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The digital age has blessed us with many things. One of those things is that it is easier than ever to start investing. There are a bunch of online brokers to choose from. This is great… if you are not the analysis by paralysis type. How are you supposed to choose with so many options?

When you narrow down your search to the best online brokers, their differences start to blend together. This list is going to recommend the best online brokers. But not by listing off every single feature, but by focusing on those differentiating factors. This way, you can find the best online broker for your specific needs.

To accomplish this, I need to cover a few things all these (and many other) brokers have:

They all have great platforms

Either through your phone or computer, any of these brokers have solid platforms to manage your portfolio anywhere.

They all have great research resources

They have different systems, but all have comprehensive stock analysis and research. You can be sure to find the information you need before you buy or sell or whatever other fancy things the kids do these days.

They all have no account minimums

You won’t need some arbitrary minimum of $2,500 or anything like that to invest with these brokers. You can start small and grow big.

With that out of the way, we can start with the top pick.

1. Best overall: Fidelity Investments

  • $4.95 per trade
  • Options $4.95 + $0.65 a contract

If you are looking for the best of the best, Fidelity is where it’s at. Pretty much any type of investor will be happy with Fidelity’s offerings.

At $4.95 a trade, Fidelity Investments has some of the lowest trading fees in the industry. Fidelity has an online trading platform that can be accessed through a web browser or through its mobile app. They also have “Active Trader Pro” that has tools for more advanced traders to help you discover trading opportunities and keep track of price movements throughout the day.

Fidelity’s range of ETFs and mutual funds is what makes it stand out. They have a wide offering of funds and have a few index funds that have a zero expense ratio. Zero. Nada. Zip.

For investors that buy and hold these funds, their returns will be better than similarly performing funds because of that zero expense ratio. Even if you don’t like these offerings, there are plenty of other funds. Many still don’t fall in the “high” expense ratio category.

 

2. A close second: Charles Schwab

  • $4.95 per trade
  • Options $4.95 + $0.65 per contract

Charles Schwab was right there. It almost had the top spot. It is very similar to Fidelity in a lot of ways. A well-rounded platform, large investment selection, solid tools, research resources and the same commission fee. 

So what was the differentiating factor? It was the zero expense ratios that Fidelity offers… and Charles Schwab doesn’t. 

If you don’t care about that, then you can take advantage of some unique tools that Charles Schwab has to offer. Their portfolio builder helps you build a customized portfolio based on your investing style. The Balance Bar panel displays a customized view of different portfolio values (daily % change, total value, etc.).

However, none of the features are enough to take the top spot.

 

3. Best for beginners: TD Ameritrade

  • $6.95 per trade
  • Options $6.95 + $0.75 per contract

You can already see the most obvious difference between TD Ameritrade and the other two brokers we mentioned. If you are trading a lot, that $6.95 per trade is going to add up.

What do you get for that price premium? Fantastic resources for any level investor, but especially for beginners. Based on your trading knowledge, TD Ameritrade provides video resources to continually improve your skills.

If you want to test out these skills, but don’t have the stomach to use your real money just yet, you can use TD Ameritrade’s virtual trading system. Here you get 100,000 dollars to test out any strategies that you like. Then you can either kick yourself or breath a sigh of relief for not using real money sooner.

 

4. Best for advanced traders: Interactive Brokers

  • $0.005 per share; minimum $1; maximum 1% of trade value
  • Options 0.70 cents per contract; $1 minimum 

Cut a penny in half. That is the fee you are paying per share. 

If you trade a lot, these low fees are going to be hard to beat. This is not even as low as they can go. Both trades and options lower in price if you meet the threshold trades per month.

Interactive Brokers is best for you advanced traders out there. Their trading platform has a large number of tools. The advanced market scanner will scan a market and give you contracts based on the parameters you define. Their mutual fund replicator will take any fund and find a similar one with lower fees. There is pretty much nothing that you can’t do.

However, it is not easy to pick up. The sheer amount of complicated tools will leave the average investor not knowing where to start. It is not impossible. Interactive Brokers offers educational materials to help you learn the system. But there is certainly still a learning curve.

For many, this system is going to be overkill, especially if you are not trading a lot. But for those that need the power, Interactive Brokers could be a great choice for you. 

 

5. Best if you already have an account with Bank of America: Merrill Edge

  • $6.95 per trade
  • Options $6.95 + $0.75 per contract

So yes, this last one is pretty specific. I will also be the first to say that I have some issues with Merrill Edge. Mainly, it is their lack of commission-free ETFs (Everyone else on this list has one. Get with the times Merrill!)

But…

Merrill’s integration into its parent company, Bank of America, is what gets it on this list. It just might be the perfect fit for you.

Bank of America has incentivized customers to use Merrill Edge by giving customers free trades. First, you must have a Bank of America checking account. After that, the number of free trades you receive is based on your combined checking and investment balance. It’s structured like this:

  • >$20,000 = 10 free trades a month
  • >$50,000 = 30 free trades a month
  • >$100,000 = 100 free trades a month

For some, this may work out just right. If you meet these minimums and trade regularly, you could end up saving almost $500 a month compared to our top pick. So although Merrill Edge is not the best for all, it will be the best for some.

Pick the best for you

These are the best of the best. Almost every investor can get what they need from one of the brokers on this list. So from here, you have three things to do.

  1. Take a look at your trading style and experience
  2. Pick an online broker that works best for that trading style and experience 
  3. Get trading!

 

Jason Ramach is an SEO content writer and marketer that has always had a soft spot in his heart for trading. He specializes in finance writing but is always looking to expand his horizons.