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Best Discount Stock Brokers for 2019

Blain Reinkensmeyer

The StockBrokers.com best online brokers 2019 review (9th annual) took six months to complete and produced over 30,000 words of research. Here's how we tested.

Trade costs are no doubt on many investors’ minds. Just like paying $4 for a Starbucks latte every morning adds up, so does paying $7, $8, $9, or $10 per trade. For coffee drinkers who must have their morning brew, cost can be reduced dramatically at the expense of quality and taste. This exact philosophy holds true for online trading with a discount broker, which we will now explore.

Best Discount Stock Brokers for 2019

Here's a breakdown of some of the best online brokers for discount trading.

  • Fidelity - Best order execution, clean fee schedule
  • Interactive Brokers - Best pricing for active traders
  • Merrill Edge - Best rewards program, earn free trades
  • Firstrade - Free trades, balanced offering
  • TradeStation - Flexible options commissions, great tools
  • Robinhood - Free trades, no tools or research
Fidelity

Best order execution, clean fee schedule - Open Account
Exclusive Offer: Get 300 commission-free trades and 2 years to use them.

$4.95 per trade. $0 minimum deposit. After factoring in order execution quality, where Fidelity reigns supreme, Fidelity’s $4.95 stock trades consistently yield additional value for customers. Read full review

Interactive Brokers

Best pricing for active traders - Open Account
Exclusive Offer: New clients that open an account today receive a special margin rate.

$.005 per share. $0 minimum deposit. Because Interactive Brokers’ core clientele are professional traders and institutions, it is critical for the company to provide the lowest commissions schedule available. In our rigorous assessment, there is no question they deliver. Read full review

Merrill Edge

Best rewards program, earn free trades - Open Account
Current Offer: Invest in a new account and get up to $600.

$6.95 per trade. $0 minimum deposit. My wife and I have been Preferred Rewards customers since the program’s inception in 2014. For a combination of banking and brokerage, I have yet to find anything better. It’s fantastic. Read full review

Firstrade

Free trades, balanced offering - Open Account
Current Offer: Commission-Free Trading on 700+ ETFs.

$0 per trade. $0 minimum deposit. When it comes to trades, Firstrade keep things simple, offering investors free stock, ETF, mutual fund, and options trades. Read full review

TradeStation

Flexible options commissions, great tools - Open Account
Promo Offer: $5 per Trade plus $0.50 per Contract for Options

$5 per trade. $500 minimum deposit. TradeStation offers a variety of different commission structures, which can be confusing. Fortunately, the brokerage’s most commonly used pricing structure, flat-fee trading, is easy to understand, includes free market data, and incurs no monthly platform charges. Read full review

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Online Brokerage Fees Comparison

Using our online brokerage comparison tool, here's a comparison of the trading fees and margin rates for the most popular discount brokers.

FeatureFidelity Interactive BrokersMerrill EdgeFirstradeTradeStation
Minimum Deposit$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00$500.00
Stock Trade Fee (per trade)$4.95N/A$6.95$0.00$5.00
Stock Trade Fee (per share)N/A$0.005N/AN/A$0.01
Options Base Fee$4.95$0.00$6.95$0.00$5.00
Options Per Contract Fee$0.65$0.70$0.75$0.00$0.50
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$49.95$14.95$19.95$0.00$14.95
Broker Assisted Trades Fee$32.95$30.00$29.95$19.95$50.00
IRA Annual Fee$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.00$35.00
IRA Closure Fee$0.00$0.00$49.95$0.00$50.00
Commissions & Fees 4 4.5 4 4 3.5


online brokerage margin rates comparison
best discount brokers margin rates comparison

How much does it cost to trade stocks?

When buying and selling shares of stock, most online brokers charge a flat commission per trade, regardless of the number of shares traded or the total trade value. With online stock trading, there is no free lunch; the lower you pay to place trades, the less you receive elsewhere (trading tools, market research, customer service quality or hours of availability, educational resources, etc.).

For example, say I want to buy ten shares of Apple (AAPL), which is currently trading at ~$199 per share as I write this. Effectively, I am investing $1,990 (10 shares x $199 per share) in Apple. When I click to buy those shares, I am charged one price for the entire order. Looking at the largest brokerages, TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE both charge $6.95 per stock trade, while Fidelity and Charles Schwab charge $4.95 per stock trade. Thus, my order would cost $6.95 or $4.95, respectively.

When I go to sell my ten shares of Apple, I am also charged the same flat commission for the transaction. If I decide to place two sell orders by selling five of the shares today and five of the shares tomorrow, I would then be charged twice.

It is important to note that not all brokers charge a flat rate per trade. More advanced brokers used for day trading charge a per-share rate. Similarly, "free" trading has become an option with startups like Robinhood. As we all know, though, nothing is ever truly free, and these brokers are instead making money off payment for order flow (PFOF) thanks to their order routing and order execution practices. Earning yield off free cash sitting in your account is another popular way your online broker will generate revenue.

How to Compare Broker Fees

Trading cheaply is reasonably straightforward; however, investors should be careful when deciding on a final broker. The regular prices paid for stock and options trades are not the only cost factor that matters. A variety of other important factors can affect the net cost per trade when trading stocks and options online. Here's a list of the most important ones:

Are there tiered commission rates? Most brokers offer flat-fee stock trading. Some brokers though, especially active trading-focused brokers, offer per-share trading. Both have their pros and cons; it depends on the order size you trade, on average. For example, placing 2,000 share orders, on average, would make a per-share broker expensive, compared to a flat-fee broker. The vast majority of investors, over 99%, trade with a flat-fee broker.

What is the broker's order execution quality? For discount trading, nothing helps more than having your broker consistently achieve fill prices better than the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO). Whether the broker clears itself or with a third-party, as well as the broker's policy on payment order flow are two simple examples of factors that impact execution quality. For a full breakdown, see our Guide to Order Execution.

What options are available for order routing? Important to day traders, some sophisticated brokers offer direct market routing, giving customers full control of routing costs through market center rebates and fees.

Are there extra charges for market data access or platform access? Some brokers will charge extra for access to market data such as level II quotes and international exchanges. This is very common with active trader-focused brokers such as Interactive Brokers, Lightspeed, and TradeStation. Furthermore, these brokers can sometimes charge monthly data fees or platform fees that can only be waived if a certain commission spend threshold is met. For example, Lightspeed charges an account service fee of $100 if at least $100 in trading commissions are not spent each month.

Misc fees - Annual fees and closure fees tied to an IRA retirement account, broker-assisted trading fees, mutual fund trading fees, short-term redemption fees, phone order fees, and similar all add up. IRA Closure fees typically run at around $50, and are worth keeping an eye out for.

What miscellaneous fees are charged? Annual fees tied to a retirement account, broker-assisted trading fees, mutual fund trading fees, short-term redemption fees, phone order fees, and other various charges all add up.

Are there extra fees for trading penny stocks or OTCBB? Some discount brokers charge extra for penny stocks (stocks under $1 per share) and pink sheets. If you like trading these types of securities, read our guide to the best brokers for penny stock trading.

Ignore regulatory fees. Finally, two fees every broker charges (sell orders only) include an SEC trading fee of $21.80 per $1,000,000 of principal and a FINRA Trading Activity Fee (TAF) of $.000119 per share. Investors can ignore these trading fees as they are the same for each regulated online brokerage and amount to no more than a few pennies per trade. For example, a 500-share market sell order of Disney (DIS) at $108.18 would result in a total fee of only $0.18 ($.12 + $.06).

Final Thoughts

The takeaway is this: When contemplating any broker, switch, or new account based on commissions alone, it is critical to understand what type of trader you are first, then research from there. How many trades do you place per month, on average? What is your typical order size? Do you buy and sell options? Do you frequently trade on margin? Do you trade ETFs or mutual funds? These are all relevant and useful questions to ask yourself.

To find out the true cost of cheap trading, don’t just trust our rankings, run the numbers yourself. Use the trading costs calculator here on the site, read our detailed commissions notes for each broker, then compare your top picks using the broker comparison tool to make a final decision. Four-dollar lattes may be too expensive, but then $.99 brews from the local gas station are anything but delicious. In the end, it is about finding that happy medium where quality and price come together to offer you the most appetizing choice.

Discount Brokers Summary

Here is our summary of the lowest cost brokers for both stock and options trading:

Online Broker Best For Minimum Deposit Commissions Overall Rating
Fidelity Best all-around investing experience $0 $4.95 4.5 Stars
Interactive Brokers Best pricing for active traders $0 $0.005 per share 4 Stars
Merrill Edge Best rewards program, earn free trades $0 $6.95 4 Stars
Firstrade Free trades, balanced offering $0 $0 3.5 Stars
TradeStation Flexible options commissions, great tools $500 $5 3.5 Stars
Robinhood Free trades, no tools or research $0 $0 2.5 Stars

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How We Scored Discount Brokers

To find the best online discount brokers for stock trading, we considered all the possible scenarios. Whether the trades involved 100 shares or 5,000 shares, $5,000 in equity or $1 million in equity, margin or no margin, we assessed it all. We also analyzed the actual net costs per month for casual investors who might make ten stock trades a month or hyperactive traders who might place 100 stock trades in one month. We also considered monthly minimums, platform fees, data fees, and other relevant costs.

To find the lowest cost brokers for options trading, we assessed whether the trades involved one contract or 100 contracts, $5,000 in equity or $1 million in equity, single-leg or multi-leg spreads, and more. We also analyzed the actual net monthly costs for casual investors who might make ten options trades a month of one contract each, or active options traders who might place 50 options trades a month with five or more contracts each.

Methodology

For the StockBrokers.com ninth annual best online brokers review published in February 2019, a total of 4,544 data points were collected over six 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 provided 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.

Still aren't sure which broker to choose? Ask us a question! Whether you are a beginner investor learning the ropes or a professional trader, we are here to help. Email us your online broker specific question and we will respond within one business day. It is our satisfaction guarantee.

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Blain Reinkensmeyer

About the author: Blain Reinkensmeyer As Head of Research at StockBrokers.com, Blain Reinkensmeyer has 18 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 New York Times, Forbes, and the Chicago Tribune, among others.


All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 02/18/2019 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. 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.

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