Latest Update: May 1, 2017

The Best Online Stock Trading Sites

For every type of investor

What it's best for:

Website:

Stock Fees:

Account Minimum:

Types of Trading:

Best for Cheap Trading

$4.95

$0

Stocks, Bonds, ETFs, Options, Mutual, Futures, Forex

Best for Active Traders

$4.95

$0

Stocks, Bonds, ETFs, Options, Mutual, Futures

Best for Beginners

$.50 + $4.95 (base; 30+trades)

$500

Stocks, Bonds, ETFs, Options, Mutual, Futures, Forex

Best Platform

$6.95

$0

Stocks, Bonds, ETFs, Options, Mutual, Futures, Forex

Best Research & Tools

$4.95

$2,500

Stocks, Bonds, ETFs, Options, Mutual, Int'l, Forex

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.

Our Picks for the Best Online Stock Trading Sites

Ally Invest Review

Best for Cheap Trading

Ally Invest Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $0

You’re not going to find lower fees than Ally Invest, especially as an active investor. In a nutshell: It’s the most affordable broker there is, with a rock-bottom commission structure and easy entry point, 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 — Ally Invest provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds.

It’s the blend of great trading tools with low prices that makes Ally Invest a standout. A focus on discount costs can be a red flag for quality (what is it skimping on?), but Ally Invest truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Ally Invest 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, Ally Invest’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 they also have no inactivity charge and only a $50 full outgoing transfer fee. If you’re an active investor, 30+ trades per quarter or $100,000+ balance, you get a discount that takes equity trades down to $3.95. That significant discount makes Ally Invest the cheapest platform for active investors.

We’re not the only ones who think Ally Invest is a remarkable service. Barron’s has rated Ally Invest’s past self, TradeKing, at least 4 out of 5 stars for the past 10 years, and it regularly racked 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 dropped its pricing from $6.95 to match the $4.95 flat rate of Ally Invest, but its perks aren’t quite as accessible 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. Vanguard, as another example, charges as much as $20 a transaction if you want to trade stocks or funds by another provider.

May 19th 2017 – Previously acquired by Ally Bank, TradeKing has been rebranded into Ally Bank’s own online trading platform, Ally Invest. Much of their interface, low prices, and offerings have remained the same, but some promotions and discounts are no longer offered. This review has been updated to reflect these changes.

March 16th 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.

Ally Invest Fidelity
Stocks & ETFs $4.95 $4.95
Options $4.95, plus $0.65 per contract $4.95, plus $0.75 per contract
Account Minimum $0* $0*

*Fidelity requires a $2,500 deposit to open an account.

Ally Invest One of the most affordable platforms there is, with rock-bottom pricing and excellent tools. Even better — it's a discount broker that doesn't skimp on research or customer service.

Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $0

OptionsHouse Review

Best for Active Traders

OptionsHouse 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 E*Trade and TD Ameritrade can claim, it makes up for with its low-cost, streamlined 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. Whether you prefer to trade via desktop, tablet, or mobile, its customizable interface seamlessly transitions between all three — though, admittedly, customers seem to love or hate the app.

Beginners to the more advanced world of options may feel more comfortable with the resources and education that E*Trade and TD Ameritrade excel 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.)

OptionsHouse does fall short in mutual funds — it charges $20 per trade, as opposed to Ally Invest’s $9.95 — currency trading, and commission-free ETFs, but for the active trader who know what they’re doing, it’s one of the best platforms available.

OptionsHouse TD Ameritrade E*Trade
Stocks & ETFs $4.95 $6.95 $4.95 - $6.95 per trade*
Options $4.95, plus $0.50 per contract $6.95, plus $0.75 per contract $4.95, plus $0.50 per contract* $6.95, plus $0.75 per contract
Account Minimum $0 $0 $500

*Fees drop from $6.95 to $4.95 at 30 trades per quarter

OptionsHouse 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

E*Trade Review

Best for Beginners

E*TRADE Trade commission: $4.95 - $6.95
Account minimum: $500
Promotion: 60 days of commission-free trades with $10,000 deposit

New investors need two things from their online stock trading platform: an easy learning curve and lots of room to grow. E*Trade has both. Their platform boasts a library of educational videos, articles, and webinars for each type of investor. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, read up on market news, reports, and commentary from E*Trade analysts.

The only real drawback to E*Trade: Commission fees start at $6.95. It’s not until investors make more than 30 trades a quarter that the fees drop down to $4.95 that OptionsHouse and Ally Invest off up-front. While E*Trade can’t match OptionsHouse or Ally Invest’s low flat fees, it racks up points for its transparent pricing model. 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. With E*Trade, there are no surcharges for low-priced stocks and no inactivity or other surprise add-on fees.

For new investors, we also liked TD Ameritrade's platform, Trade Architect, which walks you through the ordering process as you use the interface. But when it comes to commission fees, TD Ameritrade falls short. Its fees stay at $6.95 per trade, for stocks, ETFs, and options. E*Trade does require an investment minimum for new brokerage accounts ($500), but for most investors, you’ll need at least that much to see real growth.

E*Trade Commission Structure

Fees Subtotal
First 30 Trades $6.95 per trade $208.50
Next 470 trades $4.95 per trade $2,326.50
Total Commissions $2,535

OptionsHouse Commission Structure

Fees Subtotal
500 trades $4.95 per trade $2,475
50,000 shares per trade $0.0005 per share $12,500
Total Commissions $14,975

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.

E*Trade TD Ameritrade
Stocks & ETFs $4.95 - $6.95 per trade* $6.95
Options $4.95, plus $0.50 per contract*
$6.95, plus $0.75 per contract
$6.95, plus $0.75 per contract
Account Minimum $500 $0

*Fees drop from $6.95 to $4.95 at 30 trades per quarter

E*TRADE 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

Best Trading Platform

TD Ameritrade Trade commission: $6.95
Account minimum: $0
Promotion: 60 days of commission-free trades with $3,000 deposit

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.

TD Ameritrade Fidelity
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
Account Minimum $0 $0

TD Ameritrade 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

Fidelity Review

Best Research & Tools

Fidelity Trade commission: $4.95
Account minimum: $2,500
Promotion: 300 commission-free trades with $50,000 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 Ally Invest 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.

Fidelity 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

Did You Know?

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

Stocks

Bonds

ETFs

Options

Mutual

Futures

Int’l

Forex

Ally Invest

X X X X X X X

Options House

X X X* X X X

E*Trade

X X X* X X* X X

TD Ameritrade

X X X* X X* X X

Fidelity

X X X* X X* X X

*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.

Initial Investment

Gross Gains

Fees

Final Balance

Net Profit

$1,000 10% None $1,100 10%
$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.

Take Action

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: