TD Ameritrade Thinkorswim Review

thinkorswim-full-charting-package

TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim trading platform is widely considered one of the best available. Originally independent and acquired by TD Ameritrade in 2009, thinkorswim is a desktop application that offers access to research reports, real-time data streaming, stock scanners, charting, technical studies and more. Often considered premium features by other online brokers, these tools — and the whole of thinkorswim — are available to all TD Ameritrade customers for free.


TD Ameritrade thinkorswim

Arielle O’Shea
August 18, 2015

NerdWallet’s Rating: 5 / 5

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TD Ameritrade thinkorswim is best for:

  • Advanced investors
  • Frequent traders
  • ETF investors
  • Technical analysis
  • Automated trading platforms
  • Options trading

The thinkorswim platform is ideal for advanced or frequent traders (the company’s Trade Architect platform is more suited for beginners). But all investors can benefit from TD Ameritrade’s wealth of educational resources, including a learning center with instructional videos, online courses and trading demonstrations. Thinkorswim also offers a chat room full of traders sharing strategies and tips, as well as virtual accounts called paperMoney that allow traders to test strategies and practice using the platform without risk.

Current promotion

Open a new account with $3,000 or more and trade commission-free for 60 days, plus get a cash bonus on larger deposit amounts: $600 on $250,000+; $300 on $100,000 to $249,999; and $100 on $25,000 to $99,999.

TD Ameritrade thinkorswim at a glance

Tradable securities*

*Note: TD Ameritrade offers mutual funds and bonds, but the thinkorswim platform does not support these securities. They can be accessed via the broker’s web platform.

  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Futures
  • Options (including multi-leg options)
  • Forex
Account minimum $0
Account fees $75 outgoing transfer fee
Stock/ETF commissions $9.99
Commission-free ETFs Over 100
Options $9.99 + 75 cents per contract
Broker-assisted trades $34.99 for interactive voice response phone system; $44.99 for broker-assisted trades
Third-party research reports Free
Real-time data Free
Analysis software Free
Platform type Desktop
Mobile trading Yes
Customer service Phone service and support 24/7; email support and live chat; 126 local branches

Where TD Ameritrade thinkorswim shines

Research and tools: Thinkorswim offers virtually everything an advanced trader would want in a platform, including customization of the workspace (and a new release, thinkorswim Sharing, allows traders to share their customizations with each other). Investors can also use scanners to filter stocks and options, view heat maps, use the company profile tool to analyze revenue and predict how it will affect returns, and access extensive third-party research. The platform has an active trader community and forum that is used to share watch lists, charts and strategies, and streaming CNBC and Dow Jones News are included.

thinkorswim-company-profile

The Company Profile tool lets investors project and dig deeper. Click for more detail.

Mobile trading: The thinkorswim mobile app, available for Apple and Android, closely mimics the desktop platform. Investors can fund their accounts, initiate trades, watch streaming news and view charts, all from their mobile devices.

Investor education: As mentioned above, thinkorswim is really for advanced traders. But even they have a lot to learn, and thinkorswim delivers the tools to help them do it: The platform’s learning center has a wealth of instructional videos and how-to advice, there are daily “Swim Lessons” and platform demonstrations, and investors can practice trading with virtual margin and IRA accounts.

Market Monitor offers a real-time look at your portfolio. Click for more detail.

Commission-free ETFs: TD Ameritrade offers over 100 commission-free ETFs — many with low expense ratios — available to trade through thinkorswim. The list is independently curated by Morningstar.

Options trading: TD Ameritrade was NerdWallet’s pick for best options trading platform in part because of thinkorswim’s Strategy Roller feature, which allows investors to set custom covered call strategies and automatically roll those positions forward from one expiration to another. Investors can also closely monitor the market, strategize and trade within the program. It’s a near-ideal platform for advanced options traders.

Thinkorswim’s charting capabilities include hundreds of technical indicators and studies.

Where TD Ameritrade thinkorswim falls short

Commissions: TD Ameritrade’s commissions are higher than average at $9.99 per trade for stocks and ETFs (though there is a large list of commission-free ETFs, as mentioned above). Many active investors are willing to pay the higher charge in exchange for thinkorswim’s premium research and tools, which are free to investors regardless of account balance or trade volume. However, it’s worth pointing out that trades can be made for half the price at competitors like OptionsHouse and TradeKing.

Margin rates: Investors interested in margin accounts (which have a $2,000 minimum) will be disappointed in TD Ameritrade’s margin rates, which — like their commissions — are higher than average. The base rate is currently 7.75%, with a maximum margin rate of 9%.

Accessibility: Again, thinkorswim is for advanced traders. While it’s not fair to call that a shortcoming of the platform, it’s important to point out that some traders could be overwhelmed by the level of information and tools available and will feel more comfortable with a more streamlined platform or even the company’s standard web trading platform.

The bottom line

If it weren’t for TD Ameritrade’s high commissions, thinkorswim would blow the competition out of the water. But even at the higher price point, the platform makes a very strong showing because of the wealth of free tools and research it offers. Those features make it a prime candidate for active traders.

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To compare TD Ameritrade to other online brokers, check out NerdWallet’s Online Brokerage Comparison Tool.

 

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Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aoshea@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @arioshea.