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It's crucial to educate yourself before you wade into any type of investment or investment strategy. This beginner's guide to online stock trading will give you a starting point and walk you through several processes: choosing a discount broker, the 12 types of stock trades you can make, how to select individual stocks, uncovering hidden fees, expenses, and commissions, and much more. 
Disclaimer: NerdWallet has entered into referral and advertising arrangements with certain broker-dealers under which we receive compensation (in the form of flat fees per qualifying action) when you click on links to our partner broker-dealers and/or submit an application or get approved for a brokerage account. At times, we may receive incentives (such as an increase in the flat fee) depending on how many users click on links to the broker-dealer and complete a qualifying action.
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.
Finally, the other factor: risk tolerance. The stock market goes up and down, and if you’re prone to panicking when it does the latter, you’re better off investing slightly more conservatively, with a lighter allocation to stocks. Not sure? We have a risk tolerance quiz — and more information about how to make this decision — in our article about what to invest in.
Learning about the greatest investors of years past will provide perspective, inspiration, and appreciation for the game which is the stock market. Greats include Warren Buffett, Jesse Livermore, George Soros, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch, John Templeton and Paul Tudor Jones, among others. One of my favorite book series is the Market Wizards by Jack Schwager.
In addition to attractive pricing, Ally offers a quality platform that gives you access to the entire universe of stocks and ETFs. Where some discount brokers focus on only one kind of trader (for example, options traders or high-net-worth investors), Ally Invest provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds. A focus on discounted costs can sometimes be a red flag for quality, but Ally truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Ally also offers a robust research library that incorporates visual slides and interactive media into its market data.
The best investors are in it for the long haul. Checking your account too often might make you react to the fluctuations in the market too quickly. Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has written that you should check your investments “probably every few months, with a major review every year.” On many sites, you can also set an alert if a stock dives. Other than that, just set up a quarterly recurring appointment to check in.
*Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 6/30/2019 and funded within 60 calendar days of account opening with $3,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000-$99,999. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000-$249,999. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more. Offer is not valid on tax-exempt trusts, 401k accounts, Keogh plans, profit sharing plan, or money purchase plan. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, accounts managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Accounts funded with $3,000 or more are eligible for up to 500 commission-free trade internet equity, ETF, or option trades executed within 60 calendar days of account funding. All other trade types are excluded from this offer. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. No credit will be given for unexecuted trades. Limit one offer per client. Account value of the qualifying account must remain equal to, or greater than, the value after the net deposit was made (minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances) for 12 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the offer at its sole discretion. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Taxes related to TD Ameritrade offers are your responsibility. All promotional items and cash received during the calendar year will be included on your consolidated Form 1099. Please consult a legal or tax advisor for the most recent changes to the U.S. tax code and for rollover eligibility rules. (Offer Code: 220)
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.

Securities products and services offered by E*TRADE Securities LLC. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered by E*TRADE Capital Management, LLC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Commodity futures and options on futures products and services offered by E*TRADE Futures LLC, Member NFA. Bank products and services offered by E*TRADE Bank and E*TRADE Savings Bank, both federal savings banks and Members FDIC. Stock plan administration solutions and services offered by E*TRADE Financial Corporate Services, Inc. All separate but affiliated subsidiaries of E*TRADE Financial Corporation.


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.
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.
TV is another way to monitor the market each day with CNBC being the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden an investor’s knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news be a nuisance, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and are overall full of junk recommendations. This is a natural evolution; you are not alone!
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.)
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.
When you've been approved for margin stock trading, you're also eligible to short stock. Almost every successful stock trader has shorted stock at one time or another. When you short stock, you make money when the company's shares fall—or, even better yet, when they crash. The problem is that you can expose yourself to unlimited liability when you do this. 
Keep good records for the IRS. If you’re not using an account that enjoys tax-favored status — such as a 401(k) or other workplace accounts, or a Roth or traditional IRA — taxes on investment gains and losses can get complicated. The IRS applies different rules and tax rates, and requires the filing of different forms for different types of traders. (Here’s an overview of the IRS rules for stock traders.) Another benefit of keeping good records is that loser investments can be used to offset the taxes paid on income through a neat strategy called tax-loss harvesting.
There are risks associated with investing in a public offering, including unproven management, and established companies that may have substantial debt. As such, they may not be appropriate for every investor. Customers should read the offering prospectus carefully, and make their own determination of whether an investment in the offering is consistent with their investment objectives, financial situation, and risk tolerance.
If you want to trade “futures” (agreements to buy or sell assets in the future), Ally Invest isn’t an option. That’s not unusual for an online stock broker — neither Robinhood, Vanguard, nor Fidelity offer futures trading — but you can do it with some of our other top picks, including E*TRADE, Charles Schwab, Interactive Brokers, and TD Ameritrade.
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.
$4.95 commission applies to online U.S. equity trades in a Fidelity retail account only for Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC retail clients. Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee (from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal). Other conditions may apply. See Fidelity.com/commissions for details. Employee equity compensation transactions and accounts managed by advisors or intermediaries through Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions® are subject to different commission schedules.
How much money should I invest in stocks? If you’re investing through funds — have we mentioned this is our preference? — you can allocate a fairly large portion of your portfolio toward stock funds, especially if you have a long time horizon. A 30-year-old investing for retirement might have 80% of his or her portfolio in stock funds; the rest would be in bond funds. Individual stocks are another story. We’d recommend keeping these to 10% or less of your investment portfolio.
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