Online stock trading brokers provide an intuitive and user-friendly platform from which you can monitor stocks, order trades and receive news about the market. These services are geared toward non-professional traders who want to control their investments and managing their trades without relying on a broker. Online platforms allow you to set up watch lists, create option chains and view streaming, live quotes. The best stock trading sites – including OptionsHouse, TradeKing and optionsXpress– provide these solid platforms along with low commission and trade fees so you can focus your money on the market and watch your investments grow. To learn more about choosing a broker and investing, have a look at our articles on online stock trading.
Because all the stock trading services we reviewed here offer online trading, the differences between services come from fees, the trading platform and investments and support offered. The following list of criteria outlines the features we consider most important in online brokers. Use these elements to help you evaluate and choose from the biggest names in online stock trading.
Fees & Commissions
The fees for online trades are an important feature because they can add up, especially if you plan to trade on a regular basis. While all services have their own way of charging fees, most have comparable fees. Typically, you'll have a flat rate for online stock trades, which range from around $5 up to around $10 per trade. For option trading, most services charge a base rate plus a per-contract fee, but some services have a flat rate until you reach a certain number of trades. The majority of services also charge for each option exercise and assignment. The majority of services charge a fee if you require broker assistance with a trade, and that fee varies greatly from service to service.
Trading & Research Tools
The platform each service offers may be a deciding factor when choosing an online broker. All of the services we reviewed have customizable platforms that allow you to set up watch lists, alerts and option chains, as well as create custom reports, charts and graphs so you can monitor the investments and statistics that matter the most to you. Some services offer automated trading, which automatically orders trades based on parameters and rules you establish. Many services have calculators that estimate risk and volatility, among other elements, to help you decide when and what to trade.
In addition to stocks and options trading, most brokers offer trades for exchange-traded funds (ETFs), bonds and mutual funds. Many services offer trades in international stock markets, forex and futures, though those involve higher risks. All the brokers we reviewed offer individual retirement accounts (IRA) to help you begin saving for retirement.
Every service we reviewed offers a mobile-trading option. Mobile access is offered via apps available for download or through a mobile-optimized version of the service's website. The best online trading sites offer both options. All services on our lineup offer stock trading and most also offer other trading, including options. From your mobile devices, you can keep track of your watch lists, positions and option chains. Some services offer additional features, such as check depositing and barcode-scanning capabilities.
Support & Customer Service
All of the services we reviewed offer support via phone and email, and many offer live chat. Some services have 24/7 customer support. Because trading can be a confusing business, most services offer a great deal of online resources, including video tutorials, webinars, educational articles and blogs. Some services that have local branches even offer live events and seminars that you can attend to learn more about investing and trading face to face.
Whether you are an investor or a volume trader, you can benefit by having an online stock broker that offers an easy-to-use trading platform. Pricing is competitive and brokers can provide assistance with your trades. The best online brokers give you access to a broad selection of investments, and you will be able to trade and monitor your investments from an online platform or from the most popular mobile devices.
*Margin rates reflect the percentage at the time this site was last updated and are always subject to change.