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Overall

TradeStation is a broker designed specifically for the tech-hungry, seasoned trader who is serious about his or her craft.

By Blain Reinkensmeyer / February 21st, 2017 / Updated: May 25th, 2017

Dislikes
  • TradeStation desktop platform design is outdated
  • Broker began accepting payment for order flow again in 2015 after shunning the practice in previous years
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Review Sections:

Data:

Since becoming a brokerage in 1982, TradeStation has taken pride in being a leader in trader technology, with one of the most robust platforms available to traders anywhere. With more than 30 years of experience under its belt, TradeStation continues that effort in 2017.

Commissions & Fees

While TradeStation does offer support for all trading types, including forex and futures, this review focuses on TradeStation's equities and options offerings. There are three different commission structures to select from for equities (Flat-Fee, Per-Share, and Unbundled) and two for options (Flat-Fee, Per-Share).

Focusing on TradeStation's most commonly used pricing structure, flat-fee trades, equities trades cost $5 and options trades cost $5 + $0.50 per contract. Also with this plan, basic real-time market data is free and there is no $99.95 per month “Account Service Fee” for not reaching certain minimum activity thresholds. Without question, for non-professional traders, the flat-rate default plan is best.

TradeStationTD AmeritradeOptionsHouseLightspeed TradingInteractive Brokers
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$5.00$6.95$4.95$4.50N/A
Options Base Fee$5.00$6.95$4.95$0.00$0.00
Options Per Contract Fee$0.50$0.75$0.50$0.60$0.70
Broker Assisted Trades Fee$20.00$44.99$25.00$25.00$30.00
Commissions & Fees 3.5 Stars 2.5 Stars 4.5 Stars 4 Stars 4.5 Stars

A full breakdown of TradeStation's commissions and fees structure can be seen via the Commissions Notes further down the page.

UPDATE 03/07/17 – TradeStation reduced, and simplified, its flat-rate equity and options commissions, which is reflected in the commentary above. Equity trades, including stocks and ETFs, have been lowered to a flat $5.00 per trade (previously started at $9.99). Options were also reduced to $5.00 + $0.50 per contract (previously started at $9.99 + $0.70 per contract). Since these new rates were announced after the 2017 Review was published, they are not incorporated into TradeStation's star rating for this category.

One final note on the topic; in November 2016 TradeStation launched the TradeStation Salutes program, which provides active military personnel 100% free stocks, ETFs, and options trades. There are no minimum fees and free basic real-time data. I dug into the offering, and it’s the real deal. Veterans are also included, receiving the lowest per-trade stock, ETF, and options commission rates offered at TradeStation.

TradeStation Salutes

The program is a great way to give back and I am baffled none of the large full-service brokers offer a similar program. The TradeStation Salutes program is so innovative that we awarded TradeStation #1 for Innovation in our 2017 Review.

Platforms & Tools

TradeStation offers two platforms, a browser-based platform and a desktop platform, which is the company’s flagship product and core focus.

For a quick synopsis on TradeStation Web Trading, the browser-based platform focuses on keeping things simple. It is very easy to use and provides high-level traders a way to manage active positions, open orders, watch lists, stock chart analysis, and placing basic trades. In testing Web Trading, I found the simplicity and flexibility of the different layouts impressive. Web Trading is clean and the chart trading functionality added in 2016 is superior to many flagship platforms.

TradeStation Web Trading

TradeStation, the desktop platform, encompasses everything an active trader could desire, and then some. The tools provided cater to every type of professional investor, including institutional investors such as hedge funds.

TradeStation, the desktop platform, encompasses everything an active trader could desire, and then some. The tools provided cater to every type of professional investor, including institutional investors such as hedge funds. More than 40 years of historical data are available for equities trading when it comes to charting and studies. In terms of functionality, backtesting through Portfolio Maestro and customized scanning of the market for opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg.

TradeStation desktop platform

Charting allows investors to go deep into analysis, customizing indicators with numerous options, something only competitors such as TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim platform can match. A staggering 270 indicators/studies are available, and each one can be reworked or adjusted to the trader's specifications. Viewing historical trades and active alerts, simplified chart trading, and plotting strategies are all at your immediate disposal.

TradeStation stock charts

Beyond ease of use, it’s difficult to find flaws with the charting experience; I could only manage to find two. The first is that there is no way to plot basic y-axis markers for corporate events such as dividends, splits, and earnings. Second, there is a lack of automated technical analysis. With TradeStation’s plethora of data and algorithms, I’d love to be able to have channels, support, resistance, and other basic technical patterns automatically identified and drawn for me.

Alongside robust charting, options traders are not forgotten either, thanks to OptionStation Pro, a built-in tool within a platform that was completely overhauled in late 2016 to focus on streamlining workflow.

Alongside robust charting, options traders are not forgotten either, thanks to OptionStation Pro, a built-in tool within a platform that was completely overhauled in late 2016 to focus on streamlining workflow. Scanning in the process of analyzing potential trades is easy, and traders can view traditional 2D as well as 3D profit & loss (P&L) charts, something exclusive to TradeStation (while the 3D views were a nice plus, ultimately, they felt more like eye candy). TradeStation’s options capabilities also include custom grouping for current positions, streaming real-time greeks, and advanced position analysis, to name a few.

TradeStation options 3d

Other tools in the TradeStation arsenal include Radar Screen (real-time streaming watch lists with 318 customizable columns), Scanner (custom screening), Matrix (ladder trading), and Walk-Forward Optimizer (advanced strategy testing), among others.

TradeStation RadarScreen watchlist

Among a variety of updates in 2016 were several unique stand outs. The Intraday Short Locate app was released, providing clients an easy way to request shares of non-easy-to-borrow securities without having to call the trade desk. Also added was the TSAlogos app, a request from large-order clients seeking more sophisticated fills. The number of order algorithms was expanded and reporting was enhanced to include charts plotting all fills over time as well as overall performance. Wild stuff.

Speaking of sophistication, a critical piece of TradeStation's tools offering is EasyLanguage, the company's own proprietary coding language, which allows traders to run wild with indicator and trade-strategy customizations.

Speaking of sophistication, a critical piece of TradeStation's tools offering is EasyLanguage, the company’s own proprietary coding language, which allows traders to run wild with indicator and trade-strategy customizations. Clients can share and sell their work via the TradeStation TradingApp Store (previously the Strategy Network). Some products are free, while others can run for less than $50 per month all the way up to hundreds of dollars per month. Overall, with EasyLanguage, the sky is the limit, which is why it is no surprise that, as of year-end 2016, there were over a thousand different products available.

TradeStation TradingApp Store

The depth of TradeStation’s sophisticated functions makes them a little difficult to learn. My one gripe with the platform is that it hasn’t had a true usability and design overhaul in many years. With hundreds of hours logged in at TradeStation, I still feel far from mastering the platform. That said, for new users, the good news is that educational support is terrific, from the help guides to the endless YouTube videos that have accumulated tens of thousands of views over the years. To expand learning, weekly “1-Many” webinars were launched in 2016 as well as TradeStation Private Onboarding, one-hour private learning sessions for $150.

All in all, TradeStation’s Web Trading platform is great for traders looking to keep things simple, and the desktop platform leads the industry in sophistication. Outdated design aside, it’s not easy to identify flaws; there’s a whole lot to love.

Mobile Trading

For mobile trading, we found TradeStation to be great for active traders, but just ok for casual investors. The app was entirely rebuilt back in 2013 and the quality of the new app immediately showed thereafter. Charting was significantly improved, and the app was much smoother than its previous iteration.

TradeStation mobile stock quote

This growth extended into 2014 as the broker added functionality such as the ability to trade from the chart or use custom time frames with charts.

Then, in 2015, much to our liking, TradeStation added basic stock alerts and push notifications. While advanced alerts based off studies are not yet supported, supporting order notification push alerts is a nice plus. The highlight update of 2015, though, came right before the year end with the launch of complex options trading. Alerts and mobile options spread support were two big features we had on our wish list after the 2015 Review.

Looking at 2016, I left my analysis with a clear request, “we’d love to see TradeStation extend the apps usability to include Touch ID login (fingerprint login) and extend the charting functionality to display after-hours data. Watchlist syncing with the platform would also be welcome.” TradeStation delivered two of my three wishes: Touch ID alongside after-hours charting support.

TradeStation mobile watchlist

Identifying drawbacks, TradeStation still trails industry leaders in mobile due to its lack of broader retail investor functionality. This includes mutual funds trading support, third-party ratings for equities, video content, heatmapping, and a customizable home screen, to name several. I suspect TradeStation will never add some of these features simply because they don’t serve their target clientele.

Limitations aside, though, I can see why TradeStation’s app finished 2016 with top ratings in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Limitations aside, though, I can see why TradeStation’s app finished 2016 with top ratings in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. With all variables considered, TradeStation’s mobile trading offering is clean, effective, and provides the core functionality of what active traders need to succeed.

Other Notes

TradeStation offers little research and is not recommended for this category (like all active trader niche brokers).

In the education department, TradeStation customers will find its offering pretty good. Customers are provided with two or more daily webinars, on average. Webinars are archived for viewing on demand, and a variety of live events are provided throughout the year. That said, topic specification focuses primarily on options and equities. We found little or no education on ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, and retirement, which is not surprising given TradeStation’s core clientele.

Final Thoughts

With more than 30 years of experience under its belt, TradeStation is a leader and innovator with its offering of a full-feature trade platform and powerful trade tools. The TradeStation platform is top notch in our books, and its appeal to active traders and professional investors is rivaled by only a select few.

While not the broker for everyone, TradeStation’s respected place in the realm of niche brokers should continue to grow in 2017.

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 TradeStation Securities 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
10

Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Customer Service
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
2016
10

Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Mobile Trading
  • Order Execution
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
2015
12

Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
2014
14

Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
2013
13

Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading

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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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