Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade

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Contributor, Benzinga
March 12, 2019

Part of trading success depends on whether you use the right broker for your trading needs. Two of the most popular brokers around are Interactive Brokers and Firstrade. We’ll compare these two brokers in terms of features, pricing and ease of use so you make an informed choice.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Overview

Who’s Interactive Brokers for?

Interactive Brokers is a good choice for active forex, stock, crypto and commodity traders who trade on margin. Interactive Brokers’ complex trading platform is an excellent choice if you’re a highly experienced trader.

Read Benzinga's full Interactive Brokers Review

Who’s Firstrade for?

If you’re looking for free trades or if you’re a self-directed trader who accumulates smaller amounts, Firstrade could be a real possibility.

Read Benzinga's full Firstrade Review

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Platform and Tools

What Interactive Brokers Offers

You can trade with Interactive Brokers via a desktop, browser or mobile trading platform.

Trading Workstation (TWS)
  • An advanced trading software
  • Suitable for extreme trading professionals
  • Not suitable for beginners and most intermediate traders
  • Multi-module trading dashboard
  • Includes complex charting tools, watchlists and screeners
  • Includes advanced risk management features
  • Most suitable for professional multi-monitor trading stations
  • A more user-friendly trading software
  • Suitable for beginners and some intermediate traders
  • Includes some advanced features, but in a basic way
Mobile platform
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • A user-friendly interface
  • Basic trade management features
  • Limited in its tools
  • Gives access to news feeds and watchlists
  • Sends notifications
  • Sends alerts in real time

What Firstrade Offers

You can access Firstrade through your browser and mobile.

  • Suitable for all type of traders
  • Friendly interface
  • Dashboard for quick navigation through the markets
  • Advanced navigator to manage your trades and to screen data
  • Screeners to create custom watchlists
  • Options Wizard for options analysis and insights
Mobile platform
  • Friendly interface
  • Rich on tools compared to most mobile trading apps
  • Advanced charting elements for high-quality analysis
  • Dashboards
  • Fundamental news
  • Notifications

Bottom Line

The main platform of Interactive Brokers, TWS is great for very experienced traders. If you are a beginner or an intermediate trader, you are likely to enjoy Firstrade more than Interactive Brokers.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Research Offerings

What Interactive Brokers Offers

Interactive Brokers doesn’t offer the best research features, though it can support you with some main market insights from different providers like Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones.

Most experienced traders will find this data too basic. Interactive Brokers’ research comes with the option to integrate external sources into your platform. In most cases, this does include a subscription charge.

What Firstrade Offers

Firstrade offers fairly high-level research. Part of the advanced research features Firstrade offers includes:

  • Video commentaries on specific asset classes, economic and market events
  • Heatmaps for a visual representation of current market states
  • Sector and industries tool for identifying performers and industry trends
  • Latest news and events from sources like Benzinga
  • Detailed analyst reports and ratings from highly-skilled analysts
  • Advanced screener for segmenting stocks
  • Fundamental data tools
  • Advanced events calendar
Firstrade Offers Fairly High-Level Research

Bottom Line

Firstrade’s research is extensive compared to Interactive Brokers’ much fewer options. You can get access to more research features with Interactive Brokers if you’re open to paying for a third-party provider.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Commission and Fees

Interactive Brokers Commission and Fees

Investment TypeCommissions
Stocks and ETFs$0.005 per share with $1 minimum and maximum 0.5% of trade value; volume discount available
Options$0.70 per contract; $1 minimum order; volume discount available
Mutual funds$14.95 (minimum size on initial fund order is $3,000, subsequent minimum order size is $100)
U.S. future and future options$0.85 per contract
Forex0.20 basis point * trade value if <= $1,000,000; minimum $2
Metals0.15 basis point * trade value; minimum $2; storage cost 0.10% per annum
Bonds0.1% * face value (10 bps) if <= $10,000 face value; 0.025% * face value (2.5 bps) if > $10,000 face value

Interactive Brokers' Margin Rates

<= 100,0003.9%
100,000.01 to 1,000,0003.4%
1,000,000.01 to 3,000,0002.9%
3,000,000.01 to 200,000,0002.7%
200,000,000.01 <=2.7%*

*A 1% spread-based surcharge can apply if financing is not pre-arranged.

Firstrade's Commission and Fees

Investment TypeCommission and Fees
No transaction fee mutual fundsFree
No-load mutual fundsFree
Load mutual fundsFree
Treasury bills, notes and bondsNet yield basis
Municipal bondsNet yield basis
Agency bondsNet yield basis
Zeros and stripsNet yield basis
Primary market CDs$30
Secondary market CDsNet yield basis

First Trade's Margin Rates

$1,000,000 and more5.5%
$500,000 to $999,9996.25%
$250,000 to $499,9998%
$100,000 to $249,0008.25%
$50,000 to $99,9998.75%
$25,000 to $49,9999.25
$10,000 to $24,9999.5%
Less than $10,0009.75%

Bottom Line

Firstrade really does offer tradable assets for free! In comparison, you see that Interactive Brokers charges standard fees, and you can choose between a flat fee or a tiered commission plan.

Interactive Brokers’ low margin rates are about twice as low as Firstrade’s. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since Interactive Brokers maintains some of the lowest margin rates in the industry.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Security

What Interactive Brokers Offers

Interactive Brokers a highly-regulated U.S. broker. It holds a license from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and is a member of FINRA, SIPC and FDIC.

Its SIPC insurance covers $250,000 per client and its FDIC insurance can cover up to $2,500,000 in case of a financial failure. The company is listed and publicly traded on the Investors Exchange under the symbol IBKR.

What Firstrade Offers

Firstrade is also a U.S.-based broker and complies with tough domestic regulations. It holds an SEC license and is a FINRA and SIPC member.

Firstrade’s SIPC insurance covers amounts up to $500,000. The company has extra insurance, called “excess SIPC,” which has an aggregate limit of $150,000,000 and a single customer limit of $37,500,000 for securities and $900,000 in cash.

Bottom Line

Both companies are subject to very high regulatory requirements and take care of client fund security. Interactive Brokers and Firstrade both have extra insurance in addition to SIPC protection.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Customer Support

What Interactive Brokers Offers

Though Interactive Brokers doesn’t offer brick-and-mortar locations for clients to visit, the firm offers 24/7 email support as well as 24/5 phone support and live chat.

What Firstrade Offers

Firstrade offers 24/7 email and support and can also reach them by phone during regular business hours.

Bottom Line

Firstrade’s 24/7 chat support stands out. This means you can get an answer to your questions and get help within a relatively short period of time, no matter what day of the week it is. Interactive Brokers is only available 24/7 via email. Interactive Brokers’ normal email response time is 24 hours.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Tradable Asset Classes

What Interactive Brokers Offers

  • ETFs
  • Bonds
  • Futures
  • Options
  • Mutual funds
  • Warrants
  • Stocks
  • Forex
  • Crypto
  • Metals

What Firstrade Offers

  • Options
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds

Bottom Line

The more diversified trading partner is definitely Interactive Brokers. It also operates as a crypto, metals, futures and forex broker, and Firstrade doesn’t.

Interactive Brokers vs. Firstrade: Ease of Use

What Interactive Brokers Offers

The main trading platform of Interactive Brokers, TWS is definitely not easy to navigate. In our Interactive Brokers review, we shared that unless you’re highly skilled, you might find it too difficult to operate.

What Firstrade Offers

Firstrade is fairly easy to navigate. You won’t find complex trading sophistication on its platform. You can open and close trades with just a click and at the same time, enjoy fast order execution. Firstrade’s research tools are straightforward and easy to understand.

Bottom Line

Firstrade wins in terms of ease of use, but Interactive Brokers doesn’t intend to be easy at all. Just the opposite, it targets more experienced trading professionals who trade with a higher frequency.

Compare Firstrade and Interactive Brokers

Final Thoughts

If you want to trade actively on margin, Interactive Brokers might be able to compensate for fees but if you are not a trading expert, Interactive Brokers’ TWS platform will confuse you.

In the end, Firstrade is all about free financial asset trading. Even so, its list of tradable assets is pretty short and Interactive Brokers’ is widely diversified. Firstrade’s platform is more welcoming and has an extensive research section, which makes it one of the best online brokerage agencies for free trading.