Best Online Stock Trading Brokers of 2019

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. Each of these brokers offers low commissions on trades and has useful tools like stock screeners, analytic charts and robo-advisors.       

 

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 for Self-Directed Traders
Ally Invest
If you want to go your own way, Ally is the best broker for you. Its platform is customizable, so you can set it up to match your preferences and track your investments the way you want.
View on Ally Invest
Best for Experienced Traders
E*TRADE
Experienced investors can take advantage of E*TRADE's discounted commissions for high volume trading. It has powerful platforms with historical charting tools and other features to help you make the best investments.
View on E*TRADE
Best for Simulated Trades
TD Ameritrade
TD Ameritrade is well suited for investors of all skill levels. Traders will appreciate the wide range of tools and screeners, and its platform for practicing simulated trades is one of the best.
View on TD Ameritrade
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
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Best for Experienced Traders
Long-time traders will find a lot to like at E*TRADE, thanks to its wide variety of useful tools and features that help you track and monitor your trades.
In addition, E*TRADE’s tiered pricing structure makes it stand out from its competition. If you make more than 30 trades a quarter, you pay $4.95 to trade stocks, ETFs and options. However, if you don’t make 30 trades a quarter, commissions are $6.95 for those types of securities. This service has multiple platforms, each geared toward a different type of investor. E*TRADE is the most basic and includes a wide variety of screening tools to find investments that match your criteria. Power E*TRADE is more advanced and includes historical charting tools, real-time data and risk analysis tools that help you better understand your trading strategies. If you want help from the service’s professionals, you can sign up for a managed portfolio or a Core Portfolio, which is E*TRADE’s automated robo-advisor. To sign up for these, you need at least $5,000.
Pros
  • More than 250 commission free ETFs
  • Multiple platform options
Cons
  • Minimum investment of $500
  • Discount pricing for high volume investors
US$6.95E*TRADE
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Best for Simulated Trades
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
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Best For Beginners
We recommend Fidelity to beginning investors.
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
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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
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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.

Best of the Rest

Here are the other brokers we reviewed. Each have different pricing, platform and tools that make them suited for different types of investors.

Charles Schwab is another good choice if you’re just starting. It has an easy-to-use trading platform and over 1,000 commission-free ETFs. You need at least $1,000 before opening an account with Charles Schwab.

TD Ameritrade has one of the most impressive platforms, with more than 400 technical studies and a wide variety of advanced options-trading strategies. You don’t need a minimum investment to join, so if you’re an analytically minded investor, this is a good choice for you, though its commissions are on the high side.

Merrill Edge has some of the best research and screening tools. With this broker, you can look at volatility, potential return and other technical analysis. However, other brokers may be more attractive if you want to trade ETFs – Merrill Edge doesn’t offer commission-free ETFs.

TradeStation is an option worth exploring if you trade at high volumes. It offers trading for as low as 1 cent per share. If you trade frequently and at high volumes, this could save you significantly. TradeStation’s per-trade commissions are decent, but its unremarkable trading platform makes it less suitable for casual investors.

SpeedTrader’s platform is rather bare-bones, with few technical indicators or options strategies. Commissions for most trades are $6.95, which is among the highest we saw, though if you keep more than $25,000 in your account, the fee drops to $4.49.

Interactive Brokers is well suited to experienced, high-volume day traders. Unlike most brokers, you pay only half a cent per share to trade, with a minimum of $1. You need to maintain a balance of $100,000 to avoid paying an inactivity fee. With no robo-advisors and few commission-free ETFs, Interactive Brokers is mostly for traders interested in futures, forex and other riskier investments.

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.

How to Start Investing With Just $500

You may think you need a lot of time and money to start investing and may wonder where a beginner is to start if they don’t have time to get up to speed and really immerse themselves in 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