One of the best ways to start investing is to use the services of an online stockbroker. However, there are so many brokers that it can be difficult to determine which one is best. There is no universal “right” answer because the right broker for you depends on your investing style and other considerations.
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Top Online Stock Brokers
When Charles Schwab cut their commission to $0 on October 1, 2019, the move forces TD Ameritrade, E*Trade and Ally Invest to cut their commission as well. This leaves Robinhood in a tough position; however, I think M1 Finance still has a strong differentiator to stay competitive.
The following is a list of top stock brokers with an emphasis on low-cost stock trading fees. The list is sorted from the lowest commission fee to the highest fee for stock and ETF trades. If the fees are the same, we take into consideration other factors and rank the better broker above. In addition to the fees, we also list other special offers and features when appropriate.
Since brokers can change their offers at any given time, it’s highly recommended that you visit the site and review the most recent information carefully.
Last updated on October 8, 2019.
|Charles Schwab||Schwab has well-rounded products and services. With the recent brokerage fees cut to zero, it jumps to #1 spot on our list. It offers comprehensive investment products, top-notched investment management and banking services, and a professional trading platform.
|TD Ameritrade||TD Ameritrade also offers a strong suite of products and services comparable to Charles Schwab, but lacking its own branded ETFs and mutual funds.
Promotion: Open an account today and trade free for 60 days, and get up to $600 based on your deposit amount.
|Ally Invest||Formerly TradeKing, Ally Invest offers a simplified trading platform that is not as sophisticated as Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade but allows you to trade all investment products. Ally Invest also recently announce commission reduction to $0 (the information will be updated once the site is updated).
Promotion: Get up to $3,500 in bonus cash plus 90 days of commission-free trades.
|M1 Finance||This was probably the best $0 commission platform before everyone cut their fees. M1 Finance offers a percentage-based allocation (aka “investment pie”), smart automatic reinvestment (buying the most underweighted investments first), and fractional shares trading. It also has a very nice mobile app that allows you to fully manage your account from your phone.
On the downside, it is a very basic platform that only allows one trading window per day (you can queue up multiple trades and all will be executed automatically). Secondly, it doesn’t support mutual funds and other investment products (only stocks and ETFs).
$0 on all trades with Stocks and ETFs accessible in the platform. Start with as little as $100.
See how I use M1 Finance at My M1 Finance Dividend Income Portfolio.
|E*Trade||E-trade is strong in research and trading tools.
|Firstrade||$0 on all trades: Stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, and Options|
|Fidelity||Fidelity boasts a robust mix of investments, tools, and banking services.
|TradeStation||TradeStation is geared more toward active traders.
How to Find the Best Stock Broker
Here are seven factors to consider when choosing a discount broker:
1. The Breadth of Investment Products and Funds
This should be your first consideration when searching for a stockbroker. Does the broker have the investment products you want to invest in? All discount brokers allow you to trade stocks, but they may not offer the exact mutual funds and/or other investment products that you want. If you have particular investments in mind, make sure your broker offers the product at a reasonable price.
This is the area where big firms like Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade really shine. For example, Fidelity has an impressive mix of more than 16,000 mutual funds — many of which don’t carry transaction fees.
2. Trade Commissions
If you plan to trade stock frequently, you can try super low-costs brokers like Interactive Brokers ($0.005 per share), M1 Finance (free trades) and Robinhood (free trades), but my preference is to stick with more traditional brokers like Ally Invest, Fidelity and Schwab which only costs $4.95 per transaction, but include more comprehensive services and tools.
If you plan to invest mainly in mutual funds, look for a broker that offers a wide selection of mutual funds — especially funds with no loads and no transaction fees. Be careful of mutual funds that carry transaction fees; these are generally very expensive — for example, TD Ameritrade charges $50 for buying and selling mutual funds ($0 for N0-Transaction Fee funds).
3. Miscellaneous Fees
Some brokers charge a host of other fees, including maintenance fees, inactivity fees, check writing fees, and more. You don’t want all your gains to be wiped out by extra fees. Figure out what you want to do with your brokerage account, and find the one that lets you accomplish your goals for the least amount of money.
Brokers usually list their fee schedule online, such as this fee schedule from E-Trade. If you can’t find it online, you should be able to get a copy from the broker’s customer service department. Don’t sign up with a brokerage unless you understand all of the fees.
4. Research and Education Tools
Next, make sure you can find the right information for your trading needs. If you’re a technical trader, make sure you have access to technical analysis tools and up-to-date charts. If you’re a fundamental investor, make sure you have access to stock fundamental research tools. I am obsessed with asset allocation, so I love the Portfolio X-Ray tool that comes with my TD Ameritrade account.
5. Online Trading Platform
This is another important factor to consider. You’ll interact mainly with the web interface, so make sure you’re comfortable. I use TD Ameritrade and Ally Invest primarily, and I can tell you that they have a very different user interface and experience. Overall, I feel TD Ameritrade offers me a more robust set of tools, but Ally Invest is more user-friendly with its more straightforward interface.
6. Banking Services
This may or may not be relevant to you. If you already have a bank account that can accommodate all of your banking needs, this is a non-factor. If you’re looking for a broker that also doubles as a bank, then this consideration is important.
For example, I started my investing career with TD Ameritrade, so I still have all the banking services, e.g., free ATM, VISA debit card, the ability to pay bills online, make cash transfers, and accomplish just about any banking transaction you can think of.
Overall, it is probably better for you to separate your brokerage services from banking services. You can use our list of best banks and savings options here.
7. Customer Service
For me, this is very important. I like to have access to customer service 24/7 and occasional face to face discussions. If you want to be able to see someone face to face, the best bet is searching your neighborhood for an office. There are TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab brokerage offices near where I live.
Another good idea is to give the discount brokers on your shortlist a call and shoot them an email. How fast are they responding? Are they knowledgeable? Are they courteous? This will help you narrow down the list before committing.
Investing Tools and Resources
In addition to the brokers listed above, here are additional websites that might be of interest to you.
Personal Capital is a free online accounts aggregator, net worth and expense tracker, portfolio planner, and analyzer all in one. It offers a comprehensive overview of your investment portfolio, allowing you to make adjustments to lower your expenses and improve your asset allocation.
Betterment is a simpler way to invest. Instead of doing your own investing, all you have to do is just answer a few questions about who you are, and Betterment will automatically invest the money for you.
Make sure you look for a broker that fits your investing style. Make a list of things that are important to you and then choose based on who can meet those needs the best. You might have to try opening a few accounts, but good news is that most brokers now have $0 account minimum.
Pinyo Bhulipongsanon is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance and a Realtor® licensed in Virginia and Maryland. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, financial literacy author, and Realtor®.