The best cheap online stock broker offers a variety of investment options at a low cost. We compared fees, account minimums, and other costs of the cheapest brokerage accounts to find which best suits different investing priorities. While most online brokers have dialed down their costs, we found three that we like more than the competition. For anyone just starting to wade into investing, Ally requires no minimum investment to start an account, and it offers some of the lowest trading fees.
Its online-only platform transfers between devices with ease, making it easy and inexpensive for investors to set up an account. Charles Schwab The only brokerage of our three top picks that operates brick-and-mortar branches, this financial institution has kept offers plenty of useful tools and platforms while also offering traditional resources for in-person help.
Interactive Brokers This low-cost, high-account value trading platform offers surprisingly low fees if you meet its requirements for account balance and activity. But novice investors won't find the same benefits, or the same simplicity offered by our other picks. Spending less money on fees means your investments have more room to grow.
And while cheap trading platforms may not offer the same level of counsel or market research as a traditional firm, you can still find plenty of tools to make trading decisions smarter and faster. Your best bets are Ally Invest and Charles Schwab. These two brokerages share a lot of price points, and most of the differences between the two are trade-offs.
Ally provides access to nearly twice as many mutual funds around 10, vs. Over trade commission-free. With virtual trading, you can test out strategies before putting your own cash into the mix.
Charles Schwab has retained more of a classic brokerage feel through its in-person presence you can schedule a free consultation with a financial advisor as well as its more traditional account minimums. And while Ally restricts its trading technology to online platforms, Charles Schwab gives clients an advanced desktop option: Making its platform more intuitive and convenient, based on user feedback about clunkier trading tech.
For more active trading, a higher account balance is par for the course. It also offers the choice of fixed or tiered pricing, giving investors the opportunity to choose what makes more financial sense for them — tiered structures will typically benefit high-volume traders. Your financial goals and your personal investing style will be the two biggest factors in choosing the right brokerage for you.
We considered seven brokerages in total: Ameritrade, all major brokerages that have made a name for themselves offering exceptionally low rates. This wasn't a comprehensive list — we focused on major names and newer players that were doing more to disrupt the space. To find the best among them, we investigated their platforms and compared the fine print to see how they stack up in fees, learning resources, and trading technology.
Some of the most important: We looked for brokers that kept those fees and commissions as low as possible. Special offers for opening a brokerage account can include a set number of free trades or even cash bonuses for investing above a certain amount. Read the fine print to be sure that these early benefits outweigh later costs, and whether those new client perks align with your investing practices.
Since special offers are by definition short-term, we focused on set account pricing. In the long run, those are the savings that will impact your financial goals. We also wanted low-cost options for both self-directed trading and investing in a managed portfolio, allowing you to make your first foray into the market as hands-on or hands-off as you like.
But we didn't want to neglect experienced investors, either. We looked for brokerages that kept fees low for larger accounts — or, better yet, offered more discounts for frequent activity.
We were also keen to see a full set of asset options, including advanced investment vehicles like forex and futures. For any type of investor, a superior investment platform provides an array of research and learning resources, flexible trading options, and a usable interface compatible with most devices.
We found a lot of similarities among the different brokerages: Ameritrade and Merrill Edge lost out to Ally for having higher per-trade fees, despite having no account minimums.
Ally Invest A clean and accessible online brokerage that provides investing newbies with a simple platform and no investment minimums. Despite its insider status, Ally does better than most online brokerages at making investing accessible to newcomers. Ally offers all the same major investment vehicles as other brokerages — stocks, options, ETFs, bonds, mutual funds, forex, futures — as well as a host of accounts that fall under a managed portfolio.
These portfolios are comprised exclusively of ETFs — investment bundles that trade on the open market like stocks. They offer similar diversification to mutual funds, but typically carry lower expenses. A small percentage of your total investment is typically held in cash, but the exact amount will vary according to your described risk tolerance. In addition to small fees for holding the ETFs themselves, Ally charges a 0. That's a pretty middle-of-the-road percentage in comparison with other full-service brokerages but slightly higher than companies that offer only managed portfolios.
We discuss these robo-advisor companies at the end of the review. Ally boasts an aesthetically pleasing and easily navigable site, but buries all the hard data that we were craving. This sparsity of upfront information carries over into their light touch on education and research. While having more in-house resources would improve the overall client experience, plenty of information can be found elsewhere on the internet.
A couple good resources? Investopedia and The Simple Dollar. Charles Schwab This old guard brokerage has kept on the breaking wave of trading technology, while providing plenty of support and advising resources. Just about every basic fee charged by Charles Schwab goes toe-to-toe with Ally. However, the breadth of tools and resources available with Charles Schwab does a lot to justify the extra expense.
Schwab puts extensive information on their accounts and products front and center. Plus, easily access both product info and wider investment education through the learning center. And while Ally Invest makes it difficult to track down brass tacks in the name of a friendly user-interface, Schwab hits you with its full store of counsel and breaking news.
Not only does the firm provide access to independent research, it also publishes relevant in-house research. If you need personalized settings and advanced features, StreetSmart Edge provides both in spades. Investors that are new to the game may find the web-based option more accessible.
Like Ally, Charles Schwab offers a managed portfolio option, Intelligent Portfolio, available for a large number of managed account types. Unlike Ally, not to mention every other managed account we looked at, it charges no advising fees. Instead, Schwab makes money by holding some of the underlying assets of the accounts. The only fees associated with the account come from the investments, and while that percentage increases to a substantial amount from 0.
Still, if the security of investing with a solid name in finances appeals to you, Charles Schwab offers a lot for your money. And Charles Schwab is finding even more ways to make you feel secure investing your money with them. Charles Schwab has developed a half-and-half solution: A hybrid service, Intelligent Advisory puts both financial professionals and financial algorithms to work. Opting for an independent brokerage account gives you access to the resources of a traditional, full-service brokerage without putting down a traditional amount.
Interactive Brokers A top choice for experienced traders, this brokerage boasts a complete lineup of investment products, plus pro-grade trading tech. Choosing a company with a variety of investment products is important if you plan on trading more than just stocks. All three of our favorite companies offer stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and options trading.
The company also has incredibly low interest rates for margin trading: With an upper limit of 2. For pure trading and competitive prices, no other brokerage comes close.
In fact, the two elements that make IB a bit unwieldy for new investors make it a perfect tool for the experienced: Back in , the company was fined for several violations relating to the management of futures market funds. Choose from the web-based trading platform WebTrader and the more advanced, downloadable platform, Trader Workstation. Both are included for Interactive Brokers clients at no additional cost.
Trader Workstation also comes with a steep learning curve. Navigation is far from intuitive as tools are located in discrete sections. The interface, like the rest of an IB account, only benefits experienced traders. However, IB has recognized the learning gap. To supplement the educational tools on Traders' University , IB has introduced a layout library choose from pre-made setups and templates for different trading strategies as well as an AI assistant.
IBot can answer plain-English questions but, like any other voice-activated helper from Siri to Alexa, it has its limits.
Financial institutions have gone through a lot of millennial growing pains. Several companies cannibalizing several others in the past year. For everyday investors, these acquisitions have little impact. Ameritrade gobbled up Scottrade, but Scottrade accounts are slated to transform painlessly into Ameritrade accounts in Q1 of , to the extent that Scottrade is still enrolling new clients. The more major change is the movement away from traditional brokerages and toward increasingly automated investing options.
They also appeal to a younger generation of investors. They are not, however, the newest rich kid on the block.
A slew of robo-advisor investment apps have materialized within the last five years, with marketing and functionality geared toward a generation that has a job yay! Hands-off investing as offered by Wealthsimple or other robo-advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment appeal to a demographic used to automated services. Simply plug in your time frame and risk tolerance and an algorithm takes it from there. A nice side effect of AI investing - even lower fees. Wealthsimple charges an annual 0.
Plus, instant access to our exclusive guide:More...