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Best stock trading platform 2020: Online brokers worth investing in

Checking the stock exchange with an online stock trading app open
(Image credit: Getty / Witthaya Prasongsin / EyeEm)

When you first embark down the road of stock trading, you’ll want to investigate the best stock trading platforms available to find out if they have good reputations and reasonable pricing. 

The stock trading market has become very competitive so you’ll notice that most of the leading platforms have removed the need for a minimum amount to open an account and that many of their trades are commission-free. However, this doesn’t mean that the fees aren’t hidden elsewhere, so ensure you dig down into pricing structures for your chosen investment products before you commit to anything.

This stock trading platform guide is designed to break down the jargon surrounding the online trading and ease you into the stock market gently. 

In this list of the best stock trading platforms, we’ve spent time playing around with the different features, looking into their pricing structures, researching their reputation with active customers, and examining their product offerings. These are the best on the market right now, many of them having won awards for their technology, services and solutions. Always remember though, investments are a really smart way to manage and improve your financial future, but only if done with the right partner and following solid advice and qualified guidance.

Finally, it's advisable to proceed with caution. It is best to start slow, with low investments until you understand the market and the risks involved. 

1. TD Ameritrade: Best for the beginner

TD Ameritrade Review

(Image credit: TD Ameritrade)

TD Ameritrade

A reliable and reputable stock trading platform that’s as useful for the beginner as it is for the experienced trader

Account minimum amount: None | Commission fee: None | Account fees: Transfer fee may apply | Investment products: Stocks, bonds, options, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, Futures, Forex, Margin trading, cryptocurrency trading, managed portfolios, cash management, bonds and fixed income, annuities, IPOs, dividend reinvestment, collateral lending

No commission charges
Lots of free extras 
Excellent reputation and portfolio
Trades are broker-assisted 

TD Ameritrade has lots of features, plenty of cool technology and research, and is constantly innovating and creating new tools. This platform is an excellent place to start for beginners as it includes the research, guidance, tutorials, platforms and services that someone starting out would need to ensure they feel confident. The platform has commission-free trading and free extras but does charge for the use of a broker which adds to the price tag. While the platform can happily be enjoyed by traders of any level, beginners and casual traders will appreciate the usability and accessibility of the website and platforms. 

2. E*Trade: Best for stability and reliability

E*Trade Review

(Image credit: E*Trade)

E*Trade

A long-standing player in the industry that grows with the investor over time

Account minimum amount: None | Commission fee: None | Account fees: Transfer fees may apply | Investment products: Stocks, Options, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Futures, Bonds and CDs and IRAs, managed portfolios, retirement portfolios, small business, bank and brokerage

No commission charges
Extensive investment portfolio
Excellent mobile app
Beginners may struggle

E*Trade has great mobile applications and platforms. They are designed to help you get the most from your portfolio and to really expand your skills in investment and trading. This platform is a reliable choice for investors who don’t want to take chances and want to work with a company that has been around for a while and has a well-known footprint. As E*Trade has been in the business for several years, it not only has a good reputation, but it has also used its experience to create intelligent and relevant tools and services for its users. 

3. Merrill Edge: Best for the personal touch

Merrill Edge Review

(Image credit: Merrill Edge)

Merrill Edge

Integrated with Bank of America, Merrill Edge is a trusted and reliable source of investment products and solutions

Account minimum amount: None | Commission fee: None | Account fees: A variety of different fees apply to different options and use cases | Investment products: Stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Fixed Income and Bonds, Options, Margin, BofAML US 1 List, managed portfolios

Superb research
Integration with Bank of America
Great investment tools and services
Some hidden fees

Merrill Edge’s relationship with the Bank of America is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get the hidden fees and complex pricing structures of a financial institution. On the other hand, you get personal service from any one of the Bank of America outlets around the country. Merrill Edge has a phenomenal research and knowledge center, matched only by E*Trade for scope and depth. It’s really excellent and an ideal starting point for someone who wants to learn more about stock trading before they start. The Merrill Edge platform is well suited to beginners and experts alike thanks to its diverse portfolio of investment products and customized accounts and services. 

4. Fidelity Investments: Best for families and future planning

Fidelity Investments Review

(Image credit: Fidelity Investments)

Fidelity Investments

Fidelity Investments is a nicely rounded stock trading option for investors of all levels and aptitudes

Account minimum amount: None | Commission fee: None | Account fees: Some fees may apply | Investment products: Mutual Funds, Retirement & IRA, trading, stocks, fixed income, bonds & CDs, ETFs, options, sector investing, savings

No commission charges
Lots of research and information
Good customer service
Broker-assisted trade fees

Fidelity Investments has positioned itself as the family-friendly, future-focused stock trading platform that helps people plan their lives and their financial futures. To this end, it has created some diverse stock options and portfolios that can be used by people of all trading skill level to improve their finances and investments. While the site isn’t great to navigate, Fidelity has a wealth of digital offerings, research, tools and services that are designed to make your life easier and your investments more efficient. This is an ideal place to start if you’re new to stock trading and want to work with a company that can help you customize your investments in line with your plans for the future.

5. TradeStation: Best for experts

TradeStation Review

(Image credit: TradeStation)

TradeStation

Lots of power and portfolio depth make this a great choice for active and enthusiastic traders

Account minimum amount: $2000 on TS Select account, zero on other accounts | Commission fee: None | Account fees: Some fees may apply dependent on account | Investment products: Stocks, ETFs, Options, Futures, Futures Options, Crypto, IPOs, Mutual Funds, Bonds

Well-designed platforms and tools
Advanced tools and services
Pricing is complex 
Site can be confusing to navigate

TradeStation is another solid and dependable platform that has been on the market for many years. This reflects in its services and offerings and in its sophisticated approach to investments. The website is fiddly to navigate but it has a phenomenal knowledge hub – often considered to be the best on the market – great customer reviews, and an array of investment options and tools. With its advanced tools and services, this is a very good place for the more experienced trader to build a foundation. 

6. Zacks Trade: Best for personalization 

Zacks Trade Review

(Image credit: Zacks Trade)

Zacks Trade

Zacks trade is slick, sexy and beautifully designed but all that comes with a price tag

Account minimum amount: $2500 | Commission fee: Dependent on trade and option | Account fees: Some fees may apply dependent on account, no inactivity or maintenance fees | Investment products: Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual Funds, Corporate bonds, Government Bonds

Intelligent trading platform
International trading available
Well-designed website and interface
Fees are high 

Zacks Trade expects you to pay a minimum account fee and has quite a few little fees added on here and there but the fact that you get free broker assisted trades almost makes this worthwhile. The platform has excellent customer service – you can call during office hours – and you can use their support center to manage your account seamlessly. The research is great, the tools advanced, and the platforms feature-rich, but the broker access is a big plus for this company. 

7. Interactive Brokers: Best for investment variety 

Interactive Brokers Review

(Image credit: Interactive Brokers)

Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers provides advanced trading tools on a highly professional platform that's best suited to expert traders

Account minimum amount: None on both IBKR Pro and Lite | Commission fee: Dependent on account and location | Account fees: Monthly activity fee if you drop below a certain threshold on Pro | Investment products: Stocks, Options, Futures, Forex, Metals, Bonds, ETFs, Mutual Funds, EFPs, Hedge Funds, Robo Portfolios

Lots of investment product variety
Lots of research
Advanced tools and support
You’ll pay if you don’t play

Interactive Brokers comes across as this old world, traditional banking platform but it has some of the most advanced tools and investment products on the market. It’s one of the few to offer fractional shares as an option, plus it has artificial intelligence-powered solutions that have won industry-recognized awards. Traders of all levels will benefit from the technology, tools and investment variety. 

What is an online stock trading broker?

Editorial disclaimer

Editorial content on this page is not provided, commissioned, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any service provider. We work hard to keep the content as up to date as possible so you can make the right choice. It is Top Ten Review's, not service provider's, responsibility to ensure accuracy. If the service has changed and you notice something that is no longer accurate then please let us know at editorial@toptenreviews.com so we can update the page.

A stock broker is a person or company that has the license to buy and sell stocks through the market exchanges. Stock trading used to be hard for individuals to do due to the long telephone calls to a busy stock broker and the high investment cost. However, online stock broking means it is easier for an individual to manage their own stock portfolio at a lower cost. When choosing a stock broker, there are generally two choices:

A full service stock broker

 These are the more traditional stock brokers that have physical offices. They offer a range of services beyond the ability to trade stocks on the exchange, such as retirement planning help, tax tips, and guidance on what stock to buy and sell.

An online stock broker

These online stock broker websites exist to give you a discounted experience of trading stocks on the market exchange. The stock exchange companies do not offer the range of services of a traditional firms, and have a more do it yourself approach to investing in stocks. The best online stock brokers offer a range of extras like research or provide class on how to learn to invest in stocks. 

How to buy stock online

Online stock trading companies make trading stock a very simple process. The first step is setting an online brokerage account on the platform or website you are going to use to trade stocks. After your account has been set up, you trade stock by placing the stock’s ticker code into the platform. A ticker code is a one to five digits in length and is used to identify stocks. 

Most online stock traders will allow you to trade stock in two methods:

Market order

 This type of stock order is immediate, and placed at the current market value. If you enter that you want to buy ten shares, you’ll exchange shares with someone selling shares in the company. This type of stock exchange is filled quickly, and usually at an extra cost. 

Limit order

A limit order will allow you to place a set amount on the trade of shares, so they’ll only be exchanged at the price you’ve set. These are ideal ways to buy stocks that are not often traded. It is also an easy way for a casual investor to manage their profile, you can set the exchange up and just forget it about it until it is filled.

Online stock broker platforms for beginners

When you are first starting to learn how to buy and sell stocks on the market, it is usually best to look for a platform that will support beginners. 

A low commission price is essential for people just learning to exchange goods. This means that you can exchange stock with low investment losses. When you are just learning to it is best to do so at a minimal cost. 

Also look for a trader with a low minimum investment amount. This way, if you discover exchanging stocks is not the investment method for you, you can stop easily with minimum losses. 

The lowest cost way is to use a virtual stock simulator where you can trade stock with fake money. Once you figure out the ins and outs of the market, then start investing with real money.

Another good indication that the stock broker website supports beginners is the wealth of educational material they have to offer. Look for a platform that wants to help you grow as an investor. 

How to start online stock trading

A lot of novice stock traders worry they have neither the time or money to start investing. They are also daunted by the stock market and feel they don’t have the time or knowledge to immerse themselves into the market. Don’t worry, there are many ways to invest that require only very basic knowledge and a relatively small amount of money. If you have $500, here are some ways to invest your money:

ETFs

Exchange traded funds, or ETFs, are mutual or index funds that are traded like stocks. They have some benefits over direct investing in a mutual or index fund. For example, you only pay capital gains taxes if you trade your ETF shares. ETFs tend to have a solid rate of return, rather than the volatility of an individual stock. Many brokers also offer commission-free ETFs, so you don’t pay anything to buy the shares.

Mutual funds

If you feel like taking more risk, buying into an actively managed index fund can give you a chance at higher returns. You can buy into some mutual funds with $500 or less. Keep in mind that you pay commissions and fees, so you may be better off with a more passively managed index fund, which has lower fees.

Robo-Advisors

Robo-advisors are automatic investment programs that use algorithms to trade a portfolio based on your risk tolerance and investment goals. They are a hands-off way to manage your assets when you don’t have time or don’t want the pressure of doing it yourself. Most robo-advisors don’t have minimum investments, but for those that do, $500 is enough to start an account. Most brokers have their own robo-advisor offerings, or you can use robo-advisors like Wealthfront or Betterment.

Online stock trading vs stock brokers

Fees and commissions are a top concern for any investor. Over time, trading expenses can add up, meaning less money in your account. In the last year, the online stock trading brokers we reviewed have reduced their commissions to between $2.95 and $6.95 per trade. A regular broker’s commission can range from $19.99 to $44.99 per transaction, and it’s easy to see why online trading has become so popular. At 20 trades per year, broker-assisted trading alone can add up to about $400 to $900 per year. So, online stock broking is a lower investment. However, engaging a regular stock broker will give you access to expert advice and years of experience. 

What are robo-advisors?

Robo-advisors are automatic investment programs that use algorithms to trade a portfolio based on your risk tolerance and investment goals. They are a hands-off way to manage your assets when you don’t have time or don’t want the pressure of doing it yourself. Most robo-advisors don’t have minimum investments, but for those that do, $500 is enough to start an account. Most brokers have their own robo-advisor offerings, or you can use robo-advisors like Wealthfront or Betterment.

How do robo-advisors work?

A robo advisor will ask you a set of questions about your income, risk tolerance, and investment goals. Based on your answers, the robo-advisor uses an algorithm to suggest investments, create a diversified portfolio and manage it. Some of these automated stock trading platforms also rebalance your portfolio and use tax harvesting to lower your liability to the IRS. 

Why use a robo-investor? 

The advantages of a robo investor include: 

Low Fee Stock Trading:

The automated approach allows for a more competitive cost as all the work is done by software. 

Conflict Free:

Human stock brokers sometimes feel pressured to sell a specific product to clients as they have financial deals with companies. A robo-investor will not act in it’s own best interest over yours. 

Lower Minimum Investment

The minimum investment needed for a robo-investor is as low as $500. This means it is a lower commitment to invest than conventional financial advisors. 

Always Available:

Robo-investors are always there when you need them, and you don’t have to wait on line listening to hold music to get the help you need.

What to look for in an online stock-trading platform

To ensure you online stock broker is safe and trustworthy there are a number of official and professional regulations and trust that they should belong to.  When searching for a stock exchange platform, the professional bodies they belong to should be noted very clearly in an easy to find location. Ensure that they are members of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

If the broker is offering additional services such as a checking or savings accounts they should also be fully covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)