The best trading platforms for beginners offer three essential benefits. First, the platform itself should be easy to use and beginner-friendly. Second is the availability of a wide variety of educational materials to get new investors off to a strong start. And third, the best platforms deliver access to quality stock market research.
For our 2023 Annual Stockbroker Review, we tested and scored 17 trading platforms. Here we focus on features we see as essential for beginning investors. Many brokers are easy to use, but that’s not enough. Novices deserve trustworthy education that helps them develop realistic expectations and make informed decisions.
In addition to in-depth testing of each learning center, we looked at which brokers offer unique features like webinars, live seminars, videos, progress tracking, paper (virtual) trading, and interactive educational elements such as quizzes.
Best Trading Platforms for Beginners 2023
Are you just starting out in the stock market? There isn’t one best place to buy stocks because every investor is different and every broker has strengths and weaknesses. Here are our top five picks for the best brokers for novices. We’ll also share the best trading apps for beginners.
TD Ameritrade delivers industry-leading education for beginners and terrific customer service alongside $0 trades, fantastic trading platforms and excellent market research. In addition to excellent educational resources, it offers paper (practice) trading. Read full review
Fidelity is a winner for beginners, thanks to its plethora of educational resources that includes a Learning Center stocked with videos, infographics, and even podcasts. Fidelity also offers an innovative Youth Account – a first-of-its-kind brokerage account for teens aged 13 to 17. Read full review
Earning a recommendation based on its trading platform alone, E*TRADE is great for any beginner stock trader. Power E*TRADE is easy to use and offers features including paper (practice) trading and note-taking. Its educational content, though plentiful, can be a challenge to navigate. Read full review
Watch lists are the best in the business
Smooth mobile navigation
High-quality high-net-worth Morgan Stanley proprietary research
Merrill Edge offers $0 trades with industry-leading research tools (especially ESG research) and customer rewards. Learning about investing is a pleasant experience, thanks to excellent organization, quality and in-house curated content. Its Stock Stories and Fund Stories do phenomenal jobs presenting information in a friendly way. Read full review
Portfolio Story, Dynamic Insights, and the Stock and Fund Stories are groundbreaking features
Charles Schwab is a terrific all-around choice for everyday investors that offers a thorough educational experience and support for beginners, with its Choiceology podcast a standout. It also has particular value for long-term investing. Paper (practice) trading is not available, however. Read full review
Vast menu of investment offerings
Excellent research and content for long-term investing
Cryptocurrency isn’t offered
Mutual fund fees are complex
Content has a less friendly approach than some competitors
Winner: TD Ameritrade - Best overall for beginners
TD Ameritrade’s education is top-notch across the board. Aside from its breadth and depth – there’s something for everyone – it’s also of high quality. For example, we watched a live beginning traders webinar and were pleasantly startled to see the highly qualified presenter not only greet participants by name, but also remember them from other events. Unlike at rival Fidelity, you can trade a simulated portfolio, though you can’t buy fractional shares. That is, at least for now — TD Ameritrade was bought by Charles Schwab in 2020 and the two firms’ offerings are expected to be merged in the coming months. Read our full review of TD Ameritrade.
Runner-up: Fidelity - Best for building good habits
Fidelity, our 2023 winner for Best Overall Broker, is also accessible to beginners. It has two beginner-friendly mobile apps, an extensive investor education library and high-quality independent research. Fidelity is easy to use and allows fractional trades of stock and ETF shares. It also offers a youth account, which netted our Best Innovation award in 2022. One feature that some beginners might miss at Fidelity is the ability to trade a simulated portfolio (“paper trading”) before risking real money. Read our full review of Fidelity.
Podium finisher: E*TRADE - Best for beginner traders
E*TRADE has the best trading app for beginners and has one of the best trading websites, too. New investors will appreciate the intuitive layouts and well-organized menus of portfolio and market information. The same can’t be said for its investor education, which we found to be a mixed bag in our testing. E*TRADE does not allow clients to buy fractional shares, but does offer paper trading on its advanced trading platform, Power E*TRADE, at no cost. Read our full review of E*TRADE.
If you’re interested in investing in individual stocks or funds, Merrill Edge’s Stock Stories and Fund Stories do phenomenal jobs presenting highly relevant info in a friendly way. There’s nothing else out there quite like Merrill’s Stories presentation. When you’re ready to take a deeper dive beyond the “story,” Merrill has an extensive selection of Bank of America Securities and third-party research at the ready. Merrill Edge doesn’t offer fractional shares or paper trading. Read our full review of Merrill Edge.
The Stock Story feature on the Merrill Edge mobile app.
Charles Schwab - Great for long-term investors
Charles Schwab, like all of the beginner-friendly brokers here, is a terrific all-around choice for everyday investors. But it also puts long-term, risk-averse investing front and center, an investing philosophy we at Stockbrokers.com heartily endorse for everyday investors.
Based on our extensive testing, TD Ameritrade takes the top spot this year as the best all-around choice for beginners due to its compelling ease of use and comprehensive education. Fidelity, our Best Overall Broker for 2023, is slightly easier to use, but for those just starting out we preferred TD Ameritrade’s educational approach.
The best trading platform for beginners is Power E*TRADE. E*TRADE offers Power E*TRADE as both a browser platform and a mobile app. The availability of paper trading, as well as HTML5 charts with automated technical analysis and screening tools for both stocks and options, make Power E*TRADE an excellent option for beginners.
Our favorite app for beginners is Power E*TRADE. It successfully balances being easy to use and including necessary tools. Power E*TRADE isn’t where the story ends, either. Its flagship E*TRADE Mobile app offers convenient tools for longer-term investing.
E*TRADE Mobile, the broker’s more beginner-friendly mobile app.
Which type of trading is best for beginners?
Beginners should consider starting off with swing trading, which means holding an investment for more than one day and less than a couple of months. It’s less time-consuming and stressful than day trading. Stocks are particularly good for beginners to test the waters. Wait until you have more experience before using options, short selling, and buying on margin.
Can I teach myself how to trade?
Yes, you can teach yourself to trade, provided you have realistic expectations and stay at it through a full market boom-and-bust cycle. Don’t invest more than a fraction of your trading capital at once, and keep a trading journal noting why you entered and exited each trade and how well that trade performed. Most traders fail because they focus on chasing the upside more than managing risk. (You can learn more about trade journaling on our sister site, StockTrader.com.)
How do I start trading for beginners?
To start trading as a beginner, you don’t need much money, but you must have a brokerage account and should concentrate on developing a consistent investment philosophy. Keep your trades small at first. Remember, experience is the best teacher, but the tuition can be mighty high. Here are some things to think about as you get started:
Opening your brokerage account: A demo or virtual account from a broker is a great way to learn the trading software you are using and understand how order types can help you manage risk while entering and exiting positions.
Trading strategy: After opening a brokerage account, there are several decisions you will need to prepare for when trading as a beginner, such as what to trade and when to trade it, and how much money to budget. We think long-term, disciplined investing is the way to go, but time, education, experience, and your own preferences will lead you to develop your own unique strategies.
Time frame: Whether investing for the long term as a passive investor or trading more actively, you must focus on present market conditions and recent price activity when deciding how long you want to hold.
Baby steps: Fractional shares are another way to ease your way into the world of stock trading while taking less risk, allowing you to focus on percentage returns before taking steps to increase your trading budget.
Once you decide which broker is best for you, all you need to do is fill out its online application and deposit money, either through a transfer from your bank (usually the easiest method), mailing a check, or transferring assets from another brokerage account. You can open an account in as little as 5 or 10 minutes on your phone or laptop. Some brokers won’t require you to wait until your ACH-transferred money clears before you begin using the account.
How do beginners trade stocks?
Here are common steps for beginners when learning how to trade stocks online:
Open a self-directed brokerage account.
Decide how much money you can afford to risk.
Deposit or transfer the money to your new account.
Learn how to place an order and view your stocks at the broker you’ve chosen.
Practice trading, either through a virtual portfolio or very small amounts of your own money with each trade.
Follow market news and practice forming your own opinions.
Monitor your results closely and adjust when it’s not working. Stay with it.
How do you buy stocks online?
To buy stocks, first, you need to open and fund an online brokerage account. Next, research which stock you want to buy. Last, go to the order ticket, enter the stock symbol — along with the number of shares — you want to buy, then place your trade.
What is paper trading?
Paper trading, or virtual trading, is a trading platform feature that enables the trading of stocks, ETFs, and options with virtual currency (fake money). This helpful learning tool is popular with beginners and is a great way to practice stock trading without risking real money. The two top-rated brokers that offer paper trading are TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE.
What are fractional shares?
A fractional share is a portion of a full share of a publicly traded company. Fractional shares enable investors with smaller budgets to buy a stake in companies with high stock prices. For example, instead of spending over $87 to buy one Amazon (AMZN) share, a trader could purchase a $10 fractional share – and then own a proportional fraction of that share. Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Interactive Brokers, Webull, SoFi Invest, and Robinhood offer fractional shares.
What is a market order?
A market order is an order to buy or sell a security (such as stock) at the current best-available market price. Market orders are the most common type of order, as they are the fastest and easiest way to buy and sell shares.
What is a limit order?
A limit order lets you buy or sell a security at a pre-specified price or better. Since limit orders are fixed to a prespecified price, they will only fill when the limit price is reached. Limit orders are best when you know the exact price you want to buy or sell a stock.
Is online trading safe?
Online trading is safe if you use a regulated online stock broker and never invest more than you are willing to lose. Trading stocks online is inherently risky. Start with a small amount of money, read investing books, and keep it simple by buying and holding for the long term rather than trying to time the market.
StockBrokers.com 2023 Overall Ranking
Here are the Overall rankings for the 17 online brokers who participated in our 2023 Review, sorted by Overall ranking.
Sam Levine is a longtime writer, investor and educator with nearly three decades of experience in the investing industry. His specialty is making even the most complicated investing concepts easy to understand for beginning and intermediate investors. He holds two of the most widely recognized certifications in the investment management industry, the Chartered Financial Analyst and the Chartered Market Technician designations. Previously, he was a contributing editor at BetterInvesting Magazine and a contributor to The Penny Hoarder and other media outlets.
Blain Reinkensmeyer has 20 years of trading experience with over 2,500 trades placed during that time. He heads research for all U.S.-based brokerages on StockBrokers.com and is respected by executives as the leading expert covering the online broker industry. Blain’s insights have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the Chicago Tribune, among other media outlets.
Carolyn Kimball is managing editor for Reink Media and the lead editor for the StockBrokers.com Annual Review. Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.
Steven Hatzakis is the Global Director of Research for ForexBrokers.com. Steven previously served as an Editor for Finance Magnates, where he authored over 1,000 published articles about the online finance industry. Steven is an active fintech and crypto industry researcher and advises blockchain companies at the board level. Over the past 20 years, Steven has held numerous positions within the international forex markets, from writing to consulting to serving as a registered commodity futures representative.
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1Fidelity Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal. Options trading entails significant risk and is not appropriate for all investors. Certain complex options strategies carry additional risk. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options. Supporting documentation for any claims, if applicable, will be furnished upon request.
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