Start trading stocks, and you could end up with a mixed bag of emotions—you might be excited at the prospect of watching your money grow, overwhelmed at the number of stock options available to you, or even frustrated if you’re having trouble making your first buy.
However, one emotion you might feel is a fear of being overcharged by your broker. Commissions, account maintenance charges and other hidden fees can quickly add up and eat into your profits.
New traders may feel especially hesitant to get started investing, as you may not be sure which broker to trust and who is worth the price. Luckily, a number of brokerages have recognized this fear and created free options to help new traders save more money when getting started.
Quick Look: The Best Free Stock Trading Platforms and Sites To Use Right Now
- Best Option – Firstrade – $0 online trades & No hidden fees
- M1 Finance
- Interactive Brokers
- Charles Schwab
Characteristics of a successful stock trader
Though each trader has his own individual set of financial and personal goals, the most successful stock traders enter the market with the following three characteristics:
Commitment to education
The most successful traders never buy stocks based on a “gut-feeling.” They do their research, look at the history of the company and its leadership, and make selections based on hard data and perspectives of industry experts.
They also stay up to date on political happenings both at home and abroad, and they factor in how new laws and regulations affect the market. Looking to increase your knowledge of the stock market? Check out our list of the best low-cost day trading courses you can sign up for right now.
The best stock traders know that the most reliable way to make money trading is usually to hold onto their stocks for years before selling. Whether you’re investing in individual stocks or mutual funds, patience will help you see greater returns on your investments.
A realistic perspective
There are plenty of stock trading courses that teach traders the secrets that industry professionals “hide” from the general public and website pop-ups that say they know what the next Amazon stock or Bitcoin is.
The best traders know that these are over-exaggerated claims at best and downright scams at worst. Before you start trading, check your goals and make sure they are realistic—the stories of overnight millionaires are very few and far between.
Things to look for in a free trading platform
Though most stock trading platforms charge account maintenance fees and commissions, there are a number of brokers that will allow you to trade for free. Some characteristics that all reliable free trading platforms share include:
An intuitive trading site
A brokerage firm isn’t very useful if you can’t understand how to get started. Watch a few YouTube tutorials to get a feel for the platform before you commit desktop space and time to the broker.
If the platform isn’t intuitive, check the brokerage’s customer service options—a responsive team of customer service professionals may be able to help you understand how to operate a more complicated platform.
Clear and easy-to-understand free trading
Though some platforms will allow you to trade for free indefinitely, many only allow commission-free trades within a limited window after opening an account.
When you sign up for an account on a free trading platform, make sure you read the terms of service to understand how many free trades you are entitled to with your account. Brokerages that try to hide this information may make their money “tricking” users into thinking that trades are free indefinitely—only to stick them with high fees later on by hiding a clause into the fine print.
Trading platforms that make unrealistic claims (like promising a dollar amount of returns or claiming that they have “secrets” that other brokers hide) are more than likely just trying to take your money with a hidden fee or commission. Remember—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The best free stock trading sites
Based on the criteria above, here are some great sites to get started trading stocks for free.
Firstrade is the perfect trading platform for self-directed, small investors that are looking for competitive pricing outside a robo-advisor.
With no minimum initial account deposit, free trades on almost all offerings, and a wide asset class, Firstrade stands out among the rest.
With true value investing, Firstrade offers clients $0 commission on for online trades with no hidden fees. Take advantage of this offer from anywhere with their extensive and well-received trading platform and mobile app that allows for extended-hours trading.
Their platform also features research and reports from us, Breifing.com, Zacks, and Morningstar, to keep you informed and making the best trades for your financial goals.
With a comprehensive and easy-to-use trading platform, 24/7 customer support and a library of trading resources that is both free and extensive, E-Trade has quickly risen as one of the most well-known stock trading platforms online.
Though the E-Trade platform is not free for everyone (the average user will incur a fee of about $7 per trade), the brokerage firm currently offers a promotion for new account holders offering 60 days of commission-free trading with a deposit of $10,000.
3. M1 Finance
M1 Finance is a unique mix between a traditional stock brokerage platform and a robo-advisor. M1 Finance allows users to create a profile using their personal information and savings goals, and the system assigns you to your own unique stock selection (M1 calls these “pies” because they are represented in-account by a pie graph) based on your age, income, and level of risk tolerance.
There are a number of different pie types. For example, M1 Finance’s “Ultra Aggressive” pie is intended to place money into high-risk and return investments and is intended for young investors looking at a long-term investment strategy, while its “Market Cap 100” pie takes a more conservative approach by investing in the largest 100 companies in the United States.
When you make a deposit into your account, M1 will automatically invest the money into the most underweight asset. Best of all, M1 has completely eliminated all fees and commissions—so you can create your own custom pie and get started for free.
4. Interactive Brokers
Created for experienced, professional day traders, Interactive Brokers offers users 4,156 no transaction fee funds.
However, Interactive Brokers has earned a special place on our list for its incredibly low-cost stock trading and investing. And, Interactive Brokers got rid of account minimums for individual investors.
Though not free, users pay just $1 maximum per stock trade and $0.70 per options contract. These commissions are an average of about $4 lower than most competitors, making it one of the lowest-cost trading platforms on the market. and account maintenance fees (a monthly $10 inactivity fee for traders with account balances under $100,000).
If you’re an active trader and you’re looking for individual trades, Interactive Brokers is the closest you’ll get to free trading at a professional level.
The gold standard of free stock trading, Robinhood is a unique app that allows users to buy a wide range of exchange-traded funds and stocks.
The mobile trading app has also introduced cryptocurrencies with its 2019 update—though this option is not available in a number of U.S. states, including New York, Washington, Nevada, and others.
The platform charges $0 in commissions and there are no account maintenance or inactivity fees you’ll have to worry about. If you’re looking for research and tools, the Robinhood offers company information, charts, and other tools. The broker nonetheless offers exactly what it promises—truly free trades and over 5,000 equities to choose from.
Acorns is a mobile app that’s for the absolute novice; you know that you should be investing your money, but you have no idea where to start or what to invest in.
Acorns takes the concept of saving loose change into the digital age by rounding up purchases you make using a linked credit or debit card and invests the difference into a range of commission-free ETFs. Though most Acorns users will see a $1 monthly maintenance fee, college students with a working .edu email address can use Acorns for free for up to 4 years.
Acorns does not charge any kind of inactivity, transfer, or closing fee, and there’s no minimum balance required to get started—this makes it a great app for college students who are looking to learn more about investing in the stock market without risking a large amount of their money.
7. Charles Schwab
If you’re looking to invest in ETFs for free, Charles Schwab has one of the most comprehensive selections available.
Schwab offers 200 commission-free ETFs. Users can build a comprehensive and diverse collection of funds without paying the fees that come along with buying individual stocks. Charles Schwab also offers over 4,000 commission-free mutual funds, a selection on-par with competitors.
While accounts with Charles Schwab typically come along with a $1,000 account minimum, the brokerage firm frequently runs promotions that offer to waive this minimum if you sign up for an automatic $100 monthly investment.
Though buying ETFs and mutual funds is free, it’s important to note that traders are subject to a $5 commission when buying or selling individual stocks and options.
When it comes to buying and selling commission-free ETFs, Vanguard reigns supreme. The financial giant’s founder invented the mutual fund, and the company offers over 1,800 commission-free ETFs and 2,800 transaction-free mutual funds.
Their selection of mutual funds is expansive, offering everything from an S&P 500 index fund to the Vanguard Real Estate ETF that invests solely in real estate management companies and property holdings.
Though Vanguard charges a $20 annual service fee, the company waives this fee for account holders with over $10,000 in Vanguard funds and holdings.
Though truly free trading platforms are few and far between, educated and knowledgeable traders can stay up to date on the market and make smart buying and selling decisions.
If you’re new to the world of trading, absorb all of the information you can: read the best investing books, subscribe to daily newsletters, and pick stocks and watch their performance over time while taking notes.