The Best Online Stock Trading Sites
For every type of investor
We tapped into the expertise of two investors — one’s a former day trader, the other a financial commentator with 20 years of trading experience — to analyze the pricing structures of 13 of the best online stock trading sites. We also dug into each broker's research and tools, and took their platforms for a spin to find which one is best for different types of investors and strategies.
The Best Online Stock Trading Sites
Best for Cheap Trading: TradeKing
TradeKing leads the industry in low-cost commissions structure for all kinds of investors, from high net-worth individuals to beginning buy-and-hold traders. Even though a rash of brokers dropped their commissions in 2017 to be competitive with TradeKing’s $4.95 flat rate, it keeps an edge with a zero account minimum and enticing promotions for new clients — $1,000 in free trades on a $5,000 deposit, for example, and up to $150 back on any transfer charges you incur from your old brokerage. While cheaper trades can still be found (Robinhood’s mobile platform boasts totally commission-free stocks and ETFs, for example), TradeKing’s platform and resources stand out with quality research and tools, including access to its online trader network.
Best Options Broker: OptionsHouse
OptionsHouse is a top platform for pretty much any type of investor — but it’s the hands-down winner for anyone with an options focus. Like TradeKing, it’s been a longtime leader in rock-bottom pricing, with a flat $4.95 trade commission ($4.95 plus $0.50 per options contract) and, unlike many brokerages catering to active investors, no account minimums or inactivity fees. It’s also a standout with a streamlined interface, smart tools, and an options-first platform. It doesn’t offer currency trading, and has limited commission-free and transaction-free offerings, but its 2016 acquisition by E*Trade should help fill in those gaps as the two brokers continue merge.
Best for Beginners: Scottrade
If you’re looking for something with an easy learning curve, but endless of room to grow, we recommend Scottrade. For beginning investors, nothing beats in-person training, and Scottrade makes that the easiest to find with over 1,500 consultants across 500 branches nationwide. Branch appointments are free to book, and online chat tools and a hotline are there to guide you from anywhere in the world. If you’re looking to expand your investing over time, Scottrade is equipped to handle everything from entry-level IRAs to aggressive trading of stocks and options. Its 2016 acquisition by TD Ameritrade means Scottrade is primed to become a true powerhouse: By 2018, when the two brokers are scheduled to fully merge, Scottrade’s award-winning customer service will be supplemented with TD Ameritrade’s best-in-class platforms.
Best for Penny Stock Trading: E*Trade
When it comes to trading penny stocks, it’s all math — the easiest way to lose out on profits, other than a bad trade, is paying broker fees. E*Trade is one of two excellent options, particularly if you’re executing at least 30 trades a quarter, when its tiered pricing drops from $6.95 to $4.95. E*Trade’s pricing model is transparent and consistent, without hidden costs, meaning no surcharges for low-priced stocks and no additional fees on block orders under 1 million shares. That said, if you’re trading fewer than 30, we recommend going with Charles Schwab, which provides an equally excellent platform, experience, and offerings, with a flat $4.95 rate no matter how many penny stocks you’re trading.
Best Platform: TD Ameritrade
TD Ameritrade offers two best-in-class platforms, designed for two types of investors. Trade Architect is good for beginners, or anyone who prefers a simplified, educational interface that can walk them through the ordering process and explain potential strategies. Thinkorswim, on the other hand, is a powerhouse designed for advanced investors. This platform regularly racks up praise and awards and offers superior tools and features — including research reports, real-time data, charts, and technical studies. Both platforms are free to use for any investor with a TD Ameritrade account, which for many investors makes the $6.95 commission worth it.
Best Research & Tools: Fidelity
Fidelity wins for its quantity and quality of trading and investing research — ideal for the DIY investor looking to unleash their potential. Featuring research from more than 20 providers, plus stellar execution, it’s no surprise Fidelity was awarded best overall online stock broker in 2016 by both Barron’s and Kiplinger. And Fidelity shows no signs of slowing down. In early 2017, Fidelity lowered its commissions from $7.95 to $4.95, a sign that it’s looking to become a bigger player in the discount scene, as opposed to the high net-worth individuals it historically has catered to. It still reserves some of its tools and features for high-volume, active traders, but looking forward, Fidelity is going to get harder and harder to beat.
Best for Day Traders: Interactive Brokers
Interactive Brokers offers a robust, agile option best suited for a full-time or advanced day trader. It beats the competition in low commissions – $0.005 per share and, for options trading, just a 70 cent charge per contract. Its fast platform is considered one of the best, with standout features like a Fund/ETF Replicator, “mosaic” display, and integrations with many top-notch data sources (Bloomberg, S&P Capital IQ, etc.). Its ultra-low cost structure means more than just day traders may find it appealing, but a hefty $10,000 minimum investment for most traders, plus inactivity fees that depend on your account balance, will keep most sleepy buy-and-hold traders away.
How We Found the Best Online Stock Trading Sites
It’s a tumultuous time for online stock brokers. The players have largely remained the same, but between significant cuts in commissions and a few major acquisitions (E*Trade acquired OptionsHouse; TD Ameritrade and Scottrade merged; TradeKing now lives under Ally Bank), the competition is fierce.
This is all to say there is no one best online stock broker, but each one has different strengths and weaknesses. Our mission is to spotlight those, and help you find the best one for your investing style.
We leveraged the expertise of two stock traders — a former day trader and a financial commentator who has been trading for over 20 years — to dig into 13 of the most popular online stock trading sites.
Different investors are going to prioritize different things — a day trader, for example, requires speed and flexibility; whereas a beginning trader may value educational resources and customer support. But one thing every trader should care about is cost, so we spent a lot of time balancing price with what each site offered. A few of the fees we analyzed include:
Cost per transaction: Commissions are typically an investor’s biggest cost base. In 2016, a typical unassisted transaction fee averaged about $8, but early 2017 saw a slew of brokers decrease their commission, including Fidelity, E*Trade, and TD Ameritrade. Now, many trade for as low as $4.95, which is where, historically, only a few brokers, like TradeKing and OptionsHouse, operated. No matter what the price, though, transparency is key. We wanted to see affordable pricing structures that were locked in for the long haul.
We also took note of new customer promotions, where brokers give you a chunk of free trades, usually based on how much you deposit. Promotions change regularly, but they can be a good indicator of the type of investor a broker is a good fit for. (TradeKing, for example, offers incentives for deposits as low as $500, whereas Fidelity Investments has a higher barrier for entry — a $50,000 deposit to get 300 free trades.) Another thing we compared: how many commission-free ETFs a broker offered.
Account minimums: Seeing your nest egg shrink due to a tough market or bad strategy isn’t fun. It’s worse if you’re also getting dinged by your broker’s minimum account balance requirement.
Charges for data, research, and tools: All the best online stock trading sites have quality market data like real-time quotes, educational resources, and stock-screening tools built right into their platforms. But some, like Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, stand out for also providing top-shelf resources, totally free of charge.
Extra costs: There are lots of brokers that boast having financial experts on-call 24 hours a day to help you make a trade, but don’t tell you those services come with additional fees. (Executing a trade over the phone, for example, can increase an $8 commission fee to $25 or more.) Some platforms do offer free education on sophisticated strategies like options and futures, but require an upgraded platform with an annual fee.
There are plenty of additional fees that may crop up along the way (we discuss some of the more common ones here), but for pretty much every investor, cheaper will always be better. Depending on your strategy — trading on margin, for example — increased fees might just be the cost of doing business, but we looked to mitigate these costs in our top picks.
Alongside cost, we also valued educational resources, reports and tools, and the usability of the platform itself. Our expert users took each broker for a test-drive and weighed in on standout features. We also took ratings from investment publications like Barron’s and Kiplinger into account.
Our Picks for the Best Online Stock Trading Sites
You’re not going to find lower fees than TradeKing. In a nutshell: It’s the most affordable broker there is, with a rock-bottom commission structure and enticing rebates, plus a quality platform that gives you access to the entire universe of stocks and ETFs. Where some discount brokers focus on only one kind of trader — options, for example, or high-net-worth investors — TradeKing provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds.
It’s the blend of great trading tools with low prices that makes TradeKing a standout. A focus on discount costs can be a red flag for quality (what is it skimping on?), but TradeKing truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Our expert users were particularly impressed with its online Trader Network, a sort of real-time chat within the platform, which gives users a chance to witness the experiences of real people. For them, it was a great way to get new ideas they may have missed by just skimming the headlines. TradeKing also offers a robust research library that incorporates visual slides and interactive media into its market data.
Let’s dig into that discount pricing. At $4.95 a trade, TradeKing’s fee structure is the lowest out there, matched (but never beat) by other players. Those low fees alone make it one of the best discount brokers, but TradeKing sweetens the pot even more with valuable perks for new customers, like $1,000 in rebates if you deposit at least $5,000. Even if you only deposit $500, you’ll still score $500 in free trade commission. Dreading the hassle of transitioning to a new platform? TradeKing takes the sting out of it by offering $150 back in transfer charges. There are also rebates for balance transfers and wire fees, which your current broker may ding you with if you cash out your account.
We’re not the only ones who think TradeKing is a remarkable service. Barron’s has rated it at least 4 out of 5 stars for the past 10 years, and it regularly racks up kudos for its offerings with StockBrokers.com. But in 2017, there was a rash of price slashing from pretty much every top-tier discount broker, and the competition is getting stiffer.
Case in point: Fidelity stands out by offering a suite of commission-free index funds under its own name, while also keeping it cost-effective to explore the rest of the market (TradeKing, by comparison, has no commission-free offerings; Vanguard, as another example, charges as much as $20 a transaction if you want to trade stocks or funds by another provider). Fidelity also has an award-winning reputation and best-in-class research tools, ranking as the number one online stock broker in 2016 with both Barron’s and Kiplinger. Fidelity dropped its pricing from $6.95 to match the $4.95 flat rate of TradeKing, but its perks aren’t quite as sweet for newcomers, and its barrier for entry is higher: You need to fund your account with at least $2,500, and it requires a $50,000 deposit to score the 300 commission-free trades it offers as a sign-up bonus.
In 2016, Ally Bank acquired TradeKing. Since then, its interface, trading platforms, offerings, and pricing have remained the same, but we’re anticipating changes to start rolling out by mid-2017.
|Stocks & ETFs||$4.95||$4.95|
|Options||$4.95, plus $0.65 per contract||$4.95, plus $0.75 per contract|
*Once a year, TradeKing will charge a $50 fee for accounts that have either a minimum balance below $2,500 or have not made at least one commission-charged trades in the past 12 months. Fidelity requires a $2,500 deposit to open an account.
One of the most affordable platforms there is, with rock-bottom pricing and enticing promotions. Even better — it's a discount broker that doesn't skimp on tools or research.
Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $0
Promotion: $1,000 commission-free trades with $5,000 deposit
If you already have a firm handle on your investment strategy and want to maximize your profits, OptionsHouse is excellent. What it lacks in some of the investor education features that competitors like TD Ameritrade can claim, it makes up for with its low-cost, options-specific trading platform.
OptionsHouse’s biggest draw is its pricing structure: $4.95 plus $0.50 per contract, with absolutely no minimum to join or to maintain an account. A single-leg options contract is $5.45 all-in. Even better, the low prices apply to futures and stock trades as well, giving you a cost-effective way to manage your entire portfolio. (Who wants the hassle and cost of multiple brokers for multiple things?)
Along with competitive pricing, OptionsHouse has one of the most accessible platforms around: clean design, loads of information, and truly user-friendly tools. Trigger Alerts lets users set up their accounts to automatically purchase an order based on a particular scenario. For example, you can set an alert to buy any number of shares of one stock if its direct competitor falls by a certain percentage. When that’s triggered, you get an alert on any device that lets you confirm the purchase or ignore in one simple reply. Tools like tradeLAB help dissect options spread, with green smiley faces for the statistical probability of making a profit, and red frowns for a loss. OptionsHouse also offers a “dime buyback program” that makes it easy to close any short options without paying commission fees.
Barron’s named OptionsHouse “Best for Options Traders” and gave it a 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, and a perfect 5 for its mobile performance (even though customers on Yelp seem to complain about a glitchy mobile app). But while it’s one of our favorite platforms overall, it’s not the only one that executes options well.
Beginners to the more advanced world of options may feel more comfortable with the resources and education that TD Ameritrade excels at, including on-demand videos that show each click of a trade, webinars on strategy, and in-person tutorials at physical branches. (Since E*Trade acquired OptionsHouse in late 2016, we can anticipate a merger of tools, services, and support that will help OptionsHouse grow here, although it hasn’t happened yet.)
If you’re trading hundreds or thousands of options contracts each month, there may be a few services that charge lower commissions with volume discounts. Interactive Brokers, our pick for day traders, charges $0.005 per share or $0.70 per contract, which could end up being more cost-effective.
OptionsHouse does fall short in mutual funds — it charges $20 per trade, as opposed to TradeKing’s $9.95 — currency trading, and commission-free ETFs, but for options traders who know what they’re doing, it’s one of the best platforms available.
|OptionsHouse||TD Ameritrade||Interactive Brokers|
|Stocks & ETFs||$4.95||$6.95||$0.005 per share|
|Options||$4.95, plus $0.50 per contract||$6.95, plus $0.75 per contract||$0.70 per contract|
*Account minimum is $3,000 for clients 25 years or younger
An options-first broker that leads the competition in both price and platform. It stands out for having no minimum to join or to maintain an account.
Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $0
Promotion: $1,000 commission-free trades with $5,000 deposit
New investors need two things from their online stock trading platform: an easy learning curve and lots of room to grow. Scottrade has both — and since it was acquired by TD Ameritrade in 2016, it’s now half of a two-part powerhouse that will be hard to beat. (The two brokerages “anticipate clearing conversion” in 2018.)
Scottrade’s real boon — and the reason why it’s such a powerful option for beginning investors — is its access to real people. Customer service has always been a major aspect of Scottrade’s offerings (it’s won awards for it) and for most people, there is no amount of reading and research that can replace sitting down with someone when you need help. Scottrade boasts some 1,500 consultants across 500 nationwide branches, plus seminars and conferences. Making a branch appointment costs nothing, and there are online chat tools and a customer service hotline to boot.
Scottrade is also a full-service brokerage, offering everything from entry-level IRAs to aggressive day trading of stocks and options. As young investors develop, their needs can change, but it’s virtually impossible to outgrow Scottrade. It can scale without the hassle or added cost of opening a new account with a new brokerage.
The downside to Scottrade’s personalized approach is that it comes with higher fees. Yes, there are plenty of promotional offers, including 60 days of free transactions, but it has a base rate of $7 per stock or ETF trade. If you’re active, that is going to add up fast — and even if you keep your investments small, fees can take a hefty swipe out of your nest egg. (Imagine you invest $2,500 across five different stocks at $500 each — you’ve lost 1.4 percent of your portfolio through fees, and will lose that $35 again if you place orders to sell.)
If fees are enough to turn you away from the support system Scottrade offers, Robinhood could be a good alternative. For young investors who want to learn in real time how to trade with real money, Robinhood makes it easy with an incredibly friendly mobile platform and literally no fees for trading US-listed stocks and ETFs. Robinhood makes its money by “collecting interest from customers who choose to upgrade to a margin account” (not recommended for beginners) and by “accruing interest for customers’ uninvested cash balances” (we say, just get a checking account).
That said, Robinhood is light on investor education, which is intimidating if you’re so new you don’t know what you’re investing in and why. And that’s where our other pick for beginners, Fidelity, shines — particularly if you’re a self-starter who learns best by digging into the data on your own. Fidelity lets you customize its research tools to present the information you want in the way you want to see it, using everything from color-coded ranks to annotated charts. It also has a best-in-class Learning Center, with videos, tool demos, webinars, articles, and more. This might end up being information overload, especially if you’re interested in opening an account just to make a couple of buy-and-hold trades. (If that’s the case, we recommend a platform that keeps fees low, like Robinhood, and the experience easy, like Scottrade.) But for those ready to really — invest — in their investing, Fidelity is hard to beat.
|Stocks & ETFs||$7||Free||$4.95|
|Options||$7, plus $0.70 per contract||N/A||$4.95, plus $0.75 per contract|
A broker you can't outgrow, plus award-winning, in-person customer support to help new investors learn the ropes.
Trade commission: $7
Account minimum: $2,500
Promotion: 50 commission-free trades with $10,000 deposit
Finding the best broker for penny stocks is really an analysis of rates, and E*Trade actually ties with Charles Schwab as our top pick. Both are robust platforms that check all the boxes when it comes to the high-stakes world of small and low-priced companies: no surcharges for low-priced stocks, reasonable volume restriction, no costly add-ons, and a low minimum account balance. We recommend E*Trade for investors who are making at least 30 trades a quarter — that’s where E*Trade’s tiered pricing structure breaks to make it as cost-effective as Charles Schwab. Less than 30? Go with Schwab.
We had pretty strict standards for picking penny stock platforms, especially when it comes to volume restriction. If you like a stock trading for 1 cent and want to invest $1,000, you’ll be purchasing 100,000 shares. Any broker that charges for large trades, or requires you to break them into multiple orders, is obviously not going to be a good fit. We looked for platforms that only started charging additional fees at block orders of a million shares — plenty for most investors.
After that, it’s just math. E*Trade has a transparent, straightforward pricing model that starts at $6.95 and ratchets down to $4.95 for over 30 trades per quarter. On the surface, that’s not so different than lots of the competition. But take OptionsHouse, which E*Trade actually acquired in 2016. OptionsHouse is known for its super-low fees, but buried in the fine print, OptionsHouse says it actually charges $0.0005 per share on penny stocks. Let’s compare the two, imagining you execute 500 transactions in the quarter for about 50,000 shares each. That adds up to about a $500 transaction for a stock trading at 1 cent — pretty modest overall.
E*Trade Commission Structure
|First 30 Trades||$6.95 per trade||$208.50|
|Next 470 trades||$4.95 per trade||$2,326.50|
OptionsHouse Commission Structure
|500 trades||$4.95 per trade||$2,475|
|50,000 shares per trade||$0.0005 per share||$12,500|
Even though the flat rates are the same after 30 trades, the per-share fee can really rack up if you’re trading a high volume of low-priced shares.
Beyond the math, though, E*Trade and Charles Schwab are very similar. In 2016, Barron’s rated them within one point of each other, and you can trust both these veteran brokers to have the resources, research, tools, and platforms to accommodate penny stock trading and far beyond.
|Stocks & ETFs||$4.95 - $6.95 per trade*||$4.95 flat rate|
|Options||$4.95, plus $0.50 per contract*
$6.95, plus $0.75 per contract
|$4.95, plus $0.65 per contract|
*Fees drop from $6.95 to $4.95 at 30 trades per quarter
No surcharges for low-priced stocks, reasonable volume restriction, and a low minimum account balance make E*Trade a solid penny stock trader — especially for over 30 trades per quarter.
Trade commission: $4.95 - $6.95
Account minimum: $500
Promotion: 60 days of commission-free trades with $10,000 deposit
TD Ameritrade Review
TD Ameritrade has been a powerful player in the online stock trading ecosystem for years, and even though its pricing structure is more expensive than some of the other discount brokers, there are many traders who think its best-in-class trading platforms, Trade Architect and thinkorswim, are worth it.
Trade Architect is often in the shadow of thinkorswim, but the web-based platform is streamlined and easy to use, and particularly appealing to beginning investors. It has a tab-based navigation that lets users flip between trading tools and their account overview, plus charts, stock screeners, heat maps, and more. Its Trade Finder feature is an excellent tool for novices, allowing investors to make some selections (think direction, timing, allocation), and then walking them through the ordering process while spotlighting different strategies that map to their selected guidelines. All-up, Trade Architect achieves a good balance of key information without being overwhelming.
Thinkorswim, on the other hand, is designed for advanced investors. It’s a desktop application that gives TD Ameritrade customers free access to tools and features that pretty much any other broker would charge a premium for, including research reports, real-time data, charts, and technical studies. Customizable workspaces, extensive third-party research, and a thriving trader chat room where investors can share strategies and tips are also included. Where Trade Architect keeps information overload in check, thinkorswim is a firehose.
Thinkorswim is a standout especially in options trading, with quick-to-get options-trading tabs (just click “spread” if you want a spread, and “single order” if you want one leg) plus just-in-time links that explain the strategies on the order page. Its Strategy Roller feature lets investors create custom covered calls and then roll those positions from expiration to expiration. There’s also a fully functional mobile app.
The flipside to such robust platforms is cost. Even though TD Ameritrade lowered its fees in 2017 from $9.99 to $6.95, pretty much every other major discount broker slashed its prices too — Fidelity, for example, dipped from $7.95 to $4.95. That means TD Ameritrade remains one of the more expensive options out there, even with over 100 commission-free ETFs. That said, it continues to be one of the largest trading platforms in the world, with nearly $740 billion in assets, and has ranked as the best platform for novices by Barron’s five years running. Since it acquired Scottrade, our favorite platform for beginners, in 2016, we can predict it will continue getting better and better over the coming years.
|Stocks & ETFs||$6.95 flat rate||$4.95 flat rate|
|Options||$6.95, plus $0.75 per contract||$4.95, plus $0.75 per contract|
TD Ameritrade hosts Trade Architect and thinkorswim, two of the best-known platforms in the industry, and available to anyone with an account.
Trade commission: $6.95
Account minimum: $0
Promotion: 60 days of commission-free trades with $3,000 deposit
If there’s a way to slice and dice the market, Fidelity has thought about it. Its platform wins for user-friendly design, plus there are tons of educational resources for deeper research. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer who enjoys geeking out over data and analysis, Fidelity’s tools will help take the guesswork out of finding funds and nosing out strategies.
We admired Fidelity’s platform that lets you explore your options with a slick and intuitive design, complete with color-coded rankings and charts that call out what’s important. You can sort stocks by size, performance, and even criteria like sales growth or profit growth. Want to sort ETFs by the sectors they focus on, or their expenses? Done. There’s even a box to check if you want to only explore Fidelity’s commission-free offerings. A few other discount brokers do offer screeners, but none match the depth and user-friendliness of Fidelity’s.
When it comes to research, Fidelity is pretty much in a league of its own. The intellectually curious can dive into research from more than 20 providers, including Recognia, Ned Davis, and McLean Capital Management. Fidelity’s Learning Center featured videos are organized by topic – including not just the concept, but also how to apply those concepts to your own investments using the Fidelity platform. It’s a powerful way to learn investing techniques and immediately put them to practice.
Fidelity’s accolades keep stacking up. Kiplinger’s 2016 Online Broker Survey ranked Fidelity best overall against seven other major brokers. Investor’s Business Daily ranked Fidelity among its top five brokers based on site performance, research tools, and customer service. Barron’s 2016 Online Broker Survey compared 16 platforms, and awarded Fidelity with the top overall score of 34.9 out of a possible 40.0, stating, “Fidelity Investments made it to the top this year due to the variety of trading and investing tools, and the quality of its trade execution.”
Better yet, Fidelity dropped its commission fees from $7.95 to $4.95 in February 2017, making it competitive with other historically low-cost platforms like TradeKing and OptionsHouse.
That said, some of Fidelity’s advanced tools are only available to high-volume traders (for example, charting with Recognia requires a significant 120 trades per year to use, and its Active Trader Pro requires 36 trades per year). TD Ameritrade stands out in contrast by offering its premium tools to anyone with an account. With that said, even Fidelity’s basic tools are high-quality enough to make it a top pick.
Industry-leading research from over 20 providers make this the go-to broker for do-it-yourselfers who want to dig deep into the data.
Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $2,500
Promotion: 300 commission-free trades with $50,000 deposit
Interactive Brokers Review
Interactive Brokers has everything a full-time day trader needs. Its platform incorporates speed with flexibility — working quickly to integrate research and execute orders, while synchronizing with a growing number of tools and services. But where it really stands out is price. If you’re after low fees, there’s no need to shop around. Supporting nearly 600,000 trades a day, it’s one of the largest electronic brokerages in the United States. And because of its sheer size and popularity, it’s able to offer competitive pricing that other day trading platforms simply can’t match.
The Interactive Brokers platform is fast and inexpensive to use, and also comes with unique features ideal for a day trader. Take its Mutual Fund/ETF Replicator, which lets you replicate and customize holdings of an existing mutual funds or ETF. This is a quick way to invest in a sector, while filtering out any components you don’t want, for fewer fees and lower overall cost. Users can list the mutual fund or ETF they’re interested in, plus an initial investment amount. The tool lets you compare similarly performing ETFs with the recommended number of shares to achieve that performance.
Interactive Brokers also makes it easy to integrate your account data with almost any third-party service you already use for portfolio and order management, post-trade allocations, or compliance monitoring. And, because speed is critical when buying and selling, the platform’s “Mosaic view” lets you update your workspace in one click. Within seconds, you’ll see updated charts and newsfeeds — and you can even auto-fill order entries.
Barron’s gave Interactive Brokers a 4.5-star rating in its 2016 survey of best online brokers, narrowly losing the top spot to Fidelity by just one-tenth of a point. For day trading specifically, TradeStation and Lightspeed are also top contenders. Lightspeed’s platform is highly customizable, and TradeStation integrates more third-party research into its platform with plugins.
|Stocks and ETFs|
$0.005 per share with $1 minimum and a maximum of 0.5% of trade value*
* Certain commission-free ETFs can be bought at zero cost to you
$5 per trade or as low as $0.006 per share (200+ trades / month)
$0.0045 per share, with a $4.50 minimum*
* Fewer than 250,000 stock/ETF shares; higher volume results in cheaper rates.
$0.70 per contract, with a minimum order of $1.00 **
** Based on a premium of greater than 0.1 and 10,000 contracts or less each month.
$5 per trade + $0.50 per contract, or a $1.00 flat rate (200+ trades / month)
$0.60 per contract (for fewer than 500/month)
$0.85 per contract
$1.20 per contract (300 or fewer futures contracts)
$0.60 per contract
While Interactive Brokers offers low-cost, high-volume trading, it’s not designed for the beginner. For most accounts, Interactive Brokers requires a $10,000 minimum investment and will deduct an inactivity fee if you don’t meet the minimum monthly trade commission (ranging from $10 to $20). New traders might find the complex interface (plus the lack of training resources) too complicated to use.
For anyone considering moving to the platform, Interactive Brokers gives you the option to first sign up with a free paper-trading account. With the trial account, you can try out the tools and customizations in a simulated market before going live. And, if you do go live, the platform saves any personalized pages, tabs, or preferences that you’ve set up. If you’re serious about trading, Interactive Brokers’ low commission fees and sophisticated interface make this platform ideal for the serious day trader.
Did You Know?
Investments come in multiple shapes and sizes for different levels of expertise.
*Offers commission-free or transaction-free trading
- Stocks: a portion of a company ownership. The more valuable the company, the more valuable its stock. Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. Level: beginner
- 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
- 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
- Options: 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
- 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
- Forex: short for foreign exchange. This market is for trading currencies and speculating on what today’s yen, for example, will cost tomorrow. Level: advanced
Cheaper is always better for investors.
Warren Buffett is the best example to hit this point home. In 2008, he bet some hedge fund managers $1 million that they wouldn’t be able to make more money in a decade than a cheap, boring index fund. An index fund has a fixed portfolio of stocks that never change — and therefore don’t accrue a lot of fees – while more complex hedge fund strategies may pivot and rack up big costs along the way.
Buffett is so far ahead that he’ll almost certainly come out the winner when the contest ends in 2018. He’s beating his high-priced peers not because he’s scoring bigger gains, but because he reduced costs.
Let’s say you put $1,000 in a stock and the investment goes up to $1,200. Broker fees can have a big impact on your net returns — that is, your total investment profits after fees.
|$1,000||10%||$10 to buy, $10 to sell||$1,080||8%|
|$1,000||10%||2% of assets, 20% of profit||$1,060||6%|
In order to beat that “two and twenty” fee structure, your investment has to perform really well to offset the additional costs — something that is a lot harder to control in the long term than costs.
A Few Other Fees and Costs to be Aware Of
Broker fees are typically where most costs add up, but your investing strategy can also be a big source of expenses and fees.
The capital gains tax rate favors long-term investments. An investor who buys and sells their stocks within a few months will face a higher capital gains tax rate (25 percent) on their profits than an investor who buys and holds their stocks for a full year (15 percent). If you’re looking at a $10,000 profit, waiting those extra months could make a full $1,000 difference. Granted, there’s a risk to holding an investment, but if you’re close to that one-year cutoff, it might be worth it to sit tight for a few more weeks.
Mutual funds and ETFs come with their own set of fees too. Like broker fees, pay attention to the expense ratio (usually a percentage) of any mutual funds or ETFs you purchase in your account, even if you’re buying them commission-free. These extra fees are another big cost to investors, but they aren’t deducted from your account balance. Instead, these fees show up in the price on the ticker tape. That’s why many high-priced mutual funds’ and ETFs’ value per share doesn’t seem to change over time — any growth is offset by fees.
Also watch out for mutual funds that charge a front- or back-end load for each purchase or sale. These usually range from 0.5% to 1% and can add up quickly.
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 Randy Cameron, a portfolio manager and investment advisor with 35 years of experience. “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,” he says. 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.
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: