Best Options Trading Brokers and Platforms

Brokers, Investing

NerdWallet offers financial tools and advice to help people understand their options and make the best possible decisions. The guidance we offer and info we provide are deeply researched, objective and independent.

We spent over 300 hours reviewing the top online brokers before selecting the best for our readers. And to help you find the one that’s best for you, we’ve highlighted their pros, cons and current offers.

Who is the best options broker today? The answer depends on whom you ask and what they value. For some investors, the best broker for trading options is the one with the cheapest commissions. Others prioritize trading tools, platform design, research, customer service or all of the above.

While most of the brokers on our best-of list below would be a good, all-encompassing choice for many investors, we’ve also highlighted the standout candidates in specific areas that matter most to options traders.

Unsure what you’re looking for? See how to choose an options broker for more on what can make or break an options trading experience.

Summary: Best online stock brokers for options trading


Best overall for options trading

Our top picks cover all the option trader needs — access to high-quality research, analytical tools, a user-friendly platform — at reasonable prices.

TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers earn high marks for options investors for their advanced trading platforms, deep bench of research and tools, plus their high-caliber options trading capabilities.

TD Ameritrade handily serves option traders no matter where they are on the learning curve. The broker’s thinkorswim platform offers a robust options trading experience for active investors seeking professional-grade tools to identify trading opportunities, analyze potential risks and rewards, test trade strategies and quickly place even the most complex options trades.

The broker’s web-based Trade Architect platform is for investors just getting into options or those who don’t require a high-octane platform. Its stripped-down, easy-to-use interface won’t overwhelm newbies. And although Trade Architect isn’t as fully stocked with tools and data as thinkorswim, it’s no slouch, either. Intermediate investors will find advanced features like a market/options heat map, screening and tradefinder tools, and streaming news. Get details in our TD Ameritrade review.

For cost-conscious, active options traders looking for low costs and a platform with a lot more meat on its bones, Interactive Brokers may be more your style. Interactive Brokers charges just 70 cents per contract with no base fee ($1 minimum order), plus discounts for larger volumes, if you can manage the $10,000 account minimum. Its Trader Workstation platform (with an options strategy lab) is considered one of the best and most sophisticated around. But watch other fees to ensure that the lower commissions pay off.

Both brokers allow prospective clients to test-drive the goods without putting any real money on the line. TD Ameritrade offers a paperMoney virtual trading account to test out the thinkorswim platform. At Interactive Brokers, once customers open a real account (which has a $10,000 minimum funding requirement), they can set up a paper trading account that offers them hands-on practice using IB’s Trader Workstation platform and tools.

Best brokers for low-cost options trading

These brokers offer competitively priced options trading commissions and have eliminated or dramatically capped minimum trading fees.

In early 2017 most of the mainstream online brokers slashed commissions to levels once reserved for their deep-discount peers. That doesn’t mean that they’re the best deal in town for every investor.

For active options traders, eOption earns five stars from NerdWallet for its low options trade commissions. The company charges a fixed $3 base plus 15 cents per contract. Another plus: eOption is known for having some of the lowest margin rates available. Although eOption charges a $50 annual inactivity fee on accounts that have placed fewer than two trades in the past 12 months or have less than $10,000 in credit or debit balances, the minimum trade workaround isn’t onerous, even for infrequent traders.

Charles Schwab’s trade commission of $4.95 base rate plus 65 cents per contract puts it within spitting distance of deep-discount peers. Schwab recently fully took over the old OptionsXpress and incorporated that broker’s options experience into its own platform, with both web-based and mobile functionality.

Commissions aren’t the only costs associated with trading options. Platform, data and other fees can quickly cancel out what you save on commissions. See our full reviews of Charles Schwab and eOption for details on what they offer. For those simply looking for a cheap way to execute options trades, Charles Schwab and eOption get the job done.

Best options trading platforms

These brokers offer some of the most powerful trading platforms available for a reasonable price.

Judging a broker’s trading platform by the number of features it offers is like buying a car based solely on what you read in the dealer brochure. While all investors have their must-have features, what’s more important is how the platform feels when it’s in their hands.

The trading platforms at Ally Invest and TradeStation offer a wide variety of analytical tools, provide stable and speedy trade execution, and allow investors to customize the tools and design to best suit their needs.

Unlike TradeStation, Ally Invest (formerly TradeKing) is technically a deep discount broker as reflected in its commissions (options traders pay a $4.95 base plus 65 cents per contract with only one base charge per spread), $0 account minimum and free access to research and data. Frequent traders (those who place 30 or more trades per quarter or who carry a balance of $100,000 or more) pay a discounted $3.95 base and 50 cents per contract.

But don’t be fooled by the lower prices: Customers get a lot of platform power for free.

Ally is suitable for newer options investors. The browser-based platform resembles the offerings of its pricier competitors and comes with free options trading tools for screening and advanced charting. Navigation is easy and streamlined. Customers can create a custom dashboard with movable modules with the data and features they want to use. The setup extends to what users see across all devices, including mobile and tablet.

TradeStation is best left to more experienced, tech-savvy investors who want to experience options trading using the same tools as pro traders. The broker provides all the tools needed to design, test-drive, monitor, automate and speedily execute the most complex trades via direct-market access (no pesky middleman to slow down the process). Its OptionsStation Pro platform is fully integrated into TradeStation’s regular trading platform. An added bonus is the broker’s active investor forums, where traders discuss ideas, ask questions and get help.

Access to all of TradeStation’s bells and whistles used to come at a steep $99.95 monthly platform fee for those who didn’t meet account balance or trading activity minimums. But in March 2017 TradeStation eliminated the service fee, lowered its trade commissions for stocks and options and tossed in free real-time market data and free access to its market-monitoring and portfolio-level back-testing tools. Educational tools and platform tutorials are plentiful, which is a plus: Because of the sophisticated nature of the platform, it may require some time to become familiar with all that it offers. See more in our TradeStation review.

Best research and options trading education

Both offer extensive research and data for free, as well as live classes and webinars for beginning and advanced options traders.

If you’re new to options trading or want to expand your trading strategies, a broker that devotes its resources to research and customer education is a must. Because Schwab and Fidelity each have offices across the country in addition to their online options education libraries, they’re able to offer in-person guidance and free seminars on how to trade options, as well as one-on-one guidance on using the tools each platform offers.

Fidelity’s constantly refreshed library draws from more than 20 providers, including Recognia, Ned Davis, S&P Capital IQ and McLean Capital Management. The full suite is available to customers when they sign into the broker’s web-based platform. And you don’t have to stop digging when you’re away from your computer: Fidelity has a strong mobile app that lets customers access the company’s full suite of research through a mobile browser.

Charles Schwab’s options trading capabilities and lineup of trading data and research got a big boost as the company integrated its purchase of OptionsXpress. In October Schwab re-launched its online platform under the StreetSmart name, with both web-based and mobile functionality, though for now only former OptionsXpress clients have access to the new platform. In the first quarter of 2018, Schwab will begin rolling out the new platform to all clients. While the platform name is changing, Schwab still provides a fully realized suite of offerings for options traders, including trade assessment tools, customizable screeners, access to Schwab analyst options-market commentary, live online webinars and pre-recorded seminars.

Best brokers for beginner options investors

These brokers provide ideal conditions (educational resources, user-friendly platforms, customer support and low minimums) for investors just learning the options trading ropes.

TD Ameritrade — one of our top overall brokers — ranked highest in this category, too. But since there are many types of beginners with many different preferences, instead of highlighting the category champions we’ve focused on brokers that are excellent candidates in three key areas:

Low minimum opening balance requirements

Ally Invest, TD Ameritrade, Merrill Edge: If you’re not yet ready to devote a lot of your capital to options trading, you don’t want to tie up much in an account to meet the minimum. Many of the brokers on our list require no money to open an account.  However, industry regulations require that traders maintain a $2,000 minimum to trade options.

Strong customer support

Scottrade and TD Ameritrade: On-call help is particularly handy when starting out. One way to test a broker’s level of service is to contact the company with any questions you have about its option trading offerings before you even open an account. Scottrade is known for its standout customer service and huge physical presence of 500 branches. So is TD Ameritrade, with around-the-clock phone and email support and 100 branches where clients can attend seminars and meet with investment associates. At the end of 2017, TD’s acquisition of Scottrade will be complete, increasing each broker’s ability to serve clients.

User-friendly platforms

Ally, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade: There’s nothing better than test-driving a broker’s platform before you commit. Check to see if the broker you’re considering offers paper trading (virtual trading on a platform that mimics the real deal) or contact customer service to see if they will set you up with a demo account. As for brokers discussed in this review, Ally Invest’s browser-based platform is intuitive and easy to customize. And both Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade have multiple platforms customers can use to start learning the ropes, then graduate to more sophisticated tools and trades if desired.

 


Best options trading brokers: summary

Broker
Best
for
Highlights
Commiss-
ions
Promotion
Account minimum
Start investing
TD Ameritrade
Overall + beginners
Top research; two powerful trade platforms
$6.95 + $0.75/contract
$100-$600 cash bonus, depending on account size
$0
Interactive Brokers
Interactive Brokers
Overall
Low commissions; superior trading tools
$0/trade + $0.70/contract
Special terms for clients 25 and younger
$10,000
EOption
Low cost
Good for active traders seeking low costs
$3/trade + $0.15/contract
None
$500
TradeStation
TradeStation
Trading platform
Advanced research and tools, speedy execution
$5/trade + $0.50 /contract
20% off commissions
$5,000
Ally Invest
Ally
Trading platform
User-friendly platform and free tools
$4.95 /trade + $0.65 /contract
None at this time
$0
Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab
Research + Low cost
Extensive lineup of investor education options
$4.95/trade + $0.65/contract
$100 referral award for first-time clients
$1,000
Fidelity
Fidelity Investments
Research
Deep research library and customer education opportunities
$4.95/trade + $0.65/contract
300 commission-free trades with deposit of $50,000+
$2,500
Dayana Yochim is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website: Email: dyochim@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @DayanaYochim.

Updated June 30, 2017.