Best Online Stock Trading Sites

For beginners who want to learn and grow

The 30-Second Review

Picking a stock trading site depends a lot on your skill level: The tools day traders need are very different than a beginner's basic platform. We focused on the latter, demoing the educational resources, customer support, and user experience of eight of the best online stock trading sites to find which we trusted to get us started and help our money grow.

37
Contenders
4
Top Picks
Our Top Pick

We loved the clean and customizable interface, top-tier research, and the way it turned a flood of data from the stock market into an easy-to-understand visual dashboard.

Other Favorites

If you’re new to the stock market, it’s intimidating — one wrong click, you fear, and your money’s all gone. So we went on the hunt for the best online stock trading sites with beginners in mind. Our top pick, Fidelity, earned a perfect score in customer support and investment education, and once we got in there and started trading, we found the interface to be everything we wanted: We could tailor the dashboard to fit our needs; find the most important information we needed to make decisions; and search its extensive learning center by topic, media, and skill level.

The slightly more expensive TD Ameritrade was a close runner-up. The gamification of its educational tools was the most innovative out of every platform we looked at, and the intermediate Trade Architect and advanced-level thinkorswim platforms mean it’s pretty much impossible to outgrow.

Our Picks for the Best Online Stock Trading Sites

  1. Fidelity
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. TradeKing

Best Overall: Fidelity

Fidelity Clean design we love looking at, plus schooling to get us started and platforms to help us grow.

If you’re a new investor with at least $2,500, Fidelity is the best site to get you in the game — and to keep you there long term.

As of 2013, Fidelity had a terrible reputation for being difficult to use, and it obviously took that feedback seriously — in 2015, Fidelity revamped everything from technology to infrastructure to design. We found that its updated site strikes a perfect balance, giving us enough information to understand the bigger picture without overwhelming us with data.

From when we first logged in, it scored points on design. Boom: There’s your account balance, in big numbers on the top left. That’s the question we all want to know most, right: “How much money do I have?” Also, displayed front-and-center are the day’s gains or losses. Within this summary page you can minimize and expand modules, such as balance history, asset allocation, and market graphs. When we logged out and logged back in, it had remembered our preferences.

In the Guided Portfolio Summary, Fidelity shows you an easy-to-understand ring chart of your asset allocation, so you can make sure you’re diversified. Better yet, it marks the areas with symbols: An orange, triangular caution sign suggests you pay closer attention; a yellow light bulb tells you it has an idea for you to investigate; and a green circle with a checkmark means you’re on track. For users who need guidance to know where they might need to adjust, this is a welcome help.

Fidelity has thought of things you didn’t even know you wanted. The “News About Your Investments” section offers articles filtered to funds you’ve purchased, so you can keep up on news that might affect the value of companies you’re invested in — we didn’t see this so readily available elsewhere. It even provides an online notebook where you can organize ideas to come back to. Somehow, Fidelity managed to add in all these extras without cluttering the site.

The Planning and Guidance Center, which the company also overhauled in 2015, provides hundreds of articles, webcasts, and courses you can filter by media, topic, and experience level, making it easy to find what you need to learn right when you need to learn it. We chatted with Rob Beauregard, director of public relations at Fidelity, who explained, “The P&G Center integrates both retirement planning and investment guidance into one resource to help investors develop a plan, track progress over time, and easily evaluate ‘what if’ scenarios.” This education forum isn’t the most innovative we found — TD Ameritrade stands out there — but it is extremely robust, well thought out, and smartly executed.

The thing Fidelity really does best is research. Barron’s gave it a 4.9 out of 5 for Research Amenities and a 4.8 for Portfolio Analysis and Reports — and we can back those scores up. Its reports were the best we found, with information from 19 firms, plus filters to find the best research firm for you based on your preferences. Each research firm is also rated for accuracy, so you can trust that the information you’re getting is valuable. To get a sense of social sentiment, Fidelity even synthesizes posts from social media and scores them ranging from minus 4.25 to 4.25, so you can get more than just the opinion of that one guy you follow on Twitter.

Not sure how to get your head wrapped around each report? Fidelity embeds links back to its Learning Center, which breaks it all down in articles and videos by experience level.

Fidelity’s ActiveTraderPro platform is designed for advanced traders, and while we didn’t spend much time testing it, it has impressive features that can compare to TD Ameritrade’s better-known thinkorswim platform. If you’re looking to stick with the same company as you grow your skills and potentially become more active, Fidelity can definitely accommodate — but beware you need to be making at least 36 trades per year to get access to ActiveTraderPro, and you won’t have any access to futures (Fidelity doesn’t offer that product). By comparison, TD Ameritrade lets anyone use thinkorswim, even if its capabilities far outmatch what most beginning traders will ever use, and gives up trading in international markets, which Fidelity offers, for futures. If you have big plans for becoming a day trader that dabbles in futures, we suggest skipping Fidelity and heading over to TD Ameritrade.

At $2,500, Fidelity is tied with Scottrade for the highest minimum balance of our final eight contenders — not a huge deal since $2,500 isn’t a huge amount, but it does stand out compared to TD Ameritrade’s $0 and E*TRADE’s $500 minimums. And while its site is customizable, it’s not to the degree we saw with E*TRADE. What you do get is a lot of help: On top of its fantastic resources, Fidelity has more than 190 offices all over the United States, as well as customer service reps ready to assist 24/7, a feature we loved — and one that TradeKing, Scottrade, and optionsXpress lack.

With a stock trading commission of $7.95, Fidelity is average on cost for our contenders. (Of our finalists, the cheapest commission for stock trades was $4.95 with TradeKing, and the highest was $9.99 for both E*TRADE and TD Ameritrade.) But when it comes to Fidelity, the support you get along the way is well worth paying a bit more.

Best to Grow With: TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade It makes learning to trade fun, and has so many platforms your growth potential is unlimited.

TD Ameritrade was neck-and-neck with Fidelity the whole way, and in a few ways impressed us even more. Case in point: Its education resources, which TD Ameritrade essentially turned into games, something studies have shown makes it more likely you’ll actually stay engaged and learn more. The learning center includes 100 videos, nine courses, and regular webinars with levels and options suited to each user, from Rookie Essentials up to Guru Essentials. Recently updated in the last two years, this more than doubled the amount of videos the company previously had.

The courses are short, animated videos with great production quality and the best style we’ve seen. While other sites have videos that mostly look like PowerPoint presentations of talking heads, TD Ameritrade’s lessons are cartoony and fun, without being cheesy.

TD Ameritrade’s uses Samurai in one video to explain futures.

These interactive courses and assessments test your learning, including the Portfolio Rookie Assessment, which grades each response immediately and, when you answer incorrectly, helps you understand why. Also, each video you watch is awarded a certain amount of points (these add up to Achievements), which you can win and show off on your virtual trophy shelf — from Stocks Rookie to Portfolio Management Guru.

In addition to its video lessons, TD Ameritrade offers live casts, which also earn you points. These include a daily morning huddle — 15 minutes of relevant news, announcements, events, and earnings. It also ends each week with a Wall Street Wrap-up, summarizing the market activity for the week. With all of these resources, you can carve out a learning path that works for you.

That learning can take you as far as you want to go. TD Ameritrade has three platforms, and although each is available to everyone (no pre-reqs like with Fidelity’s ActiveTraderPro), they are designed to appeal to different levels of traders: the standard website, which works well for beginners; thinkorswim, for professional traders; and TradeArchitect, which hits the sweet spot between the other two. Like with Fidelity, there is no ceiling for your skills, but TD Ameritrade provides more concrete stepping stones to help you scale up and down. (And, if you like mobile trading, TD Ameritrade’s combined app ratings for its Android and iOS platforms trump all others.)

Pros can take advantage of TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim (top), while TradeArchitect (bottom) is aimed toward mid-level users.

The one place TD Ameritrade lost points with us was on design. There is a “dock” on the right-hand side that you can customize and minimize, but the main dash isn’t as flexible as Fidelity’s or E*TRADE’s. There’s also a panel on the bottom that you can’t get rid of, which made us a little nuts because it followed us everywhere, taking up screen real estate when we would have preferred to minimize it.

The rest of TD Ameritrade’s features were on par with Fidelity’s, and similarly it offered every kind of product with the exception of international markets. That said, at $9.99, it ties with E*TRADE for highest commission out of all our contenders.

Best Low-Cost Option: TradeKing

TradeKing This site is simple, functional, and the cheapest of the best.

The ultimate goal of investing is to make money, and a big part of making money is saving money in the first place. With TradeKing, you’ll get stock trades for $4.95, the lowest of our top contenders by up to $5 per trade — even for broker-assisted trades. There’s no minimum to invest, but you have to have at least a $2,500 balance 12 months in to avoid a $50 annual inactivity fee.

With TradeKing, you’ll lose the 24/7 support you get with Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, but as far as service and usability, that’s the only place it lost points. It offers almost as many investing options as our other leading contenders — everything except futures and trading on international markets.

The design here isn’t going to wow you, but it’s not bad either. It’s simple, and simple is better than the cluttered craziness of some other sites. TradeKing offers two web-based platforms, one that works for beginners and TradeKing Live, a streaming service that you can grow into as you advance.

We found its educational materials to be adequate. You can learn a lot on this site, and it does a great job of organizing the articles by security type, market outlook, and experience level (rookies, veterans, or all-stars). The company also gets extra points for fast customer service and active user forums. However, you don’t get the same hand-holding we wanted and liked at other sites. As Kiplinger says, “TradeKing is built for serious traders who trade actively and in large volumes.” But if you’re looking for the cheapest option, give this site a go.

One thing to note: TradeKing was recently acquired by Ally, but according to its site, the interface will stay the same, and “for the foreseeable future there’ll be no change in pricing for TradeKing clients, including Securities, Advisors, and Forex clients.”

Other Online Stock Trading Sites to Consider

Low-Cost Honorable Mention: OptionsHouse

While OptionsHouse has great prices and a low minimum, it is, as the name suggests, mostly for options traders — which most experts say aren’t a great starting choice for beginners. However, you can still buy stocks, bonds, and futures there, and it only charges $4.95 for commissions, so we didn’t want to leave it out entirely. Its educational resources are options-heavy, but it’s a popular platform and one worth considering if only for the savings.

Like TradeKing, you lose 24/7 support, but OptionsHouse offers phone, email, and chat when it’s open. Before beginners immediately want to write it off: OptionsHouse stocks your account with $5,000 of fake money so you can practice without the risk of losing a penny. And, if you have questions about your portfolio, it has a unique feature where advanced trading specialists hold “office hours.”

Best for Slightly Higher Rollers: Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab is a definite leader in the field, especially in the area of research, with reports from Morningstar, Argus, Ned Davis Research, Credit Suisse, Vickers, Reuters Research, and S&P. While this isn’t as many as Fidelity, it also provides its own proprietary reports, including Buy-Hold-Sell opinions, recommendations, and technical commentary on industries and specific investments. For all this information, its fees are high-ish, but not the highest, at $8.95 for stock trades.

We were excited by its avid trading community and the Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, a kind of robo-advisor that monitors and rebalances your portfolio, though you need to have accrued $5,000 in your account before you can use this feature.

It’s worth noting that Charles Schwab bought optionsXpress in 2011. Though it hasn’t integrated sites yet, the company said that’s the plan. For now, if a trader decides to use optionsXpress as well as Charles Schwab, their account information will be available jointly on the Schwab site.

Best Integrated Banking: Merrill Edge

If you’d like to do your banking alongside your trading, and especially if you’re a Bank of America customer already, Merrill Edge might be right for you. For Bank of America customers, the benefits include easy money transferring, one login for all your accounts on one screen, and bill pay. Most impressive was “My Financial Picture,” a budget tracker where you can label your transactions, similar to Mint.com.

If you’re not a Bank of America customer, you won’t benefit as much from this integration. However, BoA resources help beef up Merrill Edge’s education section, with additional research and data to help you invest smart, such as Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Global Research, an analysis service with information on more than 3,000 stocks. The “Portfolio Analysis X-Ray” evaluates your portfolio performance based on diversification, sector, and geographical distribution.

Best Site Customization: E*TRADE

As soon as you log in, E*TRADE asks which page you’d like to use as your landing page, such as Portfolios or Accounts. The design for its 360 Dashboard isn’t as visually pleasing as Fidelity’s dashboard, but its customization can’t be beat. Each widget (watch lists, alerts, and balances) can be dragged and dropped in any order you want. You can even play with the widths of how panels are displayed and customize the view.

It also offers a customizable alerts module, where you can choose a stock and get alerted on any number of events: high target, low target, daily percentage up or down, PE high or low target, and volume. The news alerts let you know if a stock upgrades or downgrades, is in play, or has earnings or a split notice. And, while it may look like you can only send the alerts to your email, it has a workaround to send them as texts as well.

To find a bond, E*TRADE appears to outsource this information, as we got sent to www.bonddesk.com/etrade, which is another company: Tradeweb. It looks just like E*TRADE’s dashboard, but you lose any of the customizable functionality.

Most Personalized Service: Scottrade

If individualized service is important to you, then Scottrade is going to be your best choice. Signing up is simple, and once you do, you’ll get a call welcoming you to the firm and letting you know where your nearest branch among its 500 is located. It hosts in-person seminars with titles ranging from “Strengthen Your Stock Analysis with Fundamentals” to “Recognize Chart Patterns to Spot Opportunities.” If you have questions, more than 1,500 investment consultants stand ready to assist you. Its pricing is also lower than average among our top picks, with stock commissions at $7 flat.

Online, the site is adequate. We weren’t impressed with the design (are those tab headers pixelated?) But its homepage has great customization capabilities, and we could find everything we needed when we needed it.

Best Online Stock Trading Sites: Summed Up

Did You Know?

Investments come in multiple shapes and sizes for different levels of expertise.

Not all investments are good for beginners and you should get a bit more experience before dipping your toes. As Barratt says, “New investors should keep far away from more complex vehicles like options and futures. A mix of funds and stocks is good for beginners.”

StocksBondsInt'lMutualFuturesOptionsForexETFs
TD Ameritrade XXXXXXX
FidelityXXXXXXX
TradeKingXXXXXX
Merrill EdgeXXXXX
ScottradeXXXX
Options HouseXXXXXX
Charles SchwabXXXXXX
E*TRADEXXXXXXX
  • Stocks: a portion of a company ownership. Imagine the company is like a cake, and you get a slice. If the cake grows, your slice grows. So the more valuable the company, the more valuable the stock you bought. Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. Level: beginner
  • Option: a contract between a buyer and a seller to buy or sell something at a specified price at a specified time, basically as a way to bet on the future price of an investment. Level: advanced
  • Bonds: a loan you make to a company or government in exchange for interest and the return of principle at some future date. If your city wants a new stadium, for example, it might issue a bond to pay for it. These investments are rated for safety by third-party companies, with AAA being the least risky. Level: beginner
  • Forex: short for foreign exchange, the ability to trade currencies on this market, which is the largest in the world, and speculate on what today’s yen, for example, will cost tomorrow. Level: advanced
  • Futures: short for futures contract. This is an agreement to buy or sell assets, such as commodities or shares, at a fixed price to be delivered and paid for at a later date. If you think you can speculate on next year’s price of gold, this fund is for you. Level: advanced
  • ETFs: short for exchange traded fund. These are investment funds that trade like a stock on a stock exchange, but their performance tracks an underlying basket of stocks. They provide diversification within one investment product, so they present lower risk than futures. Level: beginner

Expecting to get rich quick could cause you to lose everything.

Investing is above all a discipline, so come up with an investing strategy and stick with it. If any promise of riches comes with an expensive price tag for classes or seminars, it’s definitely too good to be true. The average long-term return on a stock is about 7 percent, so if you’re hovering around that on your accounts, you’re doing well.

“The most common mistake a new trader makes is they open a trade bigger than they should. They get all caught up in the idea that the stock market is the pot of gold. A new trader needs to trade with even a smaller size than they think and be happy with accumulating small wins.”

Pete Garner Investment writer

Unscrupulous trading firms are also a reality, so if you choose to go with a company that’s not on this list, make sure you spend at least 20-30 minutes researching it. Run from anyone who tells you they have insider information on a trade, or you might get the same rap sheet as Martha Stewart. Also be wary of anyone who is pressuring you or making you feel like this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. Overall, be very skeptical, do your research, and remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

How diversified your portfolio should be is a matter of how much risk you can take on.

“It’s an age-related question,” says Randy Cameron, a portfolio manager and investment advisor with 35 years of experience. “For a younger person, I’d be very aggressive on exposure to stocks, both large-, mid-, and small-cap stocks.” (Here, ‘cap’ stands for ‘capitalization.’ This just means how large or small a company is.) “I’d weight them at 85-90 percent of a portfolio,” says Cameron, “with the balance going to a bond, ETFs, and some cash.”

Younger investors, or investors without the financial responsibility of children, can handle more risk, Cameron explains. But as you get older or have children, you want to balance your portfolio with lower-risk investments, as you won’t have as much flexibility or time to make up for losses.

The Bottom Line

There’s a risk in investing, but don’t forget there’s also a risk in not investing — missing out on the power of compound interest. Use a site that has great learning tools and resources, diversify your portfolio, and stay disciplined and you’ll be one step closer to securing your future.

Take Action

Best Overall

Fidelity Fidelity is the best online stock trading site for beginners — and for pros, too.

Play with your own fake money. Give yourself a few thousand in fake money and play investor for a bit while you get the hang of it. “Just start. Even with just a virtual portfolio. Start and then commit to building over time,” says Barratt. “Don’t expect anything major to happen in a short time — build your money muscles by taking risks in a virtual portfolio.” TD Ameritrade offers paperMoney, its virtual trading platform. If you open an account, OptionsHouse offers its paperTRADE account to test your strategies. Outside of actual trading sites, MarketWatch and Investopedia offer simulators to get you started.

Buy what you know. Our experts suggest you begin by looking at your own life. “Buy what you know, where you are. If you can, identify good companies locally,” says Cameron. “Look for companies you and your friends are talking about, ones with plans to go national.” As for how much time and money you need, “start with what you have,” says Cameron. There is literally no minimum to get started. You can buy one share of a company if you like.

Don’t check your account too often. The best investors are in it for the long haul. Checking your account too often might make you react to the fluctuations in the market too quickly. Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has written that you should check your investments, “probably every few months, with a major review every year.” On many sites, you can also set an alert if a stock dives. Other than that, just set a quarterly recurring appointment so you know you’ll handle it at the right time.

If you’re saving for retirement, a recent John Oliver skit suggests you invest in low-cost index funds, “and leave it alone. You should check on it about as often as you Google whether or not Gene Hackman is still alive — about once a year.”

More Online Stock Trading Site Reviews

We’ve been looking into online stock trading sites for a few years now, and you can check out some of our other reviews. They aren’t consistent with our latest round of research (yet!) so be on the lookout for updates in the coming weeks: