10 best brokerage firms: top 6 to 10 ranked discount online stock trading websites

Etrade Review

E*Trade Pricing

  • $9.99 per stock/etf trade ($7.99 if making 150 plus trades per quarter)
  • Options: $9.99 plus $0.75/contract ($7.99 plus $0.75 if making 150 plus trades per quarter)
  • Mutual Funds: $19.99
  • Futures contracts: $2.99 per contract, per side plus fees
  • Forex: markup or markdown will be included in the prices quoted
  • Bonds: $1 per bond (minimum $10, maximum $250)

E*Trade Advantages

E*Trade has a nicely-designed website that is easy to navigate. Here, users can place trades for securities, conduct research, and transfer funds. E*Trade 360 is a convenient dashboard with a selection of windows. These display items such as account summary, positions, detailed balances, alerts, and watch lists. Customers can also open a new account, such as an IRA or an FDIC-insured checking account with E*Trade. Active traders have access to the firm's advanced desktop platform, and the broker's mobile app is free for all customers. It can be used on Apple and Android tablets and phones, Amazon Fire phone, Kindle Fire HD, and devices running Windows 10 Mobile.

Fund investors will find good resources on the E*Trade website. There are videos, articles, and self-guided courses that introduce both exchange-traded and mutual fund basics. Topics include measuring mutual fund risk, global investing, commodity funds, and the taxation of funds. Using the broker's sophisticated screener helps to locate any particular type of fund. Users can search according to criteria such as distribution yield, load status, and index correlation. The screener returns a total of 7,400 mutual funds. Over 2,000 come with no load and no transaction fee. Investors who prefer ETF's have access to more than 100 exchange-traded products that are free to buy and sell. Many of these securities have expense ratios lower than 0.50%.

E*Trade clients can also participate in IPO's. The broker's website lists upcoming offerings, and customers can sign up for alerts to be notified of them. E*Trade is also one of the few securities brokers to offer futures trading. A desktop platform devoted to futures trading can be used at no cost. The on-going commission for futures trades is $2.99 per contract, but new customers pay just $1.49 for the first three months. Throw in a large selection of retirement accounts and an FDIC-insured checking account, and E*Trade is a good choice for investors who want an all-in-one financial package.

E*Trade Review

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Fidelity Review

Fidelity Pricing

  • Stocks/ETFs: $7.95 per trade
  • Options: $7.95 + $0.75 per contract
  • Mutual Funds: $49.95 or $75 per buy transaction for no-load mutual funds; sell transactions are free if fund held over 60 days ($49.95 otherwise)

Fidelity Advantages

Of all brokerage firms, Fidelity is one of the best values. Offering stock and ETF trades for just $7.95 and options for just 75¢ per contract, investors not only get low commissions, but also 24/7 customer service. Clients who prefer in-person service won't be disappointed with the firm, either. Fidelity has more than 180 branch locations across the United States. These offer seminars that cover a wide range of topics, including global investing, annuities, and charitable giving. New investors will benefit from the broker's website, which has a wealth of financial education. These resources include videos, articles, self-guided courses, webinars, and infographics. They cover many important topics, ranging from ETF valuation to retirement accounts.

Mutual fund investors will find much to be pleased with at Fidelity. There are over 11,500 mutual funds available for purchase. Roughly 1,800 of these come with no load and no transaction fee. The broker's screener is able to narrow these choices down based on a variety of criteria. These include Morningstar rating, fund family, expense ratio, and return history. A screener's results can also be sorted based on any of the search criteria. For investors who prefer exchanged-traded funds, Fidelity maintains a selection that are free to trade. The broker's clients can buy and sell 84 ETF's without paying a dime in commissions.

Investors who would like some assistance in deciding what to invest in will be in good hands with Fidelity. Professional investment advice and portfolio management are available. Clients who need assistance with education savings or retirement planning also have good resources here. Several education accounts are available, including UGMA/UTMA accounts and the 529 plan. Retirement savers can open a wide variety of Individual Retirement Accounts. The firm also offers services for 401(k) plans. Life insurance and long-term care planning resources are also on the Fidelity website. Throw in an excellent cash management account, and this broker is a great all-around financial services company.

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Charles Schwab review

Charles Schwab Pricing

  • Stocks/ETFs: $8.95 per trade
  • Options: $8.95 + $0.75 per contract
  • Mutual funds: $76 to buy, $0 to sell for no-load mutual funds
  • CDs, Corporate Bonds, Municipal Bonds, Government Agencies, Zero-Coupon Treasuries, including STRIPS and Mortgage-Backed Securities: $1 per bond, $10 minimum, $250 maximum

Charles Schwab Advantages

One broker who offers a very large list of commission-free ETF's is Schwab. Investors can buy and sell over 200 exchange-traded funds without paying a commission. Many of these products have expense ratios below 0.50%. Schwab also offers a good selection of mutual funds. The broker's clients can choose from 5,100 mutual funds. Of these, over 3,100 come with no load and no transaction fee. The broker's selection of mutual and exchange-traded funds that are free to trade is one of the largest in the industry. Despite its emphasis on fund trading, the broker is also a good choice for equity traders. Stocks are just $8.95 per transaction, and options are an additional 75¢ per contract.

Besides trading securities, customers can also do a lot of research and learning on the Schwab website. The broker offers many good educational resources, including articles, videos, and live webinars. There is also futures information from Schwab's subsidiary, optionsXpress, which provides trading in futures contracts. The Schwab website has a helpful community forum where clients can discuss trading issues and economic news. A Schwab representative is available to answer any account-related questions. Learning the broker's advanced desktop platform, StreetSmart Edge, is a breeze with the firm's educational videos and webinars. The trading system only requires a $1,000 account balance to use and is more user-friendly than TD Ameritrade's advanced system. Besides a desktop platform, the broker also offers a useful mobile app, a simple web-based platform, and an app for Apple Watch.

Schwab also has good customer service options. A representative is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The broker provides service over the phone and through an on-line chat system. Some representatives are able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese. For customers who need in-person service, there are over 325 Schwab branch locations throughout the United States. Customers can also open a retirement account or an FDIC-insured bank account with the broker, making Schwab a convenient one-stop financial solution.

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USAA Brokerage Review

USAA Pricing

  • Stocks/ETFs: $8.95 for Gold members and $5.95 for Platinum members per trade
  • Options: $8.95 + $0.75 per contract for Gold members and $5.95 + $0.75 per contract for Platinum members
  • Mutual Funds: $45
  • U.S. Treasury Securities at Auction: $45
  • All Listed Corporate Bonds: $25 + $3 per bond

USAA Advantages

USAA (United Services Automobile Association) is a full-spectrum financial services institution with banking, insurance, investing, mortgage, and financial advisory operations in the United States. Eligibility is restricted to U.S. military service members, Honorably discharged veterans, and their eligible family members. However, the brokerage is available to anyone who meets the financial requirements necessary to open a trading account.

The brokerage website is cleanly laid out and easy to comprehend. The obligatory stock and mutual fund screeners are available, plus tabs for news, watchlists, alerts, and market information. Research is limited and trading tools pale compared to the best online brokers. The screeners are simple to use but not easy to modify. There isn't an active online community for exchanging knowledge or getting investment ideas from experienced traders. USAA doesn't offer virtual trading environment.

USAA mobile apps are highly rated by the users and allow clients to get real-time quotes, place trades, read articles, and watch investment-related videos.

USAA standard commissions on stock and ETF trades are higher than average ($8.95 per trade), but they become very competitive at the Platinum level of membership ($5.95 per trade). Platinum membership can be attained in two ways: if an individual makes at least 25 trades in a rolling 90-day period, or maintains at least $50,000 in eligible assets in USAA accounts.

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USAA Account

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OptionsXpress review

OptionsXpress Pricing

  • Stocks and ETFs: $8.95
  • Options: $14.95 for up to 10 contracts, $1.50 per contract for over 10 contracts
  • Options Active Traders: $12.95 for up to 10 contracts, $1.25/contract for over 10 contracts
  • Mutual funds: $9.95
  • Bonds: $5 per bond, $9.95 minimum
  • Spreads, Straddles & Combos: $14.95 for up to 10 contracts, $1.50 per contract for over 10 contracts

OptionsXpress Advantages

New investors who would like to practice trading before committing real money should check out optionsXpress's Virtual Trade. This is a paper trading platform that allows users to experiment with a wide variety of orders, such as trailing stop, one triggers other, and stop on quote. Equities can be sold short on the platform, and futures and options can also be traded. It's a great opportunity to try out different products and trading strategies. Even better, it's free all the broker's customers. The system starts with $25,000 of virtual currency, and the account balance details change as orders are completed. This allows the user to see the impact that certain trades have on brokerage account balances.

The broker's charting software is very sophisticated. It appears within the web browser. A chart can be detached and blown up full screen to show greater detail. There are many technical studies available, including linear regression trendline, acceleration bands, and time series forecast. Drawing tools are part of the chart's capabilities. These include channels, resistance lines, and pitchforks. A graph's duration can be shown anywhere from 1 day to 10 years. The time interval can be as fast as tick-by-tick. The software is fully customizable. A chart can be printed or saved. The price history of another security can be overlaid for comparison.

The optionsXpress website has some great search tools for options. For example, Idea Hub searches thousands of available options based on bullish or bearish sentiment and generates a probability graph. A trade button automatically fills an appropriate trade ticket. The Dragon tool scans through stocks and ETF's and returns results based on volume, volatility, or similar criteria. Futures research and educational resources are also available on the OX website. Useful educational videos help traders learn how to use all of these tools. Investors who would like to try out the broker's great features can get 50 free trade simply by opening a new account and depositing $5,000.

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OptionsXpress Account

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This article was updated on 8/25/2016

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