The 6 Best Online Stock Trading Platforms

he best online stock trading platforms make it easy for investors to seamlessly trade stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and more without charging a fortune for the privilege. In fact, many online stock brokerage firms let you make certain trades for free, while some let you get started without a burdensome minimum account balance requirement.

To help, we compared an array of top stock trading platforms to find the best online options for different types of investors, whether you’re an active trader, a passive investor, or somewhere in between.

The 6 Best Online Stock Trading Platforms of 2021

Best Online Stock Trading Reviews

Ready to trade stocks? It’s smart to compare all the top stock trading platforms before you open an account.

Fidelity: Best Overall, Best for Beginners

At a Glance

  • Low fees on almost all products
  • Variety of wealth management options
  • Robo-advisor option for simple investment strategies
  • 200 Investment Centers around the country
  • Uninvested cash gets tucked into a money market fund

In the last decade Fidelity has followed the industry trend towards low-fee funds and has expanded its products to include a variety of competitive alternatives. As with all online trading platforms, Fidelity provides investors with commission-free U.S. Stock, ETF, and options trades.

Fidelity also offers no account fees or minimum deposit when opening a retail brokerage account or an IRA. In fact, Fidelity does not charge fees for low balances in mutual funds, or for IRA closeouts, late settlements, reorganizations or insufficient funds.

Low fees are what makes Fidelity stand out, offering one of the lowest margin rates (4%) on the market as well as 4 different mutual fund products with zero expense ratios.

Advisory fees for these management services will range from 0.50% of assets invested per year to a maximum of 1.50%. Fidelity also has 200 Investment Centers around the country to help investors who like a more personalized experience. Due to COVID-19, these Centers are currently only offering phone consultations, and paper submissions in self-serve dropboxes.

Fidelity offers plenty of 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.

Fidelity continues to emphasize its lineup of actively managed mutual funds, which tend to be slightly more expensive than Fidelity’s index funds and those of its competitors like Vanguard.

E*Trade: Best Web Platform

At a Glance

  • Options contracts are just $0.50 per contract if you make 30 or more trades per quarter
  • E*Trade Mobile and Power E*Trade Mobile apps allow easy trading on the go, Bloomberg TV, customized stock screening, and third-party research
  • Managed portfolios have annual fees as low as 0.30% of invested assets
  • $0 fees for stock, ETF and options trades

A pioneer in online trading, E*Trade provides a large variety of investment options, from simple brokerage accounts for investors new to the market to advanced investing and trading options for those with more experience. 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.

Options contracts cost 65 cents per contract — which represents the premium paid to the contract writer — on a par with most online brokerages. However, E*Trade will lower that sum to 50 cents per contract for those making 30 or more trades per quarter.

For those who may need more guidance, there are managed portfolios with annual management fees starting as low as 0.30% of assets invested. E*Trade also offers checking and savings accounts that allow you to transfer funds between all your accounts without paying any fees.

E*Trade has over 9,000 mutual funds to invest in, over 4,000 of which are no-load, no-transaction-fee funds. There are also six different types of individual IRAs, and five IRAs geared towards small businesses.

While high volume traders can take advantage of the lower trading commissions for options contract trading, investors who aren’t as active won’t be able to take full advantage of this benefit.

There’s a $19.99 transaction fee for mutual funds not on the no-transaction-fee list, and brokerage accounts require a $500 minimum to open which, although not a large amount, is higher than other brokers offering $0 minimum opening balances.

TD Ameritrade: Best for Mobile

At a Glance

  • $0 fees for stock, ETF and options trades
  • Ability to trade in Forex and cryptocurrency
  • Web and mobile platforms available
  • Advanced analytical and stock tracking tools

TD Ameritrade is one of the largest online stock trading platforms. They offer investment options that some other platforms don’t — all of which are optimized for mobile functionality via their robust thinkorswim platform.

Both TD Ameritrade’s web platform and mobile app give access to all your trading information as well as the company’s educational, research, and planning tools. This includes the TD Ameritrade TV network, daily market commentary, and even social sentiment analysis from Twitter.

The 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.

Aside from the standard brokerage accounts with $0 commissions on online U.S. and Canadian stock, ETF and options trades, TD Ameritrade also offers free Forex trading in 21 currencies and the opportunity to purchase IPO stocks either on the primary market if Ameritrade is part of the seller group or on the secondary market.

Investors can add cryptocurrencies to their portfolios through ErisX, a company that offers access to cryptocurrency spot and futures contracts.

TD Ameritrade offers over 13,000 mutual funds, with several hundred of no-transaction-fee funds to choose from. Where TD Ameritrade could do better is with no-load mutual funds, where commissions are as high as $49.99, much higher than many other brokers.

Charles Schwab: Best for ETF trades

At a Glance

  • $0 fees for stock, ETF and options trades
  • Ability to invest in foreign markets
  • Large variety of research tools
  • Invest on your own or with an investment expert at no extra charge

Schwab has two main trading platforms — Streetsmart Edge (desktop-based) and StreetSmart Central (web-based) — though they also offer a streamlined tool called Trade Source for buy-and-hold investing. Basic trades can be done either at or on the StreetSmart mobile trading app, while options trading can be done via the StreetSmart Central platform.

Investors looking for a customizable mobile option can use StreetSmart Edge to create multiple trading layouts, track and monitor buying power, use a variety of trading tools, and livestream CNBC, among other features.

Investors opening a brokerage account with Charles Schwab can do so with no required account minimum and enjoy $0 online stock, ETF and options trading and management fees, although there is a standard 65-cent per options contract fee. 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.

Finally, Schwab Stock Slice allows investors to purchase portions of an individual stock share (also called a fractional share) for as little as $5.00 per slice.

Schwab provides multiple research tools, including not only their own equity ratings but also reports from Morningstar, Credit Suisse, and Market Edge, among many others. Real-time news and access to earnings reports as well as market commentary by Schwab’s in-house experts help provide up-to-date information on market trends.

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 independently. The two companies expect their integration process to take between 18 and 36 months to complete, though Schwab has stated that they will keep Ameritrade’s thinkorswim and thinkpipes trading platforms.

Vanguard: Best for Low-Cost Funds

At a Glance

  • Company-owned by shareholders
  • Low pricing or no management fees across the board
  • A large variety of index funds
  • Personal Advisor Service pairs investors with financial advisors

Unique among online trading platforms, Vanguard is not a privately owned company, but is rather owned by the shareholders of the funds it manages.

This means that the profits earned by Vanguard funds are reinvested in the company which, along with the fact that many funds are passively managed with low management fees, means investors get to keep more of their money.

Vanguard’s particular strong suit is index mutual funds although they do offer active mutual funds, stock trading, CDs, and ETFs, as well as a number of IRA accounts.

Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services pairs a financial advisor with the investor to analyze investment goals and custom build an investment plan. Once approved, the advisor will manage the fund and periodically rebalance it.

Investors can access their account online to check on balances, receive quarterly reports, and contact the advisor via email, phone or video chat. However, Vanguard offers more limited research and data than many of its competitors, making it better suited to buy-and-hold investors rather than active traders.

Management fees will start at 0.30% of the assets managed and there is a $50,000 minimum required. Fees will be progressively lower as the assets in the portfolio increase.

Vanguard also allows you to transfer funds and ETFs from other companies into their funds so you can manage all your investments on a single platform. Transferring funds from one broker to another can also save you some money, as you don’t have to sell your shares in one fund, pay taxes on the distribution, and then reinvest in another fund.

Betterment: Best for Hands-Off Investors

At a Glance

  • Access hands-on investing with the help of cutting edge technology and qualified financial advisors
  • Open a taxable investment account or an IRA
  • Pay 0.25% per year on your investment balance
  • You can also opt to pay 0.40% per year for premium advice and unlimited phone interaction with a team of financial advisors

Betterment is a robo-advisor that makes it easy to “set it and forget it” with your investments. In that respect, it may not be ideal for investors who want to actively trade stocks, but a great choice for more cautious beginner investors.

That doesn’t mean Betterment isn’t for stock trading, per se. This investing platform just takes the busywork out of the equation for you, letting you pick an upfront investing strategy that runs on autopilot.

Betterment uses cutting-edge technology guided by the help of financial advisors in order to help you secure the maximum return based on your risk tolerance, investment timeline, and other factors. And, for a 0.40% fee and a $100,000 account minimum, you can get unlimited access to financial advisors.

Betterment 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, and your individual trading costs are included in that amount.

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