Best Online Stock Brokers for Beginners

Blain Reinkensmeyer

Published by Blain Reinkensmeyer

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

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The annual review sets the official industry benchmarks. Our data is used by executive teams, and our ratings are referenced on earnings calls, national TV commercials, US Senate hearings, and throughout the web. We spend more than one thousand hours testing online brokerage accounts every year. Industry leaders trust us because our rigorous testing is totally independent and 100% unbiased.

An online stock broker can offer beginners three essential benefits. The first and most important is a user-friendly website and platform. After all, what good is investing online if you can't figure out how to conduct research or place an order to buy shares of stocks such as Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), or Google (GOOGL)? Second, a robust offering of educational content is crucial. The third benefit is having access to quality research.

In our assessment and ranking of online broker offerings for rookie investors, we scored brokers on 140 different variables and spent endless hours navigating research portals, testing website usability, watching videos and webinars, and even reading client magazines to find a true champion.

What is a Stock Broker?

When it comes to investing in stocks, you can either buy and sell shares yourself (self-directed investing) or you can use an advisor and have your money managed for you (managed investing). Way back when (early 1900s), you had to use a licensed professional known as a stock broker to place stock trades on your behalf. Thanks to the Internet, investors around the globe now invest for themselves using an online brokerage account. Today, "stock broker" is just another name for an online brokerage account.

Best Online Brokers for Beginners

  • TD Ameritrade - Best overall brokerage for new investors and traders
  • Fidelity - An excellent all-around customer experience
  • E*TRADE - Power E*TRADE is great for new options traders
  • TradeStation - Best for aspiring day traders

What is the best online stock broker for beginner investors? Based on 140 individual variables, our top pick for beginners is TD Ameritrade. New investors have access to a user-friendly website, hundreds of monthly webinars, videos, and free premium courses and quizzes. TD Ameritrade is the only broker to gamify the entire learning experience, offering customers a points system tied to progress tracking, and even badges to encourage continued learning.

TD Ameritrade education learning center
TD Ameritrade education learning center.

Our second pick, Fidelity Investments, offers new investors access to industry-leading research, an easy-to-use website, and excellent on-site education. In Fidelity's learning center, content is sorted by experience level, category, and content type. The depth of content is impressive, with articles, videos, and webinars, as well as infographics and courses. Courses create a roadmap of articles and videos to follow, with each step being tracked toward completion so you can quickly pick up where you left off.

While Fidelity's learning center is impressive, the broker does a fantastic job with its in-house market research and financial educational articles, Fidelity Viewpoints. Of all the brokers, I share and bookmark Fidelity Viewpoint articles the most. As far as subject matter goes, the broker's retirement education is exceptional.

Fidelity account stock quote
Fidelity account stock quote.

In third place, earning a recommendation based on its platform alone, is E*TRADE. E*TRADE's web-based trading platform, Power E*TRADE is a great environment for any beginner options trader. It's easy to navigate, fast, and rich with usability upgrades perfect for casual investors.

Power E*TRADE platform
Power E*TRADE platform.

While Power E*TRADE is a natural winner based on its user-friendliness, its research capabilities are unimpressive. Instead, investors should rely on E*TRADE's website to conduct research, watch educational videos, and read a large selection of articles covering the full spectrum of investment-related topics, including stocks, options, ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, and retirement.

Our final recommendation, specifically for aspiring day traders, is TradeStation. TradeStation's desktop-based active trading platform, as well as the TradeStation Web Trading platform, are both lightning fast and extremely reliable. While TradeStation lacks a reputable offering of research and education materials, the broker provides new traders access to a massive selection of trading tools and capabilities in an easy-to-use interface.

TradeStation Web Trading
TradeStation Web Trading.

Beginner Investing Brokerage Recommendations. 17 Different Scenarios.

You've got questions. I have answers! Let's take a deeper dive into the best brokers for beginners.

Ok Blain, why should I listen to you? Fair question. I've placed over 1,000 individual buys and sells with over a dozen different brokerages since I started trading back in 2001. As head of research, part of my job means traveling around the country each Fall and meeting with the product leads at every brokerage (see: How We Test). I get the lowdown on ALL the latest and greatest trading tools and platforms available to investors.

In fact, the longest review meeting I've ever had with an executive team was six hours (proud of that one). I LOVE to immerse myself in the markets on a daily basis and take pride in helping investors learn about stocks. I've been in your shoes. I'm your broker geek.

With that said, instead of writing generic, high-level copy designed just to rank well in Google to make money off referrals (*cough*) like all our big brand competitors (*cough*), I am going to answer all your most specific new investor questions. *Note: questions revised for clarity.

Which online trading company is best for beginners? TD Ameritrade is the best all-around choice for beginners because it provides the best combination of ease of use, educational content, and research tools new investors need to succeed. TD Ameritrade is more expensive ($6.95 per trade), but when it comes to new investors, you pay for what you get.

What's the best trading website for a beginner? The best website for beginners is found at Fidelity. Having reviewed Fidelity for over eight years, I find their website the easiest to use and navigate, whether you are researching stocks, placing trades, or reading education articles.

Which trading platform is best for beginners? My favorite trading platform for beginners is Power E*TRADE. It is web-based, meaning it runs in the browser, and strikes the right balance between ease of use and offering a rich selection of trading tools.

Which brokerage offers the best educational videos? TD Ameritrade, hands down. TD Ameritrade's educational video library is made entirely in-house and provides hundreds of videos covering every investment topic imaginable, from stocks to ETFs, mutual funds, options, bonds, and even retirement. Progress tracking is also part of the learning experience. When it comes to scale and depth of videos, TD Ameritrade is in a league of its own.

Which broker offers the best education in a mobile app? For beginners looking to learn through their mobile app, I'd recommend Fidelity or TD Ameritrade. Fidelity has done an excellent job integrating mini-courses into its app, which include quizzes too. Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade does a great job making its video library available with simple filtering by topic.

Do any brokerages offer print magazines for learning? Yes, two brokers do. TD Ameritrade offers a quarterly client magazine (print delivery or web) called thinkMoney (image). I've read thinkMoney for years; it leans towards options trading but is still great, regardless of your experience level. Charles Schwab also offers a quarterly client magazine (print delivery or web) called On Investing (image), which is geared towards broader market analysis and retirement education.

Which brokers offer virtual trading to practice with fake money? Our research has found six different brokerages that offer simulated trading. Of those best suited to beginners, I recommend the TD Ameritrade thinkorswim platform and TradeStation's desktop platform. Between the two, TradeStation is easier to use.

Which brokerage organizes its educational content the best? When we assess brokers for how well they organize their learning centers, we focus on three areas: organization by skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), by content type (article, video, webinar, etc), and by topic (stocks, ETFs, options, etc.). Overall, TD Ameritrade takes the crown here, but Fidelity and E*TRADE also do a good job.

Which brokerage offers the most webinars? TD Ameritrade offers the most webinars each month, several hundred in fact, thanks to its offering of daily swim lessons and its own TV Network. Next to TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab offers around 50 per month and TradeStation around 30.

Do any online brokerages offer archived webinars for video viewing on demand? Yes. Providing access to viewing archived webinars on demand is an industry standard feature offered by more than 60% of firms. TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab are standouts in this area.

Which brokerages offer chat rooms for beginners? TD Ameritrade runs the most popular chat rooms through its thinkorswim trading platform. On average, you will see over 1,000 traders using the chat rooms during a given trading day. Through thinkorswim, clients can also share and discuss their trades using the myTrade tool.

Which brokerage is best for researching stocks? I recommend Fidelity for researching stocks. Fidelity offers the most third-party research reports out of all the brokers (12) and excellent research for stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and bonds thanks to Morningstar and its other third-party research partners. For more on research, see our guide to the Best Online Brokers.

Do any brokers offer interactive learning, such as quizzes or similar? TD Ameritrade and Fidelity are both outstanding for providing unique, handcrafted courses that include individual lessons and roadmaps for learning about the markets. Quizzes to test your knowledge are scored and even tracked so you know if you've completed them or not. No other brokers come close to challenging TD Ameritrade and Fidelity in terms of interactive learning.

Which online broker offers the best trade ticket? For placing regular stock trades, Fidelity's trade ticket is my favorite. It's easy to use, minimalistic and designed with beginners at heart, thanks to the inclusion of a trade cost calculator. Surprisingly enough, less than half the industry offers a basic share cost calculator to customers.

Do any brokerages offer trading contests for beginners? Yes. Through TD Ameritrade University, TD Ameritrade puts on an annual trading simulator contest for college students called the thinkorswim Challenge. Teams from around the country participate each year for a chance to win scholarship money and other prizes.

Which brokers offer a dictionary of investing terminology? Honestly, nearly every broker offers a dictionary of words to know. The quality varies as one can imagine. Instead of using the brokerage websites, I typically Google for definitions and let searches guide me to the best answer.

Which trading platform is the easiest to use? This is a tough one because platforms vary significantly in depth and capabilities. Put simply, the more focused the platform is on active trading / professional trading, the harder it is to use. Overall, I recommend Power E*TRADE and TradeStation Web Trading.

Best Brokerages for Beginners (Summary)

Online Broker Best For Minimum Deposit Commissions Overall Rating
TD Ameritrade Best overall for new investors and traders $0 $6.95 5 Stars
Fidelity An excellent all-around customer experience $0 $4.95 5 Stars
E*TRADE Power E*TRADE is great for new options traders $500 $6.95 4.5 Stars
TradeStation Best for aspiring day traders $500 $5.00 4 Stars

Closing Thoughts

Over the years the online brokerage industry has realized that ease of use, quality research, and education centers that boast organization, variety, and depth are crucial components of a thorough offering for beginners.

Each attribute is dependent on the other, and while quality education shouldn’t be a beginner investor's only reason to choose a broker, it is a nice complement to the primary offering.

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All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 09/01/18 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The 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.

TD Ameritrade, Inc. and are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s services and products. 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 before investing in options. Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 9/30/2018 and funded within 60 calendar days of account opening with $3,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000-$99,999. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000-$249,999. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more. Offer is not valid on tax-exempt trusts, 401k accounts, Keogh plans, Profit Sharing Plan, or Money Purchase Plan. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, accounts managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, 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 calendar days of account funding. No credit will be given for unexecuted trades. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account value of the qualifying account must remain equal to, or greater than, the value after the net deposit was made (minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances) for 12 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the offer at its sole discretion. 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. Please consult a legal or tax advisor for the most recent changes to the U.S. tax code and for rollover eligibility rules. (Offer Code 264) TD Ameritrade Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2017 TD Ameritrade.

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