With cutting-edge research tools and mobile apps, online stock trading is perfect for investors who want to strike out on their own with “self-directed trading” instead of paying fees for a managed portfolio. Whether you’re a first-time investor or an expert trader, you need a trading platform that’s user-friendly, trustworthy, and packed with data visualizations. To find the best online stock trading sites of 2019, we analyzed 25 of the most popular platforms and tapped into the expertise of a former day trader, a stock analyst, and a financial commentator with more than two decades of trading experience. In short, there is no single best online stock broker, but each of our top picks has its own strengths for different types of investors. We’ll help you determine the best fit for your investment goals and experience.
Ignore “hot tips.” WallStreetHotShot4721 on the EZMillion$Trade forum and the folks who pay for sponsored ads touting sure-thing stocks are not your friends, mentors or bona fide Wall Street gurus. In many cases, they are part of a pump-and-dump racket where shady folks purchase buckets of shares in a little-known, thinly traded company (often a penny stock) and hit the internet to hype it up. As unwitting investors load up on shares and drive the price up, the crooks take their profits, dump their shares and send the stock careening back to earth. Don’t help them line their pockets. If you’re looking for a guru, bookmark Warren Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders for commonsense advice and observations on sane, long-term investing.
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Commissions for equity and options trades are $6.95 with a $0.75 fee per options contract. To qualify for $4.95 commissions for equity and options trades and a $0.50 fee per options contract, you must execute at least 30 equity or options trades per quarter. To continue receiving $4.95 equity and options trades and a $0.50 fee per options contract, you must execute at least 30 equity or options trades by the end of the following quarter. Regulatory and exchange fees may apply.
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Books provide a wealth of information and are inexpensive compared to the costs of classes, seminars, and educational DVDs sold across the web. Here on the site we have a full list of 20 great stock trading books for investors to consider. My personal all-time favorite is How to Make Money in Stocks by William O’Neil, founder of CANSLIM Trading which is pictured below.
Since Vanguard is the largest mutual fund provider in the world, it doesn’t charge a fee for most mutual fund trades. However, other kinds of trading are more expensive, with $7 per option and up to $20 per stock/ETF. For that reason, we don’t recommend Vanguard for beginning or low-volume traders. However, Vanguard is an excellent choice for retirement investors interested in long-term, high-volume earnings, or those looking for a place to take their IRA. In fact, Vanguard is one of our picks for the best IRA accounts.
Measure your returns against an appropriate benchmark. This is essential advice for all types of investors — not just active ones. The bottom-line goal for picking stocks is to be ahead of a benchmark index. That could be the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (often used as a proxy for “the market”), the Nasdaq composite index (for those investing primarily in technology stocks) or other smaller indexes that are composed of companies based on size, industry and geography. Measuring results is key, and if a serious investor is unable to outperform the benchmark (something even pro investors struggle to do), then it makes financial sense to invest in a low-cost index mutual fund or ETF — essentially a basket of stocks whose performance closely aligns with that of one of the benchmark indexes.
Practice, practice, practice. But not with real money. There’s nothing better than hands-on, low-pressure experience, which investors can get via the virtual trading tools offered by many online stock brokers. Paper trading lets customers test their trading acumen and build up a track record before putting real dollars on the line. (Several of the brokers we review offer virtual trading, including TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers.)
Find a good online stock broker and open an account. Become familiarized with the layout and to take advantage of the free trading tools and research offered to clients only. Some brokers offer virtual trading which is beneficial because you can trade with play money (see #9 below). A great tool for comparing online brokers can be found at StockBrokers.com.
Choose your trading partner wisely. To trade stocks you need a broker, but don’t just fall for any broker. Pick one with the terms and tools that best align with your investing style and experience. A higher priority for active traders will be low commissions and fast order execution for time-sensitive trades (like our picks for best online platforms for active traders/day traders). Investors who are new to trading should look for a broker that can teach them the tools of the trade via educational articles, online tutorials and in-person seminars (see NerdWallet’s round-ups for the best brokers for beginners). Other features to consider are the quality and availability of screening and stock analysis tools, on-the-go alerts, easy order entry and customer service.
News sites such as Yahoo Finance and Google Finance serve as a great resource for beginners. For in depth coverage, look no further than the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. By monitoring the markets each day and reading headline stories investors can expose themselves to trends, 3rd party analysis, not to mention economic concepts and general business. Pulling quotes and observing fundamental data can also serve as another good source of exposure.
Thinkorswim, on the other hand, is a powerhouse designed for the advanced. This desktop application regularly racks up awards for its superior tools and features, things any other broker would charge a premium for — research reports, real-time data, charts, technical studies. Also included: customizable workspaces, extensive third-party research, a thriving trader chat room, and a fully functional mobile app.
E*TRADE credits and offers may be subject to U.S. withholding taxes and reporting at retail value. Taxes related to these credits and offers are the customer’s responsibility. Offer valid for one new E*TRADE Securities non-retirement brokerage account opened by 12/31/2019 and funded within 60 days of account opening with $10,000 or more. Cash credits for eligible deposits or transfers of new funds or securities from accounts outside of E*TRADE will be made as follows: $1,000,000 or more will receive $2,500; $500,000–$999,999 will receive $1,200; $250,000–$499,999 will receive $600; $100,000–$249,999 will receive $300; $25,000–$99,999 will receive $200. New funds or securities must: be deposited or transferred within 60 days of enrollment in offer, be from accounts outside of E*TRADE, and remain in the account (minus any trading losses) for a minimum of six months or the credit may be surrendered. The credit will appear in your account within one week of the close of the 60-day window. Multiple deposits made to eligible accounts will be aggregated and will receive a credit on a pro-rata basis once the new account has been funded with at least $10,000. An account funded within 60 days of account open, with a minimum deposit of $10,000 will receive up to 500 commission-free stock and options trades executed within 60 days of the deposited funds being made available for investment in the new account (excluding options contract fees). You will pay $6.95 for your first 29 stock or options trades (plus 75¢ per options contract) and $4.95 thereafter up to 500 stock or options trades (plus 50¢ per options contract). Your account will be credited for trades within a week of the executed trade, after paying the applicable commission charge. You will not receive cash compensation for any unused free trade commissions. Excludes current E*TRADE Financial Corporation associates, non-U.S. residents, and any jurisdiction where this offer is not valid. This offer is not valid for retirement or E*TRADE Bank accounts. One promotion per customer. E*TRADE Securities reserves the right to terminate this offer at any time. Must be enrolled by December 31, 2019, the offer expiration date.
A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a past or current professor, co-worker, or any individual that has a fundamental understanding of the stock market. A good mentor is willing to answer questions, provide help, recommend useful resources, and keep spirits up when the market gets tough. All successful investors of the past and present have had mentors during their early days.
Now that you've learned the basics of stock trading, you can get into the specific ways you can make money. Our trading stock strategy guide is a collection of articles explaining real-life techniques you can use to begin trading stocks. You'll learn how investors like Warren Buffett lower their cost basis through using stock options, how other stock traders make money by anticipating dividend changes, and much more.
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.