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Best Online Stock Brokers for Stock Trading

Interactive Brokers

- Professional Trading
Current Offer: Trade on over 100 market centers in 24 countries.

Designed for professional traders serious about their craft, Interactive Brokers only offers per-share pricing ($.005 per share with a $1 minimum per trade) and charges up to $20 per month between two minimum activity fees. Traders that can meet its $100,000 minimum deposit for margin trading are rewarded with an industry-leading commissions schedule, margin rates, and support for international trading. Read more...

Choosing the Best Online Brokerage

When looking for any new online broker it is important to make sure to meet your most important needs as an investor. Are low cost trade commissions most important? What about customer service, the trade platform, mobile trading, active trading, or a community to trade alongside? With many brokers specializing in different areas comparing all the possibilities is key.

Here is a list of most important factors to keep in mind when selecting an online brokerage:

Best Trading Tools

Based on 58 different variables, here is a summary of the top five brokers for stock trading tools and trade platforms.

  1. TD Ameritrade - Scored 99%
  2. TradeStation - Scored 92%
  3. Fidelity - Scored 90%
  4. Charles Schwab - Scored 88%
  5. Interactive Brokers - Scored 86%

To trade online successfully, some investors rely purely on their trading tools. Today’s trading platforms are not only web-based but also desktop-based, and are increasingly becoming mobile-based as well. Advanced charting, options tools, screeners, hot keys, virtual trading, watch lists, ladders, Level II quotes and back-testing are just a sampling of the functionality brokers make available to their clients.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it is not just the trading tools that separate the brokers, but the design, depth, speed, and overall execution of delivering the ultimate trading experience.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it is not just the trading tools that separate the brokers, but the design, depth, speed, and overall execution of delivering the ultimate trading experience. This is where brokers such as TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim and TradeStation really differentiate themselves. After spending hundreds of hours on both desktop platforms, we give thinkorswim the edge, thanks to its modern feel and stand out trader tools; however, both platforms execute so well that it truly comes down to personal preference. Die-hard fans exist for both and either one is a great choice for seasoned active traders.

TD Ameritrade thinkorswim

Behind thinkorswim and TradeStation, Fidelity’s Active Trader Pro and Schwab’s StreetSmart Edge are two other desktop platforms worth a close look. Active Trader Pro and StreetSmart Edge have one distinct advantage over thinkorswim and TradeStation, and that is ease of use. While these platforms do not offer the same depth of trading tools, historical data, chart studies, etc., both platforms are very well designed and are easy to adapt to. In some respects, their balance of power and design make them a better fit for certain traders.

Fidelity Active Trader Pro platform

Unfortunately, not all active trader platforms are free to use or available to all clients. For example, to gain complete access to Fidelity’s Active Trader Pro offering, 36 trades or more must be placed in a rolling 12-month period. Similarly, ETRADE Pro requires at least 30 trades per quarter or $250,000 in assets. Scottrade limits its active trader ScottradeELITE platform to clients who have at least $25,000 in assets. Lastly, both TradeStation and Lightspeed charge $99.95 and $100 per month, respectively for access to their flagship platforms if certain minimums aren’t met. Platform fees and minimums are set in place to keep costs under control, and while these serve simply as examples, investors should be aware of them if they are considering an online broker based solely on its platform.

For investors who prefer a web-focused experience, there are many great browser-based platforms to consider. Our top pick again this year, OptionsHouse, combines the best of both worlds: ease of use with fantastic trading tools. The platform is just “ok” for equities trading, however is terrific for options trading. See: Best Brokers for Options Trading.

OptionsHouse option analysis

Ultimately, TD Ameritrade takes the overall No. 1 spot for Platforms and Tools because it offers investors fantastic experiences not only on desktop, but also browsers. Trade Architect (browser) appeals to newer and intermediate investors while thinkorswim (desktop) is built solely for seasoned active traders. The icing on the cake? Both platforms require no minimums or fees for access and use. All clients have access.

TD Ameritrade Trade Architect

When selecting a broker based on its platforms and tools, take the time to read our online broker reviews, narrow your search to two or three brokers, compare them side by side and then make a decision. Start with questions like: What specific trader tools must I have to trade successfully? Will I reach the minimums to maintain fee-less, consistent access throughout the year? Do I prefer a more user-friendly browser-based platform or a more advanced trader-focused desktop platform?

Best for Stock Analysis

Based on 51 different variables, here is a summary of the top five brokers for stock research:

  1. Fidelity - Scored 99%
  2. Charles Schwab - Scored 98%
  3. Merrill Edge - Scored 95%
  4. TD Ameritrade - Scored 95%
  5. E*TRADE - Scored 92%

It is not surprising that the largest, most publicly known online brokers excel and all vie for the top spot for research. With larger client bases and higher commission costs, high-quality research is expected.

In fact, our top five picks this year yielded scores painstakingly close to one another. Out of the 51 total variables we assessed during our research, our No. 1 pick, Fidelity, scored 99%. Charles Schwab had 98%, TD Ameritrade and Merrill Edge scored 95%, and ETRADE 92%.

While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone, is not enough. Quality and design matter just as much as quantity, not to mention the fact that many brokers will go “above and beyond” to differentiate themselves.

Comparing apples with apples, all five brokers are fairly similar. They all use Morningstar as their primary provider for ETF and mutual fund research, all of them offer a slew of data and graphs for researching stocks, all offer fixed-income research, etc. Slight differences only begin to show when assessing specifics such as total third-party research reports available for equities, for example Apple (AAPL). In that category, the title goes to Fidelity with 12 total reports offered, followed by Charles Schwab with eight, and TD Ameritrade with seven.

While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone, is not enough. Quality and design matter just as much as quantity, not to mention the fact that many brokers will go “above and beyond” to differentiate themselves.

Fidelity, which earned our No. 1 spot this year, stands out for its 12 total equity research reports and fantastic stock comparisons, allowing clients to compare up to five stocks at once with 21 different metrics. Fidelity also distributes high-quality market analysis and personal finance education through its Fidelity Viewpoints weekly distribution. What excites us most about Fidelity is its fully responsive (mobile friendly), carefully laid out research area. Content flow and personalization are at the heart of the experience, which is unlike any other broker in the industry.

Charles Schwab, on the other hand, offers clients its own proprietary A – F ratings, called Schwab Equity Ratings, for some 3,000 US stocks. Even more impressive, Schwab boasts a full lineup of 26 in-house experts who provide numerous articles, known as Schwab Insights, on a variety of market topics throughout each week. Some experts, such as Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders, can often be seen on TV discussing the market. Schwab also provides the best video experience out of all the brokers thanks to its market updates and Schwab LIVE events.

Not to be outdone, TD Ameritrade leads the industry with its new earnings analysis tool through platform thinkorswim which launched in 2016. In 2015, TD Ameritrade revealed its new Social Signals analysis for individual equities. Using proprietary algorithms, the Sentiment Score shows what percent of tweets are positive and displays other relevant metrics. Also in the social realm, TD Ameritrade analyzes data from its six million retail clients to create what it calls the Investor Movement Index (IMX). Launched in 2012, the index displays and analyzes the sentiment of its retail investors’ portfolios.

All in all, when it comes to researching stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and fixed income, any top five broker is going to provide an excellent experience for investors. With such similar offerings, it’s the unique experience, features, and functionality that differentiates the brokers.

Best for Investment Products

Based on 40 different variables, here is a summary of the top five brokers for investment products:

  1. TD Ameritrade - Scored 95%
  2. Charles Schwab - Scored 91%
  3. Interactive Brokers - Scored 91%
  4. Fidelity - Scored 89%
  5. E*TRADE - Scored 84%

Investing covers a worldwide spectrum, from investing in international equities to trading forex to purchasing US treasury bonds. To understand the true range of offerings, taxconference.ru has focused on all the broad investing channels down to the specific order types each broker offers. In the process, we compare 40 different variables.

Starting with the US, services such as complex options trading, fixed income, and direct market routing are all very common. Other services, such as commission-free ETFs, are still growing in adoption by the industry. Just 44% offered commission-free ETFs heading into 2017, with Charles Schwab leading the way with 229. Every broker in the industry supports weekly options and only two brokers don’t yet support mini options: Firstrade and Capital One Investing. On the flip side, direct market routing for options is only offered by 44% of the industry.

As far as order types go, it is an industry standard to support market orders, limit orders, stop orders, and after-hours trading. Even more advanced order types such as trailing stops, OCO, OTO, OTOCO, and multi-contingent are all supported by well over half the industry. The least common order type was algo, offered by less than half the industry. The leader overall is Interactive Brokers, which offers clients an arsenal of 63 different order types, some of which are exclusively designed for institutional investors.

All variables considered, TD Ameritrade is the top choice for the largest offering of investments in 2017, earning 95% of the possible points.

Looking at international trading, Fidelity and Interactive Brokers are, by a wide margin, the two stand-out choices. Fidelity offers its clients access to trading equities in 25 countries. Interactive Brokers offers less equities support, in “only” 18 different countries; however, with all investment types considered, the total comes to 24 countries and over 100 market centers. Both brokers also make it a seamless trading experience, allowing clients to trade from their primary account. Charles Schwab (12 countries of equities access) requires a separate account to be opened to place trades and ETRADE shut down its Global Trading service in 2015.

There are plenty of options available for futures trading, while forex trading is scarcely supported. Just two brokers, TD Ameritrade and Tradeking, offers forex trading to US clients, and just over half the industry offers futures trading.

All variables considered, TD Ameritrade is the top choice for the largest offering of investments in 2017, earning 95% of the possible points. Interactive Brokers and Charles Schwab follow in second place, both earning 91%, although we give the tie breaker to Interactive Brokers for its slew of order types and extensive international support. If investing outside of the United States, Interactive Brokers is your best bet.

Best for Banking Services

Based on 12 different variables, here is a summary of the top five brokers for online banking services:

  1. Merrill Edge - Scored 97%
  2. Capital One Investing - Scored 96%
  3. Charles Schwab - Scored 94%
  4. Scottrade - Scored 78%
  5. Fidelity - Scored 77%

For full-service brokers, the client experience goes beyond just trading. Clients of Merrill Edge, Capital One Investing, Charles Schwab, and Scottrade all fall under this category, meaning banking services are also offered.

To determine which broker is the best for banking, we dived in head first and explored all the potential services: checking accounts, savings accounts, debit cards, credit cards, and mortgages. We then looked at specialty offerings such as mobile check deposit, debit card ATM fee reimbursement, and no-fee banking. Lastly, total number of branch offices was factored in, as access to local branch offices is just as important as managing an account online.

It should be no surprise that our #1 choice is Merrill Edge, whose parent company is Bank of America.

It should be no surprise that our #1 choice is Merrill Edge, whose parent company is Bank of America. With a FSA (Financial Solutions Advisor) located in some 2,000 locations, Bank of America has, by far, the largest network.

Bank of America really shines with its rewards program, Preferred Rewards, which offer clients with certain account thresholds a slew of benefits. The first tier, Gold, requires at least $20,000 in combined assets between Bank of America and Merrill Edge, while the top tier, Platinum Plus, requires at least $100,000 in total assets. Benefits include boosts to money-market savings, credit card cash back bonuses, free trades with Merrill Edge, and more. All in all, there isn’t a better marriage of brokerage and banking than Merrill Edge and Bank of America.

Merrill Edge Preferred Rewards

Alongside Merrill Edge’s parent company, Bank of America, another well-recognized brand is Capital One Investing, whose parent company is Capital One. Next to Bank of America, Capital One is the only other bank to offer every service type: retail locations, checking accounts, savings accounts, debit cards, credit cards, and home mortgages. Capital One is best known for its credit cards, and like Bank of America, its clients enjoy the benefits of universal login for easy access to all their accounts.

Together with our ranking, we present highlights from the rest of the full-service brokers. Fidelity has one of the best cash rewards credit cards on the market with its 2% Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa Card (Fidelity cut its ties with American Express in early 2016). Scottrade offers 503 retail locations, followed by Charles Schwab with 300. Of the remaining brokers, Charles Schwab is the only one to offer home mortgages. The list goes on and on.

When it comes to banking and brokers, the great news is that investors have multiple options from which to choose. Full-service brokerages generally do a very good job of catering to the specific needs of their clients and provide a well-rounded offering. This is especially true for clients who already do their banking with Bank of America or Capital One; the move to add investing as an additional service is just a few clicks away.

Best for Customer Service

Based on 26 different variables, here is a summary of the top five brokers for customer service:

  1. TD Ameritrade - Scored 90%
  2. Merrill Edge - Scored 87%
  3. Scottrade - Scored 86%
  4. TradeStation - Scored 82%
  5. Fidelity - Scored 81%

When assessing customer service, one phone call or live chat conversation is not enough. To really gauge the quality of support, multiple tests across every channel must be conducted. Here at taxconference.ru, we are proud of the fact that our testing is respected as the most rigorous in the industry.

In our assessment, phone support was weighed the heaviest, and comprised well more than 50% of the overall score, with email and live chat following thereafter. If a broker did not offer live chat, then quality phone and email support became that much more important.

To ensure the highest quality testing data, we partner with professional private shopping group Confero to handle all phone tests. With clients like Coca Cola and Shell, Confero understands how to read between the lines and identify truly superior customer service.

To ensure the highest quality testing data, we partner with professional private shopping group Confero to handle all phone tests. With clients like Coca Cola and Shell, Confero understands how to read between the lines and identify truly superior customer service. Using our taxconference.ru industry-specific templates, Confero made 160 phone calls to branch offices and support numbers across the United States.

This year, TD Ameritrade was able to beat out Merrill Edge for the No. 1 spot overall, taking first in phone and third in both email and live chat. Merrill Edge has been an extremely consistent performer, finishing second in 2017, first in 2016, and second again in both 2015 and 2014. Fidelity placed first for email, with ETRADE ranking first for live chat. The consistency and ability of TD Ameritrade’s support reps to deliver an A or A+ experience time and again is truly impressive.

Focusing first on phone support, most brokers were on top of their game, as 56% of all phone tests were connected to a rep within one minute.

Focusing first on phone support, most brokers were on top of their game, as 56% of all phone tests were connected to a rep within one minute. Only four brokers had a single hold time beyond five minutes: Capital One Investing, ETRADE, Fidelity, Scottrade. Of all 160 phone tests, only six (3.8%) received a perfect score, coming from brokers Merrill Edge, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and Scottrade. In the end, TD Ameritrade came out on top, followed by Merrill Edge and Scottrade.

In the email department, Fidelity took the crown for the quickest response times with every test receiving a reply in only 36 minutes, on average. Out of all the email tests, 73% of the tests delivered replies within one business day, and six brokers failed to respond to a test. Three different brokers received one perfect test score; Fidelity received four. After the dust settled, Fidelity’s email support once again came out on top, with Firstrade and TD Ameritrade finishing second and third, respectively.

As far as live chat goes, experiences were mostly positive. 91% of all tests were connected with a live rep within one minute. Comparing this year to last year, there were five brokers who received at least one perfect score. Last year seven brokers achieved the same feat. All in all, scores across the industry, on average, fell into the category of “good” which is nice to see. With the number of live chat support sessions on the rise and given the communication preferences of younger generations, we were pleased to see brokers delivering consistent, high-quality interactive experiences.

When it comes to personalized service, no one does it better than Scottrade. Scottrade leverages its network of 503 retail locations, redirecting all customer phone calls during weekday office hours directly to its local branch offices. There is something special about the experience of knowing you are one of several million clients, yet when you call, you get the feeling your broker lives right next door. Scottrade is the only online broker to do this, and therefore earns the award again this year for Best Overall Client Experience.

Best Brokers Summary


Online Broker Best For Minimum Deposit Commissions Overall Rating
TD Ameritrade Overall $0 $6.95 4.5 Stars
Fidelity Research $2,500 $4.95 4.5 Stars
Charles Schwab Retirement $1,000 $4.95 4.5 Stars
OptionsHouse Discount trading $0 $4.95 4 Stars
Merrill Edge Rewards program $0 $6.95 4 Stars
Capital One Investing Automated investing $0 $6.95 3 Stars
Scottrade Client experience $2,500 $7.00 4 Stars
TradeStation Platform technology $5,000 $5.00 3.5 Stars
E*TRADE Balanced offering $500 $6.95 4 Stars
Ally Invest Ally savings acct $0 $4.95 4 Stars
Interactive Brokers Professionals $10,000 $.005 per share 4 Stars

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References

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All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 2/20/2017 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The taxconference.ru staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the bottom of this page. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.

TD Ameritrade, Inc. and taxconference.ru are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s services and products. Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading privileges subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options. Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 9/30/2018 and funded within 60 calendar days of account opening with $3,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000-$99,999. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000-$249,999. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more. Offer is not valid on tax-exempt trusts, 401k accounts, Keogh plans, Profit Sharing Plan, or Money Purchase Plan. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, accounts managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, and current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Qualified commission-free Internet equity, ETF or options orders will be limited to a maximum of 250 and must execute within 90 calendar days of account funding. No credit will be given for unexecuted trades. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account value of the qualifying account must remain equal to, or greater than, the value after the net deposit was made (minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances) for 12 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the offer at its sole discretion. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Taxes related to TD Ameritrade offers are your responsibility. Retail values totaling $600 or more during the calendar year will be included in your consolidated Form 1099. Please consult a legal or tax advisor for the most recent changes to the U.S. tax code and for rollover eligibility rules. (Offer Code 264) TD Ameritrade Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2017 TD Ameritrade.