optionsXpress is an online broker that leads by example. The broker separates itself from the competition with its variety of unique tools, as well as its ability to continuously innovate and focus on ease-of-use.
This successful formula has made it a popular spot for not only casual options traders but other investors as well, including regular equities and even futures. Because of its success, the broker was acquired by Charles Schwab (SCHW) in March of 2011.
In 2013, it was revealed that, ultimately, optionsXpress will be fully migrated into Charles Schwab and its doors would be closed thereafter. Charles Schwab is in a several-year process of porting over optionsXpresss best features and functionality while letting optionsXpress continue to operate as an independent broker and take care of its clients. There is no current timetable of when this process will be completed.
Commissions & Fees, Ease of Use
optionsXpress has its pros and cons as far as commissions go. Getting the negatives out the way, its options structure is hardly ideal for casual investors. The broker charges $1.50 per contract if below 35 options trades per quarter with a $14.95 minimum. Otherwise, it is only $1.25 per contract with a $12.95 minimum.
This means that, even if you only trade a single option, the commission will be $12.95 at least. Comparatively speaking, one contract at tradeMONSTER would cost $12.50, TD Ameritrade $10.74, ETRADE $10.74, Scottrade $8.25, or OptionsHouse $5. The site, tools and ease-of-use are what you pay for in this case, whereas OptionsHouse provides a route to simply trade. Thus, it all depends on your specific needs as an investor.
Options aside, equity trades are an $8.95 flat rate, which is also the rate charged by parent company Charles Schwab. optionsXpress also offers mutual funds, bonds and futures trading. For a full breakdown of commissions and fees, follow the menu navigation button near the top of this page.
As far as ease-of-use is concerned, optionsXpress has clients covered. The broker's all-in-one trade ticket is the best available anywhere, the site design is clean, and optionsXpress is the only broker to organize all site tools by experience level and type on one page.
Lastly, optionsXpress offers what they call "Walk Limit" order types for options. To prevent adjusting limit orders as they sit live, optionsXpress will "walk" your order to try to get the most favorable price within the National Best Bid or Offer (NBBO). We awarded the Walk Limit Best New Tool in our 2013 Review today, the order type continues to thrive. Use has more than doubled in the past year and currently 7 to 8% of all eligible spread orders placed through the all-in-one trade ticket use Walk Limit.
Platforms & Tools
optionsXpress's flagship platform, Xtend, is offered in both desktop form and as individual tools on the website itself. Overall, the desktop version of Xtend is just okay. While it was very visually appealing, we found it to be sluggish speed-wise, and the charting was difficult to use, not to mention much weaker than what can be found elsewhere.
Another aspect of the Xtend desktop platform we did not particularly care for was the layout, which forces preset sizes and limited numbers of windows. Tools can be popped out of the platform area, but in the end, it is a poor user experience. If there is one positive highlight, it is the trade ticket functionality, which we found to be a similar experience to the website.
Speaking of the website, the tools and functionality here were much smoother. By clicking the "Toolbox" link within the main header of the website, clients are taken to a page that lists all available tools, their skill level and type. Some tools are basic iterations of licensed third-party services, the Chart Patterns tool for example, while others are more innovative and interesting, like Idea Hub.
Idea Hub is a scanning tool that quickly breaks down potential trade ideas based on current market activity. All trade ideas can then be assessed with profit & loss charts alongside probability charts, then moved to a prefilled trade ticket for order entry. The tool can also be found in all mobile apps.
We also enjoyed the options analysis tools available. The Trade and Probability calculator whips up profit & loss charts alongside probability charts for any trades under consideration. Similar to Idea Hub, the Strategy Scanner is another useful options tool that generates trade ideas based on market outlook, risk and symbol.
Despite optionsXpress being owned and operated by Charles Schwab, the two brokers remain independent. As a Charles Schwab client, you can log in and then utilize the OptionsXpress website, however as an optionsXpress client, you cannot access the Charles Schwab website without a Schwab account.
As far as customer service is concerned, clients do not need to worry. After nearly a dozen support tests across phone, email and live chat, we found optionsXpress to be very strong.
Mobile trading with optionsXpress is also a pleasant experience. The broker has apps for the iPhone, Android and iPad, as well as a mobile website. Besides ease of placing orders, charting was a big standout for us, as the broker supports 45 technical indicators/studies.
Investors that are willing to pay more per options trade will receive ample functionality to justify the cost. optionsXpress is a high-quality offering across the board, likes to innovate with its tools and should only continue to thrive under the Charles Schwab corporate umbrella.
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.