“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is one of the oldest sayings around, and for the most part, it’s completely true. You get what you pay for, especially in the world of finance.
While you might be skeptical of any type of free offer, technology has made finance more efficient and transaction costs have gone down dramatically. In fact, it’s not hard to find a brokerage that will let you trade at least some part of the stock market completely commission-free. Commission-free usually means a trip to the designated ETF list, but some brokers offer everything for free, including options.
Commission-free usually means a trip to the designated ETF list, but some brokers offer everything for free, including options.
Best Free Options Trading Brokers:
- Best Overall for Options and Technology: TradeStation
- Best for Beginners: TD Ameritrade
- Best for Marginal Accounts: Interactive Brokers
- Best for Mobile Traders: E*TRADE
- Best Derivatives Only Broker: tastyworks
- Best for Social Traders: Gatsby
- Honorable Mention: eOption
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Best Free Options Trading Brokers
Choosing the best broker requires a little bit of research and not every trader has the same needs. Benzinga has created a list of favorite trading platforms for free paper trading and free or low-cost options trading.
1. Best Overall: TradeStation
TradeStation is a popular platform for technical analysts and other stock pickers, but its paper trading simulation gives inexperienced traders a way to learn new skills without risking real cash.
Paper money can be traded on desktop and mobile, but only current TradeStation brokerage account holders can access the simulation for free.
TradeStation has a tilt toward active traders, so new traders can find plenty of research material and charting tools to test new strategies. TradeStation is a trusted name and its simulator is one of the best.
If you’re new to trading, you’ll love TradeStation’s Simulated Trading tool. Its Simulated Trading tool allows you to practice entering buy and sell orders, using TradeStation’s suite of charting and analysis tools and using your trading strategy without risking any of your own money.
Read Benzinga’s full Tradestation Review
2. Best for Beginners: Thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade
Thinkorswim is the gold standard for advanced trading features and using their paper money accounts is a great way to teach yourself technical analysis.
TD Ameritrade account holders will get $100,000 in fake money to trade stocks, bonds, futures, commodities and options. You’ll find over 100 technical tools on Thinkorswim and unlike many brokers, commission costs are factored in with your paper trading portfolio. This makes for a more realistic trading experience.
Paper trading is only worthwhile if the simulation is near perfect. Thinkorswim passes all the tests.
TD Ameritrade recently completed an acquisition of Scottrade, which will provide options traders with another level of flexibility as well. Right now, TD Ameritrade charges $0 fin options based fess and $0.65 for options per contract.
3. Best for Marginal Accounts: Interactive Brokers
The Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation provides a comprehensive list of options trading features and has been compared to the look and feel of a commercial airline cockpit. The workstation includes integrated tools such as IB Risk Navigator, Options Analytics and Model Navigator. It has a configurable format, quick-click order entry capabilities, and is extremely customizable.
The OptionTrader Combo tab allows traders to monitor price variations, view all available chains or filter for specific contracts and configure columns to view calculated model prices, implied volatilities open interest and Greeks.
Interactive Brokers also helps active traders minimize commissions and fees as well. Interactive Brokers charges nothing in options based fees but charges $0.65 per contract fee for options.
4. Best for Mobile Traders: E*TRADE
E*TRADE’s Power E*TRADE platform and mobile app are the gold standards of option trading platforms. Power E*TRADE currently offers traders premium-quality tools without the premium price tag.
According to a customer service rep, the long-term plan is to have the Power E*TRADE platform replace E*TRADE Pro as the premium service, but for now, it is free for all E*TRADE users.
Power E*TRADE is the perfect combination of speed, quality, tools, and navigation capabilities. The platform offers virtual trading for testing strategies. The option chain screen provides access to customizable real-time streaming option chains with up to 30 columns. The tradeLAB Snapshot Analysis breaks down risk/reward in an easy-to-understand way, indicating pros and cons as well as key events to watch for and a profit and loss chart. The strategySEEK tool allows users to scan market data and identify potential trading strategies.
For all E*TRADE’s advances option trading features, the broker charges $0 in options based fees and $0.65 for options per contract.
5. Best Derivatives Only Broker: tastyworks
Tastyworks allows opening of an individual, entity/trust or joint account, and the account type held with the brokerage can be margin, cash or retirement. In margin trading, you are allowed to trade with borrowed capital, facilitating the use of all trading strategies available with the broker, while a cash account requires that you fully fund transactions, and also restricts usage of some trading strategies such as spread and uncovered options.
The web-based trading platform allows access from any computer and gives all functionalities as the downloadable version. Some of the features in the browser version is the Follow page, where you can follow the firm’s curated experts’ trade, Trade Curve, which allows visualization of trades easily and the Trade History option, which helps you analyze your trades.
Though opening an account is fairly easy, a prospective client is required to register with tastyworks ahead of time with an email address, username, and password, as well as:
- Address and phone numbers,
- Citizenship status,
- Personal information such as Social Security Number and employment information,
- Bank details and
- Copies of identity and address proofs.
Once an account is registered, it normally takes one to three days to be approved.
6. Best for Social Traders: Gatsby
Gatsby and Robinhood a bit in common. Like Robinhood, Gatsby had a soft launch and the only way to access the platform is to get on the waiting list. Also like Robinhood, all trading on Gatsby is commission-free. Gatsby’s founders seek to “democratize the world of options” by simplifying the language and making it easier for newbies to understand.
You’ll be asked a series of simple questions on Gatsby’s platform. If you think a certain stock will fall, you’ll be directed to the put options (and call options if you think the stock price will rise). You’ll then choose a strike price and expiration date and initiate your trade, all done in 4 quick phone swipes. Gatsby and Robinhood are the only truly commission-free brokers for options trading.
Read Benzinga’s full Gatsby Review
7. Honorable Mention: eOption
eOption isn’t a commission-free brokerage, but the transactions costs here are among the lowest in the industry. For options trades, you’ll only pay $3 per trade plus $0.15 per contract.
Many legacy brokers charge upward of $0.60 to $0.75 cents per contract, so this is a great deal. You’ll also get plenty of bang for your buck, thanks to eOption’s bells and whistles. You can set up an automated strategy using its Auto Trading feature and even get direct market access through the Sterling Pro Trader.
eOption has a $500 minimum to open an account and offers traditional, Roth, SEP and Coverdell IRAs.
Read Benzinga’s full eOption Review
Can You Really Trade Options for Free?
The short answer is: Absolutely! Brokers continually undercut each other on commissions and that’s great news for retail traders.
Online brokers rarely have commissions higher than $5 to $7 these days and disruptors like Robinhood and Gatsby Options have gone even lower than that. Both offer $0 commissions on all options trades.
Another way to trade options for free is through paper trading. With a paper trading account, you’ll be given Monopoly money in a simulated brokerage account and can actively trade the market with your fake cash. Paper trading is a great way to hone your skills, practice new strategies and figure out how to trade.
But which should you choose, free trading or paper trading? When it comes to options brokers, all it depends on your bankroll and experience level as a trader.
Before choosing an options broker, you need to determine your own investing goals. Do you simply want to make the most possible money? Do you have a specific savings target in mind? Or do just want to increase your knowledge of the options market and explore how different strategies work?
If you’re inexperienced with options or want to try out a few new strategies, paper trading might be your best bet. However, if you’re a veteran trader and you want to cut your transaction costs, take a look at some of our favorite free or low-cost options brokers.
Practice makes perfect and that’s why paper trading is so popular, especially among new traders. With paper trading, you aren’t putting any real capital at risk, but you can simulate live action in the markets or even go back in time and trade through previous periods. Many brokers have a free paper trading account available to anyone with a real brokerage account.
However, know that paper trading has drawbacks. Fake money means no skin in the game. All the emotion is taken out of trading, which is something that will never happen in the real market. Expertise in paper trading does not automatically translate to success in the real world.
Using a Free or Low-Cost Broker
If paper trading doesn’t appeal to you, finding a free or low-cost broker should be your alternative goal. Free trading is still a relatively new concept, but brokers like Robinhood and Gatsby Options have totally removed commissions.
Even traditional legacy brokers are getting into the race to zero (for example, Fidelity now has zero-expense ETFs). Finding a free or low-cost broker to trade options is no longer like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Make a Decision
Trading options has never been easier and thanks to brokers like Robinhood, it’s also never been cheaper.
Before diving in, you’ll need to make a decision. Are you ready to begin trading options with no roadblocks, or do you need a little more time to practice your strategy? If you hesitate to answer that question, you might want to paper trade for a few weeks. If you already have an account with TD Ameritrade or TradeStation, you can access their paper trading accounts for free. But if you’re an experienced options trader looking to lower transactions cost, the commissions from the brokers we’ve listed will be a treat.
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