Menu
Search Brokers +

Broker Reviews

Advertisement

Charles Schwab

Published by
On Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 .

Overview

For those seeking a quality customer experience, professional planning for the future, and access to excellent research, Charles Schwab will not disappoint.

Dislikes

Despite the optionsXpress acquisition, separate accounts must be maintained for both brokers; transaction fee funds cost $76 per trade (per buy, $0 to sell); only max two-legged options supported via the website; email support is inconsistent.

Charles Schwab Review

The iconic brand of Charles Schwab is one with which nearly every investor is familiar. The full-service broker was founded in 1973, and as of the end of 2014, Schwab was home to a staggering $2.46 trillion in total client assets. From advisory services to research, active trading, customer service, ease of use, and more, Schwab understands what it means to provide a high-quality offering.

Trade Source, a brand-new client dashboard experience that began rolling out to all clients in early 2015, is a terrific foundation for offering clients a full view of their portfolios. With Trade Source, clients can see a clean summary of their portfolios, positions, overall market averages, order status updates, and even news alongside technical events impacting their holdings. The new experience came out of Charles Schwab’s client testing area, Test Drive, so it was molded with client feedback from start to finish. Our goal for 2015 is to see Charles Schwab add customization to the experience, alongside real-time streaming data.

Charles Schwab Trade Source

Commissions & Fees

Whether trading stocks or options, Charles Schwab is right in line with its closest full-service competitors. Its $8.95 flat-rate stock trades are less expensive than both ETRADE and TD Ameritrade ($9.99), while slightly more expensive than Fidelity ($7.95) and Scottrade ($7). The same goes for option trades, which run at $8.95, plus $.75 per contract.

Investors trading ETFs will also enjoy Charles Schwab as the leading broker in its offering of commission-free ETFs, with 182 in total. Mutual funds are a low point, as transaction fee funds come with a $76 per-trade charge (per buy, $0 to sell), the second highest in the industry.

Charles SchwabETRADEFidelity TD AmeritradeScottrade
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$8.95$9.99$7.95$9.99$7.00
Options Base Fee$8.95$9.99$7.95$9.99$7.00
Options Per Contract Fee$0.75$0.75$0.75$0.75$1.25
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$76.00$19.99$49.95$49.99$17.00
Commission Free ETFs18210684101
Commissions & Fees
Overall

Customer Service

Offering 24/7 support, Charles Schwab delivers a consistent and often memorable experience. I will never forget originally opening my Schwab account, when, within an hour of completing the application, a Schwab representative called me to personally welcome me as a new client and answer any initial questions I had. Most recently, during our testing for the 2015 Broker Review, Schwab blew us away with its courteous and knowledgeable representatives, taking the #1 ranking for both phone and live chat support.

When it comes to service, I expect that from Schwab. Being a full-service brokerage, I want to feel confident trusting them with my nest egg and knowing there is always someone ready to assist me or offer guidance. Competitors TD Ameritrade, Scottrade, and Fidelity give Schwab a run for its money, as they, too, are very consistent.

If there is one con I found with Charles Schwab's service, it’s with email support. Our testing found it to be extremely inconsistent and surprisingly very poor. In one of our tests, a broker representative flat out did not answer any of our questions and told us to call the customer service center. In another test, a representative did not answer our questions, noted that he tried to call us, and that we needed to call him back to receive help. The worst part was that the rep even spelled our name incorrectly. Ouch! As the hands-down worst experience out of the full-service brokerages, we highly recommend avoiding email service in favor of phone or live chat.

Research

Charles Schwab provides the highest quality of research compared to any of the brokers I've tested here at StockBrokers.com. Accessing a wealth of independent research alongside Schwab's own in-house research is simple. When I pull up a quote for Apple (AAPL), the summary page has a similar feel to competitors TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, and Fidelity; however, Schwab is the only broker to offer its own in-house Equity Rating.

With so much research available for traders today, I appreciate the fact that Schwab puts its own viewpoint front and center whenever possible. This is where Schwab really distinguishes itself, as none of its competitors offers such unique depth. What is even more impressive is the staff of experts Schwab has on board providing market commentary and analysis (25 as I write this review). To be able to see experts such as Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab's Chief Investment Strategist, interviewed on Yahoo Finance's "The Daily Ticker" and thereafter to be able to read her latest editorial on the Schwab site is pretty awesome.

Schwab equity ratings

The standard charting functionality is basic yet well built, as small details are not overlooked. Whichever settings you apply to one chart are automatically saved as the default, so every time a fresh chart is loaded, you do not have to spend time re-configuring it to your liking. Schwab offers 34 different indicators that can be added which are more than enough for the average investor. I also like having the ability to add notes to any chart, although I did find they are extremely difficult to edit and individually remove using the Chrome browser. Fortunately, Internet Explorer is a smooth experience.

Platforms & Tools

Charles Schwab currently offers clients access to two different platforms: StreetSmart.com (web-based) and StreetSmart Edge (desktop-based). Like TD Ameritrade, both StreetSmart platforms are available to all clients, regardless of account minimums or trade activity.

StreetSmart.com is a browser-based platform recommended for clients looking for more out-of-the-box functionality and less advanced features. Real-time streaming watch lists, level II quotes, alerts, conditional orders, and slightly more advanced charting functionality make up the bulk of this platform's offering. What I enjoyed most was simply the platform’s ease of use. Quick links are found throughout the pages to hop from a quote to a chart, and from there to quickly place a trade, for example.

Schwab streetsmart charting

Charles Schwab's desktop-based platform, StreetSmart Edge, is a very robust platform that requires a slight learning curve, as all active trader platforms do, to become acquainted with it. Everything is fully customizable, from two different platform color schemes to custom layouts, which can be built on the fly for quick access to different screens.

Some of the features that stood out during my testing of StreetSmart Edge included the customizable watch lists, allowing a large selection of different columns to be displayed. The "Launch Tools" button allows for quick access to the platform's products, and I liked the pop-up notifications that let me know whenever any of my orders triggered, were filled successfully, etc. For positions you currently hold, markers appear on the charts to show you when and at what price you purchased the stock, a feature most of Schwab's competitors do not have.

Options traders will love the easy-order entry, thanks to a customizable version of optionsXpress’s infamous all-in-one trade ticket. Analyzing theoretical positions is also a breeze using the Trade & Probability Calculator, another ported tool from optionsXpress. In 2014, Schwab finally added proper complex options support by integrating three- and four-legged spread trades.

Lastly, advanced charting is much cleaner and more robust on the platform compared to StreetSmart.com, and almost feels like Adobe Photoshop, as studies and drawings can be added quickly, hidden, or removed with a simple click. Traders who require 8, 12, 16, or 20-plus charts running at once, though, will find StreetSmart Edge less flexible than, say, thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade or TradeStation. Overall, the platform is easy to love.

Schwab streetsmart edge charting

Other Notes

Since Charles Schwab acquired optionsXpress in 2011, the integration has been an ongoing process. Schwab has meticulously ported over specific features and functionality from optionsXpress over the years. Eventually, optionsXpress will be shut down and its clients will be migrated over to Schwab; however, an exact date for this migration has not yet been announced.

Final Thoughts

Charles Schwab is a well-respected broker with a very balanced offering. Customer service is top-notch and clients have access to a plethora of quality research, not to mention the largest selection of commission-free ETFs in the industry.

Charles Schwab’s platforms and tools, including the mobile apps, continue to improve thanks to the ongoing integration of optionsXpress. Beyond independent investing, clients interested in life planning, personalized strategies for their portfolios, and making the most of retirement will also find Schwab a great fit.


Blain Reinkensmeyer

Reviewed by

Blain has been involved in the markets for over 12 years, heading StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews. His personal blog, StockTradingToGo.com, provides to-the-point daily market recaps to over 17,000 subscribers.

Commission Notes

With Schwab as your online broker, what you see is what you get. Charles Schwab applies a simplified flat-fee based commissions structure with few catches or fine print notes. There are no limits on total trade size or price, and the site simply let's investors know that if they are trading positions of over 10,000 shares or $500,000 that they may be eligible for a special handling and/or pricing.

Stock Trades - All online trades are a flat $8.95. Our research found no additional fees or charges for trading stocks under $1 or trading during pre and post market hours

If using the Schwab automated phone system to place a trade, a $5 fee will be added to the order. There is a $25 additional fee for broker assisted trades.

Options Trades - Options trades are $8.95 + $0.75 per contract. For orders including a equity leg plus an options leg, there is no base commission for the option leg. Thus, the $8.95 base rate is only charged once.

Mutual Funds - All transaction fee mutual funds cost $76.00 per trade. Note, unlike most brokers, Charles Schwab alongside Fidelity only charge for the original purchase. There is no additional charge for selling.

For investors seeking No Transaction Fee (NTF) funds, Schwab offers clients access to its OneSource Funds. OneSource funds are NTF, No Load (NL) funds selected based on a variety of factors, the biggest being past performance.

Trade Commissions Breakdown

$8.95 Stock Trade Fee (flat)*
N/A Stock Trade Fee (per share)*
$8.95 Options Base Fee*
$0.75 Options Per Contract Fee*
$8.95 Options Exercise Fee
$8.95 Options Assignment Fee
$76.00 Mutual Fund Trade Fee
$25.00 Broker Assisted Trades Fee
$1,000.00 Minimum Deposit

Margin Rates

8.50% Under $24,999.99
8.00% $25,000.00 to 49,999.99
7.00% $50,000.00 to $99,999.99
6.88% $100,000.00 to $249,999.99
6.75% $250,000.00 to $499,999.99
6.75% $500,000.00 to $999,999.99
6.25% Above $1,000,000.00

Miscellaneous Fees

$0.00 Bond Trade Fee
$0.00 Treasury Trade Fee
$0.00 CD Trade Fee
$5.00 IVR Trade Fee
$0.00 IRA Annual Fee
$50.00 IRA Closure FEe
$0.00 Forced Margin Sellout Fee
$25.00 Returned ACH Fee
$25.00 Returned Wire Fee
$500.00 Stock Certificate Processing Fee
$0.00 Stock Certificate Delivery Fee
$0.00 Paper Statement Fee
$0.00 Paper Confirmation Fee
$25.00 Domestic Wire Fee
$25.00 International Wire Fee

Charles Schwab Ratings

Overall
Commissions & Fees
Customer Service
Platforms & Tools
Research
Ease of Use
Offering of Investments
Education
Mobile Trading
Banking

Charles Schwab Awards

2015

Charles Schwab finished #6 Overall with 4 stars; Best in Class for Offering of Investments, Platforms & Tools, Research, Customer Service, and Banking; Was awarded #1 for Retirement Services, #1 Phone Support, and #1 Live Chat Support. Read the 2015 Online Broker Review.

2014

Charles Schwab finished #5 Overall with 4.5 stars; Best in Class for Platforms & Tools, Research, and Education; Was awarded #1 for Retirement Services. Read the 2014 Online Broker Review.

2013

Charles Schwab finished #3 Overall with 4 stars, was awarded Best Banking Services, and #1 for Research. Read the 2013 Broker Review.

Offering of Investments

Yes CDs
Self-clearing Clearing Firm
182 Commission Free ETFs
Yes Corporate Bonds
Yes Direct Market Routing - Stocks
Yes DRIPs
4800 # of Easy to Borrow Stocks
Forex Trading
Futures Trading
Yes No Fee IRAs
Yes Mini Options
Yes Municipal Bonds
Yes Mutual Funds
7444 Mutual Funds (Load)
11528 Mutual Funds (No Load)
6880 Mutual Funds (NTF)
16478 Mutual Funds (Total)
Yes No Inactivity Fees
No Minimum Deposit
Yes Options Trading
Yes Order Type - After Hours
Order Type - Algo
Yes Order Type - Broker Assisted
Yes OTCBB / Pink Sheets
300 Retail Locations
Yes Stock Trading
Yes US Treasury Bonds
Yes Weekly Options

Customer Service

Yes Phone Support
Yes Email Support
Live Chat (prospect clients)
Yes Live Chat (current clients)
Yes 24/7 Support

Platforms & Tools

Yes Desktop Platform
Yes Mac Platform
Yes Web Platform
StreetSmart Edge Active Trading Platform
Auto Investing
Ladder Trading
Yes Level 2 Quotes - Stocks
Yes Option Chains - Basic View
Yes Option Chains - Strategy View
Yes Option Analysis - P&L Charts
Yes Streaming Time & Sales
Yes Streaming TV
Yes Trade Hot Keys
Virtual Trading

Research

Yes Research - ETFs
Yes Research - Mutual Funds
Yes Research - Pink Sheets / OTCBB
Yes Research - Fixed Income
Yes Misc - Global Market Overview
Yes Equity Research - News
Yes Equity Research - Chart
Yes Equity Research - Option Chains
Yes Equity Research - Balance Sheet
Yes Equity Research - Cash Flows
Equity Research - SEC Filings
Equity Research - Insider Analysis
6 Equity Research - Research Reports
Yes ETF Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes ETF Research - Research Reports
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Research Reports
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Fees Breakdown
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Performance Analysis
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Performance Chart
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes Screener - Stocks
Yes Screener - ETFs
Yes Screener - Mutual Funds
Yes Screener - Options
Yes Screener - Bonds

Education

Yes Has Education - Stocks
Yes Has Education - ETFs
Yes Has Education - Options
Has Education - Mutual Funds
Has Education - Bonds
Yes Has Education - Retirement
Yes Investor Dictionary
Yes Client Webinars
Yes Live Seminars
Yes Retirement Calculator
Yes Community Forums

Mobile Trading

Yes iPhone App
Yes iPad App
Yes Android App
Android Tablet App
Yes Mobile Site
Yes Company Data
Yes Company News
Yes Watch List Syncing
Yes Options Chains Viewable
Yes Market Movers (Top Gainers)
Barcode Lookup
Yes Charting - Multiple Time Frames
Yes Charting - Can Turn Horizontally
Charting - Portfolio Perf vs Indices
Yes Charting - Stock Comparisons
Yes Trading - Stocks
Yes Trading - Simple Options
Yes Withdrawal Balance Available

Banking

Yes Checking Accounts
Yes Savings Accounts
Yes Debit Cards
Credit Cards
Yes Mortgage Loans
Yes Mobile Check Deposit
Yes ATM Fee Reimbursement
Yes No Fee Banking

Active Trading

Internalizes Trades
Yes Receives Payment for Order Flow
Client Liquidity Rebates

Best in Class

Yes Best in Class - Offering of Investments
Best in Class - Commissions & Fees
Yes Best in Class - Platforms & Tools
Yes Best in Class - Research
Best in Class - Customer Service
Best in Class - Ease of Use
Yes Best in Class - Investor Education
Best in Class - Mobile Trading
Best in Class - Active Trading
Best in Class - Options Trading
Best in Class - New Investors

Compare Charles Schwab:



All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 5/01/2015 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the top of this page. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.

StockBrokers.com Square Logo