Best Online Brokerage Accounts [2020]

Last updated Sep 17, 2020 | By Miranda Marquit

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If you’re hoping to meet your various financial goals, investing can help you get there, whether your goals are short or long term. There are plenty of places to put your money and watch it grow — all you need is an internet connection and some time to learn about your options before you start.

Speaking of options, we’re to help you narrow them down. Here are our picks for the best online brokerage accounts and who they’re right for.

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Best online brokerage accounts

If you want to learn how to invest money, starting with one of the best brokerage accounts can be a good way to go about it. Here are our picks for the best online stock brokers to meet different needs.

Best for small investments: Stash

Stash is a good choice if you want to make small investments because you can start investing in stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for as little as $1. You can set up automatic investments, or even use a roundup feature to invest your pocket change.

With Stash, you can build a portfolio using suggestions from Stash or by creating your own portfolio from a selection of individual stocks and ETFs. Plus, there are other features such as banking products. Additionally, Stash offers Stock-Back® rewards, in which you receive shares of stock as a reward for using the debit card1. This can help you supercharge your portfolio in a way cashback rewards can’t.

Read our full Stash review.

Stash Benefits

  • Get $5 to make your first investment
  • Invest in stocks, bonds, and ETFs
  • Fractional shares available
  • Start investing with just $1

Best for low fees: Robinhood

Robinhood stands out for its fee-free online trading. You can trade as often as you want without paying transaction fees. This makes it one of the best brokerage accounts if you’re an active trader looking to avoid fees that eat into real returns. You do need to pay a low fee $5 per month fee for certain features in the Gold account. However, this is lower than the premium account fees from other online brokerages, which may charge up to $9 a month for access to premium features.

Robinhood offers access to free trading for individual stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrencies. You can also get access to a margin account if you pay for Robinhood Gold. Plus, you can invest small amounts, get access to cash management products, and high-level market data and research with a premium account.

Read our full Robinhood review.

Robinhood Benefits

  • When you sign up, a surprise stock appears in your account
  • Commission-free trading with no account minimums
  • Trade stocks, options, and cryptocurrencies

Best for hands-off investors: Betterment

Betterment is one of the best robo-advisors out there, and it’s ideal for hands-off investors who don’t want the hassle of managing their portfolio. Answer some questions about your risk tolerance and goals, and Betterment will construct a portfolio for you based on principles of asset allocation. Not only that, but Betterment does the heavy lifting of rebalancing your portfolio to keep it in line with your goals, as well as managing your portfolio’s tax efficiency. As far as asset classes go, there aren’t a ton of choices, but the options Betterment provides are enough for a decently diversified portfolio, especially if you’re investing for the long haul.

With Betterment, you have limited customization, as this online brokerage focuses on building your portfolio from a selection of index-based ETFs. You can choose a socially responsible portfolio and portfolios with other features. Additionally, Betterment offers banking products, including savings accounts and checking accounts with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) insurance. Plus, if you want some guidance, you can use the add-on for access to financial advisors.

Read our full Betterment review.

Betterment Benefits

  • Your financial life all in one place
  • Customized portfolio recommendations
  • Personalizes investing for your specific goals

Best for learning about investing: Fidelity

Fidelity is one of the best-known brokerages, and remains one of the best brokers out there. It provides an extensive learning library with information about almost every investing topic imaginable. If you want to learn about investing before diving in, Fidelity offers what you need, from beginning topics to advanced concepts.

You can get access to a variety of features with Fidelity. In addition to offering more traditional brokerage services, Fidelity also has its own robo-advisor service, called Fidelity Go, which has a $0 account minimum and low fees — in fact, it’s free for accounts under $10,000. Plus, Fidelity is known for its retirement account management choices.

Best broker for fractional shares: SoFi

SoFi makes it easy to buy a small amount of major stocks, like Amazon (AMZN) and Google’s parent company, Alphabet (GOOG), with its Stock Bits feature. This basically allows you to buy fractional shares of select stocks starting at $1. There are no trading fees with SoFi, so every dollar you invest into a fractional share goes toward buying stock — and potentially increasing your wealth.

SoFi Invest also offers the ability to choose either active investing or to use its automated investing product to create and manage your portfolio. On top of that, SoFi membership provides access to other financial products, including loans and banking. SoFi is also known for student loans and student loan refinancing, and having a SoFi Invest account can get you a discount on your interest rate when you refinance your student loans. Plus, SoFi offers perks like career coaching and special networking events.

Best for experienced traders: TradeStation

TradeStation is one of the best brokerage accounts for experienced traders. With advanced charting tools, access to real-time stock market data, and a high-end stock trading platform, it’s possible for you to make all sorts of orders, including market orders and stop-loss orders. Plus, you can set up simulations and try a variety of strategies.

TradeStation allows you to create your own trading system, which makes it attractive to many experienced traders, though beginners will have a steep learning curve. The advanced platform can be hard to get used to if you’re not accustomed to advanced charting and technical analysis. This brokerage is ideal for day traders with an interest in penny stocks as well as trading stocks on major exchanges. You can also get access to cryptocurrencies, futures and futures options, as well as trade multi-leg options through this platform.

Best for long-term investing: Vanguard

Vanguard is the OG of index investing, basically creating the index fund and acting as a pioneer in making the principles of modern portfolio theory accessible to more people. With Vanguard, you put your money into one of the products and you’re expected to hold it for a long time. The goal isn’t necessarily to beat the market. Instead, it’s to mirror market performance to meet your long-term wealth-building goals.

Vanguard is famous for helping its users with saving for retirement. With Vanguard, you can access a wide variety of index mutual funds and index ETFs to build a portfolio designed to help you grow your nest egg. It also offers portfolio management. In general, you need to meet a $1,000 to $3,000 minimum to invest in many of its index mutual funds. However, if you use some of its retirement products, you might be able to get in with a lower minimum, especially if you commit to a monthly contribution.

Best for ETFs: Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge offers access to a wide selection of non-proprietary ETFs, as well as access to select ETFs that have been categorized and evaluated by Merrill Edge investment professionals. You can use a self-directed account to build a portfolio that works for you. There are no trading fees when you use your Merrill Edge brokerage account for ETF trades, so that can save you money.

Not only does Merrill Edge offer investment access in a variety of products — including individual stocks and options — but you also get access to banking products. You can also get help when you need it from financial advisors, as well as access to a wide library of investment research and insights. One of the advantages of using ETFs for your portfolio is the tax efficiency, and Merrill can help with that.

Best for options trading: TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim is considered one of the best trading platforms out there, including for options. In fact, Schwab plans to keep thinkorswim as part of the recently approved merger between the two companies. TD Ameritrade offers a variety of options trades, and you can even get approved to trade on margin. On top of that, you have access to complex trades, including options trades with up to four legs. Plus, TD’s mobile app is advanced enough to allow you to trade options from anywhere.

TD Ameritrade is one of the best brokerage accounts because, in addition to options, you can access a number of investments, including individual stocks and bonds. It’s also possible to use the platform to execute a number of order types, not just market orders. TD offers access to research and real-time market information. Plus, if you have an HSA with Lively, you can connect your account and use a single log-in to manage your health savings account investments.

Best for mutual funds: Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab offers a variety of mutual fund choices for investors. One of the perks of Charles Schwab is that it has a number of funds with no loads or transaction fees. Although you still have an expense ratio, that’s part of mutual fund investing. The lack of loads and the break on transaction costs is what makes Schwab one of the best brokerage accounts for mutual fund investing. Plus, this brokerage makes suggestions, divides funds by goal, and even offers an all-in-one solution that makes managing your portfolio easier.

On top of offering mutual funds in more traditional brokerage accounts, Schwab also offers its Intelligent Portfolios, a robo-product you can use with no minimums and low management fees. Plus, Schwab is known for offering banking products and making it easy to use your banking products in conjunction with your investing account. You get access to research and insights from Schwab professionals as well, helping you make better decisions or plan out your next money moves.

Our methodology

In determining our list of the best best online brokerage accounts, we evaluated companies according to a set of criteria we consider critical to the consumer. We did not evaluate all companies in the category. We used editorial judgment to determine what use or user each account would be best for.

FinanceBuzz assessment criteria include:

  • Fees: We considered a variety of fees, including management fees and trading fees, in our assessment of the best online brokerages.
  • Features: We looked at platform features, such as real-time quotes, watchlist options, and accessible customer support, as we determined our ranking for best online brokerages.
  • Educational resources: Many online brokers offer educational resources for investors, though some offer more in-depth resources than others. We considered this factor in our rankings.
  • Investment options: Different online brokers offer different investment options, including ETFs, mutual funds, and more. We considered these options in our assessment.
  • Consumer protections: All the brokerages on our list are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. They also offer additional protections like Securities Investor Protection Corp. insurance up to a certain amount.

FAQs about online brokerages

What are the best online brokerages for beginners?

The best online brokerages for new investors are those that make it easy to learn the ropes, as well as offer choices for low-cost investing. Brokerages like Stash, Robinhood, SoFi, and Betterment can all help you learn the basics of investing and allow you to get started quickly while you build your knowledge base.

Which online brokers charge the lowest fees?

Many of the best brokerage accounts have been reducing their fees in recent years. In fact, even though Robinhood has long had zero transaction fees, other more traditional brokers are getting rid of trading fees, including Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and Fidelity. Review the pricing structure, though, as different brokerages offer different tiered pricing options.

What is the safest brokerage firm?

All investing carries with it the risk of loss. However, all of our best brokerage accounts have SIPC insurance, which can protect your investment account up to $500,000 in the event that a brokerage fails. Although it won’t protect you against losses due to market events, you can have some peace of mind when you stick with a broker that carries SIPC insurance. If you’re nervous about newer brokerages, there are lots of more-established brokers that offer access to products and services at reasonable prices.

What are the best large brokers?

The “big four brokerages” include Charles Schwab, Fidelity, E-Trade, and TD Ameritrade. The recent merger announcement of Schwab and TD Ameritrade will create a brokerage with even more customers and assets.

What are the best small brokers?

Some of the best small brokers include Robinhood and robo-advisors like Stash and Betterment. You can get good customer service, access to investment accounts that meet your needs and other perks to make the most of your money and grow your wealth.

Stash Benefits

  • Get $5 to make your first investment
  • Invest in stocks, bonds, and ETFs
  • Fractional shares available
  • Start investing with just $1