The best online brokerage accounts offer plenty of benefits that make investing easy, including investing resources and reasonable minimum account requirements. While some brokerage accounts geared to beginners offer more hand-holding and automation, brokerage accounts for more seasoned investors tend to offer perks like free trades and access to superior trading tools.
We compared more than 20 online brokerage accounts in order to find the best ones based on important criteria investors tend to care most about. While Betterment came out on top as the best online account for beginners in our ranking, we also highlighted other companies based on what we think helps them stand out from run-of-the-mill brokerage accounts.
Whether you’re a new investor hoping to get started or a long-term investing pro who wants to try a new firm, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn about the top brokerage accounts we stand behind, and why you might want to give them a try.
The Most Important Factors for Choosing an Online Brokerage Account
- Decide where you are in your investing journey. Do you want an online brokerage firm to choose a portfolio based on your desired level of risk? Or, do you want to actively trade stocks, ETFs, and other investments without any outside help
- How much do you have to invest to start? Most of the online brokerage firms on our list don’t require a minimum account balance, but the more advanced options can require $2,000 or more to get started.
- What kind of investments do you want access to? Some online brokerage accounts let you invest in more ways than others, but almost all of them let you access stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and more.
- Do you want to open a retirement account or a brokerage account, or perhaps even both? Some of the firms on our list offer varying options you’ll want to explore.
The Best Online Brokerage Accounts for Beginners to Experienced Investors
|Best Brokerage for Beginners||Get Started|
|Best for Free Trades||Get Started|
|Best for ETFs and Ease of Use||Get Started|
|Best Tools for Beginners||Get Started|
|Best for Active Investors||Get Started|
|Best for Investing Pocket Change||Get Started|
|Best for Military Personnel and their Families||Get Started|
|Best Online Interface||Get Started|
|Best Online Brokerage Alternative|
The type of investor you are will determine which of these online brokerage accounts might work best for your needs. Are you someone who trades stocks or ETFs regularly? Or are you an investor who wants to decide their risk tolerance and let their brokerage firm create a portfolio that suits their needs?
Either way, the following online brokerage reviews can help you figure out which company offers the account benefits you want the most.
Betterment: Best Brokerage for Beginners
Why This Company Made Our List: If the alphabet soup of investing — Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, 401k, Roth 401k, and so on — baffles you, Betterment is a great place to start.
Betterment believes that investing is so complicated that many people get analysis paralysis — as in, people become so overwhelmed with their options that they wind up never making a decision at all.
When you read our Betterment Investing review, you’ll find out that investing can be incredibly simple. In fact, you only have to make a few decisions when you sign up:
- How much money to invest
- How often you want to invest it
- Your risk tolerance
That’s it. Betterment takes care of the rest.
It’s dead simple, which is why it is a great place for beginners to start. As a side note, we also like the fact that Betterment doesn’t require a minimum account balance to get started.
What Holds it Back: Betterment charges .25% to .40% annually based on your account balance, so you’ll pay ongoing fees in exchange for account management.
M1 Finance: Best for Free Trades
Why This Company Made Our List: If you like the idea of automated account management but like to choose where to invest, M1 Finance could be the ideal brokerage firm for you. In addition to streamlining the investment process and ensuring your funds are allocated where they’ll benefit you the most, M1 Finance is free. It doesn’t get more affordable than that.
M1 Finance comes preloaded with 60 targeted investment portfolios known as pies, with expertly chosen slices.
If those pies don’t suit your palette, you can also create your own, choosing from M1’s robust offering of ETFs and stocks. M1 Finance also uses an algorithm to reduce your capital gains tax any time securities are sold.
If you aren’t sold yet, you can take a look at our M1 Finance Review. In the meantime, consider this rundown of some of M1’s best features:
- Tax exporting: Your M1 investment records can be exported straight to H&R Block and TurboTax
- Retirement: M1 Finance allows you to open traditional, SEP, and Roth IRAs, as well as rollover plans.
- SIPC Protection: Your money is protected for up to $250,000 in cash and $500,000 in cash and securities.
- No fees: No trading fees, no advisory fees, and no account management fees, period.
What Holds it Back: M1 Finance doesn’t come with tax loss harvesting, and they don’t offer any interaction with financial advisors or investment professionals.
TD Ameritrade: Best for ETFs and Ease of Use
Why This Company Made Our List: If you’re looking for a solid industry leader that makes investing easy for new investors, TD Ameritrade is a great option.
Unlike Betterment, TD Ameritrade isn’t designed solely for new investors. Once you sign up, you gain access to a set of robust tools whether you are new to investing or you have been investing for decades. With that in mind, TD Ameritrade offers an opportunity to access something approaching full-service without the full-service price.
As a leader in the industry, TD Ameritrade offers a vast array of investments that are suitable for new and experienced investors alike:
- 2,300+ Commission-free ETFs
- 13,000+ mutual funds
- Fixed-income products like bonds and CDs
- Trade stocks, options, forex and futures
- Multitude of account options: Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, Simple IRA, 401k rollovers, normal taxable investment accounts
Want to learn more about TD Ameritrade? Check out our TD Ameritrade Review for more information.
What Holds it Back: The biggest downside of TD Ameritrade is the fact that you can only trade in U.S. markets.
E*TRADE: Best Tools for Beginners
Why This Company Made Our List: If you’re looking for an industry leader in the online trading space that can help you learn more about investing, E*TRADE is a great option. The company has more than 20 years of experience and one of the most popular trading platforms in the United States.
But E*TRADE isn’t designed solely for new investors. Once you get started, you’ll have access to robust tools including research, screeners, and more.
As a leader in the industry, E*TRADE offers one of the largest inventories of potential investments available:
- Every ETF sold
- 9,000+ mutual funds, including 4,400+ no-load, no transaction fee mutual funds
- Trade stocks, options, and forex
- Multitude of account options: Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401k rollovers, normal taxable investment accounts
We like the E*TRADE offers $0 commission trades on U.S. listed stocks, ETFs, and options. We also believe they have one of the best and most intuitive online and mobile trading platforms available today. Learn more in our E*TRADE review about how this may be the right brokerage for your needs.
What Holds it Back: E*TRADE may be ideal for beginners who want access to investing tools and education, but their fees can be higher than some competitors outside of free options.
ZacksTrade: Best for Active Investors
Why This Company Made Our List: ZacksTrade is the active and experienced investor’s dream come true. If you’re looking for a platform that allows you to direct your own investments and trade actively at an affordable rate, you may want to look into what ZacksTrade has to offer.
ZacksTrade offers low trading fees on stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options, and comes with an interface for experienced traders and one for novices. Beyond trading fees, you can expect a fee-free experience, with no account or inactivity fees to worry about.
The platform also gives users access to a whole host of trading tools, reservoirs of research, and continuously updating global market data. With these tools in hand, you can make well-informed trades to keep you on pace with your investment goals. Even more, you’ll get live chat access to ZacksTrade’s team of brokers if you need assistance.
Take a look at our ZacksTrade review for more details.
What Holds it Back: With ZacksTrade, you’ll need a minimum of $2,000 to open a margin account or a $2,500 minimum to open a cash account.
Acorns: Best for Investing Pocket Change
Why This Company Made Our List: With Acorns, you can set up an investing account that allows you to round up your transaction amounts and invest your pocket change. There is no account minimum, and you can start with as little as $5.
Your investment goes into a diversified portfolio with a monthly fee of $1 per month for accounts set up on the basic plan. Other plan options cost either $2 per month or $3 per month depending on the features you want access to. For example, their $3 per month “Premium” plan includes reimbursed ATM fees, connected investment accounts, and more.
If you feel like you don’t have enough money to get started, this can be a great solution. You don’t even need a minimum amount to get started. Once you have built up your account, you can move your account to another brokerage that might have lower fees or provide different options. Learn more in our Acorns review.
What Holds it Back: Fees can be disproportionally high if you have a really small account balance.
USAA: Best for Military Personnel and their Families
Why This Company Made Our List: While not everyone will qualify to open a USAA account, anyone that is actively serving in a military branch, retired from the military, or has a family member that has served in the military will be approved to open a USAA account. USAA has been offering insurance and financial products for military personnel and families for over 80 years.
USAA doesn’t charge any annual fees or have any account minimums for their IRA, and you also have plenty of investment options including mutual funds, CDs, annuities, etc. While their trading fees might be a little higher than other online brokerage fees, they still have competitive rates, especially once you house more investments in the account.
Advantages to a USAA account:
- Easy and quick to set up
- Ability to hold several accounts and insurance policies in one place
- Easy to read and understand website with clear navigation
- Huge variety of investment opportunities and options
What Holds it Back: You have to have a military connection or military service to open an account, and fees can be higher than other online brokerage firms that offer fee-free trades.
Firstrade: Best Online Interface
Why This Company Made Our List: Aside from the low trading costs, one of the best things about Firstrade is how easy the website and interface is to use. Some of the other Internet brokerage firm’s websites are cluttered and difficult to navigate. The Firstrade website is simple and clean.
The online dashboard of Firstrade is extremely easy to read since it separates information into two separate accounts. One column will display your account information, while the other column helps you track the market.
While they don’t offer the same fancy tools that some of the other sites have, Firstrade makes investing easy. Not only that, but they offer a no-fee IRA and $0 commissions and $0 contract fees for options traders. If you are a person that only wants the bare-bones essentials with low fees, Firstrade is the website for you.
Check out our Firstrade Review to learn more.
What Holds it Back: This bare bones, discount brokerage firm doesn’t offer online chat or 24/7 customer service availability.
Lending Club: Best Online Brokerage Alternative
With Lending Club, you don’t invest in stocks, bonds, or ETFs. Instead, you help your peers by funding their loans.
With as little as $25, you can start investing in notes that can provide you with potentially higher returns than stocks. However, you do run the risk that a borrower will default, which is something you should know ahead of time.
It’s easy to get started, and Lending Club also offers managed note portfolios for relatively small fees if you have a high enough account balance. You can even open a retirement account with LendingClub. There are no transaction fees either since borrowers pay fees for their loans.
What Holds it Back: Investing with LendingClub means investing into loans for your peers, which is much different than traditional investing.
How We Found the Best Online Brokerage Firms
With so many online brokerage firms available today, it was important for us to compare them based on the most important features they offer. We also aimed to keep long-term costs in mind since investors shouldn’t overpay for services they can get elsewhere for free. Here are the main factors we considered as we chose the online brokerage firms for this ranking:
- Fees: Every online brokerage firm charges fees in order to stay in business, but the amount of fees you pay — and the various transactions you pay them on — can make a huge difference in your long-term returns. We focused on brokerage firms that offer low fees and even no fees in some cases, at least for specific types of investments.
- Automation: Automating your investments is one of the best ways to grow wealth over time. We looked for online brokerage accounts that let you automate some component of your investment plan, whether that means the automatic reinvestment of dividends, the ability to automate a specific amount to invest each month, or any other features that help you “set and forget” your investment plan.
- Online Interface: We also looked for brokerage firms that have updated online interfaces that are easy to use. Mobile apps are also a plus since many investors want to invest on the go or keep tabs on their account balances no matter where they are.
- Account Minimums: Finally, we tried to give preference to brokerage accounts with reasonable minimum account balance requirements. Getting started as an investor shouldn’t require thousands of dollars upfront, so we included some accounts for beginners that come with a much lower barrier to entry.
What You Need to Know about Online Brokerage Accounts
As you decide which firm to open a new account with, there are plenty of details to keep in mind. Here are some important tips to consider before you pull the trigger and open a new account:
Fees may matter more than you think.
Fees involved in investing may not seem like a huge deal, but they can add up to enormous sums over time. Vanguard offers this example: Imagine you have $100,000 invested. If the account earned 6% a year for the next 25 years and had no costs or fees, you’d end up with about $430,000. If, on the other hand, you paid 2% a year in costs, after 25 years you’d only have about $260,000. In that example, you’d give up 40% of your gains based on just 2% in fees.
Look for a platform that lets you manage all your investments in one place.
While you may be willing to devote some time into your investment strategy, try not to make it overly complicated. Ideally, you’ll find a platform that lets you manage all your investments in one place, including a brokerage account, your retirement accounts, and more.
Consider your investment timeline.
Make sure you’re investing appropriately based on the amount of risk you’re willing to take. Consider a long-term strategy that prevents you from risking too much over a short period of time.
Don’t overextend yourself.
Before you start investing, it can help to make sure your financial ducks are in a row. This means having a handle on your bills and your monthly financial obligations, as well as having emergency savings set aside so you could handle a major loss of income.
Finally, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Diversify your investments or choose index funds or mutual funds that take care of some of the diversification on your behalf. Also make sure you are appropriately diversified across stocks and safer investments like bonds in accordance with your tolerance for risk.
Terms and Resources for Beginners
Asset Allocation: Asset allocation is an investment strategy that helps investors choose their underlying investments based on their tolerance for risk and how long they plan to invest for. The underlying goal of asset allocation is maximizing investment returns while minimizing risk over time.
Bond: A bond is a loan that can be purchased by investors that ensures a specific level of return. While some bonds pay fixed interest rates, variable interest rates are also common.
Cash Account: A cash account is a brokerage account that requires the investor to pay for all of their investments in full.
Exchange Traded Fund (ETF): An ETF is a security that includes a selection of underlying securities (such as stocks) that typically track an index.
Index Funds: An index fund is a type of mutual fund that tracks a financial market such as the S&P 500. The goal of index funds is broad diversification and simplification, and investors like them because they tend to come with low fees.
Margin Account: A margin account is a type of brokerage account that lets investors invest with borrowed funds.
Mutual Fund: A mutual fund is a bundle of investments that can include stocks, bonds, money market instruments and more.
Retirement Account: While you can invest in a brokerage account, many investors also use online brokerage firms to invest for retirement. Common retirement accounts include the 401(k), traditional IRA, SEP IRA, and Solo 401(k), and most retirement accounts come with serious tax advantages.
Stock: A stock is a type of investment that represents a share in a company. If you buy stock in Disney (DIS), for example, you own a very small share of that company, and your ultimate goal should be turning a profit if the price of your stock goes up over time.
Investing 101: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The following frequently asked questions and answers can help you learn even more about the topic at hand.
What are stock brokers?
A stock broker is an investment professional who buys and sells securities for their clients on a major exchange such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the NASDAQ. A stock broker can be an individual, but the online brokerage firms in this ranking can also be referred to as stock brokers since they handle the same transactions using the same set of rules.
How much money do I need to invest?
Some online brokerage firms don’t require a minimum account balance to get started, meaning you can open an account now and wait to fund it until you’re ready. However, some online brokerage firms do require account minimums, so make sure to check.
How do I cash out of my account?
With a brokerage account, you’ll be able to make transfers into your account as well as transfers out of your account. To “cash out” of your investments, you’ll need to sell them first. Fortunately, online brokerage firms on this list make buying and selling investments a breeze.
Can I open accounts with more than one online brokerage firm?
You can open a brokerage account with as many online firms as you want. However, you should beware of paying redundant fees or making your investment plan overly complicated.
Can I lose money?
You can absolutely lose money any time you invest. Make sure you understand the risks of investing — and that you could lose all the money you invest — before you open an account and get started.
What kind of information do I need to open a brokerage account?
To open a brokerage account, you’ll need personal information such as your Social Security number, your address, your phone number, and your full name. You’ll also need to have a traditional bank account set up in order to manage transactions into and out of your account.
Summary: Best Online Brokerage Accounts of 2020
|Best Brokerage for Beginners|
|Best for Free Trades|
|Best for ETFs and Ease of Use|
|Best Tools for Beginners|
|Best for Active Investors|
|Best for Investing Pocket Change|
|Best for Military Personnel and their Families|
|Best Online Interface|
|Best Online Brokerage Alternative|