The Bottom Line: Only a few online brokers can compete with Ally Invest’s low $4.95 trade commissions. And while none of its more than 8,000 mutual funds are free of transaction fees, Ally’s $9.95 commission for no-load funds is one of the lowest among brokerage firms.
Pros & Cons
No account minimum.
Strong web-based platform.
Robust research and tools.
No no-transaction-fee mutual funds.
In most respects, Ally Invest rivals the major online brokers today, and it offers other bells and whistles such as forex trading and automated portfolio management that are not available everywhere. Not only does Ally offer a cheap base commission ($4.95), but it also whittles those fees down further for active traders.
Ally Invest is best for:
Where Ally Invest shines
Commissions: Only a few online brokers can compete with Ally Invest’s low commission of $4.95 on the trading of stocks and exchange-traded funds. That's why it's among NerdWallet's picks for best brokers for day trading. Active investors qualify for the firm's discount ($3.95 per equity trade) by making 30 or more trades per quarter or having a balance of $100,000 or more. Ally Invest's options trading contracts are similarly low at $4.95 plus 65 cents per contract (or $3.95 plus $0.50 per contract for active traders) with only one base charge per spread contract. And instead of charging forex traders commissions, transaction costs are based on spread markups, and accounts that have at least one trade within the past 90 days get access to free data.
In keeping with its discounting ways, Ally added commission-free exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to its investment menu where previously it had none. More than 100 ETFs from WisdomTree and BlackRock are available. As is standard practice at most brokerages, customers must hold the shares for at least 30 calendar days to avoid paying a short-term trading fee.
Although the broker offers no transaction-fee-free mutual funds, its $9.95 commission for no-load mutual funds (and $0 commission for any funds that charge a load) is far from onerous when compared with the $20 to $50 (and more) charged by other discount brokers. Even Ally’s $20 fee (plus regular commission) for broker-assisted trades and its low margin rates are hard to beat.
Account minimum: Ally Invest’s $0 account balance minimum means there’s no roadblock to getting started. That's a bonus for stock-focused investors funding an IRA. (Mutual fund-focused retirement savers: Check out our roundup of best IRA account providers for other no-minimum account options.)
Trading platform: Ally Invest’s browser-based platform offers quick trading capabilities, real-time streaming quotes and data, a customizable dashboard, and access to all of the broker's tools. Customers who frequently trade from various computers — home and work, for example — will appreciate this web-based platform, which doesn’t require any downloads. Ally has also advanced the ability for customers to trade via mobile devices with the company’s apps, or to use a smartphone to access the web-based platform.
Investing research and tools: Ally Invest offers a suite of investing tools that exceed expectations for a deep-discount broker. Its options trading tools are particularly strong and include an options pricing calculator to compare current bid/ask prices to forecast theoretical values, and a strategy scanner that identifies and executes option strategies based on criteria you choose. (Just getting into options trading? Here's our 101 guide.)
Technical traders can dive into a suite of free tools powered by Recognia. Other free tools include a profit-and-loss calculator, a probability calculator (that uses implied volatility to determine your likelihood of hitting your targets) and the Maxit Tax Manager, which identifies tax implications of trading decisions (e.g., as short- and long-term gains and losses, wash sales) for planning purposes and generates on-demand 1099 forms.
Side note about data: Standard quotes are free to all customers, but free, real-time streaming data is available only to investors who trade more than 10 times per month.
Where Ally Invest falls short
Mutual funds: The company offers more than 8,000 mutual funds, but, as mentioned earlier, unfortunately none of them are free of transaction fees. Ally Invest’s commission for no-load funds is $9.95 (one of the lowest among brokerage firms), but investors would be better off using one of the other deep-discount online brokers — such as E-Trade, Merrill Edge or Interactive Brokers — which offer thousands of funds with no transaction fees.
No physical branches: Plenty of brokers have an online-only presence, but it's worth pointing this out here for beginner investors who may feel more comfortable knowing they could visit a branch office for hands-on help. That said, Ally offers online and phone customer support 24-7.
The bottom line
If you're an active trader focused on costs, then Ally Invest could be a great fit. Even if you're not, Ally will probably still fill the bill for you, with competitive commissions, helpful trading tools, and an easy-to-use trading platform. Plus, with no account minimum, it's easy for beginners to get started. So Ally competes favorably for new investors and those investors looking to trade. Those looking to buy no-transaction-fee mutual funds and ETFs, however, may find a better home at another broker. Everyone else, though, should at least give Ally the once-over.
» Want more options? See our best online brokers for stock trading