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Online brokers & trading plarforms

January 3, 2022


Brokers

Easy Guide to Online Trading Platforms

You no longer need to depend on a broker or a financial advisor from a big firm. It has never been easier to grab the bull by horns. Retail trading may now account for almost as much trading volume as mutual funds and hedge funds- combined. Step one to join this retail revolution is choosing the right online broker or e-brokerage. Choosing the right broker can be overwhelming and confusing. There are so many fantastic options to choose from, with so many factors to weigh. In this guide we've reviewed the top brokerages to consider.

 

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Things and Factors to consider


Before diving into our review of the best online brokers, here are some of the most critical factors to consider.

 

Commissions and Fees

Most online brokerages have tapped into this retail revolution by going commission-free. But do your due diligence. Make sure there are no hidden fees.

 

Latency (How Fast Will Your Order Execute?)

What a shame it would be to make a profitable trade, and it doesn’t go through quickly- or at all for that matter. To call this infuriating is an understatement. The best online brokers process transactions quickly and efficiently, no questions asked. The best ones will also make the best trade possible if you do a market order and find you a price improvement. Additionally, when choosing a broker, make sure that a broker’s site or mobile app runs fast and responsively. If it loads slowly or operates clumsily you risk misplaced orders and missed opportunities.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Investing in stocks can be complex and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. Find a broker with a user-friendly and organized interface that works for both rookies and veterans. The last thing you want is a brokerage that’s difficult to navigate, hard to understand, and discombobulated.

 

Security

Do your due diligence on a broker’s security measures. Make sure you’re signing on with a trustworthy broker with advanced and quality security measures. You want your broker to stay ahead of hostile actors at all times.

 

Customer Support Quality

Customer support is essential when choosing an online broker. You want fast, responsive, efficient, and most importantly, 24/7 support for all your needs. Things can always happen, and you need someone on the other end of the phone, or online, available to help your every need. Dealing with poor customer support is nobody’s idea of a good time. 

 

Reputation

At the end of the day, you want to sleep at night knowing your money is safe with a reputable online broker. You need a broker with a strong reputation and a quality track record. Going through customer reviews shouldn’t be the end all be all when you select a broker, as they can be subjective. After all, people are more likely to speak out if they have a negative experience than a positive one. But what customers have to say is always valuable. Make sure to talk to friends and family and ask what platforms they are using and what their experiences have been like. 

 

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The Best Online Brokers & Trading Platforms


Now that we’ve gone through some of the most important factors to consider when selecting a broker, it's game time. Here are the top online brokers and what you should know about them before choosing one.

 

Fidelity

 

Commissions and Fees

Fidelity’s trades are all commission-free, as in $0 for online US stock, ETF, and options trades. Make sure you read the fine print, though. The $0 commission applies to online U.S. equity trades, ETFs, and options (+ $ 0.65 per contract fee) in a Fidelity retail account only for Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC retail clients. Sell orders are also subject to an activity assessment fee. There is an Options Regulatory Fee which applies to both options buy and sell transactions, which is subject to change. Other exclusions and conditions also may apply. Suppose you choose to use Fidelity’s planning and advice fees, such as Robo advisors and private wealth management. In that case, you will also be charged a gross advisory fee.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

Fidelity was rated #1 for order execution by StockBrokers.com in 2021. Fidelity Q2 2021 statistics back this claim up with an average execution speed of 0.04 seconds. Additionally, Fidelity stacks up quite favorably compared to the industry when it comes to price improvement during orders, and shares that saw a price improvement.


Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Not only is Fidelity’s online interface easily navigable and smooth. Its app is equally uncomplicated with everything right where you need it, whether you want to review your portfolio or explore options chains. Simply put, the UI results in outstanding UX. The app developers built it focused on average investors rather than veterans. There is an emphasis on basic information on every page, most notably a user’s investment portfolio which dominates the home screen. Users can see pricing information and options to buy/sell when they open the website or app. This may not appeal to more veteran investors who want better access to more sophisticated services. However, Fidelity has consistently been one of the most popular day trading platforms because of its interface. It also offers stock alerts and has one of the best learning centers among all major brokerages, inluding easy access to third-party research from 20 reputable authorities, including Recognia, Thomson Reuters, and McLean Capital Management, among others.

 

Security

Fidelity uses the latest technology to help protect personal information and financial transactions and offers resources on topics such as elder financial exploitation and online security. In addition, Fidelity has a Customer Protection Guarantee, where they reimburse users for losses from unauthorized activity in their accounts. They also participate in asset protection programs such as FDIC and SIPC to help provide the best service possible. Fidelity also offers FidSafe, a no-cost way to store, share and organize financial, legal, and personal documents online.

Lastly, if you’re willing to pony up some fees for Fidelity’s Private Wealth Services, consider some of the security perks. Fidelity Rewards+ offers 3 layers of advanced identity protection from IDnotify, a part of Experian. These exclusive benefits include identity theft insurance, advanced monitoring, and concierge restoration support.

Fidelity Security Center

 


Customer Support Quality

Fidelity has a 24/7 available customer support phone line and about 200 investor centers offering live support, along with live chat and virtual assistant options. What gives Fidelity a potential edge over many competitors is that its live chat service is also available to prospective customers- not only current customers. However, this service has limited working hours. You can only chat with a live representative Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST. You can also contact Fidelity via email via your Fidelity account and request a support message. The team, though, may not respond to your email for 3 to 5 business days.

 

Reputation

Overall, Fidelity has a sterling reputation, especially amongst retail traders getting involved in the market for the first time. Nerdwallet, for one, gives the platform 5 out of 5 stars and calls it a “well-rounded offering.” Not to mention, Fidelity also has a 4.8/5 star rating in the App Store and a 4.4/5 star rating in Google Play.

 

 


 

 

Etrade

 

Commissions and Fees

E-Trade offers zero commission fees if you’re trading stocks, options, and ETFs, $0.65 fees for Options contracts, $1.50 fees for Futures contracts, and $1.00 fees per bond. It charges a $25 commission fee per transaction on broker-assisted stock trades. It charges a $6.95 commission per transaction on the OTC markets for investors executing less than 30 trades per quarter. The OTC commission drops to $4.95 for investors executing more than 30 trades. E-Trade’s personalized investments fee is also charged annually and ranges from 0.30% to 1.25%. You can avoid these fees by conducting your trades online only and avoiding bonds, options contracts, and namely margin trades. E-Trade’s margin rate can be as high as 9% as well- something nobody wants.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

E-Trade has a genuine edge when it comes to solid order execution. That's because they work with multiple market centers for end-to-end control over orders to provide the highest speed and quality of performance. It also has a team dedicated to regular, rigorous reviews to find the right blend of execution price, speed, and price improvement. All while utilizing advanced order routing technology to seek the best execution available in the market.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

E-Trade has a lot to offer for both beginners and veterans regarding ease of use and user-friendliness. So much so that this intuitive platform won a top spot for ease of use on Forbes Advisor’s best online brokers for beginners. E-Trade's three web-based/downloadable platforms and two mobile applications boast robust features. You can live-stream Bloomberg TV and access comprehensive market news, deep analytical research, screeners, and extensive educational resources. For advanced users, on the Power E*TRADE platform, you also have easy access to advanced charting and technical pattern recognition technology. Users even have access to webinars on topics such as options trading, portfolio diversification, and technical analysis, and the option to open a demo account and practice skills and strategies without needing actual money. With all of these features, E-Trade still remains intuitive, easy to use, and seamless. It is quick and easy to sign up, and after four simple steps, you’ll have a trading strategy in place.
 

Security

In addition to the ways users’ assets are protected, the E-Trade Complete Protection Guarantee means that users are not liable for unauthorized use of their accounts. E-Trade uses security measures such as encryption, firewalls, and dedicated fraud protection teams. Also, it offers multi-factor authentication to help secure accounts.

Etrade Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

E-Trade offers 24/7 customer support by phone, live chat, and email. It also has over 30 physical branches across the U.S. and an outstanding FAQ page on its site. Several sources, though, feel that this is one area the company could improve upon, because of extremely long waiting times. Investopedia states that one drawback is the average wait time on hold for customer service, which is currently 11:05 minutes.

 

Reputation

E-Trade is one of the original retail brokerages and has been a trailblazer for some time. Established in 1982, E-Trade has a long track record, has a banking background, discloses its financials, and is overseen by top-tier US regulators. Nerdwallet gives it 4.5/5 stars. Although there could be some issues with its customer service, it has 4.6/5 stars on the Apple App Store and 4.5/5 stars on Google Play.
 

 


 

 

TD Ameritrade

 

Commissions and Fees

TD Ameritrade is commission-free for online stock, ETF, and options trades. There are also no platform fees, no data fees, and no trade minimums. But of course, there’s an asterisk. Those $0 fees apply only to U.S. exchange-listed stocks, ETFs, and options. A $0.65 per contract fee also applies for options trades. Compared to other platforms, TD Ameritrade is reasonably transparent when it comes to no hidden fees. Just be mindful that transferring an account costs $75. Stock splits will also ding you $38, which is a tad bit annoying considering you have no control over it. Selling a mutual fund without a transaction fee less than 6 months after purchase carries a $49.99 charge. Some research subscriptions at TD Ameritrade come with monthly payments, too. Broker-assisted trades will also cost you $25.00.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

TD Ameritrade knocks it out of the park in this department. TD Ameritrade uses advanced routing technology and evaluates execution quality and has indeed done a remarkable job. Between April - June 2021, TD Ameritrade reported 97.4% of orders had price improvements, with a $1.75 net gain per order (per 100 shares). Additionally, the brokerage said it has a lightning-fast 0.05-second execution speed per order.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

TD Ameritrade’s ease of use and user experience is one of its top-selling points. Its web-based, mobile, and desktop platforms are extraordinarily intuitive and provide a diversified and complete user experience. Another one of TD Ameritrade's top-selling points is how investors can pick and choose which specific platform is best suited for them. TD Ameritrade Mobile, for example, is perfect for investors that simply want to track their investments and trade stocks, ETFs, and options. On the other hand, TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader is geared towards advanced traders. On Mobile Trader, users can access “multi-leg options, stocks, futures, forex, and 24/5 trading,” customizable charts and technical indicators, and live text and screen sharing with trade specialists for on-the-spot help.

Thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade is also a very well-known platform and one of the most cutting-edge services out there. It offers investors easy access to trading and provides financial literacy services, including trading tools and analytics.

 

Security

First and foremost, TD Ameritrade has an Asset Protection Guarantee in case of unauthorized activity. If unauthorized activity occurs on a user’s account, they will be fully reimbursed for the amount lost. In addition, TD Ameritrade offers free security product downloads, including TrendMicro HouseCall and Symantec Security Check. TD Ameritrade also utilizes advanced firewalls to keep unauthorized parties from gaining access to personal information. Firewalls also keep public web servers separate from the servers containing a user’s account and personal data, so they can't be accessed directly from the internet. Anomaly detection and intrusion detection technology additionally alert TD Ameritrade to unusual behavior on a user’s account.

TD Ameritrade Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

TD Ameritrade’s customer support is high-quality and well-regarded in general. There is 24/7 phone help, 24/7 live chat help, 24/7 text help, and email assistance. For Apple users, you can even get help via iMessage. Additionally, TD Ameritrade has over 360 physical branches across the country. So no matter how you want it, support is on the way. TD Ameritrade goes above and beyond the traditional customer support, though. They offer Spanish customer service, Chinese customer service, service for the hearing impaired, International support outside the U.S., and Facebook Messenger and Twitter Direct Message support.

 

Reputation

TD Ameritrade is a large brokerage firm with more than 40 years of industry presence and it has a stable and reliable financial reputation. Their A2 rating from Moody's is an upper-premium grade with a low credit risk. It has 3.3/5 stars on Google Play, it has 4.5/5 stars on Apple’s App Store, and Nerdwallet gives the platform 4/5 stars.
 

 


 

 

Robinhood

 

Commissions and Fees

Robinhood arguably gave birth to the $0 commission movement and was one of the first online brokerages to truly democratize the investing landscape. After all, the term “Robinhood Investor” didn’t come out of thin air. Robinhood is commission-free and does not charge any fees to open an account, maintain an account, or transfer funds to an account. There are also no inactive account fees either, and hidden costs are lacking. Yet, certain taxes do apply and there could be some regulatory transaction fees. For example, FINRA may charge Robinhood fees for sell orders, and FINRA must pay a fee to the SEC. Hence, sometimes users can be caught in the crosshairs and be charged. Sales of 50 shares or less are also exempt, though. If you are buying a foreign stock that trades on a U.S. exchange, you could also be charged a custodial fee.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

There have been questions on how truthful Robinhood has actually been regarding their order execution speed and quality. According to an SEC report from Dec 17, 2020, Robinhood misled customers between 2015-2018 about revenue sources and was dishonest about how strong its order executions were. Be that as it may, according to Robinhood’s Q3 2021 statistics 96.79% of its trades saw a price improvement and an average net price improvement of $1.72. While it is odd that the platform makes no mention of their average order execution speed, they mention a 44.79% effective spread over the quoted spread (EFQ) value, which represents how much price improvement was received on an order.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

The user interface may not be an advanced investor’s cup of tea, but Robinhood's user interface may be its most groundbreaking asset. This alone has arguably been why it's become the app of choice for novices and Redditors. It is simply unlike anything else out there. According to CNN Money the app is popular among young, first-time investors, as evidenced by its game-like interface, including celebratory animations and push notifications when there are updates in the market.

Robinhood’s UI and UX is so intoxicating that CNBC actually did a piece entitled “How Robinhood’s app design may lead to investors taking more risk.” CNBC highlights a Wall Street Journal article which said “the app’s simplified interface, and its software design choice called “dark patterns” makes it easier to invest and may lead to investors taking on more risk.” Robinhood has essentially gamified trading so much that people such as Democrat Rep. Nydia Velazquez from New York want to crack down on it. Her concern is that the interface is so addictive that it could manipulate users into trading more frequently than they otherwise would.

So whether you love it or hate it, there is no doubt that Robinhood is doing something right with its interface. Retail investors have never been so involved and enamored with the market as they are now, and this platform is a reason why. The interface is gamified, streamlined, and intuitive. It makes some of the most complex trading instruments, albeit risky, such as options, effortless to execute. Another advantage Robinhood has over other platforms is how easy they make it to trade crypto. Many competitors don’t even let you trade crypto at all!

 

Security

Robinhood calls itself a “safety-first company.” Yet be mindful that on Nov 8, 2021, Robinhood revealed that its platform was the victim of a severe data breach. Having said that, Robinhood claims that it was all resolved.  Robinhood also claims that its built safeguards and provides education so that its customers are in the best position to succeed. They also work closely with regulators and lawmakers to protect their customers and the broader financial system.

So while much of that is typical talk, especially after this data breach, other financial sites have backed up Robinhood’s claims. Robinhood has introduced many protocols to combat security risks, including state-of-the-art encryption technologies and third-party authentication procedures. Robinhood also uses the latest technology to encrypt social security numbers before storing them on the online database. No numbers are openly displayed on the platform, making it nearly impossible to access and decode social security numbers.

Robinhood Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

Robinhood has 24/7 phone support with wait times that can generally be roughly 30 minutes. You can also “request a call.” Robinhood also has email support in which you can usually receive a response within 1 business day. Lastly, there's a robust help center that you can access through the app with hundreds of FAQs that can solve almost any problem. Many, however, believe that Robinhood’s customer support is among its weakest spots, as seen in many app reviews. For instance, there is no live chat support- which many other competitors boast. Nerdwallet also lists customer support as one of Robinhood’s weakest links.

 

Reputation

Robinhood has changed the game when it comes to bringing in new retail investors to the world of trading. Arguably, no other platform has done what it has done to democratize finance and lower the barrier of entry. The way they have entirely gamified trading is nothing short of brilliant and intoxicating. However, they have a bit of work to do on their reputation. Robinhood's customer support is lacking. They have had several run-ins with the SEC, including the SEC report mentioned earlier from Dec 17, 2020. The recent data breach has not helped either. Needless to say, this is one area where Robinhood could improve on. Nerdwallet, despite giving the platform 4 out of 5 stars, says that Robinhood offers commission-free stock, ETF and options trades, a streamlined trading platform and free cryptocurrency trading. But customer support is lacking, and the broker has run afoul of regulators. Robinhood also received 4.1/5 stars on the App Store and 3.8/5 stars on Google Play.
 

 


 

 

TradeStation

 

Commissions and Fees

Tradestation is completely commission-free on equities, equity options, and futures trades. However, the platform has a $2,000 minimum deposit and several other minor fees to consider. Make sure you read the fine print on the platform’s website. Additionally, Tradestation charges $14.95 per Mutual fund transaction and has fees for international trades. It charges $5 per stock and ETF trade and $5 per trade + $0.60 per contract for stock options. Furthermore, Tradestation charges $1.50 per futures contract, per side for futures options, and futures contracts traded through the FuturesPlus platform. Standard exchange, regulatory, and overnight fees may apply as well. While trading crypto is one of Tradestation’s major selling points, these trades are not commission-free. However, there is no minimum deposit, and it is an innovative pricing format tied to account balance, not volume.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

TradeStation’s order execution is fast and reliable. According to the brokerage, they use a combination of advanced order routing technology, regular and rigorous reviews of speed, execution quality, and price improvement to support our customers’ trading experience. Based on metrics from Q4 of 2020, TradeStation orders were executed in 0.092 seconds on average. More than $25,979,702.55 in price improvement was also delivered to its customers on market and marketable limit equity and options orders. 96.33% of covered market and marketable limit equity orders (100-1999 shares) also saw a price improvement, with an average price improvement of $9.00 per order filled.


Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

TradeStation is trying to market itself as the solution for both professional and beginner traders. With a web, mobile, and desktop platform, it certainly seems to be covering that. Its web and mobile platforms are more geared towards beginners. In contrast, its desktop platform has more complexities and is more for advanced traders.

After completely revamping its UI in 2018, TradeStation has gotten rave reviews for both its user interface and user experience. Its desktop platform notably is award-winning. The platform’s desktop service has a workflow-optimized interface, which is beautiful yet practical and places all the most relevant information out in front. In any platform format, users can completely customize the platform with 9 layout types in addition to the option to create their own. Tabs can also be easily resized and moved around.

 

Security

The platform, first and foremost, offers users tips on how they can protect themselves in its security center. It also provides a plethora of resources and information regarding online security. Beyond this, TradeStation leverages its technologies and operations to keep accounts and valuable private information safe. TradeStation has full-fledged login security, including sessions timeouts and strong customer login verification.

Tradestation Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

TradeStation offers phone support and live chat from Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ET. It also has a support forum, offers email support, and has full-service international support. Having said that, this is one area that the platform appears to be severely lacking in. Many competitors offer 24/7 support, let alone on the weekends. Additionally, customer service is available only in English. Several ratings websites have given TradeStation sub-par rankings in this area as well.
 

Reputation

Outside of TradeStation’s customer support, it seems to have an excellent reputation. NerdWallet gives it 4.5/5 stars and calls it “the gold standard for advanced, active traders.” Despite BrokerChooser’s underwhelming rating for its customer support, it gave it an overall score of 4.6/5 stars. It listed its web and mobile trading platform, low stock and ETF fees, and high-quality educational tools as its biggest pros. With the company readying to go public via a SPAC Merger, its sterling ratings of 4.6/5 on the App Store and 4.2 out of 5-star rating on Google Play should definitely help its cause.

 

 


 

 

ZacksTrade

 

Commissions and Fees

Zacks Trade is not commission-free like most of the other brokerages on this list. Yet, its fees are still relatively low, and broker-assisted trades have no extra charge, unlike many other competitors. Zacks Trade also charges relatively low foreign commission fees depending on the region. The platform may lose you with its exorbitant fund fees, though, as it charges $27.50 per mutual fund transaction.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

Zacks Trade makes no mention of their order execution statistics. However, according to Brokerchooser, Zacks Trade is a US-based discount broker and a division of LBMZ Securities. LBMZ Securities's clearing and execution services are provided through Interactive Brokers. On average, Interactive Brokers nets its users roughly $0.62 of price improvement per 100 shares. This compares very favorably with the overall industry. There isn’t any data discussing how fast IB’s trades actually go through and what percentage of the platform’s trades results in a price improvement. Still, it has one of Investor’s Business Daily’s highest rankings and top scores regarding order execution.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Zacks Trade has a versatile and easy-to-use web-based and mobile trading platform- if you’re more of an advanced trader or a day trader. This is not your best option if you’re more of a beginner or looking for something with a gamified, addictive UI such as Robinhood’s. Zacks Trade has three trading platforms that anyone with an account can use. Zacks Trade Pro is the primary interface and has many features tailor-made for advanced traders. There’s also the scaled-down and browser-oriented Zacks Trader platform, which is more for novices, and Handy Trader, which is essentially the mobile version of Zacks Trader. Overall, the interface may be the platform’s biggest con.

 

Security

Zacks Trade offers features ranging from encryption technology to multiple login protections. It details what the platform offers to make sure a user’s account and private information are as safe and secure as possible, like login limits, security monitoring, automatic logoff and failed login attempts limits.

Zacks Trade Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

The biggest con of Zacks Trade’s customer service is that it’s not available 24/7. However, it provides phone support and live chat open Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET (except exchange holidays), email support, and a very comprehensive FAQ page. Another con is for international users. There is no international phone line, meaning that any Zacks Trade client calling from outside the US will be charged a premium at an international rate. Despite these flaws, Zacks Trade has overall excellent customer service reviews.

 

Reputation

Zacks Trade is US-based and a division of LBMZ Securities. With 4.5/5 stars, BrookerChooser ranked Zacks Trade as its 3rd best overall online brokerage and its “Best broker for investing for 2021.” Nerdwallet gave it 4/5 stars, and it received 4.3/5 stars on the App Store. Zacks Trade could not be found on Google Play, only Zacks Investment Research, which received 3.9/5 stars.

 


 

 

Schwab

 

Commissions and Fees

Charles Schwab was a bit late to the no-commission fee game. But, now, it's woken up. It offers $0 commission fees for online trades involving stocks & ETFs, options, and Charles Schwab Mutual Funds. It also offers no trade minimums, no account minimums, and no IRA Fees fees. There are still some fees to be mindful of, though. There are $25 service charges for broker-assisted trades, a $0.65 fee per options contract, and up to $74.95 per mutual fund purchase. There could also be some ADR fees as well for purchasing international stocks. If you want to open a margin account, it could also cost you $2,000. The only real drawbacks are that you’re a bit limited in what you can trade. Only US/Canada markets are available, and you cannot trade crypto or futures.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

Schwab’s advanced order routing process aims to obtain high-quality execution results. After all, the platform was ranked No. 2 in trade execution on Investor’s Business Daily, and it’s readily apparent why. Schwab often reports blowout numbers concerning price improvement and order execution speed.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Charles Schwab has a highly customizable, intuitive, and personalized interface on both web and mobile. Both novice and intermediate users can personalize the dashboard and optimize it for what they’re best looking for. It’s effortless to manage your account. Although the platform can be intimidating for rookies at first glance, both the mobile app and website have everything laid out and labeled in a concise, straightforward manner. Users have easy access to valuable research tools, educational material, and an outstanding stock screener. Schwab also has a clear and easy-to-understand stock-rating system coupled with seamless access to potential investment opportunities and news updates. On top of offering access to sophisticated analytical tools for more veteran traders, Schwab StreetSmart Edge is another great asset on the platform. It's easy to use and clear and offers real-time quotes and an incredible level of insight. 

 

Security

First and foremost, Schwab has a Security Guarantee. It will cover 100% of any losses in any Schwab account due to unauthorized activity. Schwab also has a Security Knowledge Center full of how-to guides, tips, and more to help users with online security resources. Led by an army of highly-trained specialists, Schwab uses multi-layered technology, including encryption and risk-based security technology. Everything, ranging from in-person branch visits to transferring money, also has secure processes and procedures involved.

Charles Schwab Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

Schwab’s customer support is second to none. While there is no email support, you really don't need it. It has a fantastic FAQ page and 24/7 customer support available via phone or live chat. In addition, there are over 360 physical branches located throughout the U.S. and U.K. BrokerChooser gave Schwab 5 out 5 stars for its customer service and mentioned that it “provides fast and relevant answers.”

 

Reputation

You really cannot do much better than Charles Schwab’s reputation. It has long been one of the original retail brokers. Ever since moving to $0 commission and acquiring TD Ameritrade, it has continued to stake its claim as one of the industry’s bluebloods. BrokerChooser gave it 4.8/5 stars and made sure to highlight the $0 commissions, excellent research tools, and excellent customer service. Nerdwallet gave it a perfect 5/5 stars and said that “Charles Schwab stands out among brokers for its customer service, $0 trade commissions and large selection of mutual funds.” Although its 3.7/5 score on Google Play may tell a different story, its 4.8/5 score on the App Store seems to reflect more of the overall sentiment of this groundbreaking platform. 

 

 


 

 

Ally

 

Commissions and Fees

Long a pioneer with online banking, Ally has lately made waves with its Ally Invest platform with affordable, competitive fees and $0 commissions. It offers $0 fees on eligible U.S. stocks & ETFs priced $2 and higher and on select Option trades. It also provides a wide selection of commission-free ETFs from market leaders such as Vanguard, GlobalX, iShares, and more, including socially responsible funds. Suppose you do want to dabble with some OTCBB and Pink Sheet penny stocks. In that case, Ally will require a minimum opening purchase of $100 per order and charge a $4.95 base commission plus one cent per share on the entire order. In general, though, Ally’s maximum commission charge won’t exceed 5% of the trade value. If the principal value of the order is less than the base, the commission will equal the entire trade value. In addition, Ally charges $0.50 per options contract traded, $1.00 per bond ($10.00 minimum, $250.00 maximum) per transaction, and $24.95 per Certificates of Deposit (CDs) transaction. Be mindful of some of these other mutual fund and service fees that can be relatively hard to spot on its website.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

Ally does not directly discuss its order execution, speed, or price improvement. It only really discusses routing and payment for order flow. There is also very little secondary data available.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Overall, Ally Invest, both on the web and mobile, is intuitive and easy to use. The platforms are well designed, responsive, with quick updates and intuitive menus that help any kind of trader find what they are looking for. Both the app and primary website provide seamless functionality for screeners, trading products, and education. It’s also straightforward to schedule trades and build and monitor watchlists. What may set this platform apart from others is its research tools. Ally Invest could have one of the most visually stimulating, highest quality, and most accessible research libraries in the business. There is a plethora of information at your fingertips, including interactive media, graphs, market data, and more.

 

Security

Ally Invest’s approach to protecting its users is comprehensive and encompasses technology, processes, and procedures. Ally Invest has advanced Firewalls and Secure Socket Layering (SSL) Technology and Username and Password Security. It will block access to accounts after a set number of unsuccessful login attempts. It also has numerous policies and procedures in place, as clearly stated in its Privacy and Security Policy.

Ally Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

Ally Invest offers 24/7 customer support via phone, email, and live chat. However, its customer service is available only in English and could be a bit faster. BrokerChooser, which rated Ally 3.5/5 for customer service, said this was its customer service's biggest weakness. They noted that phone support and live chat had average response times, while email took several days to respond. They also made sure to say that the relevancy of Ally’s answers was mediocre.

 

Reputation

Ally’s reputation appears to be rock solid. BrokerChooser gave it 4.6/5 stars while Nerdwallet gave it 4.5/5 stars and stated that it’s an ideal platform for active traders. It received strong and comparable scores on the App Store and Google Play, with 4.7/5 stars and 4.2/5 stars, respectively.
 

 


 

 

Merrill Edge

 

Commissions and Fees

After Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch during the 2008 Financial Crisis, Merrill Edge was launched. Although it’s only limited to U.S. clients and products and has few options for deposit/withdrawal, its low fees are certainly a strength. It has unlimited $0 online stock and ETF trades with no trade or balance minimums, $0+ $0.65 per options contract, and $0 fees for new issues and treasuries. However, there are some fees you should be mindful of with Merrill Edge that many other brokerages do not have, like $3 for each trade confirmation.

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Latency

Merrill Edge’s lightning-quick figures are frankly as good, if not better, than most other brokers in this guide. This brokerage optimizes and monitors trades to give users the quickest transactions and the best opportunity for price improvement. Merrill Edge analyzes real-time pricing information and historical trading data to detect and route orders to the market center, providing the best available price. It also tactically breaks orders into smaller pieces as needed, routing them to multiple market centers for display or execution. On average, Merrill Edge has an average execution speed of .018 seconds for market orders. 98.38% of orders are executed at or better than the quoted price, with $15.90 average savings of market orders of 1,000 shares. Not to mention, its Effective Quoted Ratio completely shatters the industry average by roughly 20%.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

Merrill Edge has a fully customizable and easy-to-use user interface. Its desktop and mobile platforms are incredibly intuitive, easy to use, and perfect for investors looking to integrate their bank accounts seamlessly with their brokerage accounts. Merrill Edge seamlessly combines Bank of America and Merrill services into one streamlined customer experience. Users can view their checking and brokerage account in one login.

If you’re looking for more advanced features, definitely consider Merrill Edge’s MarketPro trading platform. Designed for active traders, you can set trade alerts, build watch lists, monitor your portfolio in real-time. The charting tools are arguably its best feature, though. It’s hands-on with a fully customizable dashboard, and users have access to 36 different technical indicators. It’s also fully interactive, with the option to use streaming data to create visualizations. The catch to using MarketPro, though, is users need to have either a combined balance of $50,000 in assets at Bank of America and Merrill or trade at least 15 times per quarter.

 

Security

Bank of America owns Merrill Edge, so you know that security will be a major priority and that you will be in good hands. Merrill Edge aims to give users peace of mind through a wide range of industry-standard and proprietary online security tools. Oddly enough, on its website, it does not seem to detail what it will do to ensure the security of its users. It only details its secure login process and fraud protection guarantee, compensating monetary losses due to unauthorized third-party activity. According to Forbes Advisor though, Merrill Edge does a great job with account security through offering firewalls, 128-bit encryption, two-factor authentication, and additional mobile security features.

 

Customer Support Quality

Merrill Edge does not have email support, but this should be the least of your concerns. 24/7 phone support, a chat box, and 4217 Bank of America branches you can go to for in-person assistance should more than solve any customer service concerns. There is also an online mailbox for uploading documents. According to BrokerChooser, Merrill Edge’s customer support has 4.5/5 stars due to its fast phone support and live chat with satisfactory and relevant responses. Really the only thing lacking is no email for general inquiries or support.

 

Reputation

Whether or not you love Bank of America, there is no doubt that Merrill Edge has an excellent reputation. BrokerChooser gives it 4.7 out of 5 stars and recommends it “for investors and traders looking for low fees, quick account opening, and simple platforms.” NerdWallet gives it a comparable 4.5/5 score and notes how it “stands out for its robust research and free trades.” It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise then to see that Merrill Edge has 4.7/5 stars on the App Store and 4.1/5 stars on Google Play.

 


 

 

Vanguard

 

Commissions and Fees

Vanguard is a fund management company well-known for its ETFs and mutual funds. But, it also offers a brokerage containing $0 fees for its ETFs and mutual funds, both online and by phone. Additionally, it has $0 fees for online trades of stocks and ETFs from other companies, with a predictable $25 cost for broker-assisted transactions by phone. Its margin costs are higher than many competitors, with an 8.5% rate. Margin costs can also be volume-tiered, with a base rate of 6% plus a premium, depending on the financed amount. There are also other fees you should be mindful of. For example, customers with balances below $500,000 must also pay $4.95 per month for bill pay.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

Vanguard has strong order execution statistics and makes this happen by routing orders to market centers that consistently execute at a price better than the NBBO (National Best Bid and Offer). The brokerage genuinely strives to give its users the best price on trades with astounding figures.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

The interface and ease of use for Vanguard Brokerage could be lacking, as the platform really does not offer much for active stock traders. It is a pretty bare-bones platform. The general consensus appears to be that while the platform provides the essentials, it is somewhat dated and behind the times. Vanguard has a straightforward interface, a decent news feed feature, and a solid fundamental data feature that can be helpful, however, somewhat outdated graphics and performance issues. Furthermore, its user verification can take a few days. At the same time, most other brokers can do it in a matter of hours or minutes.

 

Security

Vanguard is a legacy company in the market, so it makes sense that they would take security very seriously. So much so that they have an entire PDF dedicated to account security, discussing both what Vanguard’s done and advising clients on what they can do to protect themselves. Vanguard first goes into detail on how assets with Vanguard funds are safe and secure. Vanguard, first and foremost, notes that they are a distinct and separate legal entity from the funds in which clients are invested. Therefore, if for whatever reason Vanguard experiences a severe financial crisis, assets will remain secure. The broker also goes above and beyond security measures that many other leading financial services put in place, such as encryption technology, enhanced authentication procedures, and masking of confidential information. Of course, Vanguard offers those measures, but so much more such as voice verification technology.

Vanguard Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

There are some things to like about Vanguard’s customer service and other things that seem a bit outdated and behind- similar to what many say about their platform’s interface. Vanguard does not offer 24/7 service, and it has no live chat to speak of. It has phone support, email support, and a high-quality help center. Responses are typically fast and efficient, with satisfactory and helpful answers.

 

Reputation

Oddly enough, Vanguard scored just 1.6 stars out of 5 on Google Play. Because, almost everywhere else, it seems to have solid scores and reviews. For instance, it has a solid 4.7/5 stars on the App Store...and 167.5k reviews to show for. Nerdwallet also gave it 4/5 stars and called it “the king of low-cost investing.” However, it did also note that active traders may not like it, despite its $0 stock trading commission, due to the lack of a strong trading platform. Other reviews have similar criticisms. The brokerage covers only the U.S. market, has limited research tools, and has high margin costs.
 

 


 

 

Tastyworks

 

Commissions and Fees

Want a polar opposite platform of Vanguard? Look at Tastyworks. Tastyworks is different from any other brokerage on this list because it is focused more on options, futures, and crypto. It has a very unique fee setup that you definitely should analyze and take note of. This is not a low-cost brokerage, and its fee structure can be complicated. There are many types of trades and fees that you should consider; you must understand how it could impact your balance if you choose to go with this platform.

See all commissions and fees

 

Latency

While Tastyworks may not be the cheapest brokerage on this list, it is likely the fastest with the best order execution. As this is an options-centric trading platform, the speed of its order execution is paramount. Tastyworks executes orders through a proprietary “smart routing” system designed to find the speediest fills at the best prices instead of who pays the most for order flows. In a nutshell, TastyWorks’ execution is blindingly fast, with some of the most favorable order fills in the industry for retail traders. The platform doesn’t disclose its order execution metrics on its website. However, according to Investor's Business Daily, ranked Tastyworks as the best online broker for order execution. The next closest brokerage is Schwab.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

How people view Tastyworks’s ease of use and user-friendliness is awfully subjective. If you’re an options trader, you may prefer it to a long-term investor. The Analysis tab is a great way to visualize potential price changes, risks, and rewards when certain market conditions change. The Active interface, which is tailor-made for the active trader-namely futures traders. Users can order and manage mainly stock (and futures) positions with extreme ease and speed. The Follow tab is great, which displays all the recent trades of Tastyworks’s most successful veteran traders. It shows the date, reason, P/L, and much more for every single trade. You can filter these trades by different criteria, too. If you like one or more trades, you can simply copy that exact trade. The ‘Tastytrade‘ tab gives users easy access to a vast portfolio of educational materials, most notably about options. While the interface, from a design perspective, is clean and easy to understand and use, the desktop and web versions for Tastyworks are considerably better than the mobile version.

 

Security

Compared to other brokerages, Tastyworks is way more forthcoming on their website about their security practices. They deploy a myriad of Defensive System Configurations, Security Devices, Sentinels, and Real-time Monitoring systems to protect all accounts' access and privacy. It is company policy to encrypt as much of the data and interactions with customers as possible, which means encrypting the data at rest, in use, and in transit. Tastyworks also employs industry-recognized and adopted high standards in encryption protocols to protect the data that flows between you and our systems.

Additionally, Tastyworks hashes passwords and other essential security credentials to make it nearly impossible to determine what they are. Even if someone has direct access to the raw information. Tastyworks also regularly reviews, assesses, audits, and fortifies its systems and code. They engage professional security consultants to identify and assess security vulnerabilities, proactively test their defensive measures, and independently review their systems. They monitor employee access to data, run background checks, segregate internal business units and their access to information as necessary.

Lastly, they control access to their Networks with very stringent policies and controls. But beyond what the company does to secure accounts, they provide several resources on their website on how users can protect themselves.

Tastyworks Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

Tastyworks’s customer support may be one of its most significant strong points alongside the speed of its order execution. BrokerChooser, in fact, gives them 5/5 stars in this department and mentions no cons to speak of. The only weakness is phone support isn’t 24/7. While fast and full of helpful answers, phone support is only available on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the other hand, email and live chat are open on weekdays for 24 hours. These customer service platforms are also fast, responsive, and helpful.

 

Reputation

Tastyworks is a young, up-and-coming US broker focusing on options trading. The people behind Tastyworks are the same minds behind Thinkorswim, which TD Ameritrade now owns and operates. This trading platform can be intimidating for a beginning trader, especially as there's no demo account to speak of. So while the platform has some things to like, its flaws are apparent as well. Reflecting the potential shortcomings of its mobile app, its subpar scores of 2.8/5 on the App Store and 2.7/5 on Google Play are most definitely red flags.

 


 

 

Interactive Brokers

 

Commissions and Fees

Barron’s ranked Interactive Brokers as the #1 software-based broker and gave it 5/5 stars in the trading “costs” category due to its low execution and clearing costs worldwide. Interactive Brokers also has zero commission US Stock Trading and no activity fees or account minimums. On top of this, it boasts margin rates as low as 0.75% and margin loan rates that compare very favorably to some top brokerage competitors. So much so that Forbes actually noted that Interactive Brokers had the lowest margin trading rates in its survey of the online broker space. There are, however, some fees to be mindful of. First and foremost, there are Fixed Rate costs for non-US listed stocks and ETFs, as well as volume-tiered pricing for other types of assets. Telephone orders are also $30 per order. There are many other fees to be mindful of as well.

See all commissions and fees


Latency

Interactive Brokers SmartRouting advantage delivers high-quality price execution, namely for IBKR PRO Clients. The IB SmartRoutingSM service searches for the best firm stock, option, and combination prices available at the time of the order and aims to immediately execute the order electronically. On average, Interactive Brokers nets its users roughly $0.62 of price improvement per 100 shares. This compares very favorably with the overall industry. There isn’t any data discussing how fast IB’s trades actually go through and what percentage of the platform’s trades results in a price improvement. Yet, it does have one of Investor’s Business Daily’s highest rankings and top scores regarding order execution.

 

Easy of Use and User-Friendly Interface

According to Forbes, Interactive Brokers is a great choice for professionals and day traders. They say that the IB Trader workstation is one of the most comprehensive platforms for researching, tracking and making investments. While Interactive Brokers offers an IBKR Lite platform geared towards beginners with a less intimidating interface, beginners will likely get lost on Interactive Brokers. Some may find the interface and functionality absolutely fine, and its sterling ratings across the internet reflect that. Others may find that finding and interpreting the information more of a challenge.

Benzinga, for one, notes that this platform is simply not for beginners and investors might prefer a broker that offers a bit more hand-holding and educational resources. However, they do say the desktop platform is quick and comprehensive, and the mobile app mirrors the desktop version’s full capabilities. Advanced traders will also love accessing a massive range of tradable assets and account types. There is full access to 135 global markets and options, futures, forex, and fund trading. The best part? The enhanced screeners and research material are easy-to-use and better than ever.
 
While it’s a lot more straightforward than it used to be, choosing from the various account types can still be complex and customizing the trading experience may take longer. Nerdwallet finds its platform informative yet complex. They note that Interactive Brokers provides tons of valuable data on its website, but finding and interpreting it is difficult. Especially if you are an IBKR Pro customer. There are segments of the website dedicated to institutional, broker, and proprietary trading accounts, which can get very confusing.

 

Security

Although Interactive Brokers does not detail its cybersecurity measures, it is a well-established platform. There are sections solely dedicated to Financial Strength, Investor Protection, Account Protection, Login Protection, Privacy, and SOC Reports. The platform’s enhanced client protection reduces the risk of clients not receiving a full refund in the event of the firm’s liquidation. Interactive Brokers applies real-time risk margin requirements to client accounts. In contrast, most of the rest of the industry applies an end-of-day risk margin. This greatly minimizes their clients’ exposure to losses attributable to other clients’ trading. Interactive Brokers has a Secure Login System which provides an extra layer of security to accounts at no charge through the use of a free physical security device or IBKR Mobile Authentication, the platform’s digital security application.

Interactive Brokers Security Center

 

Customer Support Quality

On the positive side, Interactive Brokers offers support via phone, a ‘Message Center’ in the client portal (instead of email), live chat, and an automated 'iBot.' Customer service is also available in several regions and in many different languages, including English, Russian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese. In comparison, many competitors only have support in English. Responses are typically informative, relevant, and helpful as well.

There are some concerns, however. Wait times can be long, especially on the phone, and overall, support can be slow. Additionally, it does not offer 24/7 support. Beyond that, according to BrokerChooser, Interactive Brokers’ customer service crashed for many Europeans in January 2021, primarily due to Brexit. Many clients migrated from the UK entity to another one, and messages went unanswered for 5-10 days. The platform was also completely inaccessible by phone. Although things are back to normal, it is still not entirely up to the industry standard. Interactive Brokers’ customer service received only 3.4/5 stars on BrokerChooser.

 

Reputation

Overall, Interactive Brokers has gotten rave reviews and has a sterling reputation. Yet, its ratings of 3/5 stars and 3.1/5 stars on the App Store and Google Play, respectively, are a bit disappointing. Maybe many of the reviewers were beginners and found the platform overwhelming. Having said that, Interactive Brokers has been rated as a top-notch platform by many reputable sources. We mentioned earlier that Barron’s ranked it as the #1 software-based broker and gave it 5/5 stars in the trading “costs” category. No other broker achieved a 5.0 rating in the eight categories reviewed by Barron's for both software-based and browser-based brokerages. Nerdwallet gave it 5/5 stars and stated, “active and casual traders alike will benefit from Interactive Brokers' advanced execution, strong trading platforms and rock-bottom pricing.”

 

 

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Bottom line


There are many phenomenal options in this guide. Brokerages are only getting more advanced, efficient, and better every day. You only need to decide what is best for you and what kind of investor or trader you are.

Are you a beginner looking to invest for the long-term, with low fees and a bare-bones platform with a legacy name? Maybe something like Vanguard will be good for you. Do you want reputable brokerages with tons of valuable research material where you can learn on the job? Maybe Fidelity, Schwab, or TD Ameritrade, is more your speed. Are you more advanced and want access to 135 global markets and to chase that elusive arbitrage? Maybe some other asset types with a well-regarded broker as well? Perhaps you are international? Interactive Brokers is right up your alley and gets sterling ratings across the board. Are you an aggressive, experienced trader that wants to roll with an up-and-comer solely dedicated to options trading, crypto trading, futures trading, and other investment vehicles? Maybe you’d want to look into Tastyworks. Or perhaps you want access to those same types of resources in an easier and more gamified way with a platform like Robinhood.

The bottom line is, there is no one answer as to what platform is the best. There is something for everyone, and the world is truly your oyster. When choosing a broker, the first thing you need to know is yourself. There has never been a more exciting time to get into the market, and we encourage you to do your due diligence and roll with what’s best for you.


Best of luck and happy trading!

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