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Broker Reviews

Charles Schwab

Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Friday, July 15th, 2016

Overview

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

Dislikes

Poor email support; transaction fee funds cost $76 per trade (per buy, $0 to sell); disorganized educational offering.

Special Offer: Earn 500 commission-free trades for a year. Get Details

Charles Schwab Review

February 16th, 2016: This Review has been updated to reflect the latest research and results from the 2016 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 early 2016, Schwab was home to a staggering $2.51 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.

At the time of publishing our 2015 annual review in February last year, one of our goals was to see Trade Source add real-time streaming data. Not only were real-time streaming quotes integrated, but so too were Markets and Ideas areas for market news and trade idea generation. The icing on the cake is the All-In-One Trade Ticket (an optionsXpress innovation) brought seamlessly into the experience. Our only gripe with Trade Source is not being able to customize the different modules by enabling /disabling them and changing their locations.

Charles Schwab Trade Source Account Balance

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 214 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 SchwabE*TRADEFidelity 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$0.70
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$76.00$19.99$49.95$49.99$17.00
Commission Free ETFs214118851010
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 2016 Broker Review, Schwab once again impressed us with its courteous and knowledgeable representatives.

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, Merrill Edge Scottrade, and Fidelity give Schwab a run for its money, as they, too, are very consistent.

If there is one major con I found with Charles Schwab's service, it’s with email support. Year after year our testing has found it to be extremely inconsistent and surprisingly bad. Over half of our inquiries took over a day to receive a response, and in multiple occasions reps would simply not answer our questions, or answer poorly, and tell us to call in. 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. See: Best Brokers for Customer Service.

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 Bloomberg TV and thereafter to be able to read her latest editorial on the Schwab site is pretty awesome.

Charles Schwab Equity Rating Summary Apple 1

Charles Schwab Equity Rating Summary Apple 2

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 really enjoyed having the ability to easily view historical charts dating as far back as 1980.

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, alerts, conditional orders, and slightly more advanced charting functionality make up the bulk of this platform's offering. What I enjoyed most was the platform’s ease of use. That said, StreetSmart.com is noticeably outdated and I found myself preferring Trade Source instead.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart

One other important caveat to note regarding StreetSmart.com is that it runs on Java, a programming language that has lost favor in today’s modern web environment. Google Chrome and Microsoft’s new Edge browser no longer support Java, which means customers who want to access StreetSmart.com have to use Mozilla Firefox, legacy Internet Explorer, or Safari (Mac).

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.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart Edge

Some of the features that stood out during my testing of StreetSmart Edge included the High/Low streamer, a great tool for day traders looking to keep tabs on momentum stocks intraday. 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 2015, Schwab even added the Walk Limit order type. To prevent adjusting limit orders as they sit live, Walk Limit will "walk" your order to try to get the most favorable price within the National Best Bid or Offer (NBBO); and yes, it came from optionsXpress.

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.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart Edge stock chart

Mobile Trading

Charles Schwab’s mobile offering includes apps for nearly all major devices: smartphones (Apple and Android), tablets (Apple but not Android), as well as even Apple Watch. No matter which platform clients are using, the experience is consistent and generally enjoyable.

That said, Charles Schwab’s mobile apps lack core functionality in two key areas: quotes and alerts. Our testing, which focuses on the Apple iOS platform, found that even basic stock price alerts cannot be set. Worse yet, quotes are real-time but require manual refreshing, a functionality all of Charles Schwab’s full-service competitors offer. See: Best Brokers for Mobile Trading.

Charles Schwab mobile quote

On the positive side, fingerprint login (Touch ID support) was integrated into the mobile experience in 2015 as well as support for three- and four-legged options trades. To find fresh options trade ideas, clients can use Idea Hub, an optionsXpress creation, and filter through lists such as “Big Movers,” “Earnings,” “Premium Harvesting,” and “Buy Write.”

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.

In 2015, Charles Schwab became the first online broker to launch a robo-advisor service. Called Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, the automated portfolio management service charges its clients no annual management fees or account service fees. This review does not cover robo-advising; however, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is impressive to say the least. As of year-end 2015, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios had $5.3 billion in client assets under management (AUM). Due to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, we awarded Charles Schwab No. 1 for Broker Innovation in our 2016 Review.

Final Thoughts

Charles Schwab is a highly-respected broker with a very balanced offering. Clients have access to a plethora of quality research and innovative new experiences like Trade Source, 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

Blain has been involved in the markets for over 13 years, heading StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews. His personal blog, StockTrader.com, provides to-the-point daily market recaps to over 17,000 subscribers.

Compare Charles Schwab


Charles Schwab Ratings

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

Best in Class

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

Charles Schwab Awards

2016

Charles Schwab finished #4 Overall with 4.5 stars; Best in Class for Offering of Investments, Platforms & Tools, Research (#1), Investor Education, Banking, Order Execution, and Options Trading; Was awarded #1 for Broker Innovation (Schwab Intelligent Portfolios), #1 Client Dashboard (Trade Source), and #1 Retirement Services. Read the 2016 Online Broker Review.

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.

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

$1.00 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
N/A Forced Margin Sellout Fee
$25.00 Returned ACH Fee
$25.00 Returned Wire Fee
$500.00 Stock Certificate Processing Fee
N/A Stock Certificate Delivery Fee
$0.00 Paper Statement Fee
$0.00 Paper Confirmation Fee
$25.00 Domestic Wire Fee
$25.00 International Wire Fee

Offering of Investments

Yes Advisor Services
Yes Bonds (Corporate)
Yes Bonds (Municipal)
Yes Bonds (US Treasury)
Yes CDs
Self-clearing Clearing Firm
214 Commission Free ETFs
Yes Direct Market Routing - Stocks
Direct Market Routing - Options
Yes DRIPs
5975 # of Easy to Borrow Stocks
Forex Trading
Yes Futures Trading
Yes Member FINRA
Yes Member SIPC
Yes Mutual Funds
6515 Mutual Funds (Load)
10413 Mutual Funds (No Load)
7529 Mutual Funds (NTF)
16928 Mutual Funds (Total)
Yes Mutual Funds Phone Trades
Yes Mutual Funds Web Trades
Yes No Fee IRAs
Yes No Inactivity Fees
No Minimum Deposit
Yes Options Exercising (Phone)
Options Exercising (Web)
Yes Options Trading
Yes Options Trading (Mini)
Yes Options Trading (Weekly)
Yes OTCBB / Pink Sheets
Yes Stock Trading

Customer Service

Yes Phone Support
Yes Email Support
Yes Live Chat (Current Clients)
Yes 24/7 Support

Platforms & Tools

Yes Desktop Platform (Windows)
Yes Desktop Platform (Mac)
Yes Web Platform
StreetSmart Edge Active Trading Platform
Auto Investing
Yes Charting - Display Corporate Events
15 Charting - Drawing Tools
Yes Charting - Notes
Yes Heat Mapping
Ladder Trading
Yes Level 2 Quotes - Stocks
Yes Level 2 Quotes - Options
Yes Option Chains - Streaming Real-time
Yes Option Analysis - P&L Charts
Yes Stock Alerts Delivery - Email
Yes Stock Alerts Delivery - Sound
Yes Stock Alerts Delivery - Text SMS
Yes Streaming Time & Sales
Yes Streaming TV
Yes Trade Hot Keys
Virtual Trading
Yes Watchlists - Streaming Real-time Quotes

Research

Yes Research - ETFs
Yes Research - Mutual Funds
Yes Research - Pink Sheets / OTCBB
Yes Research - Fixed Income
7 Equity Research - Research Reports
Yes ETF Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes ETF Research - Morningstar Style Box
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 - 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
Yes Has Education - Mutual Funds
Yes Has Education - Fixed Income
Yes Has Education - Retirement
Yes Investor Dictionary
Yes Client Webinars
Yes Live Seminars
Yes Videos
Yes Retirement Calculator
Yes Community Forums

Mobile Trading

Yes iPhone App
Yes iPad App
Yes Apple Watch App
Yes Android App
Android Tablet App
Yes Mobile Site
Yes Quotes (Real-time)
Quotes (Streaming Real-time)
Yes Watch List Syncing
Yes Market Movers (Top Gainers)
Stock Alerts Delivery - Push Notifications
Customizable Homescreen
Yes Stream Live TV
Yes Trading - Stocks
Yes Trading - Stocks (After-Hours)
Yes Trading - Simple Options
Yes Trading - Complex Options

Banking

Yes Member FDIC
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
300 Retail Locations

Active Trading

Yes Receives Payment for Order Flow
Client Liquidity Rebates
Yes Financial Information Forum (FIF) Participant

All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 2/16/2016 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 bottom 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.

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