Online Stock Trading for Beginners Review
Why Use a Stock Trading for Beginners Platform?
The top performers in our review are OptionsHouse, the Gold Award winner; Fidelity, the Silver Award winner; and TD Ameritrade, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 services.
Investing in the stock market can be a daunting prospect. All the jargon, tickers and charts can make investing seem like something you need an advanced degree and years of training for. Most brokerages make stock trading for beginners easy, providing investment education and tutorials to help you learn about the markets and the best use of platforms for your particular investment strategy.
The best online stock trading platforms for beginners include courses, quizzes, webinars and other resources to teach you about the stock market and investing. These brokerages also offer step-by-step training on how to best use their platform.
If you are an experienced investor interested in learning about stock brokerages, you might be interested in our Online Stock Trading reviews. If you're interested in trying your hand at other investment types, our Options Trading, Penny Stocks and Forex sites can help you. Our articles on investing cover a wide variety of topics and can help you learn more about trading stocks.
How Risky Is Stock Trading?
Ultimately, investing can be as simple or as complicated as you want. You can choose low-risk mutual or index funds, put your money on blue chip stocks, or try your hands at options trading. The decision of where to put your money depends on your tolerance of risk. Riskier investments bring the potential for greater returns but also greater losses. Safer investments may not bring huge rewards, but you are less likely to lose money on your investments.
One tactic to try to manage risk is by diversifying your investments. Putting your money in different investments rather than going all in on one stock can potentially work as a hedge against one stock falling dramatically. Spreading your risk by investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and even trying options can reduce the impact of any one investment turning sour.
Trading stocks can also impact your taxes. Any profits you make are subject to capital gains taxes, which applies to any profit you make on a trade and is assessed on the difference between the selling price and the purchase price. The taxes are only paid on the realized gains you receive when you sell the stock and receive the funds. Assets that you have held for a year or less are taxed at a higher rate than those you hold from between one to five years
Different types of investments carry different levels of risks. The least risky types of investments are CODs, treasury bills and money market accounts. These usually have low returns but very little risk to your principle. Mutual Funds and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are two different types of investments that bundle together different securities and are managed professionally. ETFs track a particular index and mutual funds are a combination of different assets. These types of investments are usually less volatile than the stock of a single company. Options are more risky, since they can fluctuate wildly and result in large gains or losses. Futures and Forex are two of the riskiest types of investment because they are more speculative than stocks and other investments.
How to Get Started Trading Stocks
To begin trading stocks, you need to make an initial investment with the brokerage you choose. Most of the brokers in our review don't require a minimum investment. The amount required to start ranges from the $500 E-Trade Financial requires to the $5,000 TradeStation requires. With some brokerages, these minimum starting investments may give you access to a limited set of features. With TD Ameritrade, there is no minimum investment, but if you want to trade options or open a margin account, you need to invest $2,000. If you want access to Scottrade's Elite desktop trading platform, your account needs to have at least $25,000.
Once you've opened an account, you may want to take advantage of the simulated trading or paper money accounts that several of these brokers offer. Simulated trades can give you an opportunity to test strategies and fine tune them before you put real money on the line. These simulators are also a useful tool for learning the intricacies of trading platforms and are especially useful if you're a hands-on learner. TD Ameritrade, OptionsHouse and optionsXpress all offer simulated trading. Our Stock Simulator site includes other options not included on this review.
What We Evaluated & What We Found
User Training & Investor Education
When evaluating online stock brokers, we payed particular attention to the resources they provide about the stock market for beginners. The best of these include investment education and user training, so beginners can learn about the markets and securities as well as how to place trades.
The best of these brokers offered investor education that included courses that covered a wide variety of topics. As a beginner, you may not be well versed in the jargon of the investment world, and these courses can help give you a solid footing before you begin investing. E*TRADE's courses were the most in-depth of any broker we reviewed, and its courses included quizzes that tested you on your knowledge.
Most brokers also offered some combination of articles, webinars and blogs. In particular, the webinars can be helpful since they provide regular updates and can address market events as they happen. The best brokers also offer an archive of their webinars so you can access them at any time.
Also important is the quality of the user training the broker offers. Tutorials and videos can show you how to use the platform and its various features. The best offer step-by-step training that takes you through simple processes like placing a trade, creating a watch list or analyzing stocks. An easily accessible knowledgebase, which include training manuals and FAQs, is another useful tool. The best include visual examples to help you quickly find what you're looking for. OptionsHouse, TradeStation and TD Ameritrade are the brokers with the best user training in our review.
Our reviewers tested each of these online stock broker's trading platforms with a particular eye on how user friendly they are for beginners. We looked at the ease of setting up watch lists and alerts, the variety of charting tools, and the ease of analyzing the performance of a particular stock. The best allow you to easily search for stocks and securities by symbol or by name, and they make it easy to add those to a watchlist. The best charting tools allow you to compare stocks with each other and with different industries and to use different indicators to analyze that stock's performance.
The best platforms also make it easy to order trades and set up options chains. You should also be able to fund your account by connecting it with your bank using your bank's routing number. Another mark of a quality platform is easy access to tax documents and the ability to import that information directly into a program, such as TurboTax.
Mobile Apps & Other Trading Tool
Each broker in our review offers a mobile app in addition to its desktop or online trading platform. Mobile apps are a useful tool to have for first-time investors. By using a broker's mobile app, you can monitor your positions, receive alerts, make trades and move funds between your accounts. The best mobile apps sync to the online account so you can access your watchlists anywhere. Some apps, such as TradeKing's, don't allow you to create alerts through the app and require you to manage them through the desktop app. Scottrade, OptionsHouse and Fidelity all offer standout mobile apps.
Other trading tools we evaluated include the number of options strategies and analytic charts the broker offers. The best brokers include options strategies beyond buying basic calls and puts. These advanced strategies include Iron Butterflies, Iron Condors and Strangles. These strategies can be an effective way to set yourself up to succeed and get the outcomes you're working toward. If you have little interest in options trading, this may not be an important consideration.
Analytic charts range from simple measurements of stock volume and momentum to more complicated indicators, such as Bollinger Bands and Stochastics. These charts monitor a stock's historical performance and can help give you an idea of what direction it might head in and if it's worth investing in or not. Some analytics charts also include forecasting tools to help give an idea of an idea of a stock's future performance. TD Ameritrade was a standout in this area, offering over 300 different analytic charts and forecasting with its prophet tool.
Fees & Commissions
As a beginner you won't be trading a high volume of stocks, so the difference in pricing may not be a big factor in your decision. The brokers we reviewed charge between $5 and $10 per trade. Beginning stock traders may want to pay attention to the broker-assisted fee. Most services charge if you need a broker's help completing a trade. The highest broker-assisted fee we found was TradeStation with a fee of $50. A broker-assisted fee of $25 is around average, and optionsXpress waives this fee entirely.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
OptionsHouse is the top-ranked broker in our review. Its online platform ranked the best in our usability tests, and it offers a mobile app that is easy to use and has much of the same functionality as the web platform. With video tutorials providing step-by-step training, OptionsHouse has some of the best user training our reviewers encountered. At $4.95 a trade, OptionsHouse also has affordable fees.
TD Ameritrade has some of the most robust trading tools we reviewed, and you can open a PaperMoney account to practice trades in a simulated environment before you begin making trades with your actual money.
Fidelity offers excellent education about investing and the stock market and includes some of the best tools in our review. It also has a very good mobile app but requires an upfront investment of $2,500, making it a more expensive option than other brokers we reviewed.
optionsXpress is another broker whose platform stood out. It offers tools to allow you to compare stocks with different industries as well as automate your trading. This broker doesn't have as many training tools or features as other brokers we reviewed did.
Etrade Financial has some of the most thorough investor education in our review. It offers courses covering basic investing all the way through advanced options strategies, and it includes quizzes to test your knowledge. It has a strong platform with many useful tools, but it is harder to use.
Stock trading for beginners can seem daunting, and while every broker in our review offers a quality suite of tools to make trades and analyze stocks, the best offer education on investing and training on how to best use the trading platform.