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Best online stock trading brokers 2021

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Best online stock trading brokers 2021: Image shows someone checking the stock exchange with an online stock trading app open
(Image credit: Getty / Witthaya Prasongsin / EyeEm)

The best online stock trading brokers can help you meet your investment goals with a suite of tools and resources designed to make your money work harder. The ability to trade stocks online and manage your investments from wherever you are can offer the height of flexibility, and with no minimum investment amounts to contend with – a hallmark of the top stock trading platforms – it’s accessible to consumers of all backgrounds and financial status. 

Demand for the top stock trading platforms has seen competition heat up between providers, which means investors can benefit. Commission-free trades are a definite perk of some of the best online trading platforms, while others are able to boast a heightened level of support and expert resources, with different options best suited to those at the novice or more experienced end of the scale. Fees will always come into it, which makes comparing the various options essential so as to find the most competitive solution for your requirements and ensure your profit margins remain intact, and is where this guide can help. 

We’ve scoured the market to uncover the best online trading companies around, paying close attention to everything from the tools available to the costs involved to ensure there’s a broker that can cater to your needs. This list highlights the very best platform for beginners as well as for more experienced investors, the one that’s known for reliability, others that are best for personalization, customer support and future planning, as well as the one that offers the widest range of investment options. We only list the most reputable brokers, too, offering an extra degree of confidence that your money is secure. 

Yet before you take the plunge with one of the best online stock trading brokers, it’s important to be mindful of the risks inherent with stock market investing. Even the very best online trading platforms can’t guarantee returns and there’s a chance you could lose money, with the volatility of the market the sole determiner of any profit. That said, there’s the potential for far higher returns than can be achieved with cash saving, though anyone with such lofty goals in mind will need to be comfortable with the amount they’re risking and should take a long-term view for the best chance of success. Those seeking alternative methods to maximize their returns may want to consider currency trading, in which case you’ll want to find the best forex brokers to get started.  


1. TD Ameritrade: Best online stock trading brokers for beginners

TD Ameritrade: Best online stock trading broker for beginners

(Image credit: TD Ameritrade )

TD Ameritrade is the online stock trading platform that’s great for beginners and experienced traders alike.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+No commission charges+Lots of free extras +Excellent reputation and portfolio
Reasons to avoid
-High broker trade fee

TD Ameritrade has an abundance of features, plenty of cutting edge technology and research, and is constantly innovating and creating new tools. As a standalone stock trading platform, TD Ameritrade is also an excellent place for beginners to cut their investment teeth, thanks to the proliferation of research, guidance, tutorials, platforms and services that it has to offer. 

While the platform has commission-free trading and free extras, it should be noted that the charge for the use of a broker will add to your costs. Assuming you take this into account, the platform can happily be enjoyed by traders of any level and expertise. However, it is perhaps the casual traders and novices who stand to gain most from TD Ameritrade, particularly in respect of the usability and accessibility that the platform has to offer. 


2. E*Trade: Best online stock trading brokers for reliability

E*Trade: Best online stock trading broker for reliability

(Image credit: E*Trade)

E*Trade is a longstanding online stock trading platform that you can trust.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+No commission charges+Extensive investment portfolio+Excellent mobile app
Reasons to avoid
-Beginners may struggle

E*Trade is a reliable online stock trading choice for investors who don’t like to take chances and would prefer to work with an established broker. Having been in the stock trading business for over 40 years, E*Trade certainly has the experience required to satisfy such requirements, and enjoys a excellent reputation to boot. 

Its longevity has also allowed for the development of intelligent and relevant tools and services for its users. Wider ranges of investment options might be available elsewhere, but E*Trade is an expert in what it offers and willing to share this knowledge with newer and older investors alike via its highly informative and educational support material. The platforms and mobile applications are excellent too, all providing an excellent basis from which to help you get the most from your portfolio and develop investment and trading skills. 


3. Merrill Edge: Best online stock trading for personal support

Merrill Edge: Best online stock trading broker for support

(Image credit: Merrill Edge)

Merrill Edge is a trusted stock trading solution with a reputation for providing excellent support.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Superb research+Integration with Bank of America+Great investment tools and services
Reasons to avoid
-Some hidden fees

Merrill Edge’s relationship with the Bank of America is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there's the potential for a less-than-straightforward pricing structure and perhaps fewer investment options than you could find elsewhere. But on the other hand, you get the comfort of knowing you're dealing with a steady and reliable provider, and perhaps most importantly, can access a level of personal support that only the largest financial institutions, with countless outlets across the US, can provide. 

What is also in Merrill Edge's favor is a phenomenal research and knowledge center, perfect for those new to investing to learn the basics and get started, but also beholden of enough information to interest advanced investors and help them develop their strategies further. The user reviews of current investors are far above average for a stock trading broker too, suggesting you won't be disappointed in the service that you receive. 


4. Fidelity Investments: Best online stock trading for future planning

Fidelity Investments: Best online stock trading broker for future planning

(Image credit: Fidelity Investments)

Fidelity Investments offers a complete stock trading option for investors of all kind.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+No commission charges+Lots of research and information+Good customer service
Reasons to avoid
-Website is a little dated

Fidelity Investments stands out as a family-friendly, future-focused stock trading platform designed to help people better plan for what might lay ahead. To this end, Fidelity offers some diverse stock options and portfolios that can be used by people of all trading skill level to improve their finances and investments. 

Better looking websites may be available elsewhere, but few can rival the wealth of digital offerings, research, tools and services that Fidelity have designed to make your life easier and your investments more efficient. Regular nationwide recognition for its customer service certainly shouldn't be overlooked either, making Fidelity a great broker to consider if you want to work with a company that can help customize your investments in line with your future plans. 


5. TradeStation: Best online stick trading for expert investors

TradeStation: Best online stock trading broker for experts

(Image credit: TradeStation)

TradeStation offers portfolio depth for more experienced traders.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Well-designed platforms and tools+Advanced tools and services
Reasons to avoid
-Maybe not for beginners-Pricing not always clear

TradeStation is a solid and dependable online stock trading platform with a rich history that spans more than 30 years. Nowhere is this better reflected than in its services and offerings, and the sophisticated approach that it takes to investing and trading. For this reason, TradeStation is a great choice for the more sophisticated investor, who more-than-likely knows what they are doing, but are perhaps on the look out for the next trading edge. 

Unsurprisingly, the advanced tools and services are excellent, and there's an almost unrivaled knowledge hub from which to learn more about the techniques required to become the savviest of investors. The customer reviews are great and there's understandably an array of investment options on offer too. Given the tendency to cater more towards the expert trader, novices might find the website a little too much to cope with if you're just getting started. However, for the more experienced investor, there's everything you would hope for and probably more besides. 


6. Zacks Trade: Best online stock trading for personalization 

Zacks Trade: Best online stock trading broker for personalization

(Image credit: Zacks Trade)

Zacks trade is the perfect stock trading platform for making investments your own.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Intelligent trading platform+International trading available+Well-designed website and interface
Reasons to avoid
-Fees are high 

Zacks Trade offers all the stock trading investment options that any experienced investor is likely to require. The platforms are feature-rich, the research functions are in-depth and the investment tools are highly advanced, but perhaps what stands out most - particularly when considered against its rivals - is the option of free broker-assisted trading. The need to pay a minimum account fee and a number of smaller fees provides some balance, but it is a service that will undoubtedly appeal to some. 

Elsewhere, Zacks Trade is renowned for good customer service – you can call during office hours or make use of the support center to manage your account seamlessly. That said, it is probably still a better option if you know what you're doing investment wise, but want the choice and tools capable of taking you to the next trading level. 


7. Interactive Brokers: Best online stock trading for investment options

Interactive Brokers: Best online stock trading broker for investment options

(Image credit: Interactive Brokers)

Interactive Brokers offers advanced trading tools ideal for experienced investors.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Lots of investment product variety+Lots of research+Advanced tools and support
Reasons to avoid
-Fee for low trading volume

Interactive Brokers offers some of the most advanced stock trading tools and investment products on the market but has plenty to offer the novice investor too. As well as being one of the few brokers to offer fractional shares, there's the Robo Portfolios option if you're happy to entrust your stock selections to an algorithm, and the Probability Lab, aimed at helping those with a less than mathematical mind.  

Traders of all levels will benefit from the technology, tools, and investment variety, while there are almost 50 educational courses on offer, should you want to further your knowledge. In terms of cost, Interactive Brokers is one of the most competitive online stock trading brokers around, and there's a trial option allowing you to check out the platform options for free. 


What is an online stock trading broker?

A stock broker is a person or company that has the license to buy and sell stocks through the market exchanges. While stock trading was previously difficult for those short of time to have in-depth discussions with brokers or the money to pay for the associated investment costs, online stock trading has made investing the most accessible it has ever been and more affordable too. 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
Online stock brokers provide the opportunity for a discounted experience of trading stocks on the market exchange. While online brokers don't usually offer the wide range of services typically available from traditional broker firms, the best online stock brokers might offer greater access to investment research and tools, and also educative material to help develop stock trading understanding and techniques. 

How to buy stock online

Online stock trading companies make trading stock a very simple process. The first step is to set up 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 choose 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 allows 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, as you can set the exchange as you would like and leave it untouched until it is filled.

Online stock broker platforms for beginners

When first learning 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. 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. 

Practicing before trading for real is also a good idea, so find a stock trading broker that has a virtual stock simulator, allowing you to experience the ins and outs of trading without putting your money at risk. A wealth of educational material online is also a good indication that the stock broker is willing to support beginners and help you grow as an investor. 

How to start online stock trading

Many novice stock traders worry they have neither the time, money or expertise to start investing. 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 passively managed 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 - effectively, they are a hands-off way to manage your assets. Most robo-advisors don’t have minimum investments, but for those that do, $500 is enough to start an account. Most online stock trading brokers have their own robo-advisor offerings.

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
While they shouldn't, human stock brokers may feel pressured to sell a specific product to clients, maybe if they have certain financial deals in place with certain companies. A robo-investor will never 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

There are a number of official and professional regulations that an online stock broker will belong to if they are to be considered safe and trustworthy. These include the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, with confirmation of membership normally easily found on any stock trading brokers website. If a 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)

Tim Leonard

With over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry, Tim has spent most of his career working for a financial data firm, where he was Online Editor of the consumer-facing Moneyfacts site, and regularly penned articles for the financial advice publication Investment Life and Pensions Moneyfacts. As a result, he has an excellent knowledge of almost areas of personal finance and, in particular, the retirement, investment, protection, mortgage and savings sectors.