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Broker Reviews

Firstrade

Published by
On Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 .

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

X-Stream real-time watch list software only allows 20 stocks max; website lacks quality trading tools; log-in security PIN verification tool, while innovative, is extremely tedious.

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Firstrade 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. The question is, however, does that make them a legitimate consideration 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 keeps things mostly simple, offering investors flat-fee stock trades for $6.95 each. Options trades run $6.95, plus $.75 per contract. An extra charge of $.005 cents per share comes into play, however, if trading more than 5,000 shares. Stocks less than $1, including OTCBB, also come with higher fees.

On the equities side, Firstrade competes most closely with Scottrade, whose trades run $7 per trade or $.05 more per. 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 many when compared to Fidelity, ETRADE or TD Ameritrade, which all offer more than 100.

FirstradeScottradeTradeKingtradeMONSTERTD Ameritrade
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$6.95$7.00$4.95$4.95$9.99
Options Base Fee$6.95$7.00$4.95$0.00$9.99
Options Per Contract Fee$0.75$1.25$0.65$0.50$0.75
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$9.95$17.00$9.95$15.00$49.99
Broker Assisted Trades Fee$26.95$32.00$20.00$15.00$44.99
Commissions & Fees
Overall

Research

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

Under Morningstar, Firstrade now offers its clients thorough research for stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds. With that said, however, Firstrade still has room for improvement.

Firstrade offers no 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.

Ease of Use

One area where Firstrade shines is in the category of 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.

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 ETRADE 360 (our personal favorite on the web), the broker has done a good job.

If there is one gripe with Firstrades website, it is its log-in process, which took a turn for the worrisome in 2013 when the broker released its new state-of-the-art PIN log-in. With security at the forefront of many investors minds, Firstrade has patented a new secure way to enter in your PIN. The problem is that it is extremely tedious, it is not intuitive, and it takes time to really get it. The PIN should be disabled by default and made an option for security-focused clients.

Firstrade PIN login

Other Notes

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

Charting, for example, is okay for a website, but without a platform, the lack of customizations becomes very noticeable. Less than 20 technical indicators are available, and even basic customizations cannot be made to any of them. Also not available: virtual trading, chart notes, trading off the chart or advanced drawing tools such as Fibonacci retracements.

Firstrade charting

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.

Firstrade xstream watchlist

On the mobile trading front, Firstrade offers a basic iPhone app but not an iPad or Android app as of yet. 

Closing Thoughts

While Firstrade offers a well-organized website and much improved 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 seeking account security, or are looking for an all-around easy-to-use broker, Firstrade could be a good 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

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 stock trades over 5,000 shares, the broker charges an extra .005 cent per share. For stocks under $1.00 and OTCBB, 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. Excercise & assignments are $16.95.

Mutual Funds - All mutual funds cost $9.95 per trade. Additional fees may apply depending on the fund.

Inactivity Fee - Firstrade charges a yearly fee of $19.95 when no trades are made in a given calender year. This applies to funded accounts only. The fee can be waived if activity is present in the account such as a deposit or withdrawal.

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
$26.95 Broker Assisted Trades Fee
$0.00 Minimum Deposit

Margin Rates

7.75% Under $24,999.99
7.75% $25,000.00 to 49,999.99
7.50% $50,000.00 to $99,999.99
6.75% $100,000.00 to $249,999.99
6.25% $250,000.00 to $499,999.99
5.50% $500,000.00 to $999,999.99
5.00% 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

Example Trades

Broker Ratings

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

Broker Awards

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.

Offering of Investments

CDs
Apex Clearing Clearing Firm
10 Commission Free ETFs
Yes Corporate Bonds
Direct Market Routing - Stocks
Yes DRIPs
4105 # of Easy to Borrow Stocks
Forex Trading
Futures Trading
Yes No Fee IRAs
Mini Options
Yes Municipal Bonds
Yes Mutual Funds
7313 Mutual Funds (Load)
4784 Mutual Funds (No Load)
624 Mutual Funds (NTF)
12097 Mutual Funds (Total)
No Inactivity Fees
Yes No Minimum Deposit
Yes Options Trading
Yes Order Type - After Hours
Order Type - Algo
Yes Order Type - Broker Assisted
Yes OTCBB / Pink Sheets
0 Retail Locations
Yes Stock Trading
Yes US Treasury Bonds
Yes Weekly Options

Customer Service

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

Platforms & Tools

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

Research

Yes Research - ETFs
Yes Research - Mutual Funds
Yes Research - Pink Sheets / OTCBB
Research - Fixed Income
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
Yes Equity Research - SEC Filings
Yes Equity Research - Insider Analysis
0 Equity Research - Research Reports
Yes ETF Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes ETF Research - 3rd Party Ratings
ETF Research - Research Reports
Yes Mutual Fund Research - Prospectus
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 Mutual Fund Research - 3rd Party Ratings
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 - Bonds
Has Education - Retirement
Yes Investor Dictionary
Client Webinars
Live Seminars
Retirement Calculator
Community Forums

Mobile Trading

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

Banking

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

Active Trading

Yes Internalizes Trades
Yes Receives Payment for Order Flow
Client Liquidity Rebates

Best in Class

Best in Class - Offering of Investments
Best in Class - Commissions & Fees
Best in Class - Platforms & Tools
Best in Class - Research
Best in Class - Customer Service
Yes Best in Class - Ease of Use
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

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All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 11/01/2014 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.

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