who needs that?
A cashier’s check has the same disadvantages, and takes longer to get to your dealer, but at least it’s a bit cheaper.
I can’t say I’d never use a credit card, but with that 3% fee to consider it would have to be some kind of “all the cosmic tumblers clicked into place at once” situation which convinced me that I was buying at the best price I’d see in my lifetime. Not so likely.
So how do I pay? Personal check. I deal with APMEX, and they allow you to use a credit card to guarantee payment and then follow up with a check by regular mail. APMEX locks in your price at the time of purchase. Naturally they wait for my check to arrive and clear, but I don’t really care. I've made a few purchases this way with no problems whatsoever.
The other way I've paid for some junk silver is via Paypal. Believe it or not, you can sometimes pick up junk silver on eBay for 4-6% or more below the spot value of the silver you’re buying—including shipping and insurance!
Paypal is expensive for the seller, but really easy for me as a buyer. If you want some junk silver, give it a try.