A stock broker acts as the connection between you and the exchange where stocks are being traded. Online stock brokers give you access to different investment products like stocks, ETFs, bonds, commodities, and other financial assets straight from your smartphone or laptop. With so many different types of online stock brokers available to investors, it can be tough to choose one that works best for you. We have user-tested and reviewed more than 70 online brokers, considering their product offerings, fee structures, trading technology, education, and customer service. We鈥檙e here to help.
We are proud to present our top five overall online stock brokers for 2019:
- Fidelity Investments
- Interactive Brokers
- Charles Schwab
- TD Ameritrade
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $4.95 per stock/ETF, $4.95 plus $0.65/contract per options trade
Fidelity takes the top spot on our 2019 broker roundup with a winning combination of services, tools, and value. Last year, Fidelity focused on improving its infrastructure and reliability so it could avoid the crashes that plagued online brokers in 2018. Another improvement was making their Active Trader Pro platform available to all customers rather than requiring a certain number of trades to use.聽Fidelity improved the order entry interface to avoid the most common errors made by customers.
Fidelity also received awards for Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for ETFs, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, Best for International Trading, and Best Web Trading Platforms.聽
Excellent trade executions, generating price improvement for stock and options trades
ETF research center includes tools to show you which stocks compose the fund
All customers have access to Active Trade Pro
Fees are on the low side and are easy to understand
Accessing all of Fidelity's tools may require you to use multiple platforms
Finding a particular tool can be difficult on Fidelity鈥檚 extensive menu system
If you are not a U.S. citizen or resident, you cannot open an account
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0.005聽per share
Interactive Brokers ranks second overall in our 2019 review due to its wealth of tools for sophisticated investors. The firm makes a point of connecting to any electronic exchange globally, so you can trade equities, options, and futures around the world and around the clock, on your desktop or mobile device. Though Interactive Brokers has been adding features to attract more assets and help newer investors, including its own robo-advisory, we recommend that newcomers to trading start somewhere else and grow into their extensive capabilities.
Interactive Brokers also received awards for Best for International Trading, Best for Low Costs, Best for Options Trading, Best for Penny Stocks, and Best for Day Trading.
Pricing is on the low end, especially margin rates
The platform and services are geared for extremely active traders
Clients can trade on 120 markets in 31 countries, using 23 currencies
Excellent portfolio analysis features
Mosaic, Interactive Brokers' downloadable platform, can be difficult to use for a new investor
Does not support education accounts (529s) or 401(k)s
Very small or inactive accounts may be subject to maintenance fees or data charges
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $4.95 per stock and ETF trade, $0 for Schwab ETFs and $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract for options
Charles Schwab, which ranks as the third-best broker overall this year, is a full-service investment firm that offers services and technology to everyone from self-directed active traders to people who want the guidance of a financial advisor. It has a wide variety of platforms as well as full banking capabilities. Over the last few years, its web-based platforms have been transformed to make them simpler to use while also providing low-cost advice.
Charles Schwab also received awards for Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for International Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Beginners, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, Best for ETFs, and Best Stock Trading Apps.聽
The Schwab Satisfaction Guarantee allows any client who is unhappy with any fee-based service to get a refund
Advanced options tools and trading ideas are built into the StreetSmart Edge platform
Mobile web platforms and native mobile apps offer the same functionality
It can take some effort to find the features you want the most
Schwab pushes clients towards using their financial advisors, which can make a self-directed investor or trader lose confidence in their own abilities
Margin rates are higher than average
- Account Minimum: $500 ($5,000 for IRA)
- Fees: $5 stocks and ETFs, $0.50/contract and $5/trade options
TradeStation's focus on high-quality market data, trade executions and their commitment to superior customer service make them a great choice for the active trader. Their systems are stable and remain available during market surges. Technical analysis and statistical modeling of trading strategies is another strength of the TradeStation platform. You can develop your own automatic trading system using the analysis tools and strategy backtesting. You can also generate income through the fully-paid stock lending program and enhance your trading skills with extensive educational offerings.
TradeStation also received awards for Best for Penny Stocks and Best for Day Trading.
Stable platform that has very little downtime
Excellent charting and technical analysis tools
Portfolio Maestro helps you optimize your trading strategies
Education content is top notch
There is a steep learning curve to develop your own trading system
You have to be very sure of your trading style to choose the right commission schedule
All fixed income transactions must be made with a live broker
No forex trading and limited international trading
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $6.95 for stock and ETF trades, $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 for options
TD Ameritrade, one of the largest online brokers, has several platforms to choose from, ranging from their basic website to thinkorswim, which is designed for very active traders. The firm spent the last year streamlining its website and transforming its education offering while bringing over the 3.5 million customers who joined following the acquisition of Scottrade. Given the number of platforms customers can use for research and trading, the sheer number of tools available can be overwhelming. There is an ongoing initiative to streamline the content and platforms, so going forward, it should be easier to find and use the features that you need.
TD Ameritrade also received awards for Best for Day Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for Beginners, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs and Best Stock Trading Apps.
Extensive research capabilities and numerous news feeds
The education offerings are designed to make novice investors more comfortable
More support channels have been developed using Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Twitter and others
Commission structure makes them an expensive place to trade
Clients may have to use more than one trading system to find all the tools they want
What to Consider When Choosing an Online Broker
When you are choosing an online stock broker you have to think about your immediate needs as an investor. Are you a beginner? Maybe you need a broker that has great educational material about the stock market. Do you only have a small amount of money you can put aside to invest? Some online brokers allow for small minimum deposits which can be a great option for those with limited funds. Are you always on the go and in need of a robust mobile platform? Some stock brokers have incredible mobile apps delivering nearly all the features that their desktop counterparts do.
Another important thing to consider is the distinction between investing and trading. When people talk about investing they generally mean the purchasing of assets to be held for a long period of time. These types of investments are usually made to reach a retirement goal or to put your money into assets that may grow faster than it would in a standard savings account accruing interest. Trading, on the other hand, most commonly involves the buying and selling of assets in short periods. Trading is generally considered riskier than investing.
All of these factors must be considered before choosing an online broker. Do you want to trade or invest? Do you want a great mobile app to check your portfolio wherever you are? What types of assets are you looking to invest in? Answering these questions is not always easy. You can check out our guide to choosing a stock broker to gain further insight so you can make a sound decision. Once you've made a decision on a broker, you can also check out our guide to opening a brokerage account.
Investopedia鈥檚 mission is to provide investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker鈥檚 platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on their platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting over 3,000 data points that we weighed into our star scoring system.
In addition, every broker we surveyed was required to fill out a 320-point survey about all aspects of their platform that we used in our testing. Many of the online brokers we evaluated provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms at our offices.
Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking online investing platforms for users at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.