Rankings as of Jan 04, 2022.
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If you want to build wealth in the stock market, you’ll need an online trading platform. Accounts at these companies give you access to investments like stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds so you can build an investment portfolio that meets your financial goals.
A handful of upstart trading platforms also let you invest in crypto currencies like Bitcoin, Dogecoin and Etherum. But with so many choices out there, it can be difficult to pick the trading platform the right one. That's why we did some of the legwork for you and found the top online trading platforms around.
Our research highlights which brokerages best meet the needs of different investors from long-term retirement savers to active traders that want the a great mobile experience. We'll also show you which platforms boast great features like low investment minimums and fees, sophisticated trading tools and strong customer service. Read on to learn more.
Our Top Picks for Best Online Stock Trading Platforms
- Fidelity - Best Overall
- Betterment - Best for Hands-Off Investors
- TD Ameritrade - Best Web Platform
- E*Trade - Best for Beginners
- Charles Schwab - Best for ETFs
- Webull - Best for Mobile
- Vanguard - Best for Low-Cost Funds
Best Online Trading Platforms Reviews
- Low or no fees on most securities and brokerage services
- Variety of wealth management options
- Robo-advisor option for simple investment strategies
- More than 200 investment centers around the country
- High fees on managed options and broker-assisted trades
- Doesn't support futures or direct cryptocurrency trading
- Account verification process may take a few days
Fidelity stands out as our best overall platform by offering four different mutual funds with expense ratios (investment fund management fees) of zero. Fidelity has no account fees or minimum deposit for opening a retail brokerage account or an IRA.
Moreover, Fidelity offers many different ways to invest. If you have a single investment goal in mind, you can either manage the portfolio yourself or use the company’s robo-advisor Fidelity Go. For larger portfolios and a more diverse investing strategy, you can choose from three different wealth management plans assisted by personal wealth management advisors.
- Hands-off investing with cutting edge technology and qualified financial advisors
- 0.25% per year on your investment balance
- 0.40% per year for premium advice and unlimited phone interaction with financial advisors (for balances above $100,000)
- Limited number of portfolios and ETFs
- No individual stock, mutual fund, or ETF trading
- High minimum balance requirement to get personalized financial advice
Betterment is a robo-advisor that makes it easy to “set it and forget it” with your investments. It may not be ideal for investors who want to actively trade stocks, but is a great choice for more cautious, beginner, or hands-off investors.
Betterment’s investing platform takes the busywork out of the equation for investors, letting them pick an investing strategy that runs on autopilot.
Betterment also has multiple account types, from a taxable brokerage account to a traditional or Roth IRA, or even a Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP IRA) account.
For a basic investing plan with Betterment, you’ll pay 0.25% per year on your investment balance.
- $0-fee stock, ETF, and options trades
- Ability to trade in Forex, and Bitcoin futures contracts if approved
- Advanced analytical and stock tracking tools
- High commission on no-load mutual funds
- Does not offer fractional shares (as of December 2021)
- The platform can be difficult to navigate for beginners
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. These are the stocks of companies that recently went from private to public. Shares are usually limited to institutional investors. But you may be able to get your hands on some through your TD Ameritrade account if TD is part of the IPO’s selling group, the company says.
Users can access 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's thinkorswim platform allows experienced investors to run simulations before actually putting money into a trade, as well as generate advanced charting and earnings analysis. 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.
- Mobile app for trading on the go, customized stock screening, and third-party research
- Managed portfolios with annual fees as low as 0.30% of invested assets
- $0.50 per options contract if you make 30 or more trades per quarter
- $19.99 transaction fee for mutual funds not on the no-transaction-fee list
- Automated investment accounts require a $500 minimum to open
- High margin rates relative to its competition
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.
There are $0 fees for online U.S.-listed stock, exchange-traded fund and options trades, making it easy for new investors to start building their portfolios. There are also managed portfolios for those who may need more guidance with annual management fees starting at 0.3% of assets invested.
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 without paying any fees.
- $0 fees for ETF, stock, and options trades
- Ability to invest in foreign markets
- Large variety of research tools
- Invest on your own or with the guidance of a financial advisor
- No automatic cash sweeps
- Limited number and regions for international stocks
- Relatively high margin rates
Investors opening a brokerage account with Charles Schwab can do so without a required account minimum and enjoy $0 online stock and ETF trades. A full-service brokerage, you can also invest in traditional, Roth and Rollover IRAs with zero fees for online equity trades.
Through Schwab’s Global Account you can trade stocks in,12 foreign markets, again with a $0 account minimum. Schwab offers self-directed trading options but will also provide automated trading as well as planning and investment with an expert advisor at no extra charge.
NOTE: In October 2020 Schwab announced the completion of its merger with TD Ameritrade. For the purposes of this article we have evaluated them separately as they are still operating as separate brands.
- Commission-free trading of stocks, ETFs and options
- Robust trading tools
- Access to cryptocurrency
- No access to mutual funds or human financial advisors
- Trading tools may seem overwhelming for beginners
- No robo-advisor option
Webull is a mobile app-based brokerage that offers commission-free stocks, ETFs, and other trading options. The platform is designed for intermediate users, with advanced order types, advanced charting, and tons of stock market research data for users to develop personalized investment strategies.
Weibull is also offers a notable trading simulator. It can help beginner traders who want to learn about active trading. The company even holds competitions with monetary prizes to encourage new traders to practice.
- Owned by fundholders
- Low pricing across the board
- Large variety of index funds
- Personal Advisor Service pairs investors with financial advisors
- Limited research and data
- Complex commissions system for options trading
Vanguard’s particular strong suit is index mutual funds and ETFs, although they do offer active mutual funds, stock trading, CDs and more.
Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services pairs a financial advisor with the investor to analyze investment goals and build a custom investment plan.
Other Online Stock Trading Platforms We Considered
The following companies were evaluated by us but did not make it into our list of best online trading companies.
- Streamlined, easy-to-understand web and mobile platforms
- No account minimum and low trading costs
- Limited educational materials and trading tools
- Has been embroiled in controversies over its customer service and game-like interface
Robinhood occupies an interesting space in the online trading platform sphere. Although mainly marketed toward young people new to investing, the platform is best suited for investors who already have some experience in trading due to its lack of general guidance. Its lack of flexibility and controversies related to company reliability and trustworthiness kept it out of our top list.
- Fractional share investing available
- Easy to sign-up and use
- Limited selection of investment products and account types
- Lack of reliable customer support
Cash App is unique in that it’s both a peer-to-peer payment service and a stock broker. Think of it as a blend of Venmo and Robinhood: You can send and receive money and spend with a debit card from your account, all the while trading stocks in the same app. However, Cash App is not a dedicated investment platform, and its basic selection of securities will leave more involved traders wanting for more. At the time of this writing, Cash App offers access to only 1,600 stocks.
- $1 account minimum and 0% annual management fee for its robo-advisor account
- Free access to financial counseling
- Relatively few investment options
- No tax loss harvesting
What SoFi lacks in advanced tools it makes up for with affordability and a user-friendly platform. The company features an excellent trading platform for beginners thanks to its absence of fees, low account minimums, and free counseling from the company’s financial planners. It also lets users choose between DIY investing or using a robo-advisor to automate the investing process. However, the trading limits pushed it down our list.
- 24/7 phone and live chat customer service
- Extensive third-party research and educational tools
- Relatively high fees for financial advisor services
- Mobile app is lacking in functionality
Merrill Edge’s provides access to a wide variety of educational material and research tools for clients to use. However, the company’s fees and margin rates are noticeably higher than its competitors,' making it a better option for long term investing than for active trading.
- Variety of investment products
- Low commission, fees, and margin rates
- User interface awkward to navigate, especially for beginners
- $20 monthly inactivity fee for accounts with less than $2,000 balances
Interactive Brokers has one of the largest selections of investment products to trade across all the platforms we evaluated. This flexibility is further aided by its affordable fees — other than its $20 inactivity fee. It did not excel in any one area, which is why it did not make our final list.
- Large selection of products and low fees
- Low minimum investment requirement of $100 for managed portfolios
- No-load mutual fund transaction fee of $9.95
- No fractional share trading
Like many other brokers that didn’t make it to our top list, Ally does not stand out in any particular field and lacks advanced features. However, it has a good selection of products, low fees, and melds extremely well with its banking products, making it a good option for Ally Bank customers.
- Options-focused charting and low commissions on options trading
- Fast and reliable platform with multiple order types
- Limited selection of investment products
- User interface may not be suitable for beginners
Tastyworks is a highly customizable trading platform best suited for experienced active traders, who won’t be bewildered by its features and interface. The platform’s suite of tools allow users to build and analyze complex investment strategies, especially for options trading. Nonetheless, it lacks in certain areas, namely its selection of securities and its deposit and withdrawal options.
- Robust trading platform with powerful charting & analysis tools
- Comprehensive research and educational resources
- Multiple pricing choices can be confusing
- $50 annual inactivity fee
Another platform aimed at more advanced traders, TradeStation features robust analytical tools that include customizable charting, and trading strategy backtesting. This may sound overwhelming for less-experienced traders, but the broker’s wealth of educational resources helps set new users on the right path. Where TradeStation does disappoint is on its complicated pricing structure and long list of steep fees.
- No account minimum, commissions on trades, and contract fees
- Enhanced market data and research tools
- Limited investment options; no crypto, mutual funds, bonds, forex
- No phone or live chat support
Moomoo is one of the youngest companies that we evaluated, and its unique social design makes it stand out from the crowd. The broker integrates social aspects into its platform by hosting a global investment network with discussions and public portfolios, and providing financial news 24/7. Despite Moomoo’s poor customer support and limited investment options beyond stocks and ETFs, its affordability and comprehensive tools make it worth considering.
- Excellent margin rates and discounts for active traders
- Well regarded and responsive customer support
- Very high fees and minimum account deposit
- Complete lack of educational content
Cobra markets itself to day traders. It links investors directly to the market, which results in cheaper trading costs for high-volume traders. This is a feature for active traders, who may find the broker’s almost prohibitive fees and $30,000 minimum to open an account a suitable tradeoff for this advantage. Cobra’s combination of low trading costs and a high-speed, reliable platform may be the best option for day trading.
- Robust set of analytics, research, and educational tools
- Low margin rates
- High minimum account deposit of $2,500
- Charges commissions on stock and ETF trades
Despite a high minimum account deposit of $2,500, Zacks Trade runs an otherwise affordable platform designed for active traders. Its platform is highly customizable, features a wide variety of robust tools, and has low fees and margin rates. Like other similar platforms, Zacks Trade is best for traders who want to focus their investments around fundamental analysis and research.
- Social media feature
- Access to cryptocurrencies
- Fractional shares
- No mutual funds or options trading
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. Public also lets you explore investing themes. These are stock lists based on a particular topic like “metaverse” which lists individual stocks of companies creating virtual experiences and “women in charge,” which lists companies with female CEOs. Beginners can look through Public’s content library to learn about the basics of investing.
With that said, Public is best for beginners and social investors. But outside its social features, it has all the nuts and bolts of your standard discount investing app. You can buy commission-free stocks, ETFs, cryptocurrencies and fractional shares of stocks with as little as $1.
Online Stock Trading Platforms Guide
Investors use online platforms to trade securities, access information on current market trends and more. Some brokers even offer investment planning advice from humans in addition to their online trading tools.
What is an Online Stock Trading Platform?
An online stock trading platform allows you to buy and sell stocks from your computer or smartphone. Also known as brokerage accounts, these are offered by financial institutions.
Once you open an account, and deposit money, the account links you to other buyers and sellers on the stock and bond markets allowing you to trade stocks and bonds as well as other investment vehicles like ETFs.
While all brokerages allow customers to trade online these days (as opposed to phoning a trader on the floor of the stock exchange) some online stock trading platforms operate exclusively online, while others pair stock trading with traditional financial advisers who offer help and advice.
How Do Online Stock Trading Platforms Work?
When you sign up for an online stock trading platform, you typically invest via a mobile app or the brokerage’s secured website on a desktop computer.
Once you open an account – technically known as a brokerage account – you can fund it by linking to a checking or savings account at a bank. After that you are ready to trade stocks, bonds, ETFs and sometimes more exotic investments like options and currencies.
These platforms typically have search bars where you can look up the ticker or name of stocks, funds and other assets available on the platform. Once you decide what to invest in, you can buy your desired number of shares with a few clicks.
Most online stock trading platforms offer various research tools you can use to evaluate stocks and market activity in real time. For example, many investing apps have built in stock screeners that allow you to find securities based on preferences like market capitalization, earnings per share and, for funds, 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 wish 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 is done on the phone with a stockbroker 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.|
How To Choose The Best Online Trading Platform For You
The three main things to consider when choosing an online trading platform are your investment experience and style, your trading needs, and your personal finance goals.
1. Investment experience and style
How long you have been trading — or if you’ve ever traded at all — is a big factor in the type of platform you should choose.
Beginners may want to start with a robo-advisor that automatically manages a diversified portfolio of stocks and bond investments for you. Those interested in learning to actively trade should look for platforms that offer basic educational resources, responsive customer support, and that allow them to practice trades before getting into the real thing. Experienced traders can benefit from platforms that let them issue specific types of trades, have more complex analytic tools, and allow them to start trading as soon as possible.
2. Trading needs
Day traders make numerous trades in the span of a single day, so they need a platform that’s fast and reliable while having the lowest possible trading commissions. Meanwhile, investors who are aiming to pay for a trip or a gift may prioritize integration with their banking accounts to send their spare cash directly to savings.
Before you settle on an online trading platform, make sure it can accommodate your needs based on your trading habits.
3. Financial goals
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 trading to build up a retirement account or do you simply expect it to become a hobby?
Be honest with yourself when answering this question, since the platform you should choose ultimately depends on your goal for investing. If your goal is mainly to throw a wrench in the system by investing in meme stocks, your platform should give you the freedom to do so.
Online Trading Platforms vs Robo Advisor
A robo-advisor uses computer algorithms to create and automatically manage a diversified investment on your behalf. When you sign up for a robo-advisor account, you typically answer a series of questions about your income, investment goals, age and other factors. The algorithm uses these answers to create a personalized portfolio.
Robo-advisors usually build these portfolios with exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are baskets of securities like stocks and bonds. The robo-advisor may automatically rebalance your portfolio, buying and selling assets to keep in line with your desired asset allocation. For example, let’s say your asset allocation is 50% stocks and 50% bonds. If stocks perform well and bring your stock allocation to 60%, the robo would sell off some stocks to buy more bonds so the asset allocation can return to 50% stocks and 50% bonds.
Some robo-advisors also offer access to the know-how of human portfolio managers, although this tends to make them more expensive. Robo-advisors were designed for hands-off investors who would rather pass off investment decisions to professional managers, a computer algorithm or a combination of both. You don’t need to know how to buy stocks when you have a robo advisor. If you want to learn more about this type of platform, we recommend you take a look at our list of best robo-advisors.
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. 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 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.
A trader pays 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 outperform the returns of passive investments like index funds which aim to deliver returns of the stock market as a whole. A study by the financial services and research firm Morningstar showed that in the decade ending in 2019, “only 23% of active managers were able to outperform their passive peers.”
What Do You Need to Start Trading Online?
Online trading platforms and stockbrokers adhere to some rules and regulations, just like traditional brokerage firms. To avoid future liabilities, online brokers will ask for certain information prior to opening a trading account. Most 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.
Best Online Stock Trading FAQ
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How We Chose The Best Online Trading Platforms
The best stock trading platforms make it easy for investors to seamlessly trade securities without charging a fortune for their services. The firms included in our list scored high in the following categories:
- 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 only considered 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 scored those with automated investing tools higher.