TD Ameritrade has been a powerful player in the online stock trading ecosystem for years. The flipside to such robust platforms? Cost. Even though TD Ameritrade lowered its fees in 2017 from $9.99 to $6.95, pretty much every other major discount broker slashed its prices, too. TD Ameritrade remains one of the more expensive options out there, even with more than 100 commission-free ETFs. Though its pricing structure is more expensive than those of some of the other discount brokers, there are many traders who think it's a best-in-class trading platform.
If you’re an active, high-volume trader who dabbles in all kinds of assets, Interactive Brokers is a great option, since you can trade just about anything without losing $5 to $7 on every transaction. The platform interface isn’t nearly as user-friendly as Robinhood’s, nor as intuitive as TD Ameritrade’s; however, if you’re the kind of investor who’d benefit the most from Interactive Brokers (i.e., an experienced one), you’ll know your way around a candlestick chart already.
We found Robinhood’s trading interface — both via its mobile app and its website — the most user-friendly of all candidates, making it a perfect option for the first-time trader. The design is minimalist, interactive, and easy to navigate. “Robinhood is a good fit for new investors because it offers a slick, modern app that allows you to trade efficiently,” says James Royal, a stock analyst and investing and wealth management reporter at Bankrate. “And of course, it's free, allowing you to invest money that would have otherwise gone into a broker's pocket.”
Different investors are going to prioritize different things. A day trader, for example, requires speed and flexibility. A first-time trader may value educational resources and reliable customer support. But one thing every trader should care about is cost. Not paying attention to investment expenses is like revving your car engine while filling it with gas. That's why we spent a lot of time balancing price with what each site offered.
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That’s because there are plenty of tools available to help you. One of the best is stock mutual funds, which are an easy and low-cost way for beginners to invest in the stock market. These funds are available within your 401(k), IRA or any taxable brokerage account. An S&P 500 fund, which effectively buys you small pieces of ownership in 500 of the largest U.S. companies, is a good place to start.
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.
Robo-advisors like Wealthsimple, Wealthfront, and Betterment use algorithms to determine your investment strategy. You just plug in your time frame and risk tolerance and their computers do the rest. And because they’re targeted for a younger crowd, fees are rock bottom. Wealthsimple and Betterment both have no account minimum, while Wealthfront requires $500. Wealthsimple charges an annual 0.5% advising fee; Wealthfront and Betterment charge just 0.25%.
Unlike most online stock trading platforms, Robinhood doesn’t charge a commission fee every time you buy or sell stocks, ETFs, or options. If you’re a high-volume trader, or a beginner without much cash to spare, that makes Robinhood an attractive alternative to the $5 to $7 fees per trade offered by competitors. However, Robinhood does rake in “payment for order flow” by rounding regulatory fees up to the nearest penny and pocketing the difference. “That means if you buy a stock for $100.00, Robinhood earns 2.6 cents from the market maker,” says co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev, whereas “other brokerages earn rebates and charge you a per-trade commission fee.”
Our experts suggest you begin by looking at your own life. “Buy what you know, where you are. If you can, identify good companies locally,” says Randy Cameron, a portfolio manager and investment advisor with 35 years of experience. “Look for companies you and your friends are talking about, ones with plans to go national.” As for how much time and money you need, “start with what you have,” he says. There is literally no minimum to get started, and starting with just one share is better than putting things off.
Stock investing is filled with intricate strategies and approaches, yet some of the most successful investors have done little more than stick with the basics. That generally means using funds for the bulk of your portfolio — Warren Buffett has famously said a low-cost S&P 500 index fund is the best investment most Americans can make — and choosing individual stocks only if you believe in the company’s potential for long-term growth.