Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer
On Sunday, January 25th, 2015 .
TD Ameritrade charges more than its competitors but delivers with a fantastic platform and mobile offering, strong customer service, and earns its No. 1 Overall ranking as the best online broker for 2014.
Fantastic platforms thinkorswim and Trade Architect; rich research offering; large selection of commission-free ETFs; 24/7 customer service; easy-to-use website.
Short-term trading fee charged if a commission-free ETF is sold within 30 days of purchase; no customizable dashboard for mobile apps; mutual fund trades expensive at $49.99.
When searching for a well-rounded broker, finding the right mix is no easy task. Trade costs, ease-of-use, trade platforms, research and customer service all are important to investors.
After using a TD Ameritrade account, you can't help but love the overall experience. The broker charges $9.99 per trade a rate that can be up to two times more than some of the cheaper discount brokers but the value and quality delivered is so superior that is easily justifies the higher price tag. Our TD Ameritrade review shows they are the real deal.
If having access to 24/7 customer support with email and phone is important to you, then TD Ameritrade has you covered. During testing, more than half of our emails were returned within an hour, and the phone system is quick to navigate and connects you to a rep almost instantaneously.
Live chat support is also offered, but only for clients seeking platform support while using thinkorswim, or for potential clients that navigate around the site long enough to trigger a live chat popup. Knowing how the web is evolving, I would like to see TD Ameritrade offer live chat support for all clients and potential clients.
The bottom line when it comes to support is that for a full-service broker, great customer service is expected, and TD Ameritrade delivers, regardless of the communication avenue.
Commissions & Fees
Having access to 24/7 customer support, advanced trade platforms, ample research, and more, unfortunately, isn't inexpensive. TD Ameritrade charges a flat rate of $9.99 per trade with options costing $9.99, plus $.75 per contract (for full commissions details, see the Commissions & Fees tab above).
Compared to other full-service brokers, TD Ameritrade is on par with ETRADE, but is more expensive than the rest, including Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and Scottrade. In fact, with margin costs taken into consideration, TD Ameritrade is the most expensive broker out of 17 total included in our 2014 Review.
Out of all the online brokers, TD Ameritrade does stand out by offering the second largest selection of commission-free ETFs (Charles Schwab offers the most with 121 total); 101 are available as I write this review. The only caveat is that, with TD Ameritrade, any commission-free ETF that is sold within 30 days of purchase is subject to a short-term trading fee of $19.99.
Like its biggest competitors ETRADE, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity, TD Ameritrade has a substantial research offering. When I pulled up a quote for Google (GOOG), there were eight different third-party research reports to choose from and read, which is impressive because any deep-discount broker rarely provides even one. The featured research report provider is ResearchTeam, which combines five research providers into one.
TD Ameritrade utilizes Thomson Reuters as its third-party data provider for fundamental analysis of individual equities and offers the full array of Morningstar research for all mutual funds. Morningstar is my favorite third-party research provider for mutual funds, and it is no surprise that TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Scottrade, and other big names all agree.
I also enjoyed the basic on-site charting functionality. With 34 different technical indicators (volume, MACD, RSI, etc.) and easy-to-read, big charts, the experience is as clean as you'll find anywhere.
Making research effortless to conduct is a just one part of TD Ameritrades effort to make its website easy-to-use. The site-wide quote bar streams real-time quotes and includes SnapTicket, a quick trade extension that allows stock and option orders to be placed from any page on the site.
One of TD Ameritrades newer features, the dock, was released in 2013, allowing clients to have their own customizable sidebar that stays on screen the whole time they are logged in. Optional columns allow a variety of modules to be used (10 were available as of this review). While ideal for wide screen monitors, I found myself ignoring my custom dock in favor of the primary site navigation and tools. Perhaps it was because I use a 24 monitor or that old habits are just hard to break.
Platforms & Tools
While there are many standout areas for TD Ameritrade, the broker's two platforms really are its bread and butter. The flagship platform, thinkorswim, used to be a standalone broker until TD Ameritrade acquired it in 2009. Thinkorswim is designed for advanced traders who want complete flexibility and depth.
Run as a desktop application, thinkorswim is so advanced that it is only rivaled byTradeStation. Having dozens of charts streaming real-time data is as easy as a few clicks, and even the most picky trader will be satisfied with the 200 plus technical studies available for each chart, not to mention that each study can be customized thereafter. The possible combinations are endless.
TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim is also home to a slew of advanced tools and functionality. Whether it be CNBC TV, alerts, heat mapping, earnings calendars, stock scanners, options screeners or back-testing, the rabbit hole goes as far as any trader's imagination will take them. One of the newest innovations is thinkorswim Sharing, which gives clients the ability to share workspaces, charts, studies, trade templates, and more via email or social media.
And if thinkorswim wasn't enough, TD Ameritrade also has a web-based platform, Trade Architect, which is designed with more casual investors in mind. The tools and functionality are purposely kept simple, and the design is clean with visual flare. Everything ran smoothly in my Chrome browser, bug-free, and I quickly became a fan of the platform wide streaming real-time quotes. I could only find one flaw: no virtual trading support.
From testing every broker, the streaming watch list functionality Trade Architect offers is my favorite. It isn't just the cleanness of the data it also offers the flexibility, ease-of-use, and depth of data. The layout is completely customizable, and having access to visual data such as quote trends, trade trends, relative range, and the 52-week range was simply icing on the cake.
TD Ameritrade is one of those companies that just gets it. They understand their clients, the value of a high quality user experience, and they know what it takes to stay ahead of the competition.
Any investor, new or seasoned, will find TD Ameritrade to be a great fit for their needs. The only gripe with the broker is cost, but what you pay for is what you get, and the quality delivered by TD Ameritrade is, without a doubt, worth the extra few dollars per trade. TD Ameritrade is No. 1 in my book.
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.
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.
Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading privileges subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options (http://www.optionsclearing.com/about/publications/character-risks.jsp) before investing in options. Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 12/31/2014 and funded within 30 days of account opening with $2,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000 or more within 30 days of initial minimum funding. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000 or more within 30 days of initial minimum funding. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more within 30 days of initial minimum funding. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, accounts using the Amerivest service, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, and current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Qualified commission-free Internet equity, ETF or options orders will be limited to a maximum of 250 and must execute within 90 days of account funding. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the cash awarded to the account. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Taxes related to TD Ameritrade offers are your responsibility. Retail values totaling $600 or more during the calendar year will be included in your consolidated Form 1099. TD Ameritrade Inc., member FINRA/SIPC/NFA.. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2014 TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.