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7 Best Stock Brokers for Online Trading

06/19/2015 01:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

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By Ashley Redmond, Contributor

Technological advances in financial and investment tools give investors a myriad of options, including online trading. Online trading accounts can benefit many types of investors, from the beginner who needs assistance getting an investment plan started to the knowledgeable investor who can use the online trading tools to pursue an investment strategy.

GOBankingRates surveyed the best stock brokers for online trading based on an assessment of service features, fees, current offers and other criteria that are pertinent to potential investors of various experience levels. Website intuitiveness is also important. An investor needs to feel comfortable on the trading platform, so being able to switch easily between browsers and find information easily is integral. "Good reporting features are essential, displaying account information in a way that the investor understands," said Ryder Taff, portfolio manager, New Perspectives, Inc.

1. TD Ameritrade


Commission: Flat-fee trading and more than 100 commission-free exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Account minimum: No minimum to open an account

Costs and fees:

  • Stock trades -- $9.99
  • Mutual funds -- no commission on no-transaction fee (NTF) option for NTF funds held longer than 180 days; no-load option for $49.99
  • Options -- $9.99 plus $0.75 per contract
Current offers: 60 days of commission-free trading with a deposit of $3,000 or more and opportunities to earn up to $600 in bonuses based on deposit amount

Features:

  • 24/7 customer service via email or phone; one-on-one, in-person assistance also available at local branches
  • Thinkorswim, a platform offering user-friendly, sophisticated tools such as profit-and-loss charts, real-time market scans synced between desktop and tablet devices, beta weighting, Strategy Roller and more as well as third-party research from sources such as Morningstar and Thomson Reuters
  • Free access to all trading platforms and real-time streaming quotes on all platforms plus live audio from the futures pit
Ideal investor: Beginner and skilled investors with a wide range of budgets

Premium service: Investors that maintain a total account value of $100,000 and average at least five trades per month qualify for Apex, a program that has no service fees, gives client calls and emails top priority 24/7, and includes free access to in-depth, third-party research and reports.

2. Interactive Brokers


Commission: Fixed and tiered options

Account minimum: $10,000

Costs and fees: $10 minimum monthly activity fee for accounts with balances between $2000 and $100,000; $20 fee for accounts with balances below $2,000; no fee for accounts above $100,000

Current offers: n/a

Features:

  • Intuitive smartphone and tablet app for mobile trading using IB's SmartRouting Technology, which finds the best price and routes and re-routes your order to achieve the best execution possible
  • Investors' Marketplace connects clients with the broader investment community, enabling individuals and financial professionals to form connections with each other and third-party service providers
  • IB Online Knowledge Base, a resource of how-to articles, troubleshooting tips and a glossary designed to help customers manage their accounts
Ideal investor: Advanced or high net worth investors

Premium service: The service as a whole is designed to be a premium option for investors.

3. Fidelity


Commission: Flat-fee trading

Account minimum: Free to open an account; minimum deposit of $2,500 to trade mutual funds

Costs and fees:

  • Stock trades -- $7.95
  • Mutual funds -- Fidelity funds are free; NTF non-Fidelity funds are free on purchase or $49.95 on redemption if held less than 60 days
  • Options -- $7.95 plus $0.75 per contract
Current offers: Earn up to 200 commission-free trades for 90 days when you open and fund a Fidelity individual retirement account or brokerage account or add to an existing one

Features:

  • Fast customer service 24/7 via phone, live chat or email
  • Learning Center, which contains an abundance of material to teach beginner investors the basics and equip experienced investors with the courses and tools they need to implement their strategies
  • Active Trader Pro platform enables investors to access market-tracking tools, charts and more; detailed ETF and exchange-traded product screener that allows you to research options by various criteria
Ideal investor: Beginner investors who need guidance and experienced investors who want user-friendly tools

Premium service: Investors with eligible retail household relationship assets totaling at least $250,000 qualify for Fidelity Premium Services, which include guidance regarding an overall portfolio, waivers of certain fees, free investor seminars and more.

4. Merrill Edge


Commission: Flat-fee trading

Account minimum: n/a

Costs and fees:

  • Stock trades -- $6.95
  • Mutual funds -- fee-free NTF fund or $39.95 short-term redemption fee if held less than 90 days
  • Options -- $6.95 plus $0.75 per contract
Current offers: Earn up to $600 based on deposit amount when you open and fund a new Merrill Edge self-directed IRA or cash management account; between first five and 90 days of account opening, get up to 300 $0 online equity and ETF trades in the new account

Features:

  • Integration of Merrill Edge investment account with Bank of America bank account accessible with one login and real-time transfers between accounts
  • Access to thousands of brick-and-mortar Bank of America branches nationwide for clients who want in-person assistance
  • Some of the lowest fees among big discount brokers
Ideal investor: Beginner and intermediate investors (some advanced investor services also are offered) and Bank of America customers

Premium service: The Preferred Rewards Program is a three-tier program based on the investor's Bank of America account and Merrill Edge account. It views assets in both accounts and offers up to 100 free trades per month depending on combined account balances.

5. OptionsHouse


Commission: Flat-fee trading

Account minimum: n/a

Costs and fees:

  • Stock trades -- $4.95
  • Mutual funds -- $20
  • Options -- $4.95 plus $0.75 per contract
Current offers: New customers who open and fund an account with a minimum of $5,000 within 30 days of account opening can trade commission-free for 60 days

Features:

  • tradeCYCLE tool set and platform, which includes tools for research, strategy creation and strategy testing, trading, analysis and trading plan adjustment
  • Some of the lowest fees among the large discount brokers
  • Intuitive New Customers section that provides easy, step-by-step instructions for how to use the OptionsHouse Platform, from placing an order and accessing mobile tools to how to create a spread
Ideal investor: Beginner investors and active traders who want both low fees and user-friendly tools

Premium service: No.

6. TradeStation


Commission: Flat-fee trading and commission options

Account minimum: $5,000 for a stock trading account; other accounts vary depending on what assets are being traded, intended usage and assets held in the account

Costs and fees:

  • Minimum monthly activity fee of $99.95 if account doesn't meet the minimum activity or other criteria options
  • Three pricing plans are offered, so costs of trading will vary: The per-share plan is $0.01/share with a commission rate of $0.006 after the first 500 shares per trade. The per-trade plan (flat-fee trading) can cost between $4.99 and $9.99 depending on how many trades are executed. The unbundled plan offers trades as low as $0.002 per share -- trading minimum applies -- and passes liquidity rebates from exchanges onto clients.
Current offers: Open and fund a new brokerage account by June 30, 2015, and get commission-free trades for 90 days

Features:

  • 24/7 customer support, and the investor gets a dedicated contact person
  • Platform and mobile app offer trading and marketing analysis tools, real-time streaming quotes and more
  • Unique pricing structures designed to help active, experienced traders save money
Ideal investor: Intermediate and experienced active traders

Premium service: The service as a whole is designed to be a premium option for investors.

7. TradeKing


Commission: Flat-fee trading

Account minimum: n/a

Costs and fees:

  • Stock trades -- $4.95
  • Mutual funds -- $0 load mutual fund (subject to change from the mutual fund); $9.95 no-load mutual fund
  • Options -- $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract
Current offers: Transfer fees charged by current broker refunded up to $150 on all accounts when you switch to TradeKing; $50 when you refer a friend who opens an account meeting certain criteria; $1000 in free trade commissions if you are a new client who opens an account with $5,000 by June 30, 2015

Features:

  • Trader Network, an online trading network established in 2005 that connects investors with each other to share experiences and strategies
  • Customizable dashboard settings, including background color, that are saved to be consistent across your devices
  • Free technical analysis tools and education center broken down by experience level (rookie, veteran, all-star), market outlook (bullish, bearish, neutral, volatile) and investment product type
Ideal investor: Active traders of various experience levels

Premium service: No.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 7 Best Stock Brokers for Online Trading

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