Fueled by massive stock buybacks, growing earnings, and increasing consumer confidence, the market has been on a tear this past year and there are lots of reasons to expect stocks to continue their determined climb. Whether you’re investing through an IRA, an individual trading account, or even trading the forex market, choose the best online trading brokerage and you’ll gain the edge you’ll need to grow your investments.
Summary – Best Online Stock Trading Brokers
|Brokerage||Where They Shine||Get Started|
|Open an account|
Best for Low-Cost & research tools
|Open an account|
Best Broker For Margin Trading
|Open an account|
Best for forex pairs trading
|Open an account|
Best for no-transaction-fee mutual funds
|Open an account|
Best for low-cost mutual funds and ETFs
|Open an account|
- Why Use an Online Brokerage?
- First, Understand Your Goals
- What to Look for in an Online Broker
- What to Watch Out for in an Online Broker
- Picks for the Best Online Brokers
- Best Overall: TD Ameritrade
- Best for Low-Cost Trading: Ally Invest
- Best for Forex Pairs Trading: FOREX.com
- Best for No-Transaction-Fee Mutual Funds: E-Trade
- Best for Low Cost Mutual Funds and ETFs: Vanguard
- Best for Advanced Traders: Interactive Brokers
- Compare the Best Online Brokerages
Why Use an Online Brokerage?
For decades, investors consulted financial advisors or personal brokers to manage their investments. Financial advisors continue to provide value but for many investors, modern online brokerages provide all the tools needed to invest successfully — and to learn to identify your own opportunities. Whether it’s an individual trading account or a trading account aimed at retirement planning, you’re building toward a brighter future. Utilizing the tools available through an online brokerage gives you control over the direction of your investments — and it makes you more nimble. If the market changes suddenly, you have the ability to react quickly. With a financial advisor or a firm, which may have hundreds or even thousands of clients, you may not have the same flexibility. Costs are another strong consideration. Many financial advisors or money managers take a small percentage of your portfolio as a fee. In years where your market gains are smaller, these fees can make it harder to build your nest egg. Make no mistake, online brokerages charge fees as well. However, the fees for online brokerages tend to center around per-trade costs as opposed to a fixed management fee, making trading costs less of a concern for traders who don’t trade in and out frequently. In general, you can expect to pay between $4 to $10 per trade if you’re trading common equities or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Discount trades are no longer the exclusive territory of no-frills online brokerages. In the past two years, many top-tier names have lowered their trading fees considerably, bringing industry-leading research tools and cost-effective trading together. Add a few points to your gains (or more) by reducing your trading costs can add up to thousands over time. When it comes to investing in your future, no one has a greater vested interest than you.
First, Understand Your Goals
It’s important to know your goals and define your priorities before choosing a broker. If you’re a buy-and-hold investor and expect you’ll only have a few stocks or funds, research tools are probably a stronger consideration than saving a dollar per trade. An informed trading decision will have a larger impact on your investment account than an occasional dollar or two in trading fees. However, if you trade frequently and follow financial news through multiple sources, you might place a higher priority on the cost of trading. A wide variety of investment options can be important as well. In general, you can expect to be able to trade all major stock and ETFs through any online broker. Mutual funds are often available as well but the selection will vary from one broker to the next, particularly since some top brokers also sponsor their own portfolio of mutual funds. Saving for retirement, saving for education, or trading for the fun of it can steer your needs in different directions.
What to Look for in an Online Broker
Depending on your experience level and how often you trade, you might have different priorities than others when choosing a broker. Technical traders may be less interested in whether a broker has a large selection of mutual funds than in how flexible the charting tools are, for example. Here are some of the common considerations:
- Research tools and news
- Trading tools and charts
- Wide selection of securities or funds
- Affordable fees and minimum investments
- Banking services, including automatic investing
- Positive customer reviews
What to Watch Out for in an Online Broker
Unlike at the beach where a red flag warns of universal danger, some red flags for brokers might be a concern for some investors but not for others. Still, it’s always good to be aware of potential drawbacks before choosing an online broker.
Account or Investment Minimums
Some brokers or funds may require a minimum investment amount. Account minimums or investment minimums can obviously be a concern if you don’t have enough money to meet the minimum requirements but minimum requirements can also limit your flexibility if your intention was to scale into an investment slowly rather than invest a larger amount. In particular, be wary of brokers or funds that charge fees if your balance falls below a certain value.
Maintenance or Inactivity Fees
If you’re a buy-and-hold investor, imagine how frustrating it can be to see fees charged to your account for maintenance or due to inactivity. It pays to read the fine print. Maintenance or inactivity fees can become silent partners who take a percentage of your investment earnings without contributing value.
Premium Research Access and Premium Features
It can also be frustrating to learn that some features advertised by an online broker are locked behind a paywall. Competition has made many features — which previously had been premium features — free through many leading online brokerages. Unless the type of trading you do is highly specialized or you need a less commonly-used charting method to time your trades perfectly, there likely isn’t a need to pay for premium services.
It should go without saying the traders who choose to trade on margin (credit) should understand the costs involved and the possible risks. High margin fees for some online brokers can create a headwind that may be difficult to overcome.
Picks for the Best Online Brokers
All brokerages were carefully chosen based on the criteria above, meaning only the best of the best are listed below. Scroll down to compare our favorites.
Best Overall: TD Ameritrade
While TD Ameritrade isn’t the least expensive online brokerage, the platform has a lot to offer. Tools abound for seasoned investors and traders, with nearly 400 charting indicators and analysis tools, more than double the amount available through well-known competitors. Having more options is great but most investors will only utilize a handful of these tools.
TD Ameritrade thinkorswim
Originally an independent platform, thinkorswim was acquired by TD Ameritrade in 2009 and is now regarded as one of the best trading platforms in the business. Beginning investors may prefer TD Ameritrade’s simpler Trade Architect platform. Trading demos, instructional videos, and online courses are available for all users. Unique to thinkorswim is a virtual trading environment that allows traders to test their trades and timing with paperMoney. Thinkorswim is available as a desktop or mobile app and “paperMoney” has a free trial if you’d like to test the platform before committing to an investment account.
It wasn’t that long ago that $6.95 trades were the exclusive territory of no-frills discount brokers. Now, TD Ameritrade — a broker with a top-tier trading platform — is higher than some competitors at that price. If you don’t plan to trade often, the price of trades won’t sting quite as much. However, be aware that when buying or selling stocks, market order trades can execute your trade over several buy or sell blocks of stock, each with a $6.95 commission. Multiple commission charges are possible with other brokers as well but can be a bit more heartbreaking when the trade commissions are on the high side. Much like commissions for stock trades, TD Ameritrade’s margin rates aren’t the lowest in our roundup. Margin accounts require a $2,000 minimum balance. Read Benzinga’s full TD Ameritrade Review
Best for Low-Cost Trading: Ally Invest
Our pick is Ally Invest for low-cost trading. Active traders can get trading commission down to as low as $3.95 per trade. Currently, margin rates are also among the lowest in our roundup. While Ally Invest stands out for low-cost trading, the basics are still covered when it comes to educational resources and trading tools. As a discount broker, Ally Invest offers its web (and mobile) platform for traders but doesn’t have a comprehensive trading platform like TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim. If mutual funds are your thing, Ally Invest offers over 12,000 funds — but none of them are no-transaction-fee funds, meaning you’ll pay an entry fee for your purchase. If you favor mutual funds over ETFs, Vanguard or E-Trade might be a good fit. Read Benzinga’s full Ally Invest Review
Best for Forex Pairs Trading: FOREX.com
Many modern traders appreciate the potential for fast gains through forex investing, which is based on trades between currency pairs, such as the U.S. dollar and Japanese yen. Benzinga’s top forex brokerage, FOREX.com, makes the cut for our best brokerages. Do your research first; forex can be volatile — but volatility is why the opportunity exists for rapid gains. If you’re going to trade forex, FOREX.com is our brokerage pick. Standard accounts can be started with just $50, which is perfect if you just want to dip a toe into the forex waters. Forex.com is regulated by several financial agencies worldwide, including the FSA in the U.S. Read Benzinga’s full FOREX.com Review
Best for No-Transaction-Fee Mutual Funds: E-Trade
E-Trade is one of the best known online brokers — and with good reason. E-trade is competitive in most areas, including cost per trade and types of tradable securities, but E-Trade stands apart from the pack when it comes to its selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds. The brokerage boasts an estimated 4,400 mutual funds that are available without a transaction fee. Powerful filters allow you to drill down to the types of funds that fit your investment goals. With so many options, there’s likely to be something to please everyone — unless you just don’t like mutual funds. If that’s the case, E-Trade has over 150 commission-free ETFs available for you, which tend to have much lower management costs than mutual funds. Online trading is available through E-Trade web, which offers all the basics and a few extras. E-Trade also offers a full-featured trading platform called E-Trade Pro. However, the advanced platform is only available to accounts with over $250,000 or that have more than 30 stock or option trades per quarter. Read Benzinga’s full E-Trade Review
Best for Low Cost Mutual Funds and ETFs: Vanguard
Knowing how many investors buy for the long run, it wouldn’t be fair to have a best-of roundup without Vanguard. If you’re a frequent trader, you might want to look elsewhere. Vanguard’s trading costs actually go up when you trade more frequently — unless you have a qualifying balance. However, if you’re a buy-and-hold investor, it’s hard to beat the value you can find in Vanguard’s mutual funds and ETFs. Vanguard is credited with creating the world’s first index mutual fund and is still known today for its cost-effective mutual fund offerings, making it a good fit for IRA accounts or college savings accounts that require low overhead and stability. Read Benzinga’s full Vanguard Review
Best for Advanced Traders: Interactive Brokers
Home to Trader Workstation (TWS), one of the best platforms in the entire industry, Interactive Brokers is perfect for serious traders with advanced knowledge. With both inactivity fees and an intricate pricing system, IB should only be used by investors who trade frequently. Along TWS, Interactive Brokers lets investors trade from their Apple or Android device, as their mobile platform provides excellent quality, several news feeds, accounts, watch lists, trading options, notifications, and more. If you’re serious about the trades your making, Interactive Brokers is everything you’re looking for in a broker. Their low margin rates, low commission on high-volume trades, high interest paid to idle cash in your trading account, and elite tools and platform offers a unique experience to the right type of investor. Read Benzinga’s full Interactive Brokers Review
Compare the Best Online Brokerages
|Brokerage||Tradeable Securities||Commission||Options||Commission-Free ETFs||Mobile Trading||Standard Account Minimum||Margin Account Minimum||Open an Account|
|FOREX.com Read full review||
||Spreads start as low as $1||Not available||Not available||Yes||$50||Margin requirements vary depending on currency pair||Open a FOREX.com account|
|TD Ameritrade Read full review||
||$6.95 per trade||$6.95 per trade, plus 75 cents per contract||Yes||Yes||$0||$2,000||Open a TD Ameritrade account|
|Ally Invest Read full review||
||$4.95 per trade *Lower trading commission available based on quarterly volume||$4.95 per trade, plus 65 cents per contract *Lower trading commission available based on quarterly volume||Yes||Yes||$0||$2,000||Open an Ally Invest account|
|Interactive Brokers Read full review||
||Stock Trading Fee per share: $0.005||Options Base Fee: $0.00 Options Per Contract Fee: $0.70||Yes||Yes||$0||$2,000||Open an Interactive Brokers Account|
|E-Trade Read full review||
||$6.95 per trade *Lower trading commission of $4.95 per trade is available based on quarterly volume||$6.95 per trade, plus 75 cents per contract *Lower trading commission of $4.95 per trade plus 50 cents per contract is available based on quarterly volume||Yes||Yes||$500||$500, but $0 for IRAs||Open an E-Trade account|
|Vanguard Read full review||
||$0 for many ETF choices, $7 per trade for first 25 stock trades, $20 per trade thereafter||$7 per trade plus $1 per contract||Yes||Yes||Varies – Cost of one ETF share for ETF investments or up to $3000 for some mutual fund options||Varies||Open a Vanguard account|