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Published: Oct 18, 2023 39 min read

Rankings as of Oct 18, 2023.

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Online trading platforms let you invest in securities like stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds so you can build an investment portfolio that meets your goals.

However, each platform offers a unique set of features and sometimes complicated fee structures, which can make it hard to choose.

Read on to find the best online trading platforms and our guide on how to choose the right one for you.

Our Top Picks for Best Online Stock Trading Platforms

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Best Online Trading Platforms Reviews

Pros
  • Low or no fees on most securities and brokerage services
  • Extensive educational resources, including webinars and coaching sessions
  • Access to international investments and precious metals, like gold and silver
Cons
  • High fees for broker assisted transactions
  • Account verification process may take a few days
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commission for US stocks, ETFs and options trades No minimum Stocks, Fractional Shares, Mutual Funds, IPOs, ETFs, Options, Bonds, Precious Metals, Index, Bonds, Crypto Individual, IRA, 529 College Savings Yes

Why we chose it: Fidelity stands as the best overall online broker platform because it provides a wide range of investment choices, low margin rates and commission-free trades for stocks, options, ETFs, bonds and mutual funds.

Fidelity offers many different ways to invest, from self-directed brokerage accounts for those who want to manage their own portfolios to an affordable robo-advisor — Fidelity Go — for investors who prefer hands-off investing. Those interested in holding larger portfolios and a more diverse investing strategy can also choose from two different wealth management plans assisted by personal investment advisors.

Fidelity doesn’t charge account fees or require a minimum deposit for opening any of its brokerage accounts. In addition, it offers some of the lowest margin rates.

Margin rates are the cost brokers charge to investors with margin accounts — a type of account that lets you borrow money from the brokerage to buy shares. These rates can vary widely from one broker to another.

Fidelity features a wide variety of investment products, including domestic and international stocks, precious metals, cryptocurrencies and dollar-based investing through fractional shares. It’s also one of the few brokers that offers mutual funds with a zero expense ratio.

Fidelity’s robo-advisor also stands out from its competitors. There’s no minimum amount required to open an account and no advisory fees, trading fees or rebalancing fees for account balances under $25,000.

There is, however, a 0.35% annual advisory fee for accounts with balances over $25,000. While this is somewhat higher than what robo-advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront charge, with Fidelity you get advisory services, including financial planning and coaching.

Read full review

Pros
  • No minimum balance
  • Hands-off investing with options to work with qualified financial advisors
  • Offers tax-saving tools
Cons
  • Limited number of portfolios and ETFs
  • No individual stock, mutual fund, or ETF trading
  • $4 monthly fee for balances under $20,000
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$4 monthly fee or 0.25% annual advisory fee for accounts over $20,000 No minimum ETFs and Crypto diversified portfolios Individual, Joint, Trust,Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, Inherited IRA, Cash Reserve, Checking Account Yes

Why we chose it: Betterment is our choice for hands-off investors because it features an easy way to configure automated investing based on target goals and tax-loss harvesting capabilities.

Betterment is another robo-advisor that makes it easy to set it and forget it with your investments. The company uses cutting-edge technology guided by the help of financial advisors in order to help secure the maximum return based on your risk tolerance, investment timeline, and other factors.

Betterment may not be ideal for investors who want to actively trade stocks, but it is a great choice for more cautious, beginner or hands-off investors. Upon opening an account you can pick an upfront tax-smart investing strategy that runs on autopilot, and keeps you informed with projections of potential returns.

Other account features include automatic rebalancing of your portfolio and reinvestment of dividends. You can also set up recurring deposits and earn cash back when you pay with the Betterment Visa Debit Card.

Accounts with balances of $100,000 or more can be upgraded to Betterment Premium, which offer unlimited access to financial guidance from a Certified Financial Planner®. Do note, however, that you have to pay an additional 0.15% management fee.

Betterment’s main drawback is that it charges a $4 monthly fee for accounts under $20,000. To switch this monthly fee for a 0.25% annual fee, like Wealthfront does, you have to set up recurring monthly deposits of $250 or reach a $20,000 balance across all your Betterment accounts.

Pros
  • $0-fee stock, ETF, and options trades
  • Ability to trade in Forex and cryptocurrency
  • Several web platforms and a mobile app available
  • Advanced analytical and stock tracking tools
Cons
  • High commission (up to $74.95) on no-load mutual funds buys
  • Doesn't offer fractional shares
  • Platform can be somewhat difficult to navigate for beginners
  • $5,000 minimum to open an automated investing account
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commission for stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and options trades. $0.65 per contract fee. $6.95 commission for OTC stock trades. $0 for self-directed brokerage account Stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Bonds, Futures, Forex Currency, IPOs, Crypto Individual, Joint, Guardianship, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, Solo 401k, 529 Plans, UGMA/UTMA, Coverdell Education Savings Account Yes

Why we chose it: TD Ameritrade’s free real-time data, simulated trading, charting and over 400,000 economic indicators makes it the best online trading platform for those who want educational resources to help them master investing basics.

TD Ameritrade is one of the largest online stock trading platforms, offering investment options that some other platforms don’t, including free Forex trading in 21 currencies. TD Ameritrade also allows you to purchase IPO stocks either on the primary market (if Ameritrade is part of the seller group) or on the secondary market.

Users can check all trading information and the company’s educational, research, and planning tools through TD Ameritrade’s web platform and mobile app. This includes the TD Ameritrade TV network, daily market commentary, and even social sentiment analysis from Twitter.

TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim platform allows investors to run simulations before actually putting money into a trade. It also lets them generate advanced charting and earnings analysis reports. You can also create watch lists and receive alerts that track the price, volume and position of stocks on your list. TD Ameritrade clients can trade all asset classes offered using the mobile app.

As of this writing, TD Ameritrade is being folded into Charles Schwab, due to the merger of these two firms. However, new customers can still open some account types at TD Ameritrade. Access to the thinkorswim suite is also only available through TD Ameritrade’s web platform, though expected to move to Schwab later in 2023.

Pros
  • No-commission trades for stocks, options, ETFs and mutual funds
  • $0.50 per options contract if you make 30 or more trades per quarter
  • Advanced mobile app for trading on the go, customized stock screening and third-party research
Cons
  • Automated investment accounts require a $500 minimum to open
  • High margin rates relative to its competition
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commission for online US-listed stock, ETF, mutual fund and options trades $0 for self-directed brokerage account Stocks, ETFs, Options, Futures, Mutual Funds, Bonds Brokerage, Custodial Account, Coverdell ESA, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, Managed Portfolios Yes

Why we chose it: E*TRADE offers a wide array of investment options, an intuitive platform and access to educational materials, research tools and market analysis to help beginners make informed decisions.

E*TRADE is a pioneer in online trading that provides a large variety of investment options, from simple online brokerage accounts designed for new investors to advanced investing and trading options for experienced traders.

The platform provides latest market news recaps, daily insights and a comprehensive online library to help newer investors understand key trading and investing concepts.

E*TRADE has over 9,000 mutual funds to invest in, over 4,000 of which are no-load, no-transaction-fee funds. E*TRADE also offers checking and savings accounts that allow you to transfer funds between all your accounts seamlessly.

There are $0 fees for online U.S. stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and options trades, making it easy for new investors to start building their portfolios. There are also managed portfolios with a flat 0.30% annual management fee for those who may need more guidance.

Though E*TRADE’s individual brokerage accounts don’t have minimum balance requirements, its managed portfolios have a $500 minimum.

As of this writing, Morgan Stanley is assuming responsibility for and offering services that E*TRADE had previously provided since their merger started in late 2020. Once E*TRADE accounts transition to Morgan Stanlety, the latter will automatically update E*TRADE customers’ account numbers and become the broker-dealer of record. However, services will still be available though E*TRADE app and online platform.

Pros
  • $0 fees for ETFs, stocks, options and Schwab mutual funds trades
  • Ability to invest in foreign markets
  • Large variety of research tools
Cons
  • Relatively high margin rates
  • No cryptocurrency trading available
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commission on listed stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and options No minimum Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual Funds, Bonds, Futures, Annuities, International Stocks Individual, Joint, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, Intelligent Portfolios Yes

Why we chose it: Charles Schwab’s wide selection of over 2,000 commission-free ETFs from multiple asset classes and fund companies makes it one of the best online trading platforms for ETFs trades.

With Charles Schwab, investors can open a brokerage account without a required account minimum and enjoy zero-commission trades on online-listed stocks, ETFs, options and mutual funds. The company also offers broker-assisted trades, and traditional, Roth and Rollover IRAs.

Through Schwab’s Global Account you can trade stocks in 12 foreign markets and 7 local currencies without an account minimum. You also get access to international stock screeners, third-party research and Schwab’s proprietary international equity ratings. Aside from self-directed trading options, Schwab also provides automated trading as well as investment planning with an expert advisor.

Self-directed investors can choose a vast variety of ETFs, including equity and non-equity ETFs from a range of fund companies in the United States. Some ETFs options include international ETFs, market-cap index ETFs, bond ETFs and currency ETFs. While all U.S. exchange listed ETFs are commission-free, some operating fees may apply to some funds. These fees are typically disclosed in the prospectus.

Charles Schwab’s learning and education center provides investing insights, weekly market outlooks and answers to basic investing questions, such as how and when to invest. It also features multi-media resources, like podcasts, live programming and videos.

Read full review

Pros
  • Research data for both basic and technical investment strategies
  • Paper trading feature allows users to practice before investing real money
Cons
  • No commissions, trading or account fees, and no minimum account deposit
  • Advanced charting settings may be overwhelming to beginning investors
  • Doesn't offer automatic dividend reinvestment
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commissions for U.S.-listed stocks, ETFs and options trades No minimum Stocks, Fractional Shares, ETFs, Crypto, Options, OTC Individual Brokerage Account, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA Yes

Why we chose it: Webull’s in-depth analysis tools and integrated trading paper functions makes it one of the best investment apps for active trading.

Webull is a mobile app-based brokerage that offers commission-free stocks, ETFs, and other trading options. The platform offers advanced order types, charting, and tons of stock market research data for users to develop personalized investment strategies.

Webull also offers a notable trading simulator, which can be a great tool for beginners who want to practice strategies with virtual cash before risking their own money. Webull Paper Trading also provides real-time data, integrated charting tools and over 50 customizable technical indicators. The company even holds competitions with cash prizes to encourage new traders to practice.

In addition, Webull features a news feed, where you can check top market news, other user’s posts and corporate actions of stocks in your watchlist. You can also write posts, create polls and share insight with the Webull community.

Despite its in-depth analysis tools and educational resources, Webull can feel overwhelming for beginners, especially due to its advanced charting. However, traders can customize their dashboard display, including chart settings, and choose simpler reporting for both the Webull desktop platform and its mobile app.

Pros
  • Low pricing or no management fees across the board
  • Large variety of index funds available
  • Personal Advisor Service pairs investors with financial advisors
Cons
  • $20 annual account service fee
  • Complex commissions system for options trading
  • $3,000 minimum to qualify for robo-advisor
Trading Fees Account Minimums Tradable Securities Account Types Robo-Investing
$0 commission on stocks, ETFs, mutual funds or options online trades $0 Stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options, Bonds, CDs, Money Market Individual, Joint, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 529 Savings, UGMA/UTMA, Trusts Accounts Yes

Why we chose it: Vanguard’s wide selection of low cost mutual funds makes it the best option for investors looking to diversify their portfolios with index and actively-managed funds.

Vanguard manages one of the largest selections of low-cost mutual funds in the industry, offering a strong lineup of index funds and actively managed funds. It also offers stocks, ETFs, bonds, CDs and money markets.

Aside from individual and joint brokerage accounts, Vanguard offers retirement accounts and education savings accounts. It also has wealth management and multiple advisory services, including digital and personal advisors. However, these have account minimum requirements, ranging from $3,000 to $5 million.

Though Vanguard doesn’t have a minimum amount requirement to open an account, there are minimum investment requirements for some accounts. For instance, Vanguard Target Retirement Funds require a minimum of $1,000, whereas most actively managed funds have a $3,000 minimum.

Vanguard charges an $20 annual account service fee for each brokerage account, which can be waived in one of three ways: 1) if you have at least $1 million in qualifying assets, 2) if you sign up for electronic statements delivery or 3) if you have a trust account under an employee identification number or brokerage account enrolled in a Vanguard-affiliated advisory program.

Read full review

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Other Online Stock Trading Platforms We Considered

While we evaluated the companies below, they did not make the cut for different reasons.

Interactive Brokers

Pros
  • Variety of investment products
  • Low commission, fees and margin rates
  • Let you invest in global markets
Cons
  • Global markets fee schedule may be complicated, especially for beginners
  • Robo-advisor accounts have a $100 minimum

Why it didn’t make the cut: Despite providing access to global markets, Interactive Brokers charges more fees than competitors in our top list.

Interactive Brokers (IBKR) has one of the largest selections of investment products and access to 150 global markets, including global exchanges in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. IBKR’s robo-advisor lets you choose from dozens of themed portfolios. Themes can include top-performing companies, for instance, or socially responsible portfolios.

Among IBKR drawbacks is its somewhat complicated fee structure, especially if you’re interested in investing on global markets. The platform also requires a $100 minimum to open a robo-advisor account and charges an annual asset management fee of 0.08% to 0.75%, which is computed daily and charged monthly.

Robinhood

Pros
  • Streamlined, easy-to-understand web and mobile platforms
  • No account minimum and low trading costs
Cons
  • Limited educational materials and trading tools
  • Poor customer support
  • High margin rate for non-premium users

Why it didn’t make the cut: Robinhood has been involved in controversies related to company reliability, data breaches and trustworthiness, which also kept it out of our top list.

Robinhood is a popular online trading platform among new and experienced investors. Its intuitive and easy-to-use web and mobile platform offer a streamlined experience, known for gamifying the way people invest. Like many other discount brokers, Robinhood features no commission fees and access to stocks, ETFs, options, IPOs, fractional shares and crypto.

However, Robinhood’s educational resources and research tools aren’t as comprehensive as other brokers, and only offers real-time market data and professional research if you subscribe to its Gold plan for $5 a month.

SoFi

Pros
  • No account minimum and barely any fees
  • Free access to financial counseling
Cons
  • Trading is limited to stocks, ETFs, and crypto
  • No tax loss harvesting

Why it didn’t make the cut: Aside from stocks, SoFi mainly offers trades of its own ETFs, options and a few popular cryptocurrencies.

SoFi’s user-friendly platform lets you manage banking and investing accounts all from one place. You can choose between DIY investing, automated investing or tax-optimized retirement accounts. In addition, you can get free counseling from the company’s financial planners.

Compared to competitors in our list, SoFi selection of investment products is somewhat limited. For instance, its ETFs offering is mainly limited to SoFi’s own funds and Vanguard, and its crypto selection to a few popular options, like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. However, it’s a good option for newer investors, especially if you’re already familiar with SoFi’s banking products.

Merrill Edge

Pros
  • Integration with Bank of America
  • 24/7 phone and live chat customer service
  • Extensive third-party research and educational tools
Cons
  • Relatively higher fees and rates on broker-assisted trades
  • Limited offering, no fractional shares, futures or crypto

Why it didn’t make the cut: Merrill Edge features higher fees and margin rates than other competitors in our top list.

Merrill Edge’s provides a wide variety of educational material and research tools. It also offers seamless integration with Bank of America, making it easier for Bank of America customers to link accounts and transfer money.

However, the company’s fees and margin rates are noticeably higher than its competitors. In addition, Merrill Edge’s offers a limited selection of investments. For instance, there’s no access to fractional shares, penny stocks, crypto currencies, futures or international stocks.

Ally Invest

Pros
  • Multiple account options, including robo portfolios and wealth management services
  • Charges $0 commission on stocks, ETFs, options and mutual funds
  • Seamless integration with Ally's banking accounts
Cons
  • $4.95 fee plus $0.01 per share for stocks priced less than $2.00
  • No fractional share trading
  • Requires a $100 minimum deposit for robo portfolios
  • 0.30% annual advisory fee on robo portfolios

Why it didn’t make the cut: Unlike many competitors, Ally doesn’t offer the ability to trade fractional shares.

Ally features three investment approaches: self-directed trading, robo portfolios and wealth management services. It also offers low fees, charging $0 commission fees on U.S. stocks, ETFs and options. Plus its brokerage accounts meld extremely well with its banking products, making it a good option for Ally Bank customers.

However, unlike many trading platforms, Ally doesn’t offer fractional shares. In addition, it charges a 0.30% annual advisory fee for its hands-off robo portfolios and requires a $100 minimum to get started.

Public

Pros
  • Social media features
  • You can trade cryptocurrencies and fractional shares
  • Lets you fund account with a debit card
Cons
  • No mutual funds or options trading
  • Advanced date and market metrics are only available with Public Premium for $8 to $10 a month

Why it didn’t make the cut: Public doesn’t let you invest in mutual funds, options, OTC securities or fixed income securities, like CDs or bonds.

Public stands out as one of the few investing platforms that offers engaging social media features. You can follow other Public users, exchange trading ideas and share market news all within the same platform.

Aside from its social features, Public offers similar features to those of most discount brokers. You can buy commission-free stocks, ETFs, cryptocurrencies and fractional shares of stocks with as little as $1. With that said, Public is a better fit for beginners and social investors.

Read full review

Online Stock Trading Guide

Check out our guide below to learn more about how online trading platforms work, the most common types of orders you can place, the factors to consider when choosing a trading platform and how to start trading stocks online.

We also include a side-by-side comparison between the advantages and disadvantages of self-managed trading platforms and robo advisors.

What is online trading?
How do stock trading platforms work?
What trading platforms have an OSO?
How to choose the best trading platform for you
What is the difference between trading and investing?
How to start trading stocks online
Online trading platforms vs. robo advisor
Best Online Stock Trading FAQs

What is online trading?

Online trading, or e-trading, is the process of buying and selling assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options and other investment vehicles via an online platform. These trading platforms are typically offered by financial institutions and discount brokers that allow you to easily open an account, deposit money and start trading within a few minutes.

Most online brokerages allow customers to trade online as opposed to phoning a trader on the floor of the stock exchange. Although some trading platforms may operate exclusively online, a few pair online trading with traditional financial advisers who offer help and advice.

How do online trading platforms work?

Most online trading platforms, or online brokers, let you invest via a mobile app or its secured website. To start, you have to sign up and open the type of brokerage account you want — individual, joint, retirement, education or automated.

Online brokers typically let you start trading stocks, bonds, ETFs and more complex investments like options and cryptocurrency by simply choosing the desired number of shares or the amount in dollars you want to buy.

These platforms also offer various research tools you can use to evaluate stocks and market activity in real time. For instance, many investing platforms have built in stock screeners that allow you to find securities based on preferences like market capitalization, earnings per share or expense ratio.

Types of Brokers

Although every trading platform is different, stock brokers can be split into two broad categories: discount brokers and full-service brokers.

  • Discount brokers offer self-directed portfolios, which require a hands-on investment approach, meaning you pick stocks, bonds and ETFs yourself. With a discount broker, you’re in complete control of your securities and when you’d like to trade them. Robinhood and Webull are examples of discount brokers. These brokers typically offer accounts that require low to no account minimums and may waive some of their fees for executing a certain amount of free trades per month, which makes them ideal for active or frequent traders.
  • Full-service brokers offer a more traditional approach. In addition to online access to your investments, these firms typically pair you with a financial adviser, who can offer advice about what stocks to buy or even manage your entire portfolio for you. Many full-service brokers feature other services too, such as retirement and estate planning, wealth management and tax planning. Consequently, account minimums and fees are much higher, so they are best suited for high-net-worth investors who want a more personal level of service.

Types of Orders

Orders are instructions sent by investors to their brokerage directing them to buy or sell a security. This can be done on the phone with a stock broker or through an online trading platform. The three most common types of orders are market orders, limit orders and stop-loss orders.

Type of Order Description Advantages Disadvantages Best used by...
Market Order An order to trade at the best possible price available in the current market. Trades are issued and executed almost immediately. Low cost. Investors have no control over the price of the security. Investors interested in very liquid large-cap U.S. stocks and ETFs.
Limit Order An order to trade at a specified price or better. Trades are issued at a price of the investor’s own choosing. Trades might not take place if there is no price match. Higher commissions. All types of traders. Patient investors with no rush to trade.
Stop-loss Order An order to trade at the best available price after a specified price is triggered. No risk of missing trading opportunities. May help reduce potential losses. Trades might be executed at a way worse price than expected. More advanced traders.

What trading platforms have an OSO?

Order-sends-order (OSO), or order-triggers-other (OTO), is a compound order execution that triggers a second trade once a primary order is filled. This type of order is generally available in more advanced trading platforms, like Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, which allow for a wider variety of conditional orders.

These platforms also let you place multi-contingent orders, one-cancels-the-other (OCO) and one-triggers-a-one-cancels-the-other (OTOCO) orders.

How to choose the best trading platform for you

There are several factors to consider when choosing an online trading platform that aligns with your investment experience and style, trading needs and financial goals.

Consider your investment experience and needs

How long you have been trading — or whether you’ve ever traded at all — is a big factor in the type of platform you should choose.

If you’re a beginner, look for platforms that offer basic educational resources, responsive customer support and that allow paper trading to practice trades before getting into the real thing.

Experienced traders may benefit from platforms that let them issue specific types of trades and offer more complex analytic tools, such as customizable charting.

Those looking for a hands-off option may want to start with a robo-advisor that manages a diversified portfolio of stocks and bond investments for you.

Choose a brokerage account for your financial goal(s)

One of the most important questions you should ask yourself before beginning to invest is why you’re doing it in the first place. Are you investing to build up a retirement account or are you just looking for a way to potentially grow your money for a set period?

Although most online brokers offer similar types of brokerage accounts, having an answer to these questions can ultimately help you choose the type of account and platform that better suits your financial goals.

If your goal is to save for retirement or for your children’s college tuition, you should look for a broker that offers the right type of account for it, such as a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA or a 529 College Savings account.

But if you mainly want to throw a wrench in the system and invest in meme stocks, then your platform should give you the freedom to do so too.

Compare account fees and charges

Most online trading platforms offer commission-free trading for securities like stocks, ETFs and options. However, there are other fees and charges you should watch out for, such as account maintenance fees, options contract fees, margin rates and monthly memberships.

These fees can vary and be higher or lower depending on the platform. Compare pricing between stockbrokers and determine if its fee structure works for you.

Keep in mind that some fixed monthly subscriptions or account maintenance fees can eat up your potential returns, especially if you’re investing small amounts of money.

In this case, you should consider the expense ratio, which is the percentage of your investment that goes toward paying annual fees. If your expense ratio is higher than your returns, it means you’re spending more than what you’re getting back.

Look for a variety of assets

Not all trading platforms offer the same investment products. Some may limit their selection to popular choices like stocks, ETFs, options and crypto, while others offer a wider range of assets, including mutual funds, futures and international stocks.

Being able to invest multiple investment vehicles lets you diversify your portfolio and reduce your risk. However, this doesn’t mean you should choose the platform with the most investment options, rather the one offering the choices that are right for your investment strategy.

Check brokers’ background

Online trading platforms and brokers should be registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Both agencies ensure brokerage firms abide by fiduciary regulations.

Make sure the brokerage is also insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). This non-profit organization is similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), only that it protects investors against the loss of cash and securities, up to $500,000, in case of the brokerage’s insolvency.

You can also check a broker’s background information and registrations using search tools like the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure and FINRA’s BrokerCheck.

Figure out deposit and withdrawal methods

Check out the options the broker offers for funding your brokerage account. While most trading platforms let you fund your account by linking a checking or savings account, there are a few that allow you to use alternate methods, such as a debit or credit card and digital wallets.

It’s also important to find out how the process of withdrawing funds works and how many days it can take. With most platforms it typically takes between one to three business days, but in some cases it can take longer. This will give you an idea of how quickly you can access your money when needed.

Another major consideration is whether the platform gives you immediate access to your money after depositing it or if you have to wait for the deposit to go through to be able to place an order.

Evaluate security and customer support options

Make sure the platform offers additional security features, such as two-factor authentication or biometrics. Many online platforms have mobile apps that let you set passcodes in addition to passwords. Like passwords, passcodes can be used to restrict your accounts information or features, making it harder to enter your account without authorization.

You could also check if the company has been involved in any recent data breaches. This can help you form an idea of how reliable its security system is.

In addition, look for platforms that offer multiple forms of customer support, including a help center with frequently asked questions, in case you encounter any issues and need assistance.

Although not all online trading platforms feature customer support via phone, most offer support over chat and email. Some even have pages on social media you can reach out to.

Try the trading platform

Because all platforms offer different interface designs and tools, it might be worthwhile to try out the ones that interest you the most. Many trading platforms let you open an account for free and without minimum deposits.

By opening an account, you’ll be able to evaluate its different features, the process for placing orders and its research tools. This can help you determine if the platform is intuitive and whether it meets your specific needs.

What is the difference between trading and investing?

Investing means buying and holding securities like stocks, bonds and ETFs to maximize returns in the long run. Day traders frequently buy and sell stocks to earn strong returns in the short term.

An investor may build a diversified portfolio with stocks, bonds, funds and alternative assets to meet a long-term investing goal like saving for retirement. They focus on portfolios that have the potential for long-term growth and provide them with exposure to the broader market. Investors may “ride out” market downturns because they believe they’ll recover losses and earn gains when the market rebounds.

Active traders pay close attention to market movements hoping to find opportunities to profit. Traders often seek so-called undervalued stocks they believe are priced below what they’re actually worth in order to profit when the market reflects the stock's true value.

Trading is risky, however, as even most professional investors fail to outperform the returns of passive investments like index funds which aim to deliver returns of the stock market as a whole.

How to start trading stocks online

Online trading platforms and stock brokers adhere to some rules and regulations, just like traditional brokerage firms. To avoid future liabilities, platforms ask for certain information prior to opening a trading account.

Most online brokers required the following:

☑ Personal information (your full name, physical and postal address, date of birth, phone number, email address)

☑ A copy of a government-issued ID, such as your driver’s license or passport

☑ Social Security Number or taxpayer identification number

☑ Employment information (job title, department, work location, start date, etc.)

☑ Annual income

☑ Bank account information (if you’d like to fund your account through direct deposit)

☑ Brokerage account information (if you’re transferring an account from another firm)

Companies may also ask for your desired risk tolerance and what your investment goals are to determine the best type of account for you.

How to learn online trading

Learning how to trade can be time consuming and challenging at first. However, if you commit to understanding the basics of the stock market and building a solid foundation of knowledge, you’ll eventually be able to develop your own trading strategy and track your results.

One key thought to keep in mind is that there’s no magic formula and that the process can take lots of research, practice and discipline.

Below are some actions you can take to start learning.

1. Learn the basics: Familiarize yourself with the technical aspects and terminology of trading, such as order types and different investment products. Most trading platforms include educational resources you can use to deepen your knowledge of the stock market and develop your skills.

2. Take an online course or webinar: There are many learning platforms that offer investing courses, such as Coursera, Udemy and Simpler Trading. You may also consider taking courses from renowned universities that offer self-paced and instructor-led courses without having to enroll in a particular university program.

3. Practice in a demo account: Some online trading platforms offer paper trading — or simulated trading — which allows you to practice trades using simulated money. This can be a great tool to prepare yourself for live trading and see your possible results before committing your hard-earned money.

4. Follow trading news and trends: There are many finance and business magazines online that, like Money, cover investment news and publish guiding content on how to buy popular stocks, such as Apple stocks and Facebook stocks. Following some of these publications can help you stay informed with the latest news and trends on the stock market.

5. Subscribe to newsletters: Newsletters are another great way to stay informed. There are many free newsletters that provide insight and quick rundown on market performance and macro-finance developments. For instance, you may consider Money’s Investing with Money, our weekly newsletter about everything related to stocks, bonds, crypto and tools on how to become a more confident investor.

What is the best online stock trading site for a beginner?

Beginner investors should look for online trading platforms that are easy to navigate, offer comprehensive educational tools, top-notch support, and low fees and minimum account balances.

We chose E*TRADE as the best online trading platform for beginners because of its user-friendliness, focus on online education and robust trading simulation services.

Online trading platforms vs. robo advisor

Although self-directed online trading platforms give you the freedom to choose your own assets and develop an investment strategy, it can often be time consuming and require some basic knowledge of how to buy stocks, especially if you’re a first-time investor.

Robo-advisors, on the other hand, offer a hands-off solution to investors who would rather pass off investment decisions to professional managers, a computer algorithm or a combination of both. In fact, the best robo-advisors typically offer advanced management algorithms and user-friendly interfaces, requiring little how-to knowledge.

Below are some key differences between online brokerages and robo-advisors.

Online trading platforms Description
Trading platforms allow investors to create their own portfolios and manage trades according to their knowledge and investment strategy. Robo-advisors use computer algorithms to create and automatically manage a diversified portfolio on your behalf.
You get to decide how passively or actively you want to invest and how much risk you are willing to take. Creates personalized portfolios based on your income, age, risk tolerance and investment goals.
Typically offers a wide selection of assets, such as stocks, options, ETFs, mutual funds and bonds. Usually features ETFs-only portfolios
As an individual investor you are responsible for rebalancing your portfolio by buying or selling assets to keep in line with your desired allocation. Robo-advisors may automatically rebalance your portfolio and perform tax-harvesting techniques to help you keep in line with your desired asset allocation.
Some online brokerages provide free financial counseling. Some robo-advisors offer human portfolio managers, although at an extra fee.

Best Online Stock Trading FAQs

How to buy stocks online?

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First, choose an online broker that offers the services you need and open a brokerage account. Once the account is open, you'll need to fund it by transferring money from a checking or savings account. Then, you can research stocks of your choice and place an order based on the numbers of shares you want to buy. If the platform offers fractional shares, you may also be able to buy fractions of a stock by setting an amount in dollars.

How much money do you need to start investing?

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Many trading platforms have low or no investment minimums, meaning you can generally start investing in stocks with any amount — as little as $1. However, minimums can vary depending on the type of investment you choose. For instance, mutual funds and ETFs sometimes have minimums raging from a few hundred to a thousand dollars.

What is the best trading platform?

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The best trading platform will depend on your investing experience and preferences. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages. You should consider factors such as account fees, investment selection, the broker's background, security and customer support. Because most platforms offer different trading experiences, it may be worthwhile trying out multiple platforms before making a decision.

After thorough research on different options, we chose Fidelity as the best overall trading platform because it offers a wide selection of investment products, low fees and educational resources. Check out our best online trading platform reviews to learn more.

What are the best FOREX trading platforms?

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Many of the most well-known and popular Forex brokers have developed platforms that function differently from regular discount brokers. These include some of the highest-ranked and widely-used trading platforms, such as MetaTrader 4, cTrader, and ZuluTrade. These platforms excel in breadth and depth of product offerings, customer support, trading education, and trustworthiness.

Which brokerage has the best internet platform for managed accounts?

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The best online brokerage platform for managed accounts depends on multiple factors, such as account management fees, portfolio customization and the investing strategies and features the platform offers. Most trading platforms in our top rated list feature robo-investing and managed accounts.

How We Chose the Best Online Trading Platforms of 2023

The best stock trading platforms make it easy for investors to seamlessly trade securities without charging commissions or high fees for their services.

We evaluated the following factors, when choosing the trading platforms in our top list:

  • Online Access - We favored companies that let you invest online seamlessly through easy-to-use platforms and that provide investors with multiple means of managing their account(s).
  • Low Trading Fees - We looked for online stock trading platforms that charge low trading fees or none at all.
  • Access to Investment Research and Tools - We favored online stock trading platforms with tutorials, educational content and different investment tools.
  • Smart Automation Technology - We considered the kind of technology each platform uses and gave higher rankings to those with automated investing tools.
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Summary of Money’s Best Online Trading Platforms of 2023