Interested in investing but don't know where to start? Online stock trading sites makes it easier than ever to learn and invest in the comfort of your own home. The research team at Reviews.com decided to research the options on the market to find the best platforms for beginners and superinvestors alike. After diving deep into the financial scene with stock experts, they put together the following research to help anyone get started.
Criteria for the best online stock trading sites
It's a tumultuous time for online stock brokers. The players have largely remained the same, but between significant cuts in commissions and a few major acquisitions (E*Trade acquired OptionsHouse; TD Ameritrade and Scottrade merged; Ally Invest now lives under Ally Bank), the competition is fierce.
This is all to say there is no one best online stock broker, but each one has different strengths and weaknesses. Our mission is to spotlight those, and help you find the best one for your investing style.
One thing every trader should care about is cost, so we spent a lot of time balancing price with what each site offered. A few of the fees we analyzed include:
Cost per transaction: Commissions are typically an investor's biggest cost base. In 2016, a typical unassisted transaction fee averaged about $8, but early 2017 saw a slew of brokers decrease their commission, including Fidelity, E*Trade, and TD Ameritrade. Now, many trade for as low as $4.95, which is where, historically, only a few brokers, like Ally Invest and OptionsHouse, operated. No matter what the price, though, transparency is key. We wanted to see affordable pricing structures that were locked in for the long haul.
Account minimums: Seeing your nest egg shrink due to a tough market or bad strategy isn't fun. It's worse if you're also getting dinged by your broker's minimum account balance requirement.
Charges for data, research, and tools: All the best online stock trading sites have quality market data like real-time quotes, educational resources, and stock-screening tools built right into their platforms. But some, like Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, stand out for also providing top-shelf resources, totally free of charge.
Extra costs: There are lots of brokers that boast having financial experts on-call 24 hours a day to help you make a trade, but don't tell you those services come with additional fees. (Executing a trade over the phone, for example, can increase an $8 commission fee to $25 or more.) Some platforms do offer free education on sophisticated strategies like options and futures, but require an upgraded platform with an annual fee. Alongside cost, we also valued educational resources, reports and tools, and the usability of the platform itself. Our expert users took each broker for a test-drive and weighed in on standout features. We also took ratings from investment publications like Barron's and Kiplinger into account.
After conducting their research, Reviews.com determined the following to be their top picks: