TD Ameritrade is a one-stop discount broker for every kind of investor. Its full selection of investment products make it stand out among brokerages. Shopping for mutual funds to put in your first IRA ? Want to trade stocks, options or futures and commodities? TD’s got you covered. Standout features include its $0 minimum, extensive research, and its trading platforms. Active traders may be turned off by the $6.95 trade commission for stocks and ETFs. But for most it’s a small price to pay for everything else TD Ameritrade offers.
- Breadth of investment selections.
- Multiple trading platforms.
- No account minimum.
- Free research and data.
- Higher trade commission.
- Costly broker-assisted trades.
- Short-term trading fees on ETFs.
Commissions, fees and minimums
TD Ameritrade’s $0 account minimum for IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts makes it easy for anyone to start investing. That the firm charges no annual or inactivity fee is another boon to those just starting out. But the tradeoff is how much the broker charges in trading commissions.
Previously our biggest knock against TD Ameritrade was its trading costs. But that changed in March when it lowered its commission rate for stocks and ETFs (and base rate for options) from $9.99 to $6.95. Around the same time Fidelity and Charles Schwab also slashed commissions. They lowered theirs to $4.95, which means TD Ameritrade is still pricier than its peers. Still, free access to TD’s premium research, data, analysis and multiple trading platforms makes paying a premium, albeit a less steep one than before, worthwhile for many investors.
A few other fees to note: Customers who purchase any of TD Ameritrade’s 100-plus commission-free ETFs must hold shares for at least 30 days, or the broker will levy a $19.99 short-term trading fee. Many other brokers charge this fee, but $19.99 is on the high side. For example, Fidelity charges $7.95 and E-Trade charges between $15.99 and $19.99, depending on quarterly account activity. Fund investors are also subject to a short-term redemption fee of $49.99 on almost all mutual funds if traded within 90 days.
TD Ameritrade's fees
Research and data
TD Ameritrade offers a lineup of research, education and portfolio-building tools that serves beginner and advanced investors. Hands-on types can roll up their sleeves and dive into data, news and analysis from S&P Capital IQ, Market Edge and others; follow news feeds from CNBC and Dow Jones; and stream real-time quotes.
Morningstar, a highly respected and independent investment research firm, powers much of TD Ameritrade’s mutual fund selection process. One highlight is that Morningstar compiles a quarterly Premier List exclusively for TD Ameritrade clients that includes top no-transaction-fee mutual funds in 45 fund categories.
TD Ameritrade offers phone service and email support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also has more than 100 local branches where trading specialists are available via phone or in person.
The broker also offers a fully stocked education center, where investors can select a guided curriculum based on their interests and investing knowledge.
TD Ameritrade handily earned all five of its stars in this category with its full selection of investment products (stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, options, futures and Forex). ETF and fund investors are well-served by TD’s selection of more than 100 commission-free ETFs — covering a mix of equity funds, bond funds, international funds and commodity funds, all with reasonable expense ratios — and nearly 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.
Choice is good, but TD’s level of curation is even more valuable, particularly for investors seeking a helping hand to build a diversified fund or ETF portfolio. Another perk is Morningstar’s quarterly top no-transaction-fee fund recommendations for TD customers.
Three distinct platforms make it easy for investors do research and find the trading tools that best suit their needs. For more guidance on choosing a platform, answer these five questions on TD’s “ Platform Selector Tool.”
Web Platform: This is the on-ramp platform for new investors. It’s also a good choice for those who just want to keep things simple. It lets investors select a skill level — rookie to scholar — and highlights education and fundamental research. Users also receive help assembling a properly balanced portfolio of stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and bonds based on pre-built or customized asset allocation models.
Trade Architect: A step up in sophistication, Trade Architect’s trading tools, research and real-time features — including news, quotes and market heat maps — are designed for active and options investors. The web-based platform offers customized charting, 30 stock and option screeners, and option trading tools such as probability analysis, profit/loss graphs and target zone tools. (See our full review of TD Ameritrade’s Trade Architect.)
Thinkorswim: Thinkorswim is a trading platform for serious stock, ETF, options, futures and forex traders. It has all of Trade Architect’s bells and whistles, as well as advanced trading capabilities, a robust lineup of technical analysis tools and studies, customizable screeners, backtesting capabilities and the ability to test strategies with a mock paper trading account. (See our full review of TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim.)
TD Ameritrade’s promotion (60 days of commission-free trades and cash back) is tempting. But there’s a catch: The cash part of the offer kicks in only for deposits of at least $25,000. And even then, it comes to just $100. The bonus grows to $300 for deposits of $100,000 and higher; and $600 for at least $250,000.
How TD Ameritrade stacks up
TD Ameritrade is in the same class of brokers as Charles Schwab and Fidelity, which offer full-service treatment for investors, a ton of educational resources, beginner-friendly web-based and mobile trading platforms and tools to help new investors.
Highlights of all three are that they charge no maintenance or inactivity fees. And while IRA minimums at all three are $0, TD Ameritrade stands out from the pack for its $0 minimum deposit requirement for opening a regular brokerage account.
TD Ameritrade covers all of the bases and does it very well. Investors can receive portfolio-building guidance, a thorough education in investing, access to high-quality research, trading tools, a wide selection of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds, and the choice of three platforms all under one roof. That these features are all free — and the broker has a $0 minimum deposit requirement and has lowered its trading commissions — helped TD earn some of the highest marks in our discount broker reviews.