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Broker Reviews

Firstrade

Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Overview

While Firstrade lacks a feature-rich platform, the broker maintains a clean website and offers its clients the basics to maintain a long-term portfolio.

Dislikes

Website lacks quality trading tools; weak options capabilities; X-Stream tool extremely outdated, with limited functionality.

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Firstrade Review

February 16th, 2016: This Review has been updated to reflect the latest research and results from the 2016 Review.

With its $6.95 flat trades and a website that provides a little bit of everything for everyone, Firstrade puts up a respectable fight with the leaders in the industry. However, we must ask whether that makes them a legitimate choice to park an investment portfolio. Or is Firstrade a broker not worth the trouble?

This review will break down the facts and reveal the answer.

Commissions & Fees

When it comes to trades, Firstrade tends to keep things simple, offering investors flat-fee stock trades for $6.95 each. Options trades run at $6.95, plus $.75 per contract. Stocks less than $1 also come with higher fees.

On the equities side, Firstrade competes most closely with Scottrade, whose trades run at $7 per trade or $.05 more per trade. And for options trading, it is no coincidence that TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity all charge $.75 per contract, plus their normal base fee.

Firstrade has the advantage with mutual funds, charging less than its big brother competitors. However, matched up against discount brokers such as TradeKing and OptionsHouse, Firstrade is right in line. Lastly, Firstrade does offer 10 commission-free ETFs, which is a plus. Unfortunately though, this is not a lot compared to Charles Schwab, ETRADE, or TD Ameritrade, which all offer more than 100.

FirstradeScottradeTradeKingTD AmeritradeFidelity
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$6.95$7.00$4.95$9.99$7.95
Options Base Fee$6.95$7.00$4.95$9.99$7.95
Options Per Contract Fee$0.75$1.25$0.65$0.75$0.75
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$9.95$17.00$9.95$49.99$49.95
Broker Assisted Trades Fee$19.95$32.00$20.00$44.99$32.95
Commissions & Fees
Overall

Research

As far as research goes, Firstrade significantly improved its experience for clients after it migrated to Morningstar as its primary provider in 2013. Morningstar is the most popular research provider in the industry, and for good reason – its quality data and unique variables are top notch.

Under Morningstar, Firstrade offers its clients thorough research for stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds. Firstrade extended its offering by adding a new Video Commentary section in 2015, which provides market analysis from Morningstar. Having said that, however, Firstrade still has room for improvement.

Firstrade stock quote

Firstrade offers only one third-party research report for stocks, and none for ETFs or mutual funds. Scottrade, which charges just $.05 more per trade, provides its clients with three third-party research reports for stocks, one for ETFs, and one for mutual funds. Lastly, pay just $1 more per trade and investors can have access to the 13 third-party research reports offered by Fidelity for equities alone. See:  Best Brokers for Research.

Ease of Use

One area in which Firstrade shines is in ease of use. 

Firstrade's website is not only well designed, but also easy to navigate. It just works. The primary navigation menu is well labeled and takes advantage of primary links with sub-navigation below, a proven format that yields happy clients. The broker also boasts a site-wide quote bar with real-time streaming quotes and a quick trade ticket built in. Top that off with a well laid out research area, and it is a recipe for success.

Firstrade Quote Bar

Even the client dashboard is well constructed, clean, and customizable. Customizable dashboards are becoming increasingly popular with clients, offering them a clear view of everything important to them upon login. While Firstrade's client dashboard is no Trade Source from Charles Schwab (our personal favorite on the web), the broker has done a good job.

Logging in now also a straightforward and secure process. Our one gripe with Firstrade’s website used to be the login process, which took a turn for the worrisome in 2013 when the broker released its new state-of-the-art “Security Ring” PIN login. The patented method for entering your account pin was tedious, not intuitive, and more or less annoying. Heeding our advice, Firstrade updated its login PIN to match a standard keypad found at your everyday ATM.

Finally, Firstrade really impressed us in 2015 with a completely revamped online account application. The new application is entirely mobile friendly with clean, easy-to-read instructions alongside a seamless ACH funding process at the end. In fact, depending on your bank, the traditional micro deposits to establish the account link are not required.

Platforms & Tools

Firstrade does not offer a desktop-based platform. Instead, its website and Java-based X-Stream Watch list tool make up its platform. This leaves Firstrade at a massive disadvantage when trying to attract even remotely active traders, as there is a distinct lack of depth overall.

Charting, for example, is okay for a website, but without a platform, the lack of customizations becomes very noticeable. While 31 technical indicators are available, the industry average is over 80, and unfortunately, only the most basic customizations can be made to any of them. Also not available: virtual trading, chart notes, trading off the chart, viewing greeks in option chains, options analysis, or sound alerts. The list is long, especially in the options functionality area. See: Best Brokers for Platforms & Tools.

Firstrade stock chart

For clients who can't live without level II quotes or more advanced charting, Firstrade does offer an X-Stream Level II service for $19.95 per month. However, we advise saving the money. The tool runs off Java, language most modern browsers, including Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, don’t support. We had to load up Mozilla Firefox just to run it; needless to say, it’s not worth the hassle, even for the non-paid version.

Firstrade X-stream

Mobile Trading

On the mobile trading front, Firstrade offers an iPhone and Android smartphone app, but not an iPad or Android tablet app. Despite the fact that Firstrade’s iPhone app does not support all devices, our test left us fairly impressed, particularly with its ease of use.

Thanks to updates in 2015, Firstrade’s mobile app now supports Touch ID (fingerprint login) and real-time streaming quotes throughout the app. Options chains were cleaned up and charting was also improved in 2015 with the addition of 19 technical studies. Thanks to these improvements, Firstrade took its mobile experience from just, “ok” to “good” in our 2016 Review.

Firstrade mobile stock quote

Looking ahead at 2016, our wish list for Firstrade’s mobile experience is that it adds alert functionality, the ability to view charts in horizontal landscape mode, and mutual funds trading support. See: Best Brokers for Mobile Trading.

Other Notes

Firstrade’s customer service is entirely hit or miss. Our testing found that Firstrade’s phone support was very poor, finishing 12th out of 13 brokers in our 2016 Review. However, Firstrade’s email support finished second overall and live chat support came in at a respectable sixth place. See: Best Brokers for Customer Service.

Closing Thoughts

While Firstrade offers a well-organized website and quality research, the broker lacks the depth to compete with the big full-service brokers. The price paid per trade simply does not match the value delivered by its key competitors.

With that said, for clients who are looking for an all-round easy-to-use broker with a very “homey” type feeling, Firstrade could be 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 Firstrade


Firstrade Ratings

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

Best in Class

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

Firstrade Awards

2016

Firstrade was awarded 4.5 stars for Ease of Use; 4 stars for Research and Customer Service. Read the 2016 Online Broker Review.

2015

Firstrade was awarded 4.5 stars for Ease of Use. Read the 2015 Online Broker Review.

2014

Firstrade was awarded 4.5 stars for Ease of Use. Read the 2014 Online Broker Review.

2013

Firstrade was rated 4.5 stars for Ease of Use. Read the 2013 Broker Review.

Commission Notes

Firstrade is another broker that offers flat fee commissions for both stocks and options. Alongside regular ETFs, the broker also offers 10 commission free ETFs. NASDAQ level II streaming quotes can be purchase for $19.95 per month.

Stock Trades - $6.95 flat fee per trade. For stocks under $1.00, the broker charges the lesser of: A. $6.95 + $0.005 x numbers of shares and B. Share price x numbers of shares x 5%.

Options Trades - $6.95 + $.75 per contract. Exercise & assignments are $14.95.

Mutual Funds - All no-load mutual funds cost $9.95 per trade. There is no commission for load-funds and NTF (no transaction fee) funds. Additional fees may apply depending on the fund.

Trade Commissions Breakdown

$6.95 Stock Trade Fee (flat)*
N/A Stock Trade Fee (per share)*
$6.95 Options Base Fee*
$0.75 Options Per Contract Fee*
$16.95 Options Exercise Fee
$16.95 Options Assignment Fee
$9.95 Mutual Fund Trade Fee
$19.95 Broker Assisted Trades Fee
$0.00 Minimum Deposit

Margin Rates

7.75% Under $24,999.99
7.25% $25,000.00 to 49,999.99
6.75% $50,000.00 to $99,999.99
6.50% $100,000.00 to $249,999.99
6.00% $250,000.00 to $499,999.99
5.00% $500,000.00 to $999,999.99
4.50% Above $1,000,000.00

Miscellaneous Fees

$0.00 Bond Trade Fee
$0.00 Treasury Trade Fee
$0.00 CD Trade Fee
$0.00 IVR Trade Fee
$0.00 IRA Annual Fee
$50.00 IRA Closure Fee
$26.95 Forced Margin Sellout Fee
$35.00 Returned ACH Fee
$0.00 Returned Wire Fee
$100.00 Stock Certificate Processing Fee
$0.00 Stock Certificate Delivery Fee
$5.00 Paper Statement Fee
$2.00 Paper Confirmation Fee
$30.00 Domestic Wire Fee
$40.00 International Wire Fee

Offering of Investments

Advisor Services
Yes Bonds (Corporate)
Yes Bonds (Municipal)
Yes Bonds (US Treasury)
Yes CDs
Apex Clearing Clearing Firm
10 Commission Free ETFs
Direct Market Routing - Stocks
Direct Market Routing - Options
Yes DRIPs
4137 # of Easy to Borrow Stocks
Forex Trading
Futures Trading
Yes Member FINRA
Yes Member SIPC
Yes Mutual Funds
7621 Mutual Funds (Load)
4651 Mutual Funds (No Load)
473 Mutual Funds (NTF)
12745 Mutual Funds (Total)
Yes Mutual Funds Phone Trades
Yes Mutual Funds Web Trades
Yes No Fee IRAs
Yes No Inactivity Fees
Yes No Minimum Deposit
Yes Options Exercising (Phone)
Options Exercising (Web)
Yes Options Trading
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)
24/7 Support

Platforms & Tools

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

Research

Yes Research - ETFs
Yes Research - Mutual Funds
Yes Research - Pink Sheets / OTCBB
Research - Fixed Income
1 Equity Research - Research Reports
Yes ETF Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes ETF Research - Morningstar Style Box
ETF Research - Research Reports
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
Screener - Options
Screener - Bonds

Education

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

Mobile Trading

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

Banking

Member FDIC
Yes Checking Accounts
Savings Accounts
Yes Debit Cards
Credit Cards
Mortgage Loans
Mobile Check Deposit
ATM Fee Reimbursement
No Fee Banking
2 Retail Locations

Active Trading

Yes Receives Payment for Order Flow
Client Liquidity Rebates
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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