Best Day Trading Platforms for 2021
A day trade is when you buy shares of a stock then sell the same shares before the market closes. Because day traders place far more trades than the average investor, keeping costs low is just as important as buying and selling (or shorting and covering) for a profit.
Having placed over 2,500 trades, I know firsthand that having a reliable day trading platform stocked with the trading tools you need is crucial to success.
For our 2021 Review, we tested and scored 11 different online brokers. To find the best day trading platform, we focused on both web and desktop platforms and assessed each platform across 55 different features. Alongside tools, we also took into consideration the costs of trading, including margin rates and order execution quality.
What is day trading?
Day trading is a strategy in which a trader buys and sells stocks throughout the trading day. The goal is to end each trading session with a net profit after commissions. Day traders primarily trade during the opening 60 minutes (9:30 - 10:30 AM EST) and closing 30 minutes (3:30 - 4:00 PM EST) of each market session, which is when price volatility is highest.
To make more than four day trades in any five-business-day period, a trader must be approved as a Pattern Day Trader, or PDT, which requires maintaining a balance of at least $25,000.
Best Day Trading Platforms 2021
Here's a breakdown of the best online brokers for day trading.
Best order execution
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.65|
Trade at Fidelity.1
Of the eleven brokers we tested for 2021, hands down, Fidelity offers the best order execution quality. Fidelity is the only broker to offer $0 trades and not accept payment for order flow (PFOF), resulting in price improvement above and beyond what other brokers can offer. Read full review
- Excellent mobile app for investors.
- Our top pick for order execution, no payment for order flow (PFOF).
- Margin rates can be higher than peers'.
- No custom screening on mobile.
- Banking services offered via a third party.
Best platform technology
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.50|
Trade Stocks, Options, Futures, & Crypto.
In our testing, we found that TradeStation has one of the most robust desktop platforms we have ever seen. As a leader in trader technology, it earned the top award for Platform Technology in 2021. Read full review
- Excellent desktop and web-based trading platforms.
- Great for professionals.
- Offers cryptocurrency trading.
- Research trails industry leaders.
- Educational content split between two sites.
Best desktop platform
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.65|
Get up to $375 and trade commission-free
The TD Ameritrade desktop trading platform, thinkorswim, is our No. 1 desktop platform for 2021. Highlights include paper trading, Earnings Analyzer (my personal favorite earnings analysis tool), and charts with 489 optional indicators, among many others. Read full review
- Excellent education for beginners.
- thinkorswim platform suite is our top desktop platform for 2021.
- Futures and forex trading available.
- $6.95 fee per trade for penny stocks.
- No access to international stock markets.
Best for professionals
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.65|
EXCLUSIVE: New clients, special margin rates.
The Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation (TWS) trading platform offers the largest selection of order types alongside the lowest margin rates in the industry (by a landslide). Popular among institutions, including hedge funds, TWS is not beginner-friendly. Read full review
- Web-based client portal great for casual investors.
- Offers access to global markets.
- Robust mobile app.
- TWS desktop platform best suited for professionals, not beginners.
Best web-based platform
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.65|
Open & fund, get $600 w/ code: BONUS21
While E*TRADE lacks a desktop platform, it offers an excellent web-based trading platform, Power E*TRADE. Power E*TRADE provides ease of use and the core trading tools needed for day traders to succeed. Read full review
- Excellent web and mobile platforms; Power E*TRADE.
- Our top pick for options trading.
- $1,000 minimum for streaming data.
- Range of educational materials is limited compared to peers.
Other day trading platforms
In addition to our top five day trading platforms for 2021, we reviewed six others: Charles Schwab, Merrill Edge, Ally Invest, Firstrade, Robinhood, Webull. Here are our high-level takeaways for each. To dive deeper, read our reviews.
Charles Schwab (Visit Site) - Schwab's flagship downloadable trading platform, StreetSmart Edge, provides most of the bells and whistles day traders need to succeed. It is easier to learn than TD Ameritrade and TradeStation, although the latter two provide a richer experience overall. Read Full Review
Merrill Edge (Visit Site) - For active traders, Merrill Edge offers the MarketPro desktop trading platform, which is feature-rich but not optimal for day trading. The primary drawback is the lack of one-click buy and sell buttons for speedy order entry. Read Full Review
Ally Invest - For current Ally customers looking to invest in stocks, Ally's universal-accounts experience and easy-to-use website is a convenient solution. But as a standalone broker, Ally Invest trails industry leaders in trading platforms and tools. Read Full Review
Firstrade (Visit Site) - Firstrade Navigator is only available to Firstrade Premier customers, which requires an account balance of at least $10,000. As far as day trading tools and functionality, Firstrade scores poorly compared to the best platforms. Read Full Review
Robinhood - Optimized for individuals that are new to investing and want to start with the basics, Robinhood’s greatest strength is found in its simplicity. But once you learn how to invest or want to day-trade, you’ll find its range of trading tools and features lags industry leaders. Read Full Review
Webull (Visit Site) - Webull offers a unique community experience and easy-to-use trading platforms that will satisfy most casual investors, but it can't compete with the vast amount of trading tools and research provided by traditional full-service brokers. Read Full Review
Day trading platforms comparison
Popular day trading platform tools include ladder trading, level II quotes, trade hot keys, direct market routing, stock alerts, streaming time & sales, customizable watch lists, and backtesting, among many others.
Below you can find a trading platform comparison table of common tools and features. For a full comparison of 150+ features, use our comparison tool.
|Streaming Time & Sales||No||Yes||Yes|
|Direct Market Routing - Stocks||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Trade Hot Keys||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Level 2 Quotes - Stocks||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Trade Ideas - Backtesting||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Trade Ideas - Backtesting Adv||No||Yes||Yes|
|Order Liquidity Rebates||No||Yes||No|
Broker pricing comparison
Here's a comparison of pricing across Fidelity, TradeStation, TD Ameritrade, Interactive Brokers, and E*TRADE. For more comparisons, use the online broker comparison tool.
|ETF Trade Fee||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|Mutual Fund Trade Fee||$49.95||$14.95||$49.99|
|Options (Base Fee)||$0.00||$0.00||$0.00|
|Options (Per Contract)||$0.65||$0.50||$0.65|
|Futures (Per Contract)||N/A||$1.50||$2.25|
|Broker Assisted Trade Fee||$32.95||$50.00||$44.99|
Can you day trade on multiple platforms?
Yes. It is not uncommon for day traders to have multiple brokerage accounts and use several trading platforms simultaneously. Common reasons why traders use multiple platforms include having a backup in case of an outage, running dedicating trading strategies, or accessing specific trading tools not available elsewhere.
What are the risks of day trading?
Because day trading involves actively buying and selling stocks throughout the day using margin (borrowed capital), it is inherently risky. Like poker, losing streaks can cause traders to take undisciplined risks, magnifying losses.
Can you start day trading with $500?
If you do not have at least a $25,000 balance, margin approval, and Pattern Day Trader status, you can only place four day trades over a period of five business days before your account becomes restricted.
Is day trading illegal?
In the US, day trading is legal. To day trade, you must have at least a $25,000 minimum account balance and be approved as a Pattern Day Trader. Once classified as a PDT, you gain access to 4:1 margin intraday and 2:1 margin for holding open positions overnight.
Is day trading worth it?
In today's market, hedge funds running sophisticated algorithms make it very difficult to day trade profitably. Most day traders are also severely undercapitalized and get suckered into paying for expensive chat room memberships, educational courses, and newsletter subscriptions on social media. Here's a breakdown of what I learned from day trading.
What is the best platform for day trading?
For the lowest pricing, Fidelity's Active Trader Pro (ATP) is the best day trading platform thanks to $0 trades with no payment for order flow (PFOF). Fidelity aside, TradeStation and TD Ameritrade offer the most trading tools and platform customizations. Finally, for the lowest margin rates and most order types, the Trader Workstation (TWS) trading platform from Interactive Brokers is best.
What is the fastest trading platform?
More details: With a desktop trading platform, the base code runs locally on your computer, maximizing speed. That said, web-based trading platforms built with modern code can match desktop platforms in overall speed. Software aside, like esports, the most common bottleneck for any trading platform is the internet connection.
To recap, here are the best day trading platforms.
For the StockBrokers.com 11th annual best trading platforms review published in January 2021, a total of 2,816 data points were collected over three months and used to score brokers. This makes StockBrokers.com home to the largest independent database on the web covering the online broker industry.
Participation is required to be included. Each broker completed an in-depth data profile and offered executive time (live in person or over the web) for an annual update meeting. Our rigorous data validation process yields an error rate of less than .001% each year, providing site visitors quality data they can trust. Learn more about how we test.
About the Author
Blain Reinkensmeyer As Head of Research at StockBrokers.com, Blain Reinkensmeyer has 20 years of trading experience with over 1,000 trades placed during that time. Referenced as a leading expert on the US online brokerage industry, Blain has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Fast Company, among others.