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Overall

For those seeking access to excellent research, quality trade tools, and professional planning for the future, Charles Schwab will not disappoint.

By Blain Reinkensmeyer / February 21st, 2017 / Updated: September 21st, 2017

Dislikes
  • Poor email support
  • Disorganized educational offering
  • OptionsXpress accounts have yet to complete migration to Schwab
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Review Sections:

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Charles Schwab’s iconic brand is one with which nearly every investor is familiar. The full-service broker was founded in 1973, and as early 2017, Schwab was home to a staggering $2.73 trillion in total client assets. From advisory services to research, active trading, customer service, ease of use, and more, Schwab understands what it means to provide a high-quality offering.

Commissions & Fees

Whether trading stocks or options, Charles Schwab is ahead of most of its closest full-service competitors. Its $4.95 flat-rate stock trades are less expensive than ETRADE ($9.99), TD Ameritrade ($9.99), Scottrade ($7), and match Fidelity who also charges $4.95. The same goes for option trades, which run at $4.95, plus $.65 per contract.

Investors trading ETFs will also enjoy Charles Schwab as the leading broker in its offering of 229 commission-free ETFs. Mutual funds are a low point, as transaction fee funds come with a $76 per trade charge (per buy, $0 to sell), the second highest in the industry.

Charles SchwabFidelity TD AmeritradeE*TRADEScottrade
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$4.95$4.95$6.95$6.95$6.95
Options Base Fee$4.95$4.95$6.95$6.95$6.95
Options Per Contract Fee$0.65$0.65$0.75$0.75$0.70
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$76.00$49.95$49.99$19.99$17.00
Commission Free ETFs229911011490
Commissions & Fees 3.5 Stars 3 Stars 2.5 Stars 2.5 Stars 3.5 Stars
Overall 4.5 Stars 4.5 Stars 4.5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars

UPDATE 02/28/17 – Charles Schwab reduced its equity and options commissions. Equity trades, including stocks and ETFs, have been lowered to $4.95 per trade (previously $6.95) while options trades have been lowered to $4.95 + $.65 per contract (previously $6.95 + $.70 per contract). Since these new rates were announced after the 2017 Review was published, they are not incorporated into Charles Schwab's star rating for this category.

Customer Service

Charles Schwab offers not only 24/7 support, but also a consistent and memorable experience. I will never forget originally opening my Schwab account, and, within an hour of completing the application, having a Schwab representative call me to personally welcome me as a new client and answer any initial questions I had. Most recently, during our testing for the 2017 Broker Review, Schwab once again impressed us with its courteous and knowledgeable representatives.

Most investors expect good service from Schwab, and I am no exception. As the company is a full-service brokerage, I want to feel confident trusting them with my nest egg and know there is always someone ready to assist me or offer guidance. Competitors TD Ameritrade, Merrill Edge Scottrade, and Fidelity give Schwab a run for its money, as they, too, are very consistent.

If there is one major con I found with Charles Schwab's service, it is email support.

If there is one major con I found with Charles Schwab's service, it is email support. Year after year, our testing has found it to be extremely inconsistent and surprisingly bad as emails are repeatedly ignored. Considering Charles Schwab finished fourth for phone and second for live chat in our testing for the 2017 Review, placing dead last for email support came as a severe disappointment.

To make the message clear, it is surprising Charles Schwab even offers email support for prospective clients. As the hands-down worst experience in the industry, we highly recommend avoiding email service in favor of phone or live chat.

Research

Charles Schwab provides the highest quality of research compared to any of the brokers I've tested here at StockBrokers.com. Accessing a wealth of independent research alongside Schwab's own in-house research is simple. When I pull up a quote for Apple (AAPL), the summary page has a similar feel to competitors TD Ameritrade, ETRADE, and Fidelity; however, Schwab is the only broker to offer its own in-house Equity Rating.

Charles Schwab Equity Rating Summary Apple 1

With so much research available for traders today, I appreciate the fact that Schwab puts its own viewpoint front and center whenever possible. What is even more impressive is the staff of experts Schwab has on board providing market commentary and analysis (25 as I write this review). To be able to see experts such as Liz Ann Sonders, Schwab's Chief Investment Strategist, interviewed on Bloomberg TV and thereafter to be able to read her latest editorial on Schwab Insights is awesome.

Charles Schwab Insights

Speaking of TV, Schwab is the only broker to stream its own live events. Known as Schwab Live, several events were hosted in 2016, and more are planned for 2017.

Speaking of TV, Schwab is the only broker to stream its own live events. Known as Schwab Live, several events were hosted in 2016, and more are planned for 2017. For example, one of the more memorable events from 2016 was the day after the US presidential election when Randy Frederick interviewed special guest Nate Silver, a statistician and editor-in-chief of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight.

Back to on-site research: the standard charting functionality is basic yet well built, as small details are not overlooked. Whichever settings you apply to one chart are automatically saved as the default, so every time a fresh chart is loaded, you do not have to spend time re-configuring it to your liking. Schwab offers 34 different indicators that can be added, which are more than enough for the average investor. I also really enjoyed being able to easily view historical charts dating as far back as 1980.

Charles Schwab website stock chart

After assessing Charles Schwab on a staggering 51 different variables for research alone in our 2017 Review, it was one of only two brokers to score at least 98% in the category. Fidelity was able to edge out Charles Schwab for the No. 1 spot, finishing with a score of 99%.

Charles SchwabFidelity TD AmeritradeE*TRADEMerrill Edge
Equity Research - Social Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Equity Research - Metric Comparisons Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Equity Research - Reports812743
ETF Research - Reports Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mutual Fund Research - Reports Yes No Yes Yes Yes

Platforms & Tools

Charles Schwab currently offers clients access to three different platforms: StreetSmart.com (web-based), StreetSmart Edge (desktop based), and Trade Source (website). Like TD Ameritrade, all platforms are available to all clients, regardless of account minimums or trade activity (competitors ETRADE and Fidelity have requirements for access to their flagship platforms).

StreetSmart.com is a browser-based platform recommended for clients looking for more out-of-the-box functionality and less advanced features. Real-time streaming watch lists, alerts, conditional orders, and slightly more advanced charting functionality make up the bulk of this platform's offering. What I enjoyed most was the platform’s ease of use. That said, StreetSmart.com is noticeably outdated and I found myself preferring Trade Source instead.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart

One other important caveat regarding StreetSmart.com is that it runs on Java, a programming language that has lost favor in today’s modern web environment. Google Chrome and Microsoft’s new Edge browser no longer support Java, which means customers who want to access StreetSmart.com have to use Mozilla Firefox, legacy Internet Explorer, or Safari (Mac).

Charles Schwab's robust desktop-based platform, StreetSmart Edge, requires a slight learning curve, as all active trader platforms do, to become acquainted with it. Everything is fully customizable, from two different platform color schemes to custom layouts, which can be built on the fly for quick access to different screens.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart Edge

Some of the features that stood out during my testing of StreetSmart Edge included the High/Low streamer and the Average Volume Over Time indicator, both great tools for active traders looking to keep tabs on momentum stocks intraday. The "Launch Tools" button allows for quick access to the platform's products, and I liked the pop-up notifications that informed me whenever any of my orders triggered, were filled successfully, etc. For positions you currently hold, markers appear on the charts to show you when and at what price you purchased the stock, a feature most of Schwab's competitors do not have.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart Edge Tools

Options traders will love the easy-order entry, thanks to a customizable version of optionsXpress’s infamous all-in-one trade ticket and the inclusion of the Walk Limit order type.

Options traders will love the easy-order entry, thanks to a customizable version of optionsXpress’s infamous all-in-one trade ticket and the inclusion of the Walk Limit order type. To prevent adjusting limit orders as they sit live, Walk Limit will "walk" your order to try to get the most favorable price within the National Best Bid or Offer (NBBO). Analyzing theoretical positions is also a breeze using the Trade & Probability Calculator, another ported tool from optionsXpress.

Charles SchwabFidelity TD AmeritradeE*TRADEMerrill Edge
Desktop Platform (Windows) Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Charting - Indicators / Studies4016637011873
Charting - Drawing Tools1522222422
Option Chains - Total Columns3426333962
Watch Lists - Total Fields9480401130216

Lastly, advanced charting is much cleaner and more robust on the platform compared to StreetSmart.com, and almost feels like Adobe Photoshop, as studies and drawings can be added quickly, hidden, or removed with a simple click. Traders who require 8, 12, 16, or 20-plus charts running at once, though, may find StreetSmart Edge less flexible than, say, thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade or TradeStation. Overall, the platform is easy to love.

Charles Schwab StreetSmart Edge stock chart

Streetsmart.com and StreetSmart Edge aside, Charles Schwab is also home to some unique trader tools on its website. Trade Source, for example, is a dashboard experience that provides clients a full view of their portfolios and high level research. With Trade Source, clients can see a clean summary of their portfolios, positions, overall market averages, order status updates, and news alongside technical events impacting their holdings.

Charles Schwab Trade Source

Using the tabbed windows, Trade Source is also useful for pulling stock quotes and doing high level equity research. It is the only spot on the Schwab website where clients have access to real-time streaming quotes. Furthermore, the new experience came out of Charles Schwab’s client testing area, Test Drive, so it was molded with client feedback from start to finish.

The bottom-line? Without question, Trade Source is my favorite client dashboard.

Speaking of innovation, in December, 2016 Schwab released Gain/Loss Analyzer as a new tool within Trade Source. Targeted at active traders, the tool analyzes your recent stock and ETF trades to relay performance metrics including total gains, total losses, net gain, gain/loss ratio, average gain, average loss, profitable trades, unprofitable trades, and profitability rate. It is impressive; however, the initial iteration is a danger to unseasoned traders as it can encourage over trading, puts too much emphasis on win/loss metrics, and lacks critical supplemental education. It is probably better suited as a tool found in StreetSmart Edge.

Gain/Loss Analyzer aside, since Trade Source first rolled out in early 2015, the one gripe I’ve had is not being able to customize the different modules by enabling/disabling them and changing their locations. After using it for two years now, I almost don’t mind anymore as the experience is so cleanly designed.

The bottom-line? Without question, Trade Source is my favorite client dashboard.

Mobile Trading

Charles Schwab’s mobile offering includes apps for nearly all major devices: smartphones (Apple and Android), tablets (Apple but not Android), as well as even Apple Watch. No matter which platform clients are using, the experience is consistent and generally enjoyable.

That said, Charles Schwab’s mobile apps lack core functionality in two key areas: alerts and quotes. Our testing, which focuses on the Apple iOS platform, found that even basic stock price alerts cannot be set. Worse yet, quotes are real-time but require manual refreshing, a functionality all of Charles Schwab’s full-service competitors offer. Auto-refreshing quotes were added for watch lists in 2016; however, the refresh rate is once every ten seconds, which is hardly useful.

Charles Schwab mobile quote

On the positive side, fingerprint login (Touch ID support), heatmapping, as well as support for three- and four-legged options trades are all present. To find fresh options trade ideas, clients can use Idea Hub, an optionsXpress creation, and filter through lists such as “Big Movers,” “Earnings,” “Premium Harvesting,” and “Buy Write.”

Positives aside, while mobile trading is good at Charles Schwab and will satisfy the majority, the experience continues to trail all of its closest competitors. See: Best Brokers for Mobile Trading.

Charles SchwabFidelity TD AmeritradeE*TRADEMerrill Edge
Watch List Syncing Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Charting - Technical Studies3223281022
Stock Alerts - Basic Fields No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Customizable Homescreen No Yes No Yes Yes
Touch ID Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Stream Live TV Yes Yes Yes Yes No

Other Notes

Since Charles Schwab acquired optionsXpress in 2011, the integration has been an ongoing process. Schwab has meticulously ported over specific features and functionality from optionsXpress over the years. According to comments made by Terri Kallsen, EVP of Investor Services, during the Charles Schwab 2017 Winter Business Update, the integration will be completed before the end of 2017.

In 2015, Charles Schwab became the first online broker to launch a robo-advisor service. Called Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, the automated portfolio management service charges its clients no annual management fees or account service fees. As of year-end 2016, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios had over $12 billion in assets under management (AUM). Thanks to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, we awarded Charles Schwab No. 1 for Broker Innovation in our 2016 Review. Read our full review of Intelligent Portfolios.

Final Thoughts

Charles Schwab is a worldwide-respected brand with a very balanced offering. Clients have access to a plethora of quality research and innovative trade tools, not to mention the largest selection of commission-free ETFs in the industry.

Beyond ranking as an industry leader for independent investing, clients interested in life planning, personalized strategies for their portfolios, and making the most of retirement will also find Schwab a great fit. In 2017, Schwab’s tagline holds true, “Own Your Tomorrow.”

Methodology

For our 2017 Stock Broker Review we assessed, rated, and ranked sixteen different online brokers over a period of six months. In total, we conducted 349 customer service tests, collected 5,277 data points, and produced over 40,000 words of research. How we test.

View all Charles Schwab Fees & Features
Blain Reinkensmeyer

Reviewed by Blain Reinkensmeyer Blain heads research at StockBrokers.com and has been involved in the markets since placing his first stock trade back in 2001. He developed StockBrokers.com's annual review format seven years ago, a format broker executives consider the most thorough in the industry. Blain currently maintains funded accounts with more than a dozen different US-regulated online brokers and has executed thousands of trades throughout his career. He enjoys sharing his experiences through his personal blog, StockTrader.com.


Ratings Overall

Summary

Offering of Investments
Platforms & Tools
Research
Customer Service
Banking

Best in Class

2017
 3

Overall
  • Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Investor Education
  • Order Execution
  • Banking
  • Options Trading
2016
 4

Overall
  • Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Investor Education
  • Order Execution
  • Banking
  • Options Trading
2015
 6

Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Banking
2014
 5

Overall
  • Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Investor Education
2013
 3

Overall
  • Overall
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Investor Education

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All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 2/20/2017 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com 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.

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