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Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading 2018

January 9, 2018
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.

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 — trading fees, tools and research, customer service, investing education.

To find a suitable online broker — whether you’re a new investor or a seasoned active trader — read on for highlights (and links to our in-depth reviews on each).

NerdWallet’s top online brokers of 2018

NerdWallet rating

Fees

$6.95

per trade

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

$100-$600

in cash bonus with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

Merrill Edge offers high-quality customer service, robust research and low fees. Customers of parent company Bank of America will love the seamless, thoughtful integration, with a single login to access both accounts.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Robust third-party research.

  • Ongoing promotions.

  • Integrated with Bank of America.

  • Free trades for eligible Bank of America customers.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • No commission-free ETFs.

  • Minimum balance requirement for active trading platform.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$4.95

per trade

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

$50-$3,500

in cash bonus with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

Ally Invest’s robust trading platform and lineup of free research, charting, data and analytical tools make it a good choice for active traders. But it’s also appropriate for beginning investors who will appreciate that there is no account minimum and no annual fees.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Low commissions.

  • No account minimum.

  • Strong web-based platform.

  • Robust research and tools.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • No commission-free ETFs.

  • No no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$6.95

per trade

Account minimum

$500

Promotion

60

days of commission-free trades with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

E-Trade has long been one of the most popular online brokers, largely because of its easy-to-use tools. They offer a tiered commission structure that favors frequent traders but can add up to high costs for casual investors.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Easy-to-use tools.

  • Large investment selection.

  • Excellent customer support.

  • Access to extensive research.

  • Advanced mobile app.

  • Reduced commissions for frequent traders.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • Higher commissions for low-volume traders.

  • Minimum balance requirement for active trading platform.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$6.95

per trade

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

500

commission-free trades + up to $600 with qualifying deposit

The bottom line

TD Ameritrade makes up for higher-than-average trading commissions with better-than-average service, research and trading tools that will make everyone from beginner investors to active traders happy.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Large investment selection.

  • Free research.

  • High-quality trading platforms.

  • No account minimum.

  • Good customer support.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • Higher trade commission.

  • Costly broker-assisted trades.

  • High short-term ETF trading fee.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$5

per trade

Account minimum

$500

Promotion

None available

The bottom line

TradeStation is the gold standard among active stock, options and futures investors who rely on the broker’s high-octane trading platform, reams of research and sophisticated analytical tools. The firm offers three commission plans — flat-fee, per share/per contract and unbundled pricing plan (the latter two which will be attractive to active traders). The lack of commission-free ETFs and mutual funds can be a turnoff to some investors.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • High-quality trading platforms

  • Comprehensive research

  • Low commissions

  • Advanced tools

  • Active trader community

Cons

  • No commission-free ETFs

  • Minimum balance requirement for active trading platform

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$0.005

per share

Account minimum

$10,000

Promotion

None available

The bottom line

Interactive Brokers is a strong option for advanced, frequent traders: The broker offers international trade capabilities, low commissions and a quality trading platform. New traders might be turned off by inactivity fees, high balance requirements and a lack of educational resources.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Low commissions

  • Quality trading platform

  • Advanced tools

  • Low margin rates

  • Wide investment selection

Cons

  • Inactivity fees

  • High minimum balance requirement

  • Complex pricing

  • Minimal educational resources

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$4.95

per trade

Account minimum

$2,500

Promotion

300

commission-free trades with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

Fidelity may be known for its retirement accounts, but active traders shouldn’t overlook the brokerage’s low trade commissions, wide investment selection, large scope of research and strong trading platform. It’s a well-rounded broker suitable for nearly all investors.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Low commissions

  • Large selection of research providers

  • Strong customer service

Cons

  • High account minimum

  • Trade minimum for active trading platform

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$4.95

per trade

Account minimum

$1,000

Promotion

$100

cash bonus with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

Charles Schwab has earned its strong reputation: The broker offers high-quality customer service, two robust trading platforms and a wide selection of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • No inactivity fees.

  • Two platforms with no minimum or fees.

  • Above-average mobile app.

  • Extensive research.

  • Strong customer support.

Cons

  • Higher trade commissions.

  • Higher account minimum.

Read full review

More guidance to help you pick the right broker

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

How much money do I need to get started investing? Not much at all. Note that many of the brokers above have no account minimums. Once you open an account all it takes to get started is enough money to cover the cost of a single share of a stock and the trading commission. (See “How to Buy Stocks” for step-by-step instructions.)

How can I build a diversified portfolio for little money? One easy way is to invest in exchange-traded funds. ETFs are essentially bite-sized mutual funds that are bought and sold just like individual stocks on a stock market exchange. Like mutual funds, each ETF contains a basket of multiple (sometimes hundreds) of stocks that adhere to a particular criteria (e.g., shares of companies that are part of a stock market index like the S&P 500). Unlike mutual funds, which can have high investment minimums, investors can purchase as little as one share of an ETF at a time.

Is my money insured? What kind of account? How quickly can I start trading? For answers to all these questions and more, read our guide to brokerage accounts.

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, your trading style and technical needs, 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

Online Broker
Best for
Highlights
Commiss-
ions
Promotion
Account minimum
Start investing
Merrill Edge
Merrill Edge
Research
Breadth and depth of in-house and outside research
$6.95
per trade
$100-$600 cash bonus depending on account size
$0

Ally Invest

Ally
Low cost
Low commissions,
no account minimum
$4.95
per trade; volume discounts
$50-$3,500 cash bonus + free trades depending on account size
$0

E*Trade

E*Trade
Investment selection
Broad selection of investment options, power trading platforms
$6.95
per trade; volume discounts
60 days of commission-free trades ($10,000+ deposit)
$500 ($0 for IRAs)
TD Ameritrade
Beginners + Investment selection
$0 account minimum, quality research, trading tools and customer service
$6.95
per trade
500 commission-free trades + up to $600 with a qualifying deposit
$0

TradeStation

Active trading
Discount trading, comprehensive research, active trader community, noteworthy platforms
$5 flat fee or $0.006-$0.01
per share ($0.50-$1 min per trade) based on trading volume
Special terms for active military and first responders
$500 ($500 for IRAs)

Fidelity

Fidelity Investments
Overall + Low cost + Research
Free premium research, low commissions, advanced trading capabilities
$4.95
per trade
300 commission-free trades ($50,000+ deposit)
$2,500
($0 for IRAs)

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab
Overall
+
Beginners + Investment selection
Large selection of commission-free ETFs, strong customer support, extensive research and educational content
$4.95
per trade
$100 referral award for first-time clients
$1,000

Interactive Brokers

Active trading
Volume trading discounts, international trade capabilities, advanced tools/platform
$0.005
per share ($1 min.); max. 0.5% of trade value
Special terms for clients 25 and younger
$10,000
($5,000 for IRAs)

To recap our picks by category:

NerdWallet’s Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading 2018

  • Merrill Edge: Best for research
  • Ally Invest (formerly TradeKing): Best for low costs
  • E-Trade: Best for investment selection
  • TD Ameritrade: Best for beginners & investment selection
  • TradeStation: Best for active investors
  • Charles Schwab: Best overall & for beginners & investment selection
  • Fidelity: Best overall & low costs & research
  • Interactive Brokers: Best for active investors

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