In the world of investments and trading, online brokerages are among the most popular options for investors. The reason investors enjoy trading stocks online is the simplicity of opening an account, lower fees per trade and an almost immediate response to buy and sell orders.

But how do you know which brokerage is the best one for you? To find out, take a look at the online stock trading reviews of three of the most popular brokerages below.

What Sets Best Online Broker Firms Apart?

Before diving into brokerage reviews, it's important to understand what makes the best online brokerage firms. There are a number of factors that set the best online brokerage firms apart from the competition--namely, features that are in the best interest of their customers:

  • Per-trade fees and minimums: There is a huge push among online brokerages to offer the most attractive per-trade fees and minimum account balances. Some may charge as little as $5 per trade and require no minimum deposit amounts to open the account, while others may charge a monthly fee to maintain an account.
  • Commission and broker assistance fees: Other features that are unique to various firms are commission fees, such as whether you're charged for online ETFs, etc. Also, you may have to pay a fee to be assisted by a broker rather than making the decisions on your own. Of course, these fees, in comparison to the services you receive, could make or break your decision to go with a particular firm.
  • Investment products: Having a wide variety of investment products, including stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, treasuries and more, may be critical to some investors and could help decide which firm is best for them.
  • Market accessibility: Having broad market access could also help an investor pick between two firms. While one investor may have one particular stock he or she wants to purchase and will want to ensure it's available, another investor may want access to a wide spectrum of foreign markets.
  • Investment tools and research products: Investment novices, experts and all in between need help from time to time in making the right choices. Often times the best online broker firms are able to set themselves apart by providing top-of-the-line tools and research products that enhance investment strategies.
  • Attractive sign-on bonuses and perks: To attract new customers, the best brokerages often provide exciting sign-on bonuses and additional perks, including free trades and transfer fee refunds.

Customer service is another major component to consider when exploring online reviews. All of the perks in the world don't mean as much of the company does not make strides to meet the customer's needs.

Online Brokerage Reviews: Scottrade, Merrill Edge and TD Ameritrade

Three of the top online brokerages in the market today are Scottrade, Merrill Edge and TD Ameritrade. They are well known for offering convenient trading options and exciting perks. If you're looking to jump into the trading scene, take a look at online brokerage reviews for these three firms:

Scottrade

Scottrade was founded in 1980 and is headquartered St. Louis, Mo. The company launched Scottrade.com in 1996, with online trading beginning in 1998 and its mobile product becoming available in 2009.

Basic fees:

  • $500 to open; no opening or maintenance fees
  • $7 per trade (for online market and limit equity orders priced $1 and above; foreign and pink sheet stocks to be traded with broker assistance for a $27 commission)
  • $0 to transfer or close your account and to receive real-time streaming quotes

Trading tools:

  • Web Trading is an interface that allows customers to trade from their computer or phone. Languages include English and Chinese.
  • Streaming Quotes allows investors to track stocks in real-time and personalize trading environment with streaming charts, top 10 lists and live news updates.
  • ScottradeELITE is a trading interface for individuals who are more active traders. It provides access to advanced tools and in-depth analysis, but is only available to investors with an account value of $25,000 or more.
  • OptionsFirst is an interface created for investors needing complex option strategies, such as spreads, straddles, strangles, collars and butterflies.

Investment options include traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, stocks, OTC stocks, mutual funds ETFs, bonds, CDs, treasuries and ESAs along with trade stocks from over 20 countries.

Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge is an online investment product developed by Merrill Lynch, working in conjunction with Bank of America. It's unique in that it doesn't function solely as an investment tool; it also allows customers to manage their Bank of America bank accounts simultaneously. It's basic account types include individual and joint.

Basic fees:

  • $0 to $6.95 depending on the type of account opened and the minimum balance held
  • Broker assistance fee $44.95

Trading tools:

  • Research options offered from BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research and third-party providers like Morningstar and S&P.
  • Merrill Edge Market Pro offers news, research, real-time data and analysis and trading tools.
  • Real-time and streaming quotes available.
  • Customized investment alerts.

Investment products include mutual funds, stocks, treasuries, ETFs, options and annuities. The brokerage also allows investors to choose from 10 diversified portfolios ranging from conservative to aggressive.

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade, which was founded in 1975, first began electronic trades via email in 1998. Since that time, the online brokerage has offered a wide variety of Internet trading options. It's basic options include individual and joint accounts.

Basic fees:

  • $9.99 per trade
  • $0 minimum initial opening deposit (electronic funding minimum is $500)
  • Broker assistance fee $44.99
  • Online options trade $9.99 + $0.75 per contract

Trading tools:

  • Trade Architect helps investors customize their screens, find trade ideas, access live-streaming CNBC and receive real-time quotes.
  • The thinkorswim platform was created for serious traders who need an advanced trading platform for option plays and test out strategies.
  • QuoteScope offers real-time liquidity information that uses expanding and contracting concentric bands to show changes in stock's liquidity.
  • The Market Motion Detector helps identify short-term trends by watching a combined view of stock price changes and volume increases.

Investment options include stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, bonds, options, CDs, unit investment trusts and real estate investment trusts.

Which is the Best Stock Trading Site?

At first glance, it's clear that all of the companies offer top-of-the-line features and services that give investors access to the must-haves of online trading: Electronic funding, simple site navigation, diverse market access, competitive per-trade fees, real-time analysis, research tools and broker assistance.

At least it's easier to make a more-informed decision with the help online trading reviews and your own analysis that includes lots of fine-print reading.

Once you take time to think about whether you want the lowest fees, best investment options, most in-depth trading tools, or even the easiest-to-navigate -- then conduct your own analysis -- you should be able to choose the best online stock broker for you.

Compare some of the Leading Online Brokerage websites.
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Special Deals:

Switch now and get up to $100 in broker transfer fees refunded for qualified accounts.
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Special Deals:

Get 30 free online trades per month when you have a balance of $25,000 in your Bank of America deposit accounts or cash in your Merrill Edge self-directed accounts.
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Special Deals:

Join TD Ameritrade and trade free for 60 days + get up to $600.
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Commission Schedule:

$7 Online Stock Trades
$0 Commission Online ETFs

Commission Schedule:

Online: $0 - $6.95
Broker Assisted: $44.95

Commission Schedule:

Online Stock Trades
$9.99
Online Options Trades
$9.99 + $0.75 per contract

Account Minimums:

$500 initial deposits to open an account
$0 Set-up fees
$0 Maintenance fees
$0 Management fees
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Account Minimums:

Initial Deposit: $0
Maintenance Fee: $0
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Account Minimums:

Brokerage Cash Account
$0
Margin Account
$2,000
Retirement Account
$0
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