Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading 2017

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.

There is no single best online broker for stock trading. But among the dozens of financial firms vying for your investing dollars will be one that’s best for you.

Are you just starting out and looking for a friendly place to learn the ropes? Really into trading options and futures? Seeking access to sophisticated investing research? A cost-conscious frequent trader?

Below are the brokers that earned NerdWallet’s highest marks based on the breadth and quality of their offerings in the areas that matter most to individual investors. To find a suitable online broker, read on for highlights (and links to our in-depth reviews on each).

The best overall: NerdWallet’s top online brokers

These brokers have no inactivity fees or account minimum. They offer advanced trading platforms, a breadth of research and access to a wide range of investments.

OptionsHouse and TD Ameritrade offer strong customer support, advanced trading platforms with no balance or trade minimums, and an impressive amount of research. Determining which of these two top-tier discount brokers will best meet your needs comes down to a few key differences in their offerings.

Active traders would do best with OptionsHouse, particularly if they are aiming to keep trading costs in check. Its highly rated trading platform, a lack of inactivity or penalty maintenance fees (a standout among brokerages catering to active investors) and minimal $4.95 stock trading commissions (and similarly low prices for options traders) make the broker hard to beat.

In comparison, TD Ameritrade’s trade commissions are on the higher side, but many traders find their first-class trading platforms, Trade Architect and thinkorswim, worth that cost. The broker also offers a large selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds and commission-free ETFs. OptionsHouse offers no no-transaction-fee funds and just five commission-free ETFs. (For more details about each online broker’s offerings, see our latest OptionsHouse review and deep dive into TD Ameritrade’s pros and cons.)

The best online brokers for beginners

These brokers offer tons of educational offerings for beginners, affordable commissions, round-the-clock customer service (as well as physical branches to get in-person guidance) and a large number of commission-free ETFs.

If you’re just learning how to buy stocks, the most important features in a discount brokerage account may be education, easy account setup and customer service to guide your investing journey. TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab are our top picks for such investors.

A main draw is that both brokers offer full-service treatment for investors who live near one of their physical branches. Schwab has more than 300 across the country and TD Ameritrade has more than 100 (which will grow when its merger with Scottrade is completed). Online service is also robust. Both brokers offer a ton of educational resources, beginner-friendly web-based and mobile trading platforms and tools to help new investors build a diversified portfolio. Although customers pay a little more in stock trading commissions at TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab than at other deep-discount firms, neither firm charges account maintenance or inactivity fees.

If your plan to build a portfolio with exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds, you’ll be happy with the selection of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds at both TD Ameritrade and Schwab. For our complete roundup of the best brokers for those just starting out, see the best online stock brokers for beginners. First-timers may also wish to review our guide on how to buy stocks.

The best online brokers for investment selection

Clients of these brokers can trade a number of asset types, including futures trading.

E-Trade and OptionsXpress are ideal brokerage candidates for investors who aren’t solely into stock trading. These firms offer a broad selection of investing products — stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, futures and options trading — along with power trading platforms that advanced investors will appreciate. To pick the best fit for your style, compare trading costs for the investments you plan to trade most frequently: For example, futures trading at E-Trade is cheaper at $1.50 per contract per side compared with $3.50 at OptionsXpress, but high-volume options traders can save money at OptionsXpress.

E-Trade and OptionsXpress earn the all-star status in terms of their broad range of offerings, but investors looking for the best service, price, tools and trade execution should check out our coverage of the best brokers for options trading, best brokers for trading futures and commodities and best brokers for forex trading.

The best online brokers for research

These brokers offer a depth of high-quality research along with reasonable commissions.

Research is key to stock trading and Merrill Edge and Fidelity both provide investors with ample tools, data and research to dig deep into stock analysis. Fidelity’s lineup of research from more than 20 providers is a standout among online brokers. A quiz helps investors identify which providers match their investment style and there’s a research firm scorecard that rates the accuracy of the provider’s recommendations. (For more on Fidelity’s research and data, see our Fidelity Investments review.)

Merrill Edge is also known for its robust research, which includes offerings from its own BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research as well as third-party providers Morningstar, S&P Capital IQ, Lipper and Recognia. (For more details about Merrill Edge’s research, trading platform and more, see our Merrill Edge review.)

The best low-cost online brokers

In addition to top-pick OptionsHouse — a strong deep-discount broker — these other brokers are formidable choices for fee-conscious investors. Both offer rock-bottom commissions, but investors won’t sacrifice much in tools and investment selection.

Commission costs at Ally Invest (formerly TradeKing) and Interactive Brokers are very low. But cheaper investing can be made via stripped-down apps such as Robinhood, which offer commission-free trading. That said, price is what you pay, value is what you get. On that point, neither of our top picks for cost-conscious investors skimp on the quality of trading platforms nor on the selection of investments offered.

Lots of brokers require no minimum investment to open an IRA, but the price to open a regular brokerage account is often higher. Ally Invest wins this cost-comparison point with its $0 account minimum vs. the $10,000 required by Interactive Brokers to open a regular brokerage account and $5,000 required to set up IRAs. As far as commissions go, frequent traders will benefit from Interactive Brokers’ volume discount as long as they qualify by meeting monthly trading activity minimums and maintaining that $10,000 account balance. Ally Invest slashes trading costs to $3.95 for investors who place 30 or more trades per quarter or carry a balance of $100,000.

On the fund side, Interactive Brokers has 50 commission-free ETFs and 1,700 no-transaction-fee mutual funds in its lineup, while Ally Invest offers none. If that’s your sole focus, check out our roundup of best brokers for ETF trading and best brokers for mutual funds. (For a more detailed description of each broker, see our in-depth reviews of Ally Invest and Interactive Brokers.)

More guidance to help you pick the right broker

Here are more NerdWallet resources to answer other common questions about online brokerage accounts.

Do I have enough money to get started investing? You don’t need much to get started. Note that many of the brokers above have no account minimums. One easy way build a diversified portfolio for little money is to invest in exchange-traded funds. ETFs are essentially bite-sized mutual funds that trade like stocks: Like a mutual fund, ETFs contain a basket of similar assets (e.g., stocks in the S&P 500 index or shares of companies that operate in the technology sector). But instead of having to qualify for a mutual fund investment minimum, investors can buy and sell individual shares of ETFs just like individual stocks.

Is the money in brokerage accounts insured? Are there different kinds of accounts? What paperwork do I need to open a stock trading account? For answers to all these questions and more, read the what is a brokerage account and how do I open one guide.

How do I determine if a broker is right for me before I open an account? Some key criteria to consider are how much money you have, what type of assets you intend to buy, how frequently you plan to transact and how much service you need. Our post about how to choose the best broker for you can help to arrange and rank your priorities.


Summary: Best online brokerages

Summary: Best online brokerages

Online Broker
Best for
Highlights
Commiss-
ions
Promotion
Account minimum
Start investing

OptionsHouse

OptionsHouse
Overall
Low commissions; superior tools, particularly for options
$4.95
per trade
$1,000 in free trade commissions ($5,000+ deposit)
$0

TD Ameritrade

Overall
+
Beginners
Top research; two powerful trade platforms; educational content
$6.95
per trade
$100 bonus ($25,000+ deposit)
up to $600 ($250,000+ deposit)
$0

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab
Beginners
Among largest selections of commission-free ETFs
$4.95
per trade
$100 to $500 cash bonus for qualifying deposits of $10,000 or more
$1,000

E*Trade

E*Trade
Investment selection
Large selection; reasonable commissions and fees
$6.95
per trade; volume discounts
60 days of commission-free trades ($10,000+ deposit)
$500

OptionsXpress

OptionsXpress
Investment selection
Large selection; discounts for high-volume traders
$4.95
per trade
50 commission-free trades ($5,000+ deposit)
$0

Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge
Research
Breadth of research from other providers and own offering
$6.95
per trade
$100-$600 cash bonus, depending on account size
$0

Fidelity

Fidelity Investments
Research
Leads on research - reports from 20+ firms
$4.95
per trade
300 commission-free trades ($50,000+ deposit)
$2,500
($0 for IRAs)

Ally Invest

Ally
Low cost
Impressive platform and research depth; low commissions
$4.95
per trade; volume discounts
None at this time
$0

Interactive Brokers

Low cost
Discounts for frequent traders; among best platforms
$0.005
per share;
min. $1, max. 0.5% of trade value
Special terms for clients 25 and younger
$10,000
($5,000 for IRAs)

Dayana Yochim is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website: Email: dyochim@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @DayanaYochim.

Updated May 11, 2017.