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Choosing an online stock broker is one of the most important decisions you will make as an investor. Every trader has a different investment style of trading, and the variety of services brokers offer allows individual traders to be highly selective in determining which online broker best fits their needs.
To help stock traders, this guide aims to introduce online trading and offer indispensable advice relating to unique and helpful aspects of these online trading platforms, the way they function, and how they can best be utilized.
As the head of research here at StockBrokers.com, I have been an online stock trader since 2001, placing over 1,000 stock, options, forex, and crypto trades during that time.
Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading
- TD Ameritrade – Best broker overall
- Fidelity – Best for investors
- Charles Schwab – Best for IRA accounts
- E*TRADE – Best web platform
- Interactive Brokers – Best for professionals
- Merrill Edge – Best rewards program
- TradeStation – Best platform technology
Here’s a breakdown of some of the best online brokers for stock trading.
TD Ameritrade – Best Overall
Rated our #1 online broker for traders in 2019, TD Ameritrade charges $6.95 per trade and offers the largest variety of trading tools through its desktop-based thinkorswim and Mobile Trader platforms. It also ranks #1, alongside its Best in Class rating, for numerous other categories including Beginners, Trading Platforms and Tools, Customer Service, and Education, among others.
Fidelity – Best for Investors
Fidelity Investments charges $4.95 per trade and received 4.5 stars in our 2019 Review, including being awarded Best in Class for 12 different categories. It is our top recommendation for discount trading. The broker also took home the #1 awards for Research and Order Execution. Finally, Fidelity’s mobile app was rated Best Mobile App for Investors.
Charles Schwab – Best for IRA Accounts
Charles Schwab charges $4.95 per trade and was rated #1 for IRA Accounts and 5 stars for Research. Extensive research access along with consistent customer service, ample tools, the largest selection of commission-free funds, and industry-leading market reports combine to present a great full-service brokerage.
E*TRADE – Best for Options, Mobile
E*TRADE, with its $6.95 stock trades, finished fourth overall in 2019. E*TRADE was awarded 5 stars and #1 for Options Trading, thanks to its Power E*TRADE trading platform. The broker also won first place for Mobile Trading, and offers well-rounded access to quality research, trading tools, education, and more.
Interactive Brokers – Best for Professionals
Exclusive Offer: New clients that open an account today receive a special margin rate.
Designed for professional traders serious about their craft, Interactive Brokers offers only per-share pricing ($.005 per share with a $1 minimum per trade), and charges up to $20 per month between two minimum activity fees. Traders who can meet its $100,000 minimum deposit for margin trading are rewarded with an industry-leading commissions schedule, margin rates, and full support for international trading. Read full review
Merrill Edge – Best Rewards Program
Merrill Edge ($6.95 per trade) was awarded #1 for Banking Services and #1 Overall Client Experience, thanks in part to its parent company, Bank of America (BofA). Not limited to just BofA customers, Merrill Edge’s Preferred Rewards program is excellent, offering $0 stock trades among other perks such as bonus rewards on credit cards and discounted mortgage rates.
TradeStation – Best for Platform Technology
TradeStation’s advanced trading platform has been awarded Best Platform Technology for the past six years. For active traders and day traders, TradeStation was rated 5 stars and comes packed full of tools and functionality. Trades are just $5 and users can even code their own apps using the broker’s proprietary EasyLanguage programming language.
Best Trading Platforms
Here is a summary of the best stock trading platforms, based on 944 data points.
- TD Ameritrade – thinkorswim
- TradeStation – TradeStation 10
- Interactive Brokers – Trader Workstation (TWS)
- Fidelity – Active Trader Pro
- Charles Schwab – StreetSmart Edge
To trade online successfully, some stock traders rely purely on their trading tools. Today’s stock trading platforms are not only web based, but also desktop based, and are becoming increasingly mobile based as well. Advanced charting, scanning, hotkeys, virtual trading, watch lists, ladders, Level II quotes, and back testing are just a sampling of the features brokers provide.
Over the years, I have learned it is not just the trading tools that separate brokers, but the design, depth, speed, and overall execution of delivering the ultimate trading experience.
Over the years, I have learned it is not just the trading tools that separate brokers, but the design, depth, speed, and overall execution of delivering the ultimate trading experience. This is where brokers such as TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim and TradeStation really excel. After spending hundreds of hours on both desktop platforms, I give thinkorswim the edge, thanks to its modern feel and outstanding trader tools; however, both platforms execute so well that it truly comes down to personal preference. Die-hard fans exist for both, and either one is a great choice for seasoned traders.
Behind thinkorswim and TradeStation, Fidelity’s Active Trader Pro and Schwab’s StreetSmart Edge are two desktop platforms worth looking at closely. Active Trader Pro and StreetSmart Edge have one distinct advantage over thinkorswim and TradeStation, and that is ease of use. While these platforms do not offer the same depth of trading tools, historical data, chart studies, etc., both are very well designed and user-friendly. In some respects, their balance of power and design make them a better fit for certain traders.
Lastly, investors who prefer a web-platform experience have a choice of several great browser-based trading platforms. Our top pick again this year, Power E*TRADE, combines the best of both worlds: ease of use with fantastic trading tools. The online trading platform is just “ok” for equities trading, but is terrific for options trading. TradeStation Web Trading is another strong choice.
Best Brokers for Stock Analysis
Here is a summary of the top five brokers for stock research, based on 60 different variables.
- Fidelity – Scored 98%
- Charles Schwab – Scored 97%
- TD Ameritrade – Scored 97%
- E*TRADE – Scored 92%
- Merrill Edge – Scored 90%
It is not surprising that the largest, most publicly known online brokers excel, and all vie for the top spot for research. With larger client bases and higher commission costs, high-quality research is expected.
Comparing apples with apples, all five brokers are fairly similar. They all use Morningstar as their primary provider for Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) and mutual fund research, all of them offer a slew of data and graphs for researching stocks, and all offer fixed-income research. Slight differences begin to show only when you assess specifics such as total third-party research reports available for equities, for example Apple (AAPL). In that category, the title goes to Fidelity, with 12 total reports offered, followed by Charles Schwab with eight, and TD Ameritrade with seven.
While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone is not enough.
While any of these brokers will more than satisfy most investors’ appetites, deciding on a winner based on checklists alone is not enough. Quality and design matter just as much as quantity, not to mention the fact that many brokers will go “above and beyond” to differentiate themselves.
Fidelity, which earned our No. 1 spot again this year, stands out for its 12 equity research reports and fantastic stock comparisons, allowing customers to compare up to five stocks at once with 21 different metrics. Fidelity also distributes high-quality market analysis and personal finance education through its Fidelity Viewpoints weekly distribution. What excites us most about Fidelity is its fully responsive (mobile friendly), carefully laid out research area. Content flow and personalization are at the heart of the experience, which is unlike any other broker in the industry.
Charles Schwab, on the other hand, offers customers its own proprietary A – F ratings, called Schwab Equity Ratings, for some 3,000 US stocks. Even more impressive, Schwab boasts a full lineup of 26 in-house experts who provide numerous articles, known as Schwab Insights, on a variety of market topics throughout each week. Some experts, such as Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders, can often be seen on TV discussing the market.
Not to be outdone, TD Ameritrade offers our favorite earnings analysis tool through its thinkorswim platform. TD Ameritrade also provides it’s own TV Network and what it calls Social Signals analysis for individual equities. Using proprietary algorithms, the Sentiment Score shows what percentage of tweets are positive and displays other relevant metrics. Additionally, in the social realm, TD Ameritrade analyzes data from its six million retail customers to create what it calls the Investor Movement Index (IMX), which displays and analyzes the sentiment of its retail investors’ portfolios.
Staying on the theme of unique research tools, Merrill Edge offers Stock Story, which makes researching individual stocks both educational and insightful. Each company’s stock story is broken into four separate chapters: “Who is this company?”, “How are they doing?”, “How has their stock performed?”, and “What do analysts say?” Through Stock Story, the full spectrum is covered, including both fundamental and technical research. Even environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings data is included.
All in all, when it comes to researching stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and fixed income, any top five broker is going to provide an excellent experience for investors. With such similar offerings, it’s the unique experience, features, and functionality that differentiate the brokers.
Best Brokers for Investment Products
Here is a summary of the top five brokers for investment products, based on 40 different variables.
- Interactive Brokers – Scored 96%
- TD Ameritrade – Scored 93%
- Charles Schwab – Scored 91%
- Fidelity – Scored 87%
- E*TRADE – Scored 85%
Investing covers a global spectrum, from investing in international equities to trading forex to purchasing US treasury bonds. To understand the true range of offerings, StockBrokers.com assessed all the broad investment channels down to the specific order types each broker offers.
Thanks to its focus on professional and institutional trading, Interactive Brokers takes the crown. Do you require advanced order types? Not a problem. Interactive Brokers offers customers an arsenal of 63 different order types. What about trading internationally? Easy. Interactive Brokers offers trading in 26 countries and over 120 market centers. The list goes on and on, including even forex and futures trading (see: Best Futures Brokers for 2019 and Best Forex Brokers for 2019).
Best Brokers for Banking Services
Here is a summary of the best brokers for online banking services, based on 13 different variables.
- Merrill Edge – Scored 99%
- Charles Schwab – Scored 94%
- Ally Invest – Scored 82%
- Fidelity – Scored 77%
- E*TRADE – Scored 76%
The best banking plus brokerage combination goes beyond basic stock trading. A quality customer experience also includes rewards benefits for having multiple accounts as well as universal account access so you can log in once and access all your banking and brokerage accounts with ease. As an additional benefit, providing FDIC insurance is important too.
The most prominent traditional bank broker players today are Bank of America plus Merrill Edge, Chase plus You Invest Trade, and Ally plus Ally Invest. Looking at brokerage first, bank second offerings, you have Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and E*TRADE.
Half of BofA’s retail locations have a Merrill Edge rep, the universal account access is terrific (think single universal login plus instant cash transfers between accounts), and BofA offers the best rewards program out of everyone, Preferred Rewards.
The best overall banking plus brokerage offering comes from Merrill Edge, whose parent company is behemoth Bank of America (BofA). Half of BofA’s retail locations have a Merrill Edge rep, the universal account access is terrific (think single universal login plus instant cash transfers between accounts), and BofA offers the best rewards program out of everyone, Preferred Rewards.
To take advantage of the Preferred Rewards program, you do not have to be a banking customer, although the combined account benefits are certainly worthwhile. Through Preferred Rewards, you can earn free stock trades, money-market savings, credit card cash back bonuses, and more. My wife and I have been Preferred Rewards customers since the program’s inception and remain big fans today.
Best Brokers for Customer Service
Here is a summary of the best brokers for customer service, based on 300 phone tests over ten weeks (view infographic).
- TD Ameritrade – 9.01 / 10
- Charles Schwab – 8.87 / 10
- E*TRADE – 8.78 / 10
- Fidelity – 8.72 / 10
- Merrill Edge – 8.64 / 10
When assessing customer service, one phone call is not enough. To gauge the quality of support properly, multiple tests across every channel must be conducted. Here at StockBrokers.com, we are proud of the fact that our testing is respected as the most rigorous in the industry.
To ensure the highest quality testing data, we partner with professional private shopping group Confero.
To ensure the highest quality testing data, we partner with professional private shopping group Confero. With customers such as Coca Cola and Shell, Confero understands how to read between the lines and identify truly superior customer service. Using our StockBrokers.com industry-specific templates, Confero made 300 phone calls to branch offices and support numbers across the United States.
This year, TD Ameritrade was once again able to take the No. 1 spot overall, edging out Charles Schwab. The consistency and ability of TD Ameritrade’s support reps to repeatedly deliver an A or A+ experience is truly impressive.
2019 Brokerage Rankings
Scored on 4,544 data points, here’s our final broker rankings for the sixteen brokerages who participated in our 2019 Broker Review, sorted by Overall ranking.
Summary of the Best Online Stock Brokers
|Online Broker||Best For||Minimum Deposit||Commissions||Overall Rating|
|TD Ameritrade||Best Overall||$0||$6.95||4.5 Stars|
|Fidelity||Best for Investors||$0||$4.95||4.5 Stars|
|Charles Schwab||Best for IRA Accounts||$1,000||$4.95||4 Stars|
|E*TRADE||Best Web Platform||$500||$6.95||4 Stars|
|Interactive Brokers||Best for Professionals||$10,000||$.005 per share||4 Stars|
|Merrill Edge||Best Rewards program||$0||$6.95||4 Stars|
|TradeStation||Best Platform Technology||$500||$5.00||3.5 Stars|
Explore our other online trading guides:
- Best Brokers for Beginners
- Best Discount Brokers
- Best Brokers for Options Trading
- Best IRA Accounts
- Best Brokers for Penny Stocks
- Compare Online Brokers
For the StockBrokers.com ninth annual review published in February 2019, a total of 4,544 data points were collected over six months and used to score brokers. Each broker completed an in-depth data profile and provided executive time (live in person or over the web) for an annual update meeting. Learn more about how we test.