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Best Trading Platforms 2021

Blain Reinkensmeyer

Dec 02, 2021

The StockBrokers.com 2021 Review (11th annual) took three months to complete and produced over 40,000 words of research. Here's how we tested.

Do you want to buy shares of stocks like Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Netflix (NFLX), or Tesla (TSLA)? If so, you’ll need to set up a trading account with an online broker.

Every stock trading platform is unique. And now – with every broker offering $0 stock and ETF trades – deciding which one to use comes down to differences in the overall trading experience. Investment options, trading tools, market research, beginner education, customer service, and ease of use are all factors investors should consider when choosing a broker.

Having led these annual reviews for the past 11 years, I have seen the industry evolve firsthand. I placed my first stock trade when I was just 14 years old. (It was Starbucks.) Today, at 34, my lifelong tally of trades is more than 2,500.

I geek out over every aspect of the trading experience, which is why our review process is so exhaustive. This year we measured more than 250 individual variables. I couldn't have done this alone, though. Big thanks to my teammates Steven Hatzakis, Jessica Hoelscher, and Joey Shadeck, along with the rest of our awesome editorial staff.

Best Trading Platforms 2021

StockBrokers.com 2021 Review

Here are the best online brokers for 2021, based on 256 variables.

TD Ameritrade
Overall

Best overall, best for beginners

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

Get up to $375 and trade commission-free

TD Ameritrade delivers $0 trades, fantastic trading platforms, excellent market research, industry-leading education for beginners, and reliable customer service. This outstanding all-around experience makes TD Ameritrade our top overall broker in 2021. Read full review

Pros

  • Excellent education for beginners.
  • thinkorswim platform suite is our top desktop platform for 2021.
  • Futures and forex trading available.

Cons

  • $6.95 fee per trade for penny stocks.
  • No access to international stock markets.
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Get up to $375 and trade commission-free

Fidelity
Overall

Best for everyday investors

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

Trade at Fidelity.1

Fidelity is a value-driven online broker offering $0 trades, industry-leading research, excellent trading tools, an easy-to-use mobile app, and comprehensive retirement services. Serving over 32 million customers, Fidelity is a winner for everyday investors. Read full review

Pros

  • Excellent mobile app for investors.
  • Our top pick for order execution, no payment for order flow (PFOF).

Cons

  • Margin rates can be higher than peers'.
  • No custom screening on mobile.
  • Banking services offered via a third party.
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Trade at Fidelity.1

Charles Schwab
Overall

Best IRA accounts

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

With more than $6 trillion in client assets, Charles Schwab understands how to consistently deliver value to its customers. Highlights include $0 trades, excellent stock research, a diverse selection of trading tools, and an industry-leading offering of financial planning services. Read full review

Pros

  • Our top pick for stock and market research.
  • Fractional shares available.
  • Multiple financial planning services.

Cons

  • Mobile app lacks alerts, streaming quotes and options chains.
panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye

Interactive Brokers
Overall

Best for professionals

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

EXCLUSIVE: New clients, special margin rates.

Once again, in 2021, Interactive Brokers is our top pick for professionals because of its institutional-grade desktop trading platform and rock bottom margin rates. Professionals aside, Interactive Brokers also appeals to casual investors with $0 trades and its user-friendly web platform. Read full review

Pros

  • Web-based client portal great for casual investors.
  • Offers access to global markets.
  • Robust mobile app.

Cons

  • TWS desktop platform best suited for professionals, not beginners.
panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye

EXCLUSIVE: New clients, special margin rates.

E*TRADE
Overall

Best web trading platform

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

Open & fund, get $600 w/ code: BONUS21 Advertisement

Founded in 1982 as one of the first online brokerages in the United States, E*TRADE highlights include $0 trades, two excellent mobile apps, and the Power E*TRADE platform, which is great for beginners, active trading, and options trading. Read full review

Pros

  • Excellent web and mobile platforms; Power E*TRADE.
  • Our top pick for options trading.

Cons

  • $1,000 minimum for streaming data.
  • Range of educational materials is limited compared to peers.
panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye panorama_fish_eye

Open & fund, get $600 w/ code: BONUS21 Advertisement

Other Trading Platforms

In addition to our top five trading platforms for 2021, we reviewed six others: Merrill Edge, Firstrade, Ally Invest, TradeStation, Webull and Robinhood. Here are our high-level takeaways for each. To dive deeper, read our reviews.

Merrill Edge - Merrill Edge offers $0 trades with industry-leading research tools (especially ESG research) and excellent customer service. Better yet, for current Bank of America customers, Merrill Edge's Preferred Rewards program provides the best rewards of any bank broker we tested in 2021.

Firstrade - While Firstrade is easy to use and terrific for Chinese-speaking investors, its overall offering struggles to stand out against brokers who also offer $0 stock trades.

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.

TradeStation - As a trading technology leader, TradeStation supports casual traders through its web-based platform and active traders through its award-winning desktop platform, all with $0 stock and ETF trades.

Webull - Webull offers a unique community experience and easy to use trading platforms that will satisfy most young investors. However, for everyday investing, Webull lacks the trading tools and features to compete with industry leaders who also offer $0 stock and ETF trades.

Robinhood - Robinhood used to shine thanks to its easy-to-use mobile app and $0 trades. However, today, all of the largest online brokers offer free stock and ETF trades. As a result, it is much more difficult for Robinhood to outduel the competition.

2021 Overall Ranking

Here are the Overall rankings for the 11 online brokers who participated in our 2021 Review, sorted by Overall ranking.

BrokersCommissions & FeesResearchPlatforms & ToolsMobile Trading AppsOffering of InvestmentsEducationEase Of UseOverall RatingVisit Site
TD AmeritradeVisit Site
FidelityVisit Site
Charles Schwab
Interactive BrokersVisit Site
E*TRADEVisit Site
Merrill EdgeVisit Site
FirstradeVisit Site
Ally Invest
TradeStationVisit Site
WebullVisit Site
Robinhood

Note: Due to the pandemic and extensive market volatility, Customer Service was not scored as a main category.

2021 Industry Awards

For the StockBrokers.com 2021 Review, all online broker participants were assessed on 256 different variables, with 2,816 data points collected in total. Here are the 2021 main category, secondary category, and industry award winners. Here's how we tested.

What is the best stockbroker for beginners?

Based on over 30 variables, the best stockbroker for beginners is TD Ameritrade. Alongside paper (practice) trading, TD Ameritrade offers the largest and most diverse selection of educational content. Highlights include over 200 videos, progress tracking, quizzes, and over 100 monthly webinars, among others.

Which online trading platform is best?

Online trading platforms come in one of three forms: desktop (download), web (browser), and mobile (app). After testing 11 brokers and collecting 2,816 data points, we found that TD Ameritrade has the best desktop trading platform, E*TRADE has the best web trading platform, and Fidelity has the best stock trading app.

Who are the top 10 brokerage firms?

The top 10 brokers in 2021 can be ranked by total assets under management, or AUM, as follows:

What is the most profitable trading platform?

The most profitable trading platform for you depends on your needs — whether you’re a day trader, active investor, or passive investor focused on the long term. TD Ameritrade is our top all-around pick for 2021; with multiple platforms for desktop, web and mobile, it's accessible for all types of customers.

People often mistake trading platforms — like Robinhood or TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim — for companies that place trades for you; in reality, these platforms are meant for self-directed trading (though they may offer educational tools and materials). If you’re looking for hands-on guidance with your investments, you can search for a trusted financial advisor on investor.com.

It bears noting that trading profits are never guaranteed; for every potential reward there is an equal amount of risk.

Which online broker has the lowest fees?

When it comes to buying stocks online, our research found Fidelity has the lowest fees overall. Fidelity is the only online brokerage to offer $0 stock trades without profiting from the industry practice of payment for order flow, or PFOF. In a world where every online broker offers free stock trades, hidden costs matter.

What does a stockbroker do?

There are two types of stockbrokers. Online stockbrokers or companies like TD Ameritrade and Fidelity allow you to buy and sell stocks. Traditional stockbrokers — who are individuals — buy and sell stocks on behalf of clients. Traditional stockbrokers often work for corporations, as opposed to individual investors.

If you are looking to buy and sell stocks on your own, you are looking for an online stockbroker. When you open an account with a regulated brokerage, you can deposit money and make investments in the stock market.

If you want someone to manage your money for you, you might benefit from looking for a Registered Investment Advisory on sites like investor.com.

Should I hire a stockbroker?

It depends on your needs. If you want to handle your own investments, there’s no need to hire an individual stockbroker; opening a free brokerage account with a broker such as TD Ameritrade provides you with the services needed to trade in the stock market, usually for free or for a small commission per trade.

On the other hand, if you want someone to manage your money for you, then you may consider hiring a financial advisor for a fee. Financial advisors can buy and sell stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and other financial assets for you based on your financial goals and risk tolerance. Our sister site, investor.com, ranks the best financial advisor firms in the United States.

Summary

To recap, here are the best trading platforms overall for 2021.

Best trading platforms 2021

Read Next

Explore our other online trading guides:

Methodology

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.


More from the editor

Alongside the StockBrokers.com Annual Review, our fifth annual forex brokers review, which included 27 forex brokers, was also published on our sister site, ForexBrokers.com. Finally, be sure to check the latest financial advisor ratings, which you can view on investor.com.



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.



All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 01/19/2021 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.

TD Ameritrade, Inc. and StockBrokers.com are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s services and products. View terms.

1 Fidelity 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.

*Webull Disclaimer View Disclaimer.

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