Charles Schwab Review: Making Investing Accessible for Any Style

The Charles Schwab investment buffet can feed any investor.

Choosing the right investment firm is a big decision with literally thousands of dollars on the line. This detailed Charles Schwab review has all the information you need to decide whether this full-service discount stockbroker, with its many products and services offered online and at branch locations, is the best place to entrust your funds.

Quick Take

With Charles Schwab, investment is affordable and accessible to everyone. The company has a long history as a discount stockbroker, and with its acquisition by Bank of America in 1983, Charles Schwab has the benefit of being backed by a major bank brand. Charles Schwab offers low commissions, an almost overwhelming array of investment options and customer service levels ranging from hands-off to hand-holding for investors at every experience level.

charles schwab logo
Equity TradesFrom $0
Account Minimum$0
Promotion500 commission-free online equity and options trades good for 2 years

 

Charles Schwab is one of the best online brokerages. You’ll find information on other top online brokerages, the best retirement accounts and other information on investing in the following articles:

Here’s what you’ll find in this Charles Schwab review:

About Charles Schwab

Yes, there’s a real Charles Schwab, although he went by Chuck when he linked up with two partners in 1963 to launch the Investment Indicator newsletter. In 1971, they incorporated as First Commander Corporation, a company that handled the newsletters and also conducted a broker-dealer securities business. Schwab bought out the company the following year, and when the SEC deregulated the securities business in 1975, he transformed it into the discount brokerage that it still is today, albeit with a lot of high-tech changes. Bank of America bought the company for $55 million in 1983, and it recorded its one-millionth client account two years later.

Today, Charles Schwab offers comprehensive investment services via a robust online trading platform, as well as brick-and-mortar locations. You could visit a different Charles Schwab branch every day for a full year and still not see them all. This stockbroker has $314.8 billion enrolled in advisor solutions, and it has created more than 100,000 financial plans for Charles Schwab customers.

Pros

  • Has investments to meet the needs of virtually anyone
  • Online equity trades from $0
  • Offers robo-advisor
  • Wide range of low- and no-commission products
  • Commission-free ETFs
  • Provides access to in-depth, objective research
  • Has more than 365 branches

Cons

  • Amount of information can be overwhelming to new investors
  • Online services and robo-advising won’t appeal to clients who dislike/distrust technology

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Charles Schwab at a Glance

This Charles Schwab review is packed with useful information, but the table below summarizes the most important facts and figures. It tells you what you need to know about the costs to open an account and invest your money, as well as support and current Charles Schwab promotions.

Charles Schwab at a Glance
Account Minimum$0
Stock Trading Costs$0 when placed online; additional $5 when placed by phone; additional $25 when broker-assisted
Options Trading$0 + 65 cents per contract; additional $5 when placed by phone; additional $25 when broker-assisted
Account FeesNo annual fee
Commission-Free ETFsMore than 500 commission-free ETFs placed via Schwab ETF OneSource
Mutual FundsThousands of no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
Tradable SecuritiesTrade stocks, ETFs, options and futures
Mobile AppManage your account and research, trade and track investments from your phone.
Customer Support24/7 customer service, 300+ branch locations
PromotionGet 500 commission-free online equity and options trades good for two years.

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Trading Experience

The Charles Schwab stock trading and options trading experience is a full-service experience that’s tailored to your individual experience and needs. If you like to handle things yourself, simply use the website and app, referring to the company’s wide range of research as needed. Robo-advisors can do all the work for you if you don’t want to do your own stock trading, or Charles Schwab can meet you in the middle by letting you talk to a financial consultant to help you make your decisions.

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Account and Investment Minimums

It only takes about 10 minutes to open any of the following accounts online. None of these accounts have associated fees. The account minimum, if applicable, is listed for each:

Account Minimums
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account linked to a Schwab One Brokerage Account$0
Brokerage (Individual & Joint)$0
IRA (Traditional, Roth or Rollover)$0
Inherited IRA/Inherited 401(k)$0
Schwab Personal Choice Retirement Account$0
Schwab Trading Services Account$0
Schwab Global Account$0
Schwab One Trust$0
Schwab One Estate$0
Schwab Charitable$5,000 (Core account)
529 College Savings$0
Educational Savings$0
Schwab One Custodial (UGMA/UTMA)$0
Individual 401(k) Plan$0
SEP-IRA$0
SIMPLE IRA$0
Personal Defined Benefit Plan$0
Business 401(k) Plan$0
Company Retirement Account$0
Schwab Organization$250,000 relationship minimum across all Schwab accounts
Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Savings$0
Home Loans — Mortgages, refinances and more provided by Quicken Loans$0

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Commissions and Fund Expenses

The following table breaks down the commission costs for stock trades and ETFs for each of the three methods you might use:

Stocks and ETFs — Commissions per Trade
Online TradesAutomated Phone TradesBroker-Assisted Trades
Stocks$0$4.95 + $5 service charge$4.95 + $25 service charge
Schwab ETFs and 500+ other ETFs through Schwab ETF OneSource$0$0 + $5 service charge$0 + $25 service charge
All other ETFs$0$4.95 + $5 service charge$4.95 + $25 service charge

The table below lays out the mutual fund transaction fee per executed trade for online trades, automated phone trades and for using broker assistance.

Mutual Funds — Transaction Fees per Executed Trade
Online TradesAutomated Phone TradesBroker-Assisted Trades
Schwab Funds and thousands of other funds through Schwab Mutual Fund OneSource$0$0$25 service charge
All other fundsUp to $49.95 per purchase, $0 per redemptionUp to $49.95 per purchase, $0 per redemptionOnline pricing + $25 service charge

The table below lists the commission costs for options trades by all transaction methods.

Options — Commissions per Trade
Online TradesAutomated Phone TradesBroker-Assisted Trades
Options$0 +$0.65
per contract
Online pricing + $5 service chargeOnline pricing + $25 service charge
Pay no commission for buy-to-close options orders executed at $0.05 or less.

The table below breaks down what you’ll pay when you trade futures online or with broker assistance.

Futures — Commissions per Trade
Online TradesBroker-Assisted Trades
Futures$1.50 per contract$1.50 per contract
Futures Options$1.50 per contract$1.50 per contract
Commission rates depicted above are quoted on a per-contract, per-side basis.

The table below explains the transaction fees and commissions on trades for fixed-income investment strategies:

Fixed Income — Transaction Fees/Commissions per Trade
Online TradesBroker-Assisted Trades
New issues, including CDsSelling concession is included in the offering priceSelling concession is included in the offering price
Treasuries, including Auction and Secondary: Treasury Bonds, Treasury Bills, Treasury Notes and TIPS$0Online pricing + $25 service charge
Other Secondary Trades: CDs, Corporate Bonds, Municipal Bonds, Government Agencies, Zero-Coupon Treasuries, including STRIPS$1 per bond
$10 minimum
$250 maximum
Online pricing + $25 service charge
Preferred Stocks and REITs$0Online charge + $25
Automated Phone Trades: online charge

To learn more about Charles Schwab, visit its website.

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Trading Technology

While it’s not quite as exciting as being on the trading floor on Wall Street, Charles Schwab has a pretty slick online trading platform. If you’re not sure it’s right for you, its website has a demo that’s the next best thing to “try before you buy.” The platform lets you follow the market, research your options and enter orders when you’re ready to take the plunge. It also summarizes your trade history to quickly let you know your portfolio’s performance over time. Support is just a phone call or a click away, no matter the time of day or night, so night owl traders get as much help as those who work within the market’s hours.

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Usability

The Charles Schwab website is built around usability and offers full service and personal support if you ever feel lost. The chat pops up while you’re on the website, so help is always at your fingertips. This is a natural outgrowth of the company’s commitment to customer service that dates back to long before websites and apps were even in the public’s imagination. It 1982, it started providing a quote and order-entry service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rather than sticking to the stock market’s schedule like its competitors. That support is now available online and offline.

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Mobile and Emerging Tech

Charles Schwab has apps available for both Android and Apple mobile devices. The apps allow trading, tracking and depositing checks and gives access to research, news and charts for stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. The research element does not require a login.

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Range of Offerings and Investment Selection

Charles Schwab has something for everyone, whether you identify as a wolf of Wall Street or have no idea what to do with your funds. The company’s well-rounded range of investment options includes:

  • Thousands of no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Schwab ETF OneSource, for commission-free ETFs
  • Money market funds
  • Stocks
  • International stocks from over 35 countries
  • Futures
  • Options
  • Margin loans
  • Bonds and fixed-income products
  • Annuities

If you’re confident in your money management skills, pay just $0 for online equity trades, and enjoy a range of low- and no-commission products. Options cost $0.65 per contract, while there’s no online ETF commission from Schwab ETF OneSource. Charles Schwab also gives you access to in-depth research to help you make your decisions.

If you don’t want to deal with that kind of pressure, Charles Schwab offers robo-advisors that expertly craft a diversified portfolio of ETFs for you. Robo-advisors never sleep; they’re always on the job, monitoring and rebalancing your investments. If you don’t want to put all of your confidence in automation, add premium service that includes unlimited 1:1 assistance from a certified financial planner.

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News and Research

In 2002, Charles Schwab bucked the industry trend of only providing “buy” recommendations. Instead, Schwab Equity Ratings objectively ranked 3,000 stocks, providing recommendations on both the buy and sell sides.

Today, Charles Schwab currently provides market research from a variety of sources, including Argus, Credit Suisse, Market Edge, Morningstar and Ned Davis. Its news sources include Briefing.com and Reuters. While this information is only available to clients, prospective Charles Schwab customers can view reports on the company website.

If you’re looking for something a little more basic, Charles Schwab hosts financial education webinars available to both Charles Schwab customers and noncustomers on a variety of topics.

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Portfolio Analysis and Reports

Charles Schwab provides a variety of ways in which to evaluate your portfolio. Schwab Portfolio Checkup shows you the overall performance, risk-and-return analysis and individual account and asset class performance. It also allows you to view your returns as compared to a benchmark. Prospective Charles Schwab customers can review sample reports on the Charles Schwab website.

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Customer Service

If you’re all about the human touch, Schwab has financial consultants who work with you. You can visit them in person at one of more than 300 branches, over the phone or even in a video chat. The website has a handy branch locator to see if you have one nearby.

While no brokerage, Charles Schwab included, guarantees that you’ll make money, the company does give you an accountability guarantee. This guarantee, which started in 2013, pledges to refund your service fee from the prior quarter if the client is not happy with one of its participating investment advisory services. It’s a small but nice touch.

Charles Schwab can help you invest even if you’re not a customer. It holds a wide variety of workshops on topics like, “7 Fundamentals You Need for Investing Success” and “Getting Retirement Ready” that are open to everyone, regardless of whether you have a Schwab account or ever plan to get one.

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Education and Security

If you’ve ever heard horror stories of online criminals draining victims’ bank accounts, you’ll feel better knowing that Charles Schwab pays extra attention to account security. It uses multilayer technology and other controls that help keep your funds safe. Its website also has customer-facing educational materials to help you be proactive in protecting your money. Reassurances are nice, but Schwab backs that up with the Schwab Security Guarantee, a promise to cover 100% of any losses in any of your Schwab accounts due to unauthorized activity.

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Best For

Charles Schwab is best for investors for whom the following items are most important:

  • Range of Offerings and Investment Selection: The combination of offerings, extensive research, access to financial consultants and robo-advisors means that Charles Schwab can fill the bill for virtually any investor. Experienced? No problem — dive right in, thumb through the research and make your choices. Have questions? Sift through the options with a financial consultant. Don’t want to do anything but put in your money and watch its performance? Charles Schwab robo-advisors will handle it.
  • Customer Service: If you’re all about the human touch, Schwab has financial consultants who work with you. You can visit them in person at one of more than 300 branches, over the phone or even in a video chat. The website has a handy branch locator to help you find an office near you.

The accountability guarantee underscores the Charles Schwab commitment to customer service, even though it’s only a fee refund.

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Falls Short

Charles Schwab falls short of other brokers in some areas. Those weaknesses are detailed below:

  • Usability: Sometimes Charles Schwab can be too much of a good thing, especially for new investors who are easily overwhelmed. Its website offers a dizzying array of information. Even with the many help options, it may scare away people who aren’t familiar with investing or those who aren’t used to navigating websites with so many options.
  • Mobile and Emerging Tech: A robust app and robo-advisors appeal to many investors, but some may be distrustful of these tools and may miss the fact that they can get personal service, too, because of the information overload on the Charles Schwab website.

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Current Promotions

Receive 500 commission-free online equity and options trades for two years. Make a net deposit of $100,000 in your Charles Schwab account to qualify for these free trades.

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How Does Charles Schwab Compare With Other Brokers?

See how Charles Schwab compares to competitors Merrill Edge, E-Trade, Fidelity and TD Ameritrade in the following chart. This quick comparison will help you decide which one works best for you.

Charles Schwab vs. Other Brokers
Merrill EdgeE-TradeFidelityTD Ameritrade
Cost to Trade$2.95$0$0$0
Minimum Balance$0$500$0$0
Current PromotionGet up to $600 when you invest in a new Merrill Edge Self-Directed accountGet up to $600 plus 60 days of commission-free tradesDiscounts on Tax Preparation SoftwareTrade commission-free for 60 days + get up to $600

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Should You Invest With Charles Schwab?

Charles Schwab is a well-rounded brokerage with a solid history that has kept up-to-date with its website and mobile apps while staying true to its roots as a discount brokerage. It provides do-it-yourselfers with information or does as much hand-holding as you need. You may find better deals elsewhere, but if you want the full package, you won’t go wrong with choosing Charles Schwab as your investment home.

Keep reading to find out the best cheap stocks to buy in 2019.

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Barb Nefer has written about financial topics for over a decade and given webinars on various money-related topics.

Information is accurate as of Sept. 17, 2019; commission rates are accurate as of Oct. 9, 2019. This content is not provided by Charles Schwab. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by Charles Schwab. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program. 

About the Author

Barb Nefer has been writing professionally for nearly 30 years, cutting her teeth as a news writer for the Daily Southtown in Chicago. She’s a doctor of psychology, and her eclectic expertise includes personal finance, psychology, travel and the pet industry. Her work reflects that diversity, with pieces appearing in places like About.com, CBS Local, Yahoo.com, WebPsychology, and Animal Wellness magazine.