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Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading of March 2019

March 6, 2019
Brokers, Investing
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Want to trade stocks? You’re going to need an online broker, and that broker should offer a reasonable investment minimum, high-quality trading tools, robust access to customer service and no hidden account fees. On these measures, the brokers below earned their place on our 2019 list of the best online brokers for stock trading.

Beyond that, we evaluated each firm on the services that matter most to different types of investors. For example, for active traders, we note providers offering volume discounts on trade commissions and robust mobile trading platforms. For people venturing into investing for the first time, we call out brokers that provide educational support (such as stock-picking tutorials) and on-call chat or phone support.

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 March 2019

NerdWallet rating

Fees

$4.95

per trade

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

Up to $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.

Cons

  • No no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

  • No branches.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$6.95

per trade

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

300

free stock and ETF trades

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.

Cons

  • No commission-free ETFs.

  • Minimum balance requirement for active-trading platform.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

$6.95

per trade

Account minimum

$500

Promotion

Up to 500

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.

Cons

  • Higher commissions for low-volume traders.

  • Minimum balance requirement for active trading platform.

Read full review

Want to compare more options? Here are our other category winners for the best online brokers for stock trading:

More guidance to help you pick the right broker

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

How much money do I need to get started investing? Not much. Note that many of the brokers above have no account minimums for both taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs. 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 on placing that first trade.)

Shouldn’t I just choose the cheapest broker? Trading costs definitely matter to active and high-volume traders. If you’re a high-volume trader — buying bundles of 100 to 500 shares at a time, for example — Interactive Brokers and TradeStation are cost-effective options. Ally Invest offers $3.95 trades ($1 off full price) for investors who place more than 30 trades a quarter.  Commissions are less of a factor for buy-and-hold investors, a strategy we recommend for the majority of people. Most brokers charge from $5 to $7 per trade. But other factors — access to a range of investments or training tools — may be more valuable than saving a few bucks when you purchase shares.

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 stocks (sometimes hundreds) that adhere to 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.

We like the low-cost, diversified nature of ETFs. And because they are such an essential portfolio-building tool, we rated brokers on their ETF offerings, specifically the number of commission-free ETFs they offer. Standouts include TD Ameritrade, which offers over 300, Charles Schwab (265) and E-Trade (250).

Is my money insured? What kind of account? How quickly can I start trading? The short answers are:

  • Your money is indeed insured, but only against the unlikely event a brokerage firm goes under. A broker’s SIPC coverage (Securities Investor Protection Corporation) doesn’t cover any loss in value of your investments.
  • Your account choices boil down to taxable versus tax-favored (e.g., an IRA). Our guide to brokerage accounts goes into more detail about what’s involved in setting up a taxable account. Opening an IRA involves choosing which type, such as a Roth IRA, traditional IRA or SEP IRA. If you’re new to this, we’ve got you covered in our guide to IRAs.
  • After you’ve opened the account, you’ll need to initiate a deposit or funds transfer, which can take anywhere from a few days to a week. Once that is complete, it’s off to the investing races! And by that we mean taking a thoughtful and disciplined approach to investing your money for the long-term.

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 of March 2019

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

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
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

E*Trade

E*Trade
Investment selection + research
Broad selection of investment options, power trading platforms and research providers
$6.95
per trade; volume discounts
500 free trades with $10,000+ deposit; $200-$600 cash + free trades with higher balances
$500 ($0 for IRAs)
TD Ameritrade
Overall + Beginners + Investment selection
$0 account minimum, quality research, trading tools and customer service
$6.95
per trade
Trade commission-free for 60 days and 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
Open an IRA with $5,000 minimum and pay $4 per stock/ETF trade
$500

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab
Overall + Beginners
Large selection of commission-free ETFs, extensive research and educational content
$4.95
per trade
$100 referral award for first-time clients
$0

Fidelity

Overall
Strong trading platform, low commissions
$4.95 per trade
300-500 free trades with qualifying deposit
$0

Interactive Brokers

Active trading
Volume trading discounts, international trade capabilities, advanced tools/platform
$0.005
per share ($1 min.); max. 1% of trade value
n/a
$0

Robinhood

Robinhood
Low costs
No-frills, free trading app for beginners
$0 per trade
n/a
$0

To recap our picks by category:

NerdWallet’s best online brokers for stock trading of March 2019

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