How We Test
Our mission at StockBrokers.com is simple: provide thorough and unbiased reviews of online brokers.
For the StockBrokers.com 13th best online brokers review published in January 2023, a total of 3,332 data points were collected over three months and used to score brokers. This makes the site home to the largest independent database on the web covering the online broker industry.
We also take pride in StockBrokers.com’s data quality. Every broker that participates in the annual review is afforded the opportunity to complete an in-depth data profile and is offered the opportunity for an annual update meeting with the StockBrokers.com editorial team. We then audit each data point to ensure its accuracy.
This rigorous data validation process yields an error rate of less than .001% each year, providing site visitors quality data they can trust.
All testing is conducted on the devices listed below, using a hardwired, 300 MB Internet connection. Mobile device testing is conducted using an 802.11n wireless WiFi connection; 4G and 5G connections are used when WiFi is not available. Unless noted, all websites and web-based platforms are tested using the latest version of the Google Chrome browser.
Smartphone (Apple): iPhone 12 Pro with the most current iOS.
Smartphone (Android): Samsung Galaxy S9+, 6.2" 4K Super AMOLED (2960x1440) 64-bit Octa-Core Snapdragon 835 Processor 2.7GHz, 6GB RAM 6.2" with the most current (Android 10) operating system.
Desktop: Dell XPS 8930 desktop with three ASUS 27″ LED Monitors, Intel Core i7-8700 Processor at 3.2 GHz, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, and 16 GB RAM. Windows 10 Pro operating system.
Laptop: MacBook Pro 13-inch, Apple M1 8-core processor with built-in graphics, 8 GB RAM, 250 GB SSD storage running MacOS 13.1 Ventura.
Review Categories, Variables
For the StockBrokers.com 2023 Review, all U.S. equity brokers we reviewed were assessed on 196 different variables across eight areas: Commissions & Fees, Investment Options, Platforms & Tools, Research, Mobile Trading, Education, Ease of Use, and Overall.
“Best in Class” awards were presented to brokers across all eight main areas as well as additional categories Beginners, Options Trading, Futures Trading, Active Trading, IRA Accounts, Investor Community, Penny Stock Trading, Banking Services and Customer Service. A “Best in Class” designation means finishing in the top five brokers for that category. See full results for 2023.
Overall Score Calculation
Our eight primary categories are factored in to compile the Overall ranking for each broker. The weightings of each category were as follows:
- Commissions & Fees: 20%
- Investment Options: 10%
- Platforms & Tools: 5%
- Research: 10%
- Mobile Trading: 25%
- Education: 5%
- Ease of Use: 25%
Category Scoring Methodology
While most categories are scored using our default method of combining Yes / No points (Variable score) with a 1 - 10 Net Promoter Score (Opinion score), scoring does vary, as shown below.
- Commissions & Fees - Custom
- Platforms & Tools - Yes/No with Opinion
- Research - Yes/No with Opinion
- Mobile Trading - Yes/No with Opinion
- Investment Options - Yes/No only
- Education - Yes/No with Opinion
- Ease of Use - Opinion only
Each individual category score is also translated into a star rating. Specifically:
- 95% - 100% = 5 Stars
- 85% - 94.99% = 4.5 Stars
- 75% - 84.99% = 4 Stars
- 65% - 74.99% = 3.5 Stars
- 55% - 64.99% = 3 Stars
- 45% - 54.99% = 2.5 Stars
- 35% - 44.99% = 2 Stars
- 25% - 34.99% = 1.5 Stars
- 15% - 24.99% = 1 Stars
- 5% - 14.99% = 0.5 Stars
- 0% - 4.99% = 0 Stars
How We Score: Yes/No with Opinion
First, points are awarded for each “Yes” answer. The number of points awarded for each "Yes" varies by variable depending on its significance. Next, the total points earned from “Yes” answers is divided by the total points possible to calculate a final Yes/No score, also known as a Variable score.
Example: Broker XYZ has 49 of 57 features for category Platform and Tools and earns 73 out of a possible 79 total points (remember, points allotted to each individual variable varies). Thus, Broker XYZ earns a Variable score of 92.41% for category Platform and Tools.
Next, the editorial team gives an opinion score to each broker for the category. Opinion scores range from 1 – 10, with one being “very bad” and ten being “very good”. Half points are used, e.g. "9.5", so scoring isn't restricted to just whole numbers. Note: While the editorial team does take into consideration the Variable score, the Opinion score is more focused on the editorial view of how well the broker performs overall as compared to the industry standard and its closest competitors.
Example: Broker XYZ does a great job with its Mobile offering, exceeding the industry standard. Not only are a variety of tools and research available, but they are rich with depth and also easy to use. The editorial team awards Broker XYZ a score of "9" for its Opinion score, which equates to 90%.
Finally, to determine a final percentage score for the category, the Variable score and Opinion score are independently weighted and added together. This score is then also translated to a star rating. Weightings vary by category depending on the complexity of the category, e.g. 70% Variable, 30% Opinion.
Example: Broker XYZ earned a Variable score of 93.33% and a Opinion score of 100%. For category Research, the Variable score is 60% of the total and the Opinion score is 40%. Thus, Broker XYZ earns a final score of 96% for Research, which is calculated as "(0.9333*.6)+(1*.4)". Translated into a star rating, Broker XYZ earns 5 Stars for Research.
Commissions & Fees
First, multiple scenarios are assessed for equity trades, options trades, and margin rates. For example, the cost of placing a 500-share market order or the cost of placing a two-legged one-contract options spread, or the margin rate for a $50,000 balance. Brokers are awarded points depending on how low cost they are relative to their peers.
Next, multiple monthly pricing scenarios are assessed for different investor types. For example, the net monthly cost to place one stock trade (500 shares per), representative of a casual investor, or the monthly cost to place 10 stock trades (500 shares per) and 5 options trades (10 contracts per), representative of an active trader. Brokers are awarded points depending on how low cost they are relative to their peers.
Thereafter, all points are tallied to determine a total Scenarios score. Separately, scoring is then conducted to assess Order Execution quality, which applies an Opinion methodology.
Finally, to determine a final percentage score for the category, the Scenarios score and the Order Execution score are independently weighted and added together. Note: While there is currently no universal metric to assess order execution quality, the significance of execution quality is as important as ever given the reliance on PFOF as a source of revenue for brokers that charge $0 for trades. Read our guide to understanding order execution quality.
This final score is then also translated to a star rating.
For the past eight years, StockBrokers.com has partnered with customer experience research group Confero to conduct phone tests from locations across the United States.
Confero agents used one of 10 unique scenario templates provided by StockBrokers.com (on average, three questions are asked) to assess each broker. To ensure fairness as well as to gather the highest quality data, each agent used a single template to test all brokers.
To score each test, three separate buckets are assessed: 1. Time to connect 2. The ability of each broker representative to professionally (and thoroughly) answer each question and 3. A Net Promoter Score for the overall support experience. Response times are 15% of each test score, representative assessments are 35%, and Net Promoter Scores make up the remaining 50%.
Once all individual test scores were compiled, they were combined to determine an overall score for Customer Service. This final score is then also translated to a star rating.
Industry Awards recognize breakout innovations, unparalleled product offerings, and remarkable platform experiences. Industry awards are determined based on the measurable, data-driven criteria that decide our Category rankings as well as the opinion scores of our editorial team. These unique awards are designed to showcase the very best in the industry.
Here is a breakdown of our Industry Awards and our process for selecting winners.
The innovation award recognizes broker achievement in pushing the industry forward. Our team tests and analyzes new tools, experiences and features that challenge industry standards and unlock new abilities for individual investors.
#1 International Trading
This industry award is primarily based on the reach of a broker’s international offering. Data is collected to determine how many international exchanges each broker allows clients to access for trading. In addition, the trading platforms themselves are assessed using criteria from the Platforms & Tools category.
#1 Investor App
Awarded to the broker with the best app for everyday investors, which we define as Americans who place less than 36 trades each year or approximately three trades each month. A total of 29 individual variables were assessed for each mobile app as part of our testing within the Mobile Trading category.
#1 Trader App
Awarded to the broker with the best mobile app for traders, defined as Americans who place more than 36 trades each year. Our ranking is weighted towards active traders — those who place at least 120 trades per year or 10 trades per month, on average. A total of 29 individual variables are assessed for each mobile app as part of our testing within the Mobile Trading category.
#1 Desktop Trading Platform
Brokers that offer a desktop trading platform, defined as a downloadable Windows-based or Mac-based trading platform, are considered for the #1 Desktop Trading Platform award. This individual award is based in part on the results from our evaluation of 44 data-based variables within the Platforms & Tools category.
#1 Web Trading Platform
Brokers that offer a web trading platform, defined as a trading platform that runs through a web browser (such as Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge), are considered for the #1 Web Trading Platform award. The winner of this award is determined in part by the results from our testing of 44 data-based variables within our Platforms & Tools category.
#1 Platform Technology
Our award for #1 Platform Technology is based on the sophistication and advanced nature of a broker’s proprietary trading technology, including the depth of available tools, variety of features, and the richness of data that feeds the overall platform experience. Results are determined in part by the data collected for the 44 variables within our Platforms & Tools category.
#1 Client Dashboard
Contenders for our #1 Client Dashboard award are evaluated based on the design and ease-of-use of the homescreen view that summarizes a client’s account(s) on a high level. Both mobile and web platform dashboards are considered in our testing, and our research team looks for effective design, clear representation of data, and cleanly summarized account information.
#1 Overall Client Experience
For this award, all aspects of the digital experience are taken into consideration, comprising all primary and secondary categories. Our testing simulates dozens of workflows for investors and traders alike. Brokers that stand out are those that provide tools and experiences that are truly distinct from the competition.
#1 New Tool
Our award for #1 New Tool is partly based on data collected during our testing across all primary categories, with particular attention given to Research, Education, Platforms & Tools, Mobile Trading, and Investment Options. The award for #1 New Tool recognizes a new innovative feature or product experience launched by a broker during the previous calendar year. Our editorial team looks for tools that push the industry forward in a unique way, whether that be in investment research, portfolio management, education, or account offering.
#1 ESG Investing
Our #1 Environmental, Social, and Governance, or ESG, Investing award, which is heavily informed by the testing in our Research category, highlights the broker that provides the most comprehensive experience for socially responsible investing. We consider the availability of screening tools, third-party ratings, visual data, and other research features that help to identify ESG-related investment opportunities.
#1 Professional Trading
This award focuses on the areas of importance to professional traders, such as those trading independently for a living — e.g., day traders — or those working for a professional institution such as a hedge fund. We look at platform depth, customization, trading tools, portfolio management, and order management, including the availability of complex order types. Results are determined in part by the data collected for the 44 variables within our Platforms & Tools category.
#1 Order Execution
Since there is no single universal industry metric yet that identifies order execution quality, we focused our evaluation primarily on payment for order flow and each broker’s process for routing orders to achieve price improvement. Publicly available data, including third-party industry reports, SEC 606 reports, and self-reported execution data from each broker was also taken into consideration. Finally, it should be noted that all order sizes were considered relevant, from less than 100 shares to 1000+ shares or more.
#1 Crypto Technology
For this award we look at the full scope of a broker’s cryptocurrency offering, including whether crypto is offered through a third party or the broker offers an in-house solution. Additional features examined include the ability to deposit and withdraw crypto with the broker, availability of crypto wallets, and the ability to stake crypto and earn interest.
#1 Fractional Shares
This award takes several variables and data points into consideration, including any minimum deposit required for buying fractional shares, the broker’s execution method and order types available, as well as the trade ticket window and other fields supported when placing a trade and managing orders for fractional shares.
#1 Sentiment Investing
Determined in part by our testing of 47 variables in our Research category, this award highlights the broker that provides a trading experience that combines research technology with social data (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, or similar) to identify market trends and investment opportunities. We consider the availability and use of data, including charting, graphs, company ratings and screening tools.
#1 High Net Worth Investors
This award recognizes a broker’s particularly strong combination of features important to the high net worth client, defined as those with at least $1 million in total liquid assets. Our testing looks for robust market research, easy-to-use web and mobile platforms, standout customer service, and banking and wealth management options.
#1 Phone Support
This award is based on analysis of data collected by our partner Confero, a customer experience research firm which conducts phone tests from locations throughout the U.S. For our 2023 Broker Review, 168 customer service tests were conducted over six weeks. Customer service representatives were asked for assistance or details in several areas of broker services, including account opening, trading tools, apps, rollovers, active trading, and more. Wait times were logged for each individual customer service call. For further details, see the “Customer Service” section above.
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