Secrets of the Stock Market's Biggest Winners
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The 2010s have been a boom era for online stock brokers. According to Statista, between 10% and 15% of all U.S. adults used an online broker at least once in 2018. While some major brokerages have remained the same (Charles Schwab), others have gone through mergers and acquisitions (E*TRADE acquired OptionsHouse; TD Ameritrade and Scottrade merged; TradeKing is now Ally Invest), and a new generation of millennial-focused brokers (like Robinhood and Acorns) has kept the old guard on its toes by lowering commission rates and minimum deposits. After digging into 25 trading platforms, here are the factors that set our top picks apart from the crowd.

What should I invest my money in?


Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2019 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc.2019. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2019 and/or its affiliates.

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.

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).

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.

Stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. These mutual funds let you purchase small pieces of many different stocks in a single transaction. Index funds and ETFs are a kind of mutual fund that track an index; for example, a Standard & Poor’s 500 fund replicates that index by buying the stock of the companies in it. When you invest in a fund, you also own small pieces of each of those companies. You can put several funds together to build a diversified portfolio. Note that stock mutual funds are also sometimes called equity mutual funds.

Diversification is considered to be the only free lunch in investing. (If you are new to this concept, check out Introduction To Diversification, The Importance Of Diversification and A Guide To Portfolio Construction.) In a nutshell, by investing in a range of assets, you reduce the risk of one investment's performance severely hurting the return of your overall investment. You could think of it as financial jargon for "don't put all of your eggs in one basket".

CAUTION – One of the most common mistakes new investors make is to buy too many shares for their first stock trade; this is a mistake. Taking on too much risk as a beginner who is just getting started will very likely result in experiencing unnecessary losses. Instead, begin with trading small position sizes, then slowly work your way up to buying more shares, on average, each trade.

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.

Should you sell these five stocks, you would once again incur the costs of the trades, which would be another $50. To make the round trip (buying and selling) on these five stocks would cost you $100, or 10% of your initial deposit amount of $1,000. If your investments do not earn enough to cover this, you have lost money by just entering and exiting positions.

If you were to sell these five stocks, you would once again incur the costs of the trades, which would be another $50. To make the round trip (buying and selling) on these five stocks it would cost you $100, or 10% of your initial deposit amount of $1,000. If your investments don't earn enough to cover this, you have lost money by just entering and exiting positions.

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).

Can you make money with Robinhood?


Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2019 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc.2019. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2019 and/or its affiliates.

NerdWallet's ratings for brokers and robo-advisors are weighted averages of several categories, including investment selection, customer support, account fees, account minimum, trading costs and more. Our survey of brokers and robo-advisors includes the largest U.S. providers by assets under management, plus notable and/or emerging players in the industry. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include advisory fees, branch access, user-facing technology, customer service and mobile features. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

Fidelity’s platform wins for user-friendly design, with tools to help take the guesswork out of finding funds and nosing out strategies. Fidelity’s platform lets you explore your options with a slick and intuitive design, complete with color-coded rankings and charts that call out what’s important. You can sort stocks by size, performance, and even criteria like sales growth or profit growth. Want to sort ETFs by the sectors they focus on or their expenses? Done. There’s even a box to check if you want to explore only Fidelity’s commission-free offerings. A few other discount brokers do offer screeners, but none match Fidelity’s depth and usability.

Jesse Livermore, respected as one of the greatest investors of all time, has been featured in many investment books. The most iconic was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre in 1923. During the course of his life he made and lost millions, going broke several times before committing suicide in 1940. These are his seven greatest trading lessons:

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.

One drawback of Robinhood’s simplicity is that as of 2019, you can only trade stocks, ETFs, and options on the platform — not bonds, mutual funds, or futures, and you can’t short-sell. But Robinhood is our “Best for Beginners” pick, and most first-time investors will probably want to stick to the basics. If you’re interested in bonds and mutual funds, Ally Invest has the best rates of our top picks. If you want to try futures trading, E*TRADE and Charles Schwab are your best bets.

This leaves the $1,000-investor with the option of a discount broker. Discount brokers have considerably lower fees, but don't expect much in the way of hand-holding. Fees are low because you are in charge of all investment decisions – you can't call up and ask for investment advice. With $1,000, you are right on the cusp in terms of the minimum deposit. There will be some discount brokers that will take you and others that won't. You'll have to shop around.

E*TRADE does require an investment minimum for new brokerage accounts ($500), which may seem like more than a novice would like to throw in. But you’ll need at least that much to see real growth, and compared to the minimums of traditional brokerages, $500 is an incredibly welcoming threshold. Additionally, if you can commit to a $10,000 deposit, you can get 60 days of commission-free trades.

In terms of volume, Interactive Brokers is technically the largest online stock trading platform in the U.S. It also advertises itself as the “lowest cost broker,” and for good reason: It only charges a startlingly low $0.005 per trade on stocks, ETFs, options, bonds, mutual funds, and futures (plus a 7 cent per contract fee for options). Technically, that’s still higher than Robinhood, but Robinhood only offers stocks, ETFs, and options (and as we noted above, Robinhood does skim some money off the top of trades via “payment for order flow”).

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.

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.

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.

We evaluated brokerage firms and investment companies on the services that matter most to different types of investors. For example, for active traders, we note online brokers offering volume discounts on trade commissions and robust mobile trading platforms. For people venturing into investing for the first time, we call out the best online brokers for educational support (such as stock-picking tutorials) and on-call chat or phone support.

Is trading more profitable than investing?


To the inexperienced investor, investing may seem simple enough - all you need to do is go to a brokerage firm and open up an account, right? What you may not know, however, is that all financial institutions have minimum deposit requirements. In other words, they won't accept your account application unless you deposit a certain amount of money. With a sum as small as $1,000, some firms won't allow you to open an account.


A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, 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.

How do I start buying stocks?


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.

Jesse Livermore, respected as one of the greatest investors of all time, has been featured in many investment books. The most iconic was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre in 1923. During the course of his life he made and lost millions, going broke several times before committing suicide in 1940. These are his seven greatest trading lessons:

Jesse Livermore, respected as one of the greatest investors of all time, has been featured in many investment books. The most iconic was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre in 1923. During the course of his life he made and lost millions, going broke several times before committing suicide in 1940. These are his seven greatest trading lessons:

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Investing in stocks can be very costly if you trade constantly, especially with a minimum amount of money available to invest. Every time that you trade stock, either buying or selling, you will incur a trading fee. Trading fees range from the low end of $10 per trade, but can be as high as $30 for some discount brokers. Remember, a trade is an order to purchase shares in one company - if you want to purchase five different stocks at the same time, this is seen as five separate trades and you will be charged for each one.


A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, 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.

Warren Buffett is the best example to hit this point home. In 2008, he bet some hedge fund managers $1 million that they wouldn’t be able to make more money in a decade than a cheap, boring index fund. An index fund uses simple investing algorithms to track an index and doesn’t require active human management. Conversely, hedge funds stack management fees on top of trading fees to pay for the time and knowledge actual strategists are putting into your investments.

A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, 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.

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.

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.

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—assuming the fee is $10—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.

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.”

Work-based retirement plans deduct your contributions from your paycheck before taxes are calculated, which will make the contribution even less painful. Once you're comfortable with a one percent contribution, maybe you can increase it as you get annual raises. You won't likely miss the additional contributions. If you have a 401(k) retirement account at work, you may already be investing in your future with allocations to mutual funds and even your own company's stock.

Should you sell these five stocks, you would once again incur the costs of the trades, which would be another $50. To make the round trip (buying and selling) on these five stocks would cost you $100, or 10% of your initial deposit amount of $1,000. If your investments do not earn enough to cover this, you have lost money by just entering and exiting positions.

Warren Buffett is the best example to hit this point home. In 2008, he bet some hedge fund managers $1 million that they wouldn’t be able to make more money in a decade than a cheap, boring index fund. An index fund uses simple investing algorithms to track an index and doesn’t require active human management. Conversely, hedge funds stack management fees on top of trading fees to pay for the time and knowledge actual strategists are putting into your investments.

Take for example the S&P 500 market index, which is comprised of 505 companies. Buying shares in 505 different companies would be very difficult to do. Thanks to mutual funds and ETFs, we can simply buy one single security that holds shares in all 505 companies. The largest S&P 500 mutual fund is the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) and the largest S&P 500 ETF is the State Street Global Advisors SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).

In terms of the beginning investor, the mutual fund fees are actually an advantage relative to the commissions on stocks. The reason for this is that the fees are the same, regardless of the amount you invest. Therefore, as long as you meet the minimum requirement to open an account, you can invest as little as $50 or $100 per month in a mutual fund. The term for this is called dollar cost averaging (DCA), and it can be a great way to start investing.

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!


Investing is a way to set aside money while you are busy with life and have that money work for you so that you can fully reap the rewards of your labor in the future. Investing is a means to a happier ending. Legendary investor Warren Buffett defines investing as “… the process of laying out money now to receive more money in the future.” The goal of investing is to put your money to work in one or more types of investment vehicles in the hopes of growing your money over time.

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.

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.

You may see a number of sales charges called loads when you buy mutual funds. Some are front-end loads, but you will also see no-load, and back-end load funds. Be sure you understand whether a fund you are considering carries a sales load prior to buying it. Check out your broker's list of no-load funds, and no-transaction-fee funds if you want to avoid these extra charges.

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.

How do people make money in the stock market?


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.

Brokers are either full-service or discount. Full-service brokers, as the name implies, give the full range of traditional brokerage services, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare and everything related to money. They usually only deal with higher-net-worth clients, and they can charge substantial fees, including a percent of your transactions, a percent of your assets they manage, and sometimes a yearly membership fee. It's common to see minimum account sizes of $25,000 and up at full-service brokerages. Still, traditional brokers justify their high fees by giving advice detailed to your needs.

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.

This leaves the $1,000-investor with the option of a discount broker. Discount brokers have considerably lower fees, but don't expect much in the way of hand-holding. Fees are low because you are in charge of all investment decisions – you can't call up and ask for investment advice. With $1,000, you are right on the cusp in terms of the minimum deposit. There will be some discount brokers that will take you and others that won't. You'll have to shop around.

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!

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.)

Discount brokers used to be the exception, but now they're the norm. Discount online brokers give you tools to select and place your own transactions, and many of them also offer a set-it-and-forget-it robo-advisory service too. As the space of financial services has progressed in the 21st century, online brokers have added more features including educational materials on their sites and mobile apps.

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.

Work-based retirement plans deduct your contributions from your paycheck before taxes are calculated, which will make the contribution even less painful. Once you're comfortable with a one percent contribution, maybe you can increase it as you get annual raises. You won't likely miss the additional contributions. If you have a 401(k) retirement account at work, you may already be investing in your future with allocations to mutual funds and even your own company's stock.

Seminars can provide valuable insight into the overall market and specific investment types. Most seminars will focus on one specific aspect of the market and how the speaker has found success utilizing their own strategies over the years. Examples include Dan Zanger and Mark Minervini, both of which I have attended and reviewed thoroughly here on the site. Not all seminars have to be paid for either. Some seminars are provided free, which can be a beneficial experience, just be extremely conscious of the sales pitch that will almost always come at the end. Whatever is offered, just say no!

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.

Diversification is considered to be the only free lunch in investing. (If you are new to this concept, check out Introduction To Diversification, The Importance Of Diversification and A Guide To Portfolio Construction.) In a nutshell, by investing in a range of assets, you reduce the risk of one investment's performance severely hurting the return of your overall investment. You could think of it as financial jargon for "don't put all of your eggs in one basket".