November 27, 2021


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The best online brokerage for every type of investor

16 min read

Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

To help you choose the best online brokerage for your needs, Business Insider reviewed a long list of top online brokerage account providers with a focus on fees, investment availability, investment platforms, mobile apps, research availability, and education resources.


A brokerage account is like a checking account for your investments: If your checking account is a clearinghouse for your income and expenses that acts as a safe place to store your cash, your brokerage account does the same for your investments.

An online brokerage account empowers you to invest in the stock market. Brokerage accounts can hold cash, stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and other investments. Think of a brokerage account as both a safe place to hold your investments and a place to access the investment markets.

For most investors, a long-term, passive investment strategy is ideal. Many experts suggest building a diverse portfolio of low-cost index funds over picking individual stocks and riskier active trading tools. The needs of the typical investor were the main consideration when picking winners for the best online brokerage categories below.

Charles Schwab is a major discount brokerage and one of the largest investment management firms in the United States. Schwab offers a wide range of brokerage accounts and products that meet the needs of virtually any investor.

Why it stands out:  In addition to offering excellent accounts with no minimum balance requirements and no recurring fees, Schwab is a leader in low-cost pricing for retail investors. In late 2019, Schwab was among the first of a big list of major brokerage firms to lower commissions on stock and ETF trades to zero.

Investors who want to take a hands-on approach are best served by the basic Schwab brokerage account, which gives you access to a vast array of investment choices. If you want more help, you can sign up for a managed Schwab Intelligent Portfolios account. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is Schwab’s version of a managed portfolio account, also known as a robo-adviser. But Schwab’s robo-advising account doesn’t charge any fees.

In addition to regular taxable brokerage accounts, Schwab offers a long list of retirement accounts, small business retirement accounts, trusts and estates, business accounts, and more.

Most of your account needs are self-service and handled through the Schwab website, mobile app, or high-end trading platforms. But if you need help, Schwab customer service is excellent and is available 24/7 by phone, online, or one of 360 Schwab branches nationwide.

Schwab also offers its own family of mutual funds and ETFs. These funds tend to charge fees below the industry average and compete with the likes of Fidelity, Vanguard, and Blackrock’s iShares. Trades of Schwab mutual funds require no commissions or trading fees inside of a Schwab account.

If you’re using Schwab’s brokerage account, you should also look at Charles Schwab Checking, an ultra low-fee account that includes free ATMs worldwide, including an automatic reimbursement of other bank’s fees. You can move cash between Schwab accounts instantly with a click.

Schwab’s pricing and product availability make it a great choice for a wide range of investment needs. Schwab is also adding new features regularly. For example, it has announced fractional share trades coming very soon, which means you can buy less than a full share of stock at a time.

What to look out for: The biggest downside of Charles Schwab is how it treats cash in your account. While some competing brokerages automatically invest cash balances to get interest rates on-par with savings accounts, Schwab’s rates for cash balances are pretty low. Uninvested cash in your brokerage accounts earns just 0.01{595aaaf28bd374e61f5232268d1bfff5703fa65235acf271be13733c4f6e0734}.

Also, though most people won’t need them, there are high costs for phone and broker-assisted trades. While online trades are commission-free for stocks and ETFs, you’ll pay $5 extra for automated phone trades and $25 extra for broker-assisted trades.

SoFi Invest doesn’t have the same storied history as some brokerages in the United States, but in this case new comes with innovative features and a technology-forward experience that makes SoFi Invest ideal for newer investors.

Why it stands out:  SoFi started as a student lender and grew to include banking, investing, insurance, and other financial products. It charges almost no fees for its investment accounts. That includes self-directed investing and automated investing (managed portfolios) with no recurring fees and a very low $1 minimum to get started.

The self-directed “Active Investing” account has no fees to trade stocks, ETFs, and even cryptocurrencies. You can buy fractional shares of stocks, which SoFi calls “Stock Bits.” SoFi also has a few of its own exchange-traded funds that could be a fit for your portfolio.

For beginner investors, there are a handful of benefits to help you learn the ropes. Those include a very easy-to-navigate dashboard, collections of stocks and other investments to browse, and integrated links to education pages within the SoFi website and mobile app.

One SoFi login also gets you access to banking and lending services. Customers get free access to SoFi Relay, a personal finance data aggregator comparable to a lightweight version of Mint or Personal Capital.

Customers also get free access to career coaching and financial planning sessions. While the app looks to be marketed toward millennials and tech-savvy investors, the simple and easy-to-use platforms make it a perfect fit for any new investor who’s willing to manage their accounts online.

What to look out for: SoFi doesn’t offer as wide a range of investment options as some larger brokerage firms. You can’t buy mutual funds or bonds, for example. Also, look out for the fees on SoFi ETFs. While two of them have no expense ratio for the first year, the long-run cost is above many other ETFs.

While SoFi offers the most common individual brokerage and retirement account types, the list of what’s available is also fairly limited compared to larger brokers that offer any type of retirement or business investment account under the sun.

Learn more about SoFi Invest »

Fidelity is a large and well-known discount brokerage. Like its large industry peers, it offers just about anything a typical investor might want from a brokerage. That includes a wide variety of account types, a long list of available investments, and competitive pricing with industry leaders for low-cost investments. Fidelity has about 190 locations nationwide.

Why it stands out: The basic brokerage account at Fidelity has no minimum balances or recurring fees. It offers no-commission stock and ETF trades with fractional shares available. With an account at Fidelity, you can invest in stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, bonds, CDs, and precious metals. Fidelity offers international investing in 25 foreign markets and foreign currency exchange between 16 different currencies.

While its platforms and accounts work great for active investors, Fidelity truly shines when it comes to retirement investing. Fidelity gives you access to just about any tax-advantaged retirement plan you could want with the same list of investments as regular taxable brokerage accounts.

Fidelity has a suite of tools, including a powerful retirement calculator designed to make sure you’re on the right track for your retirement goals. This brokerage offers paid financial planning, but you can do most of it for free using Fidelity’s education and research resources.

When you’re choosing investments, Fidelity is also a leader for retirement with its low-cost ETFs and mutual funds. In fact, Fidelity was the first major brokerage to market mutual funds with no expense ratio. Fidelity’s family of funds is popular for investors with accounts at Fidelity and elsewhere.

Fidelity can be a great choice for most investment needs. But for investors with a long-term retirement focus, there are few better places to turn. The combination of low fees and a focus on helping investors reach a successful retirement helped make it the top choice for retirement brokerage accounts.

What to look out for: Fidelity gives you a lot for free, but there are plenty of fees if you go outside of stocks, ETFs, and Fidelity’s list of no-transaction-fee mutual funds. Mutual funds outside of the no-fee list cost up to $49.95 each, not including added fees for phone or broker-assisted trades. Phone trades cost an extra $12.95 per trade and assisted trades cost an extra $32.95 each.

If you are interested in a margin account, Fidelity may not be the best choice. It charges higher margin rates than many competitors. But most investors should avoid the high-risks of margin trading, so it shouldn’t impact retirement-focused investors.

TD Ameritrade is a large discount brokerage that’s great for both new and expert investors. Beginners will enjoy the simple online platform at TD Ameritrade’s website. Experienced investors will want to take advantage of the advanced trading platform, called thinkorswim, and other expert resources TD Ameritrade makes available.

Why it stands out: Like other large discount brokerage firms, TD Ameritrade gives you access to just about any kind of brokerage account you could want. It offers a list of tradeable assets bigger than most peers, though, which is another draw for experienced investors. In addition to commonly available investments like stocks, bonds, options, mutual funds, and ETFs, TD Ameritrade offers less common investments, including futures, foreign exchange, and cryptocurrency.

The importance of a powerful trading platform grows with your investment expertise. TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim gives you a professional-style trading platform with advanced charting and advanced order types. An embedded CNBC TV widget is a nice perk that keeps your trading strategy in sync with the markets. It’s nearly Wall Street quality and comes included with TD Ameritrade accounts.

Serious options and active traders will appreciate free access to NASDAQ Level I and Level II quotes, and real-time quotes for OPRA, AMEX, and NYSE. Professional clients have to pay for access to advanced quotes.

It lags behind others for managed portfolios, which start with a $500 minimum and 0.30{595aaaf28bd374e61f5232268d1bfff5703fa65235acf271be13733c4f6e0734} annual fee. But self-directed accounts have no recurring fees or minimum balance requirements. It offers no-commission stock and ETF trades like almost everyone else on this list.

If you’re looking for help in person, TD Ameritrade operates more than 250 branch locations around the US.

What to look out for: There’s an important footnote for TD Ameritrade. The company was acquired by Charles Schwab on October 6, 2020. TD Ameritrade has said on its website that it will continue to conduct business as usual, while using the next 18-36 months to combine its business with Schwab.

Hopefully, Schwab keeps thinkorswim going post-merger. Schwab’s StreetSmart Pro and StreetSmart Edge are fine for most investors, but serious traders could prefer thinkorswim. There’s always a risk when opening an account with a company being acquired, but Schwab is still a good home for most investing and trading needs.

TD Ameritrade has a high $49.99 fee for mutual fund trades off of the no-transaction-fee list.

Interactive Brokers is a top choice for active traders who trade at higher volumes and want access to tools optimized for their needs. Typical investors may not care about the difference of a few seconds when entering and executing a trade. Very active traders, however, care about milliseconds.

Why it stands out: Interactive Brokers has three different pricing options depending on your level of trading activity and your personal trading needs. The basic account, IBKR Lite, gives you commission-free stock and ETF trades and competitive fees for most other trades. Most investors would want this type of account. But active traders could be willing to pay more for additional features.

IBKR Pro accounts use tiered or fixed pricing models. This means you won’t get completely commission-free trades as you do with IBKR Lite. Pro accounts have additional access to market data. They also get access to the IBKR Web Trader platform and IBKR APIs for automated trading. Algorithmic trading, also known as algos, is included with Pro accounts.

With IBKR Pro, you don’t have tools similar to what professional traders use — you have the exact same tools. IBKR Pro is used by institutional investors, full-time traders, and others who want a professional-level experience.

Under the fixed-rate pricing plan, fees start at .005 cents per share with a $1 minimum per trade for US stocks and ETFs (some ETFs have no transaction fees). Tiered pricing is best for traders with very large order sizes. Prices are per-share with discounts starting over 300,000 shares.

With very competitive pricing and an experience tailored to active traders, IBKR Lite could be a good place to test the waters before upgrading to IBKR Pro for the most advanced experience.

What to look out for: Not all accounts and trades are free. Make sure to choose the right account level for your investment goals and experience. 

Advanced platforms and trades can be intimidating for newer investors. IBKR Pro charges a fee of up to $10 per month if you have less than $100,000 in your account or generate less than $10 in commissions per month.

Public is a newer investment app that uses a mobile-first experience. The result is a mobile investment experience that’s somewhat unique but still easy to navigate for both beginner and experienced investors.

Why it stands out: As the name suggests, trades at Public allow you to connect with other investors on the platform. You can follow others and chat about investment ideas. You can even join a group chat for live interaction with other investors. In some ways, it’s like a built-in social network for investors.

Another useful feature for newer investors is the ability to view various themes. These group stocks by industry or other major categories to help you zero in on companies that make sense for your investment strategy.

Public uses a commission-free pricing model. Most users won’t pay any fees at all. It also offers fractional shares. These two features make Public great for people who are new to investing and want to start with a small amount of money. Fractional investing is supported for more than 2,800 stocks and ETFs.

What to look out for: Only a limited set of investments are available. You can invest in stocks and ETFs with Public, but not the full investment landscape. Public offers access to most US publicly traded stocks and ETFs, but not the entire market.

Public has a somewhat basic trading platform that may not be suitable for expert investors and very active traders.

Best online brokerage for kids and teens: Stockpile

Stockpile is a newer and smaller brokerage than some others on this list, but it’s perfect for kids. Stockpile offers accounts with no recurring fees and no minimums. Trades are 99 cents each. Fractional shares are available starting with a $5 investment.

Why it stands out: Stockpile is great for kids and teens for a few reasons. The simple and easy-to-navigate platform shows kids the logos and companies they are familiar with in their portfolios. You can fund the account through a bank account or with stock gift cards. Because fractional shares are supported for the 1,000+ stocks and ETFs on the platform, gifts and trades can be made in round dollar amounts.

Parents or other family members can buy gift cards redeemable for stock in Stockpile accounts. Gift cards cost $2.99 for the first stock and 99 cents for each additional stock. Payments via gift card also incur a 3{595aaaf28bd374e61f5232268d1bfff5703fa65235acf271be13733c4f6e0734} fee. You can optionally send a plastic card for another added fee of $4.95 to $7.95.

Parents and kids will enjoy the built-in education resources. Stockpile’s “mini-lessons” teach stock market basics that prepare anyone for a more successful future in the stock market.

The Stockpile trading experience for the web and mobile is easy to navigate and use. That’s another kid-friendly feature that makes Stockpile a great choice for families and kids.

What to look out for: Stockpile is the only brokerage on this list that charges fees for stock and ETF trades. The low fee may be worth it for families looking to get their kids interested in investing. There are also significant fees for gift cards.

Users only have access to the most popular stocks and ETFs. Many stocks are not included and other types of investments are not supported.

  • Etrade: Etrade is the original online brokerage. It offers a good experience for active traders with competitive pricing. Etrade was recently acquired by Wall Street powerhouse Morgan Stanley. It is a large discount brokerage that supports most investment types and a wide range of accounts. For experienced investors, Etrade is a good choice for its platforms and range of investments, but the trading experience is not quite as good as thinkorswim at TD Ameritrade.
  • WeBull: WeBull is a newer brokerage that uses a no-commissions model. It uses a high-tech web platform ideal for more active traders. WeBull offers personal and retirement accounts and a more limited set of investment options. WeBull is a top choice for free brokerage accounts. However, it doesn’t offer the full range of available investments and can be tricky to navigate for beginner investors.
  • TradeStation: TradeStation was a close runner-up for the best brokerage for active traders, but its pricing isn’t quite as good as the winner. It gives traders access to a set of powerful tools on par with what’s used by professional and institutional traders. 
  • Ally Invest: Ally Invest is a very low-cost brokerage that pairs well with Ally’s best-in-class checking and savings accounts. It is a great platform for beginner stock and ETF traders. It has trading platforms that are fairly straightforward but don’t offer the same depth of features as some of the best platforms for active trading.
  • Merrill Edge: Merrill Edge gets its name from legendary brokerage Merrill Lynch. Now a division of Bank of America, it’s best for loyal Bank of America customers with high combined balances across Bank of America accounts, which include Merrill Edge. While Merrill Edge is great for loyal customers, its pricing and features are less exciting for those with smaller balances.
  • Vanguard: Vanguard is known for pioneering the low-cost index fund industry. It also offers brokerage and managed portfolio products. It’s best for people who want to primarily invest in the Vanguard family of mutual funds. This titan of index funds is known for low fees, but customers with less than $10,000 will pay $20 per year in account service fees.
  • Robinhood: Robinhood is the original no-commission brokerage. It currently offers stocks, ETFs, and options with a mobile-first platform. Robinhood is a great choice for no-fee trading. However, it recently suffered several major outages that left people unable to buy or sell on some of the biggest market days in over a decade. This leaves questions about its reliability.
  • Tastyworks: Tastyworks is best for options traders and active investors. It’s a somewhat unique platform that’s high-tech and integrates with the tastytrade content network. This active trading brokerage has competitive pricing and high-tech active trading platforms but isn’t ideal for less-experienced investors.

How did we choose the best online brokerages?

In evaluating the best online brokerage accounts available today, we reviewed a wide range of criteria. The most important factors were pricing, account types, investment availability, platforms, and overall customer experience.

Most brokerage accounts on this list have no minimum balance and no recurring monthly fees. After a major shift in pricing in 2019, most brokerage firms on this list also offer commission-free trades for stocks and ETFs. They also moved to no base fee for options trades, but still charge per-contract fees in most cases.

Top brokerage firms offer different platforms for different investment needs. Some are best for beginners and others are ideal for more advanced investors. Platforms were evaluated with a focus on how they serve in each category.

What are brokerage accounts?

Brokerage accounts are a type of account used for investments. With a brokerage account open and funded, you can buy and sell stocks, bonds, funds, and other investments.

In many ways, brokerage accounts work like a bank account. They can hold cash and assets and are very secure. But unlike a bank account, which can only hold cash, brokerage accounts can hold a wide variety of assets that can go up and down in value over time.

How do brokerage accounts work?

Brokerage accounts are best managed online. Using your brokerage website or mobile app, you can transfer funds, enter trade orders, monitor your positions, research current and future investments, and just about anything else you need to do in a brokerage account.

In the United States, brokerage accounts are insured by the SIPC. That means if your brokerage goes out of business, you are guaranteed to get your money and other assets back up to SIPC limits.

Brokerage firms in the United States are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and industry association FINRA, among other government agencies and industry groups.

Who should use a brokerage account?

Anyone who wants to invest needs a brokerage account. Whether you’re investing for short-term gains, retirement goals, or anything in between, a brokerage account is what you need to make it happen.

Brokerage accounts are best for people who already have a good understanding of their personal finances and are not worried about short-term financial needs. Make sure you’re covering your bills before you add investments to your budget.

How much should a brokerage account cost?

In most cases, modern brokerage accounts are free to open and keep. There should be no recurring fees or minimum charges if you’re looking for the best brokerage account for most investors.

There should also be few or no commissions for stock, ETF, and options trades. Some fees for phone or broker-assisted trades are common, as are commissions for some mutual funds and other investments.

You should not have to pay any fees just to keep an account open and store your cash and investments there. If you do, it could be time to switch brokerage accounts.

How do I choose an online brokerage?

Everyone’s investment goals and preferences are unique, so there is no perfect brokerage for everyone. To choose the best brokerage, start by looking at your own investment style and what you want from a brokerage. Whether that’s cutting-edge active-trading tools or a long list of no-transaction-fee mutual funds, there’s a good online brokerage for everyone.

Once you understand what you need, look at costs, platforms, investment account types, and available investments to lock in the decision on what’s best for you.

Eric Rosenberg has over a decade of experience writing about personal finance topics, including investing. He has an undergraduate degree and MBA in finance and spent time during his MBA program managing a portion of the University of Denver endowment fund. He is an expert in investments, banking, payments, credit cards, insurance, and business finance.

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