Interactive Brokers Review 2020: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Interactive Brokers attracts active traders with low per-share pricing, an advanced trading platform, a large selection of tradable securities — including foreign stocks — and ridiculously low margin rates. Its new offering, IBKR Lite, offers commission-free trades of stocks and ETFs.

Andrea CoombesJune 26, 2020

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Our Take

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: Active and casual traders alike will benefit from Interactive Brokers' advanced execution, strong trading platforms and rock-bottom pricing.

Best Broker for Low-Cost Investing, Best Broker for Stock Trading Platform and Research

Interactive Brokers IBKR Lite

on Interactive Brokers's website

on Interactive Brokers's website

Fees

$0

per trade

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Large investment selection.

  • Strong research and tools.

  • Over 4,300 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

  • NerdWallet users who sign up for IBKR Pro get a 0.25 percentage point discount on margin rates.

Cons

  • Website is difficult to navigate.

  • Inactivity fees on IBKR Pro.

Compare to Similar Brokers

Interactive Brokers IBKR Lite
SoFi Active Investing
Zacks Trade
Fees

$0

per trade

Fees

$0

per trade

Fees

$0.01

per share

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$2,500

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion

Free

career counseling plus loan discounts with qualifying deposit

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

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Full Review

Interactive Brokers has long been a popular broker for advanced traders, but in 2019 the company launched a second tier of service — IBKR Lite — for more casual investors.

With IBKR Lite, you get unlimited free trades of stocks and exchange-traded funds that are listed on U.S. exchanges. If you're interested in trading other investments, including options, futures, mutual funds, fixed income and more, you can do that on 125 markets in 31 countries with a Lite account, but the trading costs will be the same as what IBKR Pro investors pay.

As the name implies, IBKR Pro is geared toward advanced traders. If that's you, you'll probably like the broker's per-share pricing of $0.005 per share (the minimum is $1), advanced trading platform, unmatched range of tradable securities — including foreign stocks — and ridiculously low margin rates.

Both tiers of service have a $0 account minimum and offer fractional shares of stock. IBKR Lite has no account maintenance or inactivity fees. IBKR Pro charges an inactivity fee, though it's possible to skirt that if you trade relatively frequently.

Interactive Brokers is best for:

  • Casual and advanced traders.

  • Day traders.

  • Margin accounts.

  • Options trading.

  • Research and data.

Interactive Brokers at a glance

Account minimum

$0

Stock trading costs

• IBKR Lite: Unlimited free trades on U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs.

• IBKR Pro: $0.005 per share; minimum $1 and maximum 1% of trade value; volume discount available.

Options trades

IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro: No base commission; 65 cents per contract with $1 minimum. Volume discount available.

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)

• IBKR Lite: None.

• IBKR Pro: $10/month commission minimum for accounts with $100,000 or less, and a $20/month commission minimum for accounts with $2,000 or less.

Number of commission-free ETFs

• IBKR Lite: Unlimited commission-free trades on all available ETFs.

• IBKR Pro: 98 commission-free ETFs.

Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds

Over 4,300 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Tradable securities

• Stocks. • Bonds. • Mutual funds. • ETFs. • Options. • Futures. • Forex. • Metals.

Trading platform

IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro customers get access to Client Portal trading platform and powerful Trader Workstation platform.

Mobile app

Advanced features mimic the desktop app.

Research and data

Extensive research offerings, both free and subscription-based.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

24-hour phone, email and chat support, available six days a week.

Promotion

  • NerdWallet users who sign up for IBKR Pro get a 0.25 percentage point discount on margin rates.

  • $1,000 worth of commission credits for 1 million new customers who participate in IBKR's simulated sports betting exchange.

Where Interactive Brokers shines

Low commissions: If you're a casual investor, it’s hard to beat the free trades you'll enjoy with IBKR Lite. But even advanced traders who opt for IBKR Pro will like the low stock and ETF commission structure at Interactive Brokers, which favors frequent, high-volume traders at just $0.005 per share. There’s a $1 minimum trade commission and a maximum of 1% of the total trade value, and exchange and regulatory fees are included. The broker also offers tiered pricing to lower rates even more: Investors who trade more than 300,000 shares a month can pay $0.002 or less per share, depending on trade volume, although exchange and regulatory fees are extra on this plan. Rates can go even lower for truly high-volume traders.

Options trading, too, is offered at competitive pricing, for both Pro and Lite customers, with a 65 cent charge per contract and no base, plus discounts for larger volumes. The minimum options trade commission is $1 per order.

Margin rates: Margin traders will also benefit from the low rates at Interactive Brokers. For IBKR Pro customers, the maximum margin rate is the benchmark rate plus 1.5% — and NerdWallet users get an extra 0.25 percentage point discount. For IBKR Lite, it's the benchmark rate plus 2.5%. Those rates apply on balances up to $100,000; the rates drop at higher balances. The broker charges a blended rate based on the size of the margin loan, and has a calculator on its website to help investors quickly do the math based on their balance.

Interactive Brokers also offers an integrated cash management feature, which allows investors to borrow against their accounts with a debit Mastercard, also at low interest rates.

Fractional shares: The ability to purchase a portion of a company's stock, rather than a full-priced share, makes it easier to invest in companies that have lofty share prices. That, in turn, makes it easier to maintain a diversified portfolio, especially for investors with smaller accounts. For example, rather than paying more than $260 for one share of Apple, you can divvy up that money among different companies.

Trading platform: The casual traders who find IBKR Lite appealing will find the Client Portal platform adequate for their trading needs. But both IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro traders seeking something more powerful can now enjoy access to Interactive Brokers’ Desktop Trader Workstation, which is considered one of the best trading platforms available for advanced traders. (Until recently, only IBKR Pro traders had access to the advanced platform.)

The platform is fast and includes standard features such as real-time monitoring, alerts, watchlists and a customizable account dashboard. An options strategy lab lets you create and submit both simple and complex multileg options orders and compare up to five options strategies at one time.

Other tools include a volatility lab, advanced charting, heat maps of sector and stock symbol performance, paper trading and a mutual fund replicator, which helps users identify ETFs that replicate the performance of a selected mutual fund but offer lower fees. InteractiveBroker's For You notifications offer customized alerts about events that could affect a trader’s investments.

Worth noting: Another broker we review, Zacks Trade, offers its customers access to white-labeled versions of Trader Workstation. Zacks Trade charges higher trade commissions, but offers clients free calls with support reps, who are licensed brokers. It's an option worth considering for traders who want the power of Interactive Brokers' trading platforms alongside a bit more personal support.

Mobile app: The IBKR mobile app, available to both Lite and Pro customers, is Trader Workstation on the go, with advanced trading shortcuts, over 50 data columns, option exercise and spread templates, news, research, charting and scanners. Users can create order presets, which prefill order tickets for fast entry. Presets set up on Trader Workstation are also available from the mobile app.

Research: Interactive Brokers provides access to a huge selection of research providers and news services, many for free, including Fundamentals Explorer, which offers fundamentals data from Thomson Reuters on over 30,000 companies, plus more than 5,500 analyst ratings, and reports and newswires from 82 companies.  Other research providers available to all clients include Zacks Investment Research, Morningstar Equity Ownership, Market Realist, 24/7 Wall Street and Seeking Alpha. Over 100 additional providers are also available by subscription.

Investment selection: Interactive Brokers offers something for everyone here: Advanced traders will love the huge selection of products, from standard offerings of stocks, options and ETFs to precious metals, forex, warrants and futures. The retirement-investor set will be happy with the broker's impressive list of no-transaction-fee mutual funds — over 4,300 in all — and respectable selection of 98 commission-free ETFs (and Lite customers get to trade all U.S.-listed ETFs commission-free).

Interactive Brokers also has a robo-advisor offering, which charges management fees ranging from 0.08% to 1.5%. The service offers about 70 portfolio options, and 41 of those portfolios require just $1,000 to get started. (The management fees and account minimums vary by portfolio.)

Where Interactive Brokers falls short

Interactive Brokers' shortcomings are primarily due to the company's focus on advanced traders:

Inactivity fees: Interactive Brokers caters to active traders, and that focus shows up in its inactivity fees for IBKR Pro customers. Accounts with balances of $100,000 or less must meet a minimum of $10 a month in trade commissions, or Interactive Brokers will charge the difference as a monthly fee. Accounts with an equity balance of $2,000 or less must meet minimum trade commissions of $20. IBKR Lite doesn't charge inactivity fees.

There is a break here for clients 25 or younger, who have a minimum monthly trade commission of just $3.

» Don't trade that much? View our best online brokers roundup

Website ease-of-use. Interactive Brokers provides a great deal of information on its website, but finding and interpreting the information you want isn't always easy. For IBKR Pro customers, the various commission and fee structures can make it hard to quickly identify what your costs will be. Portions of the website are dedicated to institutional, broker and proprietary trading accounts, and that can be confusing.

Is Interactive Brokers right for you?

Interactive Brokers has always been a great choice for active traders, especially those who can move into the broker's cheaper volume-pricing setup. Now, with the availability of free trades with IBKR Lite, even casual traders might find Interactive Brokers a strong contender. But beginner investors might prefer a broker that offers a bit more hand-holding and educational resources.

Arielle O'Shea contributed to this review. 

on Interactive Brokers's website