Best Online Stock Trading Brokers of 2018

Deborah Wilburn ·
Updated
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.

This is our 10th year reviewing online stock trading sites. For this update, we spent 80 hours testing the 10 best online broker platforms that let you research, monitor and order trades without the need of a personal broker. Based on our research, Fidelity is our pick for the best online broker for most investors because of its low commissions, guidance tools and an array of investment choices.

 

Editor's Note:
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.
Best Overall
Fidelity
Fidelity is the best online broker because it has low commissions, a wide range of investment choices and tools to help you make trading decisions. Beginning investors can trade more than 90 commission-free ETFs, while advanced traders can take advantage of screening and analytic tools to guide their decisions.
View on Fidelity
Best for Beginning Investors
Charles Schwab
If you’re just getting started, Charles Schwab has good tools to help you learn the ropes, such as step-by-step trading tutorials and an easy-to-use platform. It has more than 1,000 commission-free ETFs, and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios automates many trading decisions.
View on Charles Schwab
Best Value
Firstrade
If cost is your main concern, it’s hard to beat $0 commissions on all trades. Firstrade also has the most commission-free ETFs of any broker we looked at. Its trading platform has fewer frills and training tools, but for cost-conscious traders, its prices hard to beat.
View on Firstrade
$4.95
View on Fidelity
$4.95
View on Schwab
$4.95
View on Firstrade
$6.95
View on Merrilledge
$3.95
View on Go.Ally
$6.95
View on Tdameritrade
$6.95
View on Us.Etrade
$5
View on Tradestation
$4.49
View on Speedtrader
$1
View on Interactivebrokers
Best Overall
We recommend Fidelity as the best online stock broker.
This trading service combines a wide range of investment choices along with advanced analytical research from some 20 providers, including Argus – a new research provider who adds increased diversity in analyzing stocks. Plus, Fidelity has low pricing. If you’d rather not do your own stock-picking, you can choose from over 10,000 mutual funds rated by Morningstar and 93 commission-free exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The brokerage continues to enhance its platform with two new screeners: one that enables you to tailor your screen with up to 140 criteria for stocks, and an ETF research tool and screener. Also new is Trade Armor, a tool that allows you to visually explore profit and loss scenarios using charts, news, alerts and research for potential or existing stock positions. Fidelity’s Learning Center offers a deep bench of topics categorized by skill level. While there’s no minimum to open a brokerage account to buy stocks or shares in an ETF, most mutual funds require an initial $2,500 investment. The mobile app features all the tools you need to manage your accounts. Among other things, you can view your balances, account positions and watch lists; get research information and real-time quotes for placing trades; and set up customizable push alerts.
Pros
  • Fidelity has low pricing
  • There's no minimum to open a brokerage account to buy stocks or shares in an ETF
  • Manage your account with Fidelity's mobile app
Cons
  • Mutual funds require an initial $2,500 investment
$4.95Fidelity
Read the full review
Best for Beginning Investors
Charles Schwab is an impressive one-stop shop for investors of any level.
Schwab’s experts hand-pick suggestions for a wide range of investments based on its own team of analysts. Investor education is comprehensive, and tools, calculators and worksheets are easy to use. There’s also a stock screener to aggregate the information you need to search for and evaluate investment opportunities. Stock fundamentals, valuations, price performance and analyst ratings from Argus and other top research firms provide you with insights on a stock’s rating in the current market. Setting up a portfolio of mutual funds and ETFs is simple with Schwab’s Fund Finder tool. You only need to choose from a list of criteria, including Morningstar ratings and management style, to generate matching options. And Schwab sets the gold standard for customer service. If you’re feeling stuck, advisors can be reached via phone or chat 24/7.
Pros
  • Step-by-step trading tutorials
  • Charles Schwab has more than 1,000 commission-free ETFs Easy-to-use platform
Cons
  • Minimum balance of $1,000 required to begin trading
$4.95Charles Schwab
Read the full review
Best Value
Firstrade is well-known for keeping costs down.
There are no commissions – and it has the largest selection of commission-free ETFs. Screeners make it easy to scope out new opportunities, with research provided by Morningstar. You just choose the asset you want and set your criteria, and the tool does the searching for you. Investor education doesn’t run deep here, but what content there is, is useful, such as videos that show you how to place a trade and explain the different types of analysis used for picking stocks. You can open an account for free to test the platform. Questions are welcome, but customer service hours are limited to business days from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.
Pros
  • No minimum investment
  • Open account at no cost
Cons
  • Training platform has limited tools
  • Customer Service hours are limited
US$0Firstrade
Read the full review
Best for Self-Directed Traders
Ally Invest makes no bones about the fact that it’s geared to the trader who doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding.
You can either manage your own accounts (there’s not much investment education to get you grounded) or put your portfolio in the hands of its robo-advisor. If you want to actively manage your investments, Ally Invest offers two different platforms: The Classic (formerly known as TradeKing) and Ally Invest Live. The Classic is a simple platform that includes all the basic charting and analysis tools to help you find securities to invest in. New customers are defaulted to the Ally Invest Live platform, which is more versatile. You can customize the platform to your liking, adding and removing modules from the main page. It has stronger charting tools with more indicators, and you can add alerts using interactive charts for prices and studies. Another main difference between the Classic platform and the newer Ally Invest Live is that quotes stream live on the new platform. Quotes are delayed on the Classic; you need to keep refreshing the page to get the latest.
Pros
  • Customizable platform
Cons
  • Education tools lacking
$3.95Ally Invest
Read the full review
Best for Experienced Traders
TD Ameritrade has some of the most comprehensive tools we tested, and it continues to add to its technological toolbox.
Social media addicts can use the brokerage’s chatbot to execute trades and access market news on Twitter or friend the bot on Facebook Messenger to perform a range of functions, from looking up stock quotes to placing trades and chatting with a live agent. Thinkorswim, TD Ameritrade’s powerful trading platform, can be customized for novice and advanced traders alike. The command center screen brings all your important information together in one place, and you can create alerts, access research from over 400 technical studies, search for stocks based on your criteria and engage with real traders. It’s also the go-to destination for practicing simulated trades with paperMoney. Comprehensive educational offerings include videos, webcasts and tutorials aimed at both novice traders and experienced investors who want to deepen their knowledge and fine-tune their skills. The brokerage doesn’t have the lowest per-trade fee on the list, and its broker-assisted trade fee is a high $44.99, but it’s other features can make it worth the added cost.
Pros
  • Social media integration
Cons
  • Its broker-assisted trade fee is high
$6.95TD Ameritrade
Read the full review

How We Compared Online Brokers

We spent over 80 hours testing 10 different stock platforms, focusing on fees and commissions; platform and tools; educational offerings and resources; and platform training and mobile trading apps.

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 brokers we reviewed have reduced their commissions to between $2.95 and $6.95 per trade. Compare that to what you’d pay a broker, whose 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.

When evaluating how easy a platform is to use, we considered several questions. How easy is it to make watchlists? Could we set up alerts and customize them? What kinds of screening tools are available to help find potential investments? How well do the charting tools work and what technical indicators can you use?

We prefer platforms that are intuitive, with a customizable layout that lets you control which tools are front and center each time you open the program. One of the most vital things is a quick and easily accessible order process. Markets change quickly and being able to execute an order as soon as you can is an important part of maximizing your investments.

Finally, we checked out the mobile apps for each broker. The best apps provide an experience that is very close to the desktop versions, giving you the same tools to monitor securities and to place trades.

What If You Don’t Have Time to Research Investments? Enter the Robo-Advisor

Most casual investors benefit from buy and hold strategies. But if you don’t have the time or inclination to do the research needed to create a diversified portfolio and keep an eye on it, there is one cost-effective solution: Use a robo-advisor, sometimes called a digital advisor, to manage your investments. You complete an online questionnaire 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. These accounts typically invest in ETFs and mutual funds.

There’s no one right way to invest. Ultimately it comes down to your tolerance for risk, the amount of time you have to dedicate to it and your ability to manage your emotions as you manage your portfolio.