Throughout history, financial assets like stocks, bonds, commodities, and currencies have witnessed alternating cycles of rising and falling prices. These fluctuations represent market opportunities for traders and investors looking to grow their hard-earned money. One critical step in making the most of the financial markets is finding an online broker that best fits your personality and financial goals.
Nowadays, all major online brokers offer $0 trading on stocks and ETFs, and many offer $0 commissions on other asset classes as well. The best trading platforms offer low fees in a way that is transparent, with limited gamification tactics that promote overtrading. They also provide ample fundamental and technical research, a wide range of investment options, state of the art trading tools, excellent customer service, strong mobile capabilities, and an abundance of easily accessible educational materials, all across powerful desktop and mobile platforms.
Best Online Brokerage Accounts and Trading Platforms of 2023
- Best Overall: Fidelity Investments
- Best Broker for ETFs: Fidelity Investments
- Best Broker for Low Costs: Fidelity Investments
- Best Broker for Beginners: TD Ameritrade
- Best Broker for Mobile: TD Ameritrade
- Best Broker for Advanced Traders: Interactive Brokers
- Best Broker for International Trading: Interactive Brokers
- Best Broker for Options: tastyworks
Fidelity Investments: Best Overall, Best Broker for ETFs, and Best Broker for Low Costs
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
Get $100 when you open a new, eligible Fidelity account with $50 or more. Use code FIDELITY100. Limited time offer. Terms apply. Offer Disclosure.
Why We Chose It
Fidelity continues its multi-year reign as our top pick for the best broker overall and the Best Broker for Low Costs. For the first time, the company has also been awarded the top slot in our Best Broker for ETFs category, beating out Charles Schwab. Fidelity brings the full-service experience to both its institutional and retail clients with sophisticated tools presented through a simple workflow, all at a low price.
Pros & Cons
Committed to eliminating common account fees
Strong portfolio analysis and account features
Excellent order execution
Powerful Active Trader Pro platform
Fractional shares trading in over 7000 U.S. stocks and ETFs
Higher broker-assisted trade fees
Minimum balance for some index trading
Multiple platforms may be required to access all tools
Fidelity is our top pick overall, as well as our top choice for Best Low-Cost Broker and Best Broker for ETFs due to its continued product enhancements, strong customer support, unmatched value, and deep research and educational resources. Fidelity’s storied history began with its founding in 1946. With $3.6 trillion in discretionary assets as of December 2022, the Boston-based company ranks among the top brokerage firms in terms of assets under management.
Always striving to improve its products and services, Fidelity made news in 2022 by launching a Digital Assets Account (DAA), which will enable plan sponsors to offer their participants access to Bitcoin through an investment option in their plan’s core lineup. In addition, the company introduced the Fidelity Crypto Industry and Digital Payments ETF (FDIG), along with a Fidelity Metaverse ETF (FMET). Enhancements also came to the institutional side of the business, with the company expanding access to some of its proprietary tools, like Fidelity Bond Beacon.
For investors looking for individual help, Fidelity has added to its lineup with digital direct indexing accounts called Fidelity Managed FidFolios. The FidFolios use fractional shares to mimic indexes with ownership of the actual stock rather than an ETF, allowing for deeper customization. But the improvements don’t stop there, as Fidelity also upgraded its mobile experience with a redesigned app dashboard that includes streaming quotes on the home screen and further news feed customizations.
After years of very tight competition, Fidelity surpassed Charles Schwab as our best broker for ETFs this year. Like Schwab, Fidelity offers rich ETF-focused educational content, powerful ETF screening tools, and a deep pool of ETFs to choose from. But it was Fidelity’s fractional share trading in ETFs that helped push it over the top.
Fidelity has been an industry leader when it comes to lowering fees, and it has a stellar reputation as a broker with a huge customer service network supporting its low-cost, high-value offering. Investors looking for an online broker that keeps costs low while delivering value will be hard-pressed to find a better broker than Fidelity.
In addition to our review of Fidelity's online brokerage platform, we've also reviewed the company's robo-advisor service, Fidelity Go.
TD Ameritrade: Best Broker for Beginners and Best Broker for Mobile
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- Fees: $0.00 for equities/ETFs. $0.65 per contract for options. Futures $2.25 per contract
Why We Chose It
TD Ameritrade maintains its position as the Best Broker for Beginners and the Best Broker for Mobile because of its intuitive platform, comprehensive educational offering, and outstanding mobile options analytics, research amenities, and trading tools.
Pros & Cons
Wide range of product offerings
Superb educational content
Top-notch trading technology and options analytics across platforms
Very capable paper trading platform
Strong customer support
Some account fees are relatively high
Does not offer fractional shares
Must opt in for automatic cash sweep
Cryptocurrency trading through OTC trusts, ETFs, mutual funds, and Bitcoin futures only
We chose TD Ameritrade to repeat as the winner of our best broker for beginners and best broker for mobile categories because of its ongoing commitment to provide investors with easy access to some of the industry's best educational content, mobile trading tools, and research amenities.
Founded in 1975 and purchased by Charles Schwab in 2019, TD Ameritrade is a top full service online broker. True to form, the company continues to roll out new product enhancements, like updates to its already impressive charting functionality and a portfolio digest feature announced in 2022.
TD Ameritrade’s highly regarded thinkorswim® trading platform is powerful yet intuitive. Developing personal trading strategies is made easier with access to robust backtest tools, while the implementation of these strategies can be practiced using the platform's very capable paper trading function. When it comes to functionality, accessibility, and flow across the mobile, desktop, and web platforms, TD Ameritrade offers an experience that is as consistent as it gets.
Recent enhancements to E*TRADE’s mobile platform brought it closer in the running for best broker for mobile this year, while Interactive Brokers boasts the most sophisticated mobile platform available.That being said, TD Ameritrade simply offers the best mobile package overall. This overall strength is due to the widest offerings of asset classes available, access to highly regarded customer service, premium research, powerful screening features, calculators with backtesting capabilities, and tools to assess your overall financial situation—all with no balance requirements and low, transparent pricing,
Interactive Brokers: Best Broker for Advanced Traders and Best Broker for International Trading
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- Fees: $0.00 commissions for equities/ETFs available on IBKR’s TWS Lite, or low costs scaled by volume for active traders that want access to advanced functionality such as order routing. $0.65 per contract for options on TWS Lite; that is also the base rate for TWS Pro users, with scaled rates based on volume. $0.85 per contract for futures.
Why We Chose It
With the closest competition still well behind it in these two categories, Interactive Brokers (IBKR) repeats as our top broker for both advanced day traders and for international traders due to its breadth of global assets and advanced analytical tools and calculators.
Pros & Cons
Superior order execution
Contingent orders for every conceivable situation
Unparalleled range of investable foreign and domestic assets
Low margin interest rates
Trader Workstation (TWS) is very powerful and highly customizable
IBKR's SmartRouting not available to IBKR Lite clients
TWS can be difficult to learn
No backtesting of custom trading algorithms or automated trading
Interactive Brokers’ modest fee-based pricing is tiered and can be a bit confusing
Interactive Brokers is our top choice for both sophisticated and international traders because there isn’t another broker that combines such a wide variety of investable global assets, sophisticated trading technology, and rich research capabilities. With 2.01 million client accounts and $1.92 million in daily trade values, IBKR is a stable, well-capitalized broker that is also publicly traded.
The company was founded in 1978 by its current chairman, Thomas Peterffy, under the name T.P. & Co. The company pioneered the use of computers in trading, but it wasn’t until 1993 that Interactive Brokers Inc. was incorporated as a U.S. broker-dealer. Now it is one of the most complete brokers in the industry. With access to 150 markets, trading in stocks, options, futures, currencies, bonds, funds, crypto, and more supported in over 200 countries, and funding methods available in 26 currencies, IBKR is the best international broker, hands down.
To maintain a large gap over the competition, the company is constantly innovating. More notable enhancements of late include a market rate interest paid on uninvested cash, the IBKR GlobalTrader mobile app, and the addition of fractional shares trading for European shares and ETFs.
International traders can access financial markets and all assets on the desktop, web, and mobile versions including both IBKR Mobile and the IBKR GlobalTrader app. TWS is a superbly designed platform that brings technical analysis, social sentiment, fundamental research, and financial calculators together in a way that equips users to capitalize on price inefficiencies better than any other platform we reviewed.
In addition to our review of Interactive Brokers' online brokerage platform, we've also reviewed the company's robo-advisor service, Interactive Advisors.
tastyworks: Best Broker for Options
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees & Commissions: $0 stock trades, $1 to open options trades (capped at $10 per leg), $0 to close
Why We Chose It
We chose tastyworks as the best options trading platform because of the way it optimizes tools and content to suit the needs of its options-focused client base. Moreover, tastyworks has set up its options pricing with caps that make it the lowest-cost brokerage for high-volume, high-frequency option traders.
Pros & Cons
Capped commission structure for options
Highly regarded tools for analyzing and monitoring options trades
Superb options-specific content and educational material
Recent dashboard improvements make for an even better trading experience
Follow Feed feature allows users to follow trades of tastyworks’ TV celebrities
Limited investment options
Few investing and retirement resources
Weak portfolio analytics
No news or fundamental analysis
Tastyworks maintains its stance as the best broker for options because of its intuitive delivery of an industry-best mix of options-focused tools and content. Launched by tastytrade in 2017, tastyworks was created by the same people that created and developed TD Ameritrade’s highly regarded thinkorswim® application.
Tastyworks delivers very competitive fees for options trading, with standout features like commission caps for large lot sizes, as well as the absence of any commissions when closing positions. Fortunately for tastyworks users, these low commissions do not come with a platform that delivers poor options analytics, inefficient platform workflow, or slow trade execution. In fact, the tastyworks platform brings all of these elements together in a manner that is among the best of all the companies we reviewed.
Tastyworks has acted on customer demand for social trading capabilities by allowing users to follow individual traders in real time and enabling them to both view and replicate strategies employed by other traders. Although tastyworks still provides top-notch customer service, a capped fee structure on options trades, and superb options-related educational and trading content, our updated methodology punishes them for the lack of key research features and limited mobile charting capabilities. A company representative did inform us that it is working on these issues, but any enhancements come too late to keep tastyworks from taking away the titles of Best Broker for Advanced Options Traders and Best Broker for Mobile Options Traders from Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade, respectively.
As the Federal Reserve’s focus has switched from promoting growth in a post-COVID world to fighting the devastating effects of elevated inflation, 2022 taught a new generation of traders that markets can actually undergo cycles of high volatility. While all online brokers make money on the trading activity of their client base, either directly or indirectly, the best brokerage platforms provide strong customer support, robust research and analytical tools, expansive education content, a wide variety of available assets, and an abundance of account types, all with a transparent fee structure and limited gamification tactics.
Based on our exhaustive review of the top online brokers, we determined that Fidelity not only outshines the competition when it comes to ETF investing and low costs, but is simply the best brokerage overall. Beginners and experienced investors alike will find TD Ameritrade’s trading platform and breadth of resources to be advanced while remaining intuitive, along with a mobile experience that is best-in-class. Tastyworks’ platform is also intuitive enough for newcomers and the educational and market content is hard to beat, but only if you plan to make options trading your focus. Finally, when you’re ready to bring your trading to the most advanced platform available with access to the most international markets by far, the experience offered by Interactive Brokers is unmatched.
How Should You Choose a Brokerage Account?
When choosing an online broker, you have to think about your immediate needs as an investor or trader. If you are a beginner, you may need a broker who has great educational material about the stock market and other financial markets. This is one of the key reasons TD Ameritrade is our top pick for beginners. A number of brokers also allow for paper trading prior to funding an account, giving you an opportunity to learn the platform, sample the available assets, and test out the trading experience without risking real capital.
What Is an Online Brokerage Account and How Does it Work?
A brokerage account is a financial account similar in function to the accounts you have with a bank. With a brokerage account, you deposit funds with an investment firm (the brokerage). This is usually done by a transfer from your existing bank account. Once funds are added to your brokerage account, you can put the money to work using the brokerage's trading platform to invest those funds in the market. The assets you buy with your cash can be anything offered by that brokerage, including stocks, bonds, ETFs, and even cryptocurrency.
Your online brokerage account will display your holdings (the assets you've purchased) as well as your cash balance (your buying power). If you invest in something that gains in value, you can sell it and the profits will be deposited in your online brokerage account. From there, you can place another trade or even transfer the funds out to your regular bank account to use elsewhere. Some brokerage accounts even allow you to earn interest on your uninvested cash.
How Much Money Do You Need to Start Investing?
There is no longer a real minimum to start investing in the financial markets. With many brokers offering accounts with no required minimums and access to fractional shares, you can start investing with any amount of money. If you don't have a lot of money to invest, however, it will influence how you approach the market. Although you could invest $1 in fractional shares of a specific stock, the better approach with limited capital is to use ETFs. Index tracking ETFs, for example, offer greater diversification for your dollar than a single company stock because every share (and fractional share) of the ETF replicates an index made up of many companies in many different industries. You could also consider using options to leverage your dollars with a directional bet on the market or a specific stock, but this is a strategy best reserved for risk capital—not the whole of your limited investment capital.
When investing with small sums, consistency is the key to building wealth. If you can regularly put a set amount of money into the market—even $10 a week—you will be surprised at how quickly it begins to grow. This consistency also helps to smooth market effects, as you will be buying dips and peaks as the market goes up and down.
Can You Invest With a Small Amount of Money?
Many online brokers allow for small minimum deposits which can be a great alternative for those with limited funds. Account minimums (if any) are displayed at the top of our reviews, as well as in our selection of the best platforms for different types of investors. If you are looking for more general guidance on investing with limited capital, check out our article on smart investing on a small budget.
Do Brokers Offer Mobile Platforms?
Some online brokers have incredible mobile apps delivering nearly all the features that their desktop counterparts do. Options traders, for example, will find the tastyworks app to be a streamlined version of the tastyworks desktop platform. TD Ameritrade customers can pick between the more robust thinkorswim mobile app aimed at traders or the standard TD Ameritrade app for less active investors, with the features of each adjusted for the intended user.
Can You Lose Money in a Brokerage Account?
Yes, you can. It is a reality of the market that no reward comes without risk. You can lose money buying a bad investment, but you can also lose by buying a good investment at the wrong time. When it comes to the financial markets, there are endless possibilities for making and losing money. Unless all the funds in your brokerage account are sitting in uninvested cash, there is a risk you will lose money. Another way of looking at that, however, is that a brokerage account sitting full of uninvested cash isn't at risk of making any money either. You can use strategies like asset allocation and diversification to reduce the risk of you losing money, but you will never fully eliminate it without also eliminating your chances of making a decent return.
Can I Buy Stocks Without a Broker?
Yes, you can actually buy stocks without a broker, but it is not a common approach these days. Some companies still offer direct stock purchase plans that allow you to buy shares directly from the company. Companies administer these plans according to internal rules, and some are only open to company employees. You need to contact companies to find out whether they offer a direct stock purchase plan and what the terms and conditions are. These plans initially helped investors avoid brokerage fees, but the rise of online discount brokers with zero fees has removed this barrier, making the direct stock purchase plan somewhat of a relic.
The Difference Between Investing and Trading
Another important thing to consider is the distinction between investing and trading. When people talk about investing they generally mean buying assets to hold for a long period of time. The goal of investing is to gradually build wealth and reach your retirement goals. Conversely, trading involves short-term strategies that maximize returns on a short-term basis, such as daily or monthly. Trading is generally considered riskier than investing.
All these factors are worth considering before choosing an online broker. Do you want to trade or invest? Do you want a great mobile app to check your portfolio wherever you are? What types of assets are you looking to invest in? Answering these questions is not always easy. For more support on how to choose a broker, you can check out our guide to choosing a stock broker. Once you've made a decision on a broker, you can also check out our guide to opening a brokerage account.
How to Pick a Broker That's Right for You
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. This year, we revamped the review process by conducting an extensive survey of customers that are actively looking to start trading and investing with an online broker. We then combined this invaluable information with our subject matter expertise to develop the framework for a quantitative ratings model that is at the core of how we compiled our list of the best online broker and trading platform companies.
This model weighs key factors like trading technology, range of offerings, mobile app usability, research amenities, educational content, portfolio analysis features, customer support, costs, account amenities, and overall trading experience according to their importance. Our team of researchers gathered 2425 data points and weighted 66 criteria based on data collected during extensive research for each of the 25 companies we reviewed.
Many of the brokers we reviewed also gave us live demonstrations of their platforms and services, either at their New York City offices or via video conferencing methods. Live brokerage accounts were also obtained for most of the platforms we reviewed, which our team of expert writers and editors used to perform hands-on testing in order to lend their qualitative point of view.
Read our full Methodology for reviewing online brokers.