Since 2013, Reviews.com has helped more than 1.4 million people find the best online stock trading site for their needs. After investigating 25 major brokers and consulting three third-party financial experts, we’ve continued updating this review every month over the last five years to ensure it stays fresh. The author of this review does not own stock in any of the brokerage firms mentioned here, or in any other financial service companies.
At $4.95 per trade, with no inactivity charge and a $50 full outgoing transfer fee, Ally Invest’s fee structure is about as low as you'll find. Even though a rash of brokers dropped their commissions in 2017 to be competitive with Ally Invest’s $4.95 flat rate, Ally keeps its edge with a zero account minimum and enticing discount for active investors — equity trades drop to $3.95 for users with 30-plus trades each quarter or a balance of $100,000.
The solution to both is investing in stock index funds and ETFs. While mutual funds might require a $1,000 minimum or more, index fund minimums tend to be lower (and ETFs are purchased for a share price that could be lower still). Two brokers, Fidelity and Charles Schwab, offer index funds with no minimum at all. Index funds also cure the diversification issue because they hold many different stocks within a single fund.
In most cases, your broker will charge a commission every time that you trade stock, either through buying or selling. Trading fees range from the low end of $2 per trade but can be as high as $10 for some discount brokers. Some brokers charge no trade commissions at all, but they make up for it in other ways. There are no charitable organizations running brokerage services.
In the stock market, for every buyer, there is a seller. When you buy 100 shares of stock, someone is selling 100 shares to you. Similarly, when you go to sell your shares of stock, someone has to buy them. If there are more buyers than sellers (demand), then the stock price will go up. Conversely, if there are more sellers than buyers (too much supply), the price will fall.
Articles are a fantastic resource for education. My most popular posts are listed on my stock education page. The most popular website for investment education is investopedia.com. I also highly recommend reading the memos of billionaire Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital), which are absolutely terrific. Naturally, searching with Google search is another great way to find educational material to read.
There are many fees an investor will incur when investing in mutual funds. One of the most important fees to consider is the management expense ratio (MER), which is charged by the management team each year, based on the number of assets in the fund. The MER ranges from 0.05% to 0.7% annually and varies depending on the type of fund. But the higher the MER, the more it impacts the fund's overall returns.
It pays to shop around some before deciding on where you want to open an account, and to check out our broker reviews. We list minimum deposits at the top of each review. Some firms do not require minimum deposits. Others may often lower costs, like trading fees and account management fees, if you have a balance above a certain threshold. Still, others may give a certain number of commission-free trades for opening an account.
Now, imagine that you decide to buy the stocks of those five companies with your $1,000. To do this you will incur $50 in trading costs, which is equivalent to 5% of your $1,000. If you were to fully invest the $1,000, your account would be reduced to $950 after trading costs. This represents a 5% loss, before your investments even have a chance to earn a cent!
First things first, let’s quickly define stock trading. Stock trading is buying and selling shares of publicly traded companies. Popular stocks most Americans know include Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX), and more recently listed companies such as Uber (UBER) and Pinterest (PINS).
CAUTION – Like paid subscriptions, be very careful with classes and courses. Most are easily over $1,000 and are sold with promises of acquiring valuable knowledge. Their fantastic sales funnels will suck you in, take your money, excite you during the course, then leave you with a strategy that was profitable five or ten years ago, but is no longer relevant today. That, or you simply do not yet have the expertise required to be successful and trade the strategy properly.
Overall commission costs can also be affected by new customer promotions. Brokers may give you a chunk of free trades based on your deposit amount. If your deposit gets you a substantial number of free trades, that can write off otherwise higher per-commission costs. Ally Invest offers small incentives for deposits as low as $500. Fidelity Investments, meanwhile, has a higher barrier for entry — it takes a $50,000 deposit, but then you'll get 300 free trades.
While E*TRADE’s baseline fees are a little high ($6.95 for stocks/ETFs, $6.95 plus 75 cents per contract for options) compared to Ally Invest, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity, E*TRADE does offer volume discounts. If you make more than 30 stock/ETFs trades per quarter, the fee drops to a very competitive $4.95, and if you trade more than 30 options per quarter, the contract fee goes down to 50 cents. That makes E*TRADE a good fit for active traders who keep a close eye on the market.
Shouldn’t I just choose the cheapest broker? Trading costs definitely matter to active and high-volume traders. If you’re a high-volume trader — buying bundles of 100 to 500 shares at a time, for example — Interactive Brokers and TradeStation are cost-effective options. Ally Invest offers $3.95 trades ($1 off full price) for investors who place more than 30 trades a quarter. Commissions are less of a factor for buy-and-hold investors, a strategy we recommend for the majority of people. Most online brokers charge from $5 to $7 per trade. But other factors — access to a range of investments or training tools — may be more valuable than saving a few bucks when you purchase shares.
How much money do I need to get started investing? Not much. Note that many of the brokers above have no account minimums for both taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs. Once you open an account, all it takes to get started is enough money to cover the cost of a single share of a stock and the trading commission. (See “How to Buy Stocks” for step-by-step instructions on placing that first trade.)
After the basic inputs have been made, the “Place Trade” button will appear to complete the order. By default, a summary screen always appears once this button is clicked to summarize the order and confirm we have enough funds in our account. Once investors have experience and are comfortable with the trade ticket, this confirmation page can be disabled.