Best IRA Accounts: 2016 Top Picks

Brokers, Investing, IRA
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Whether you’re opening an IRA for the first time, rolling over a 401(k) or transferring an existing IRA to a new online broker, NerdWallet has selected the best traditional IRA account providers by category.

Carefully consider your options, looking at account minimums, fees and customer service. Also important is investment selection: Most retirement investors want access to a large selection of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds, but those who plan to trade frequently should also consider a broker’s stock trading commissions.

Here are NerdWallet’s picks:

Best IRA providers overall

These providers offer a large fund selection, high-quality customer service, and reasonable account minimums and fees.

td-ameritrade 5.0-stars
  • Offers more than 100 commission-free ETFs and over 2,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds with no account minimum. See our TD Ameritrade review.
  • Commission: $9.99 per trade
  • Account minimum: $0
  • Promotion: Cash bonuses ranging from $100 for deposits of $25,000 to $99,999, to $600 for deposits of $250,000 or more
Chales Schwab 5.0-stars
  • Offers more than 200 commission-free ETFs and over 3,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds. See our Charles Schwab review.
  • Commission: $8.95 per trade
  • Account minimum: $1,000; waived with auto-deposits of $100 or more
  • Promotion: $100 to $500 cash bonus for deposits of $10,000 or more

Both Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade are ideal for retirement investors because of their large selection of funds that can be traded with no fees or commissions. Both brokers also have 24/7 customer service, as well as local offices and a wealth of online and in-branch educational resources. TD Ameritrade requires no account minimum, while Schwab requires a $1,000 initial deposit. However, that minimum is waived with auto-deposits of at least $100 a month, and Schwab offers an impressive selection of index funds with investment minimums of just $100.

Best IRA providers with no account minimum

These providers have $0 minimum investment requirements for IRAs.

Etrade 4.5-stars
  • Waives its $500 brokerage account minimum for IRA customers. See our E-Trade review.
  • Commission: $9.99 per trade; volume discounts available
  • Account minimum: $0 for IRAs
  • Promotion: 60 days of commission-free trades with deposit of $10,000 or more
merrill edge logo 4.5-stars
  • Provides first-rate customer service. See our Merrill Edge review.
  • Commission: $6.95 per trade
  • Account minimum: $0
  • Promotion: Cash bonuses ranging from $100 for deposits of $20,000 to $49,999, to $600 for deposits of $200,000 or more

In addition to our top-choice TD Ameritrade — which also has no account minimum — investors starting small should consider E-Trade and Merrill Edge. They both provide 24/7 customer service, including physical branches (Merrill Edge advisors are available in 2,000 Bank of America locations). E-Trade will appeal to investors seeking exchange-traded funds, with more than 100 commission-free options. Merrill Edge doesn’t offer ETFs that can be traded without commission, but it does give investors access to more than 5,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Best IRA providers for hands-off investors

Robo-advisors Betterment and Wealthfront manage your portfolio for you.

Betterment 5.0-stars
  • Ideal for clients with account balances of $100,000 or more due to its low fees. See our Betterment review.
  • Management fee: 0.15% to 0.35% depending on account balance
  • Account minimum: $0
  • Promotion: Up to six months of free management
Wealthfront 5.0-stars
  • Manages the first $10,000 invested for free. See our Wealthfront review.
  • Management fee: 0.25%
  • Account minimum: $500
  • Promotion: NerdWallet readers get $15,000 managed for free

Betterment and Wealthfront are robo-advisors that manage your IRA account for you, building a portfolio out of low-cost ETFs and automatically searching for rebalancing opportunities. You’ll pay an annual management fee at both advisors, but it’s substantially lower than what a financial advisor would charge. Which robo-advisor is best for you largely depends on your account balance. Betterment has a tiered fee structure, charging just 0.15% on balances of $100,000 or more. Wealthfront charges a flat fee of 0.25%, but waives the charge completely on the first $10,000. Check out NerdWallet’s direct comparison of Wealthfront and Betterment.

Best IRA providers for active traders

These brokers offer low commissions plus extensive research and strong trading platforms.

optionshouselogo 5.0-stars
  • Competitive commissions on stock trades with no account minimum or inactivity fees. See our OptionsHouse review.
  • Commission: $4.95 per trade
  • Account minimum: $0
  • Promotion: $1,000 in free trade commissions with deposit of $5,000 or more
tradekinglogo2 4.0-stars
  • Competitive commissions on stock trades and no account minimum. See our TradeKing review.
  • Commission: $4.95 per trade
  • Account minimum: $0
  • Promotion: $1,000 in free trade commissions with deposit of $5,000 or more

Most retirement investors would be wise to avoid playing the market within an IRA. But if you want to dedicate a portion of your IRA to stock trading, you should pay careful attention to commissions, research and tools when comparing providers.

OptionsHouse and TradeKing both offer $4.95 stock and ETF trades, alongside advanced tools and trading platforms. OptionsHouse edges out TradeKing by not requiring a minimum balance or level of trading activity; at TradeKing, you’ll pay a $50 annual fee if you don’t execute at least one trade per year or maintain an account balance of $2,500. Investors should be aware that neither broker offers commission-free ETFs or no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Best IRA providers for low costs

These providers offer a large selection of mutual funds and ETFs with low expense ratios.

Fidelity Investments 4.5-stars
  • Offers over 3,400 no-transaction-fee mutual funds and over 85 commission-free ETFs. See our Fidelity review.
  • Commission: $7.95 per trade
  • Account minimum: $0 for IRAs
  • Promotion: Get up to a 10% IRA Match on future contributions with qualifying deposit
vanguardlogo 4.0-stars
  • Known for its low-cost index funds. See our Vanguard review.
  • Commission: $7 for first 25 online trades per year; $20 for subsequent trades
  • Account minimum: $0

If transaction fees and investment expenses are your primary concern, you should look to Fidelity and Vanguard (though Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, our top picks, are also strong contenders here). Fidelity gives its clients access to more than 3,400 no-transaction-fee mutual funds and more than 85 commission-free ETFs, including a large selection of highly rated funds with expense ratios under 0.50%. The majority of the company’s mutual funds have a $2,500 investment minimum, but Fidelity waives that on many with auto-deposits of at least $200 a month. Vanguard offers a smaller selection of funds that can be purchased without transaction fees or commissions (120 no-transaction-fee mutual funds and 60 commission-free ETFs) but is a pioneer when it comes to keeping investment expenses down. The company brought investors the index fund — known for its low costs — and it boasts an average fund expense ratio of just 0.18% overall. For comparison, the typical equity mutual fund expense ratio is 0.70%. That said, Vanguard’s retirement funds have a $1,000 investment minimum, and many of its other funds carry a $3,000 minimum.

Note: Some of these promotions won’t apply for first-time depositors, due to IRA contribution limits of $5,500 per year. We’ve tried to include promotions with low deposit requirements where available 


Summary: Best IRA account providers

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

TD Ameritrade

Overall
Commission-free:
100 ETFs, 2,000 funds
$9.99
per trade
$100 bonus ($25,000+ deposit)
up to $600 ($250,000+ deposit)
$0

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab
Overall
Commission-free:
200 ETFs, 3,000 funds
$8.95
per trade
$100 to $500 cash bonus for deposits of $10,000 or more
$1,000

E*Trade

E*Trade
No account minimum
Waives $500 account minimum for IRAs
$9.99
per trade; volume discounts
60 days of commission-free trades ($10,000+ deposit)
$0 for IRAs

Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge
No account minimum
First rate customer service
$6.95
per trade
$100-600 bonus (based on account size)
$0

Betterment

Betterment
Hands-off investors
Ideal for balances of $100,000+
0.15-0.35% of account balance
per year
Up to 6 months free management
$0

Wealthfront

Wealthfront
Hands-off investors
Manages first $10,000 for free
0.25% of account balance
per year
$15,000 managed free (NerdWallet readers)
$500

OptionsHouse

OptionsHouse
Active traders
Competitive commissions, no account minimum
$4.95
per trade
$1,000 in free trade commissions ($5,000+ deposit)
$0

TradeKing

TradeKing
Active traders
Competitive commissions, no account minimum
$4.95
per trade
$1,000 in free trade commissions ($5,000+ deposit)
$0

Fidelity

Fidelity Investments
Low cost
Commission-free:
3,400 funds, 85 ETFs
$7.95
per trade
Up to 10% match on future contributions qualifying deposit
$0 for IRAs

Vanguard

Vanguard
Low cost
Known for low-cost index funds
$7
for first 25 trades/year, $20 for later trades
None
$0

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

This article was updated. It originally published March 3, 2016.

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