A full-service broker provides a range of advisory services, like portfolio management, tax planning and retirement planning — a package that only makes sense for people with very large or complicated investment portfolios. For the average investor, discount brokers are the way to go.
Nowadays, investors are much more likely to save their money and go the self-directed route. To meet that demand, there’s a host of brokers that have streamlined operations by moving online and offering their basic services at minimal cost. Discount brokers allow you to build your nest egg without having to pay excessive fees.
But finding the right discount broker for you is essential. You certainly want low commissions, but it’s also important to find a platform that features the right tools and resources you’ll need to succeed, which is sometimes important enough to be worth spending a little extra on commissions and fees.
So, here’s a look at the top discount brokers, what they charge and who they’re most likely to be right for. Find the best broker for you.
Best Discount Brokers
These brokers feature relatively low commissions, helping you keep more of your money in your investments.
|Fidelity||$4.95 per trade||$0|
|Ally Invest||$4.95 per trade||$0|
|Charles Schwab||$4.95 per trade||$1,000|
|TradeStation||$5 per trade||$500-$2,000|
|TD Ameritrade||$6.95 per trade||$0|
|Rates accurate as of Sept. 6, 2018.|
Key Feature: Free trading
Pros: No commissions or fees to trade stocks or ETFs
Cons: No research, tools or educational content
Best For: Self-directed investors who know what they want
Robinhood could be one of the first members of a new generation of discount brokers that offer completely free trading by giving customers a direct line to the markets just like major financial institutions. So if you know what you want to buy and why, there’s really no reason to pay a commission elsewhere.
But if you aren’t sure how you want to invest, Robinhood is not going to help you work that out — it doesn’t offer the tools and resources that many other discount brokers do. Still, with so much investing advice and educational content available for free, Robinhood gives you the option to do your own legwork and avoid paying any commissions and fees.
Key Feature: Expert advice paired with low costs
Pros: No account minimum, low commissions, range of advisory services
Cons: Basic tools and platform
Best For: Beginners, self-directed investors interested in more advisory services
Fidelity is firmly among the cheapest options for discount brokers, but it doesn’t skimp on services that can help make it a good place to start for the novice investor. In addition to access to financial advisors and other educational services, there’s no minimum to start investing and commissions are just under $5 a trade.
Low Trading Costs and No Minimum to Open: Fidelity Trading Review
Key Feature: Discounts for high-volume traders
Pros: Discount to $3.95 per-trade commissions for active traders, no account minimums
Cons: Limited tools and research
Best For: Active traders
Ally Invest is right in line with the rest of the industry with its $4.95 per-trade commission, but if you make 30 or more trades a quarter, that falls to $3.95 a trade. You can also get the volume discount for maintaining a balance of $100,000 or more. Read a complete review of Ally Invest’s features.
With those lower costs comes a platform that lacks a lot of the research and educational tools found on other broker sites, so unless you’re an active trader who already has a good idea of what you’re doing, this might not be the broker for you.
Key Feature: Advanced platform and tools paired with low commissions
Pros: $4.95 per-trade commission, robust research and education tools
Cons: $1,000 minimum to open account
Best For: Beginners
If you are paying commissions, the $4.95 per-trade price is somewhat standard for the lowest-cost tier of brokers. With Charles Schwab, though, you’ll get access to financial advisors, 24/7 phone customer service and live chat, an advanced platform with a variety of tools and research products and strong educational tools as well.
But the minimum to open an account is $1,000, making it harder for beginning investors looking to start small. You can waive that minimum, though, by committing to a monthly direct deposit of $100 or more.
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Key Feature: Advanced trading tools
Pros: $5 per-trade commission, access to advanced market data and tools
Cons: Additional fees for some data, $500 account minimum ($2,000 for margin trading)
Best For: Experienced day traders
TradeStation is geared toward professional — or at least very experienced — traders who want access to advanced data and the tools they need to take advantage. If you want to day trade, the $5 per-trade fee is right in line with what you would expect for access to an advanced trading platform.
Although there is a $500 minimum to open an account, it’s likely that the sort of traders most interested in a platform like TradeStation won’t find that a difficult hurdle to clear.
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Key Feature: Access to research tools and support
Pros: Commission-free trading on over 300 ETFs
Cons: $6.95 per-trade commissions
Best For: Retirement investors, passive investors
TD Ameritrade’s $6.95 per-trade commissions might seem like a deal breaker, especially when there are apps that allow for free trading. However, when you consider that you can trade over 300 ETFs — the ideal low-fee vehicle for passive, retirement investors — without paying commissions, it’s possible that many investors could trade on the platform for years without ever needing to cough up that $7 once.
If you expect to primarily invest in ETFs, TD Ameritrade might be the perfect combination of robust research and educational tools and no-cost trading enough of the time to make it worthwhile. Just be sure to examine the list of commission-free ETFs to ensure that the funds you want are on it.
More on Investing
- It’s Time to Ditch Your Stock Broker and Invest Through a Credit Union
- Investing 101
- Best CD Rates From Vanguard, Fidelity and Other Brokerages
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