Ally Invest is the brokerage side of Ally Bank. It is a solid choice for traders and investors thanks to its low costs, low minimums, and solid (if a bit dated) trading platform. Stocks and ETFs have zero commission, options trades are just $0.50 per contract, and minimum balances and account fees are low or nonexistent. In addition to providing fundamental, technical, and other tools also available from most online brokers, Ally Invest also provides specialized options analysis tools such as a probability calculator and dynamic profitability graphs many online brokers don’t have. We’ll take a deeper look at Ally Invest to help you decide whether it is the right fit for your investing needs.
Aside from this Ally Invest broker review, we’ve also reviewed the Ally Managed Portfolios robo-advisor service.
- Ally Invest’s costs are low, including no commission trading of stocks and ETF, just $0.50 per options contract, no or low commission for other trading vehicles, no account minimums for self-directed accounts, and just a $100 minimum investment to open managed accounts.
- Ally Invest’s primary trading platforms have some inconsistencies and the website is a bit dated, but the overall functionality of the online and mobile app platforms are still solid.
- Ally Invest’s options analysis tools are more extensive than most online brokers.
- Commission free foreign exchange trading is available for 52 currency pairs.
Who Ally Invest Is For
Ally Invest is a great choice for those interested in online banking with Ally and existing Ally Bank customers because they can easily see their full financial picture on one platform. Ally Invest has options for investors of all experience levels, including self-directed accounts with no minimum balance requirement and managed accounts with a minimum investment amount of just $100. Ally Invest is also an excellent choice for both new and more active traders because of its competitive rates, a robust and intuitive to use platform, educational support, helpful tools such as screeners, and good customer support.
Easy to use and intuitive platforms
Low costs and fees
Financial consolidation between banking, personal finance, and investing
Ability to earn interest on cash balance
Foreign exchange trading is available
Inconsistencies between the website, streaming, and mobile app platforms
Mobile app does not support all available trading products
Contingent and other orders are not supported
No crypto currency or futures trading
- Although the primary website is a non-streaming platform, it is well designed, responsive with quick updates, and has intuitive menus that help you find what you are looking for. While the primary website provides the most functionality in regards to screeners, trading products, and education, there is also an easy to use interface on the streaming version of the website that can run at the same time as the primary website. Despite the different platforms, Ally Invest was easy to navigate overall.
- Ally Bank is competitive with their commissions, fees, and minimums. There is no commission for stock/ETF or foreign exchange trading, and options trading costs of $0.50 per contract are lower than most brokers. There is no minimum for self-directed investment accounts, and only a $100 minimum for most robo-managed accounts, which are charged a 0.30% annual fee (there are no management fees for cash-enhanced robo-managed portfolios holding a 30% cash balances). Margin rates and commissions for bonds, mutual funds, and low cost stocks (OTC/pink sheet stocks trading for less than $2) are also competitive.
- Ally Invest platforms for self-directed and managed accounts integrate well with other Ally products, such as Ally’s online banking, credit cards, CDs, and home and auto loan offerings. This provides Ally customers with an easy to see snapshot of their overall financial condition and their various financial products in one place. Clicking on an investment account brings the user to the Ally Invest brokerage website.
- Ally Bank pays a comparatively high interest rate of 0.50% on cash, and balances of up to $250,000 can be transferred between Ally investment and bank accounts daily. The investor is responsible for moving cash between the investment and banking accounts to secure interest on cash balances, as well as for moving funds back to the investment account to fund a trade. Investors have to put in this minimal effort to make risk-free money on idle cash. This is a nice option considering many online brokers pay no or lower interest rates on cash balances.
- Ally offers commission free foreign exchange trading in 52 currency pairs via dedicated desktop and mobile trading applications.
- While the platforms work well, there are some inconsistencies between them. Stock/ETF and option trading is available on all platforms, but fixed income and mutual funds are not. The primary Ally Invest account page is older in design, but contains features including some of the screeners and the options analysis tools that are unavailable on the mobile or streaming platforms. This is unfortunate, as many traders prefer streaming platforms over standard legacy websites, but will have to use both to access all the features.
- Not all trading products are available on all platforms. The mobile app only supports stock, ETF, and options trading. Similarly, screeners and advanced options tools are not available on the mobile app.
- Ally Invest does not support trailing stops or contingent orders, such as attaching profit taking and stop loss levels to an initial limit order. This causes the trader to have to create a new order to set up stop loss/profit taking levels after a purchase order has been filled, and to also manually cancel one of these orders when the profit loss or stop is activated. This functionality is built into the newer trading modules, so this would be nice to see added to Ally’s platform. Many traders like using trailing stops and contingent orders because they are very useful tools, so Ally Invest is behind other online brokers on this.
- Ally Invest does not support cryptocurrency or futures trading on its platforms.
Ally Invest platforms work well, even though the technology is a bit dated and there may be more than one screen/platform required at the same time. The initial website logon always brings you to the primary Ally home screen, which shows all related accounts across the Ally Platform, so bank accounts, auto or home loans, individual accounts, managed accounts, etc. would all be shown on this page. You would then click on the individual investment account to move to the Ally Invest home web page for that account; you can toggle between managed and self-directed brokerage accounts from the Ally Invest page.
The top of the Ally Invest homepage also has a link to launch the Ally Invest Live platform, which has streaming quotes and more modern website functionality. The primary website, even if a bit dated, still works well and is responsive, with very quick page refreshes. The menus at the top of the website page were very intuitive and easy to use, usually showing at least two levels of submenus for the topic chosen. There were, however, a few times when the top menu bar disappeared; although hitting the Ally logo on the top of the page brings you back to the account summary page, losing the primary menu was disorienting.
The Live platform has user customization options for look and feel. As mentioned, the mobile app and Ally Invest Live are streaming and have a more modern and robust design. However, neither of these platforms had all functionality features in the primary website. Only the ETF screener is available on the Live platform, and none of the screeners are on the mobile app. Likewise, options trading and analysis tools for probabilities, profitability graphing, and pricing, as well as legacy tools from the TradeKing platform, are not available on Live or the mobile app. The charting is also better on the Live platform than the website or mobile platforms.
This makes for a bit of a hodge-podge of different platforms for different things. All that being said, the menus and navigational functionality are intuitive and work well. It was very easy to bring up trading windows, news, charts, etc., for securities listed on a watch list or a result from one of the screeners. Speaking of watch lists, they remain consistent across the website and streaming platforms. For those trading foreign exchange, there is yet another platform to use for forex. It is, however, pretty standard for brokerage companies offering currency trading to use a dedicated platform specific to that market.
The trading experience on Ally Invest is sufficient for most traders, but it has basic functionality for orders, with none of the platforms allowing you to enter contingent orders for stop losses and/or take profits, and no support for trailing stops either. Since you can’t sell a security short in a cash account, the trader needs to wait for a fill on a buy order before they can put in a stop. Newer platforms typically support these types of contingent orders.
Strong menus make it easy to navigate to trading in different types of securities, and you can select a strategy for options, such as a bull spread, straddle, including four-leg strategies, then work on the other trade components. There is no order routing or automated trading available on Ally Invest. I also lacks the ability to create customized orders using criteria other than price (limit orders), such as volume or percentage moves. While you can open an order ticket from a chart page, it simply opens a ticket order with the symbol pre-populated, with nothing dynamic about the charting such as showing current orders on the chart or even drawing tools. The options analysis tools were on the Ally Invest website, but not on the Ally Invest Live platform, so that was a bit awkward even though they are helpful tools. Open orders and order status were in line with other online brokerage platforms.
Ally Invest’s mobile app works well, but has less overall functionality. There is only trading in stocks, ETFs, and options available on the mobile app. Fixed income and mutual fund trades need to be done on the website. The functionality includes the ability to see recent activity and transfer assets between Ally platform accounts, such as between the Ally Invest account and an interest-bearing Ally Bank savings account. There are also key menu items at the bottom of the app screen for account holdings, trading, orders, research, and watchlists.
The trading area allows the investor to choose between stocks/ETFs and options. When you select a security from the watchlist or enter a symbol on the trading screen, you are asked if you want to place a stock trade or an option trade, and the appropriate menu comes up to enter buy or sell, order type, levels, and so on. With options, you select an option strategy and are then prompted to select strikes desired; these strikes can also be changed easily. After entering the required data the order entry screen continues through an order review and confirmation process.
The mobile app also has a research page that has news headlines, recent quotes, major market indices and their performance for the current day, and a list of NYSE market movers. There were no screeners available on the mobile app, but selecting a security brought up helpful fundamental information, technical data, and news for that security. The mobile app will likely meet the needs of traders who know what they want to trade already. Other than the limited charts and information provided when searching an individual security, research for finding investment ideas will likely take place on the website using all the screeners and other tools.
Range of Offerings
Ally Invest provides trading in US listed equities, ETFs, options, mutual funds, and fixed income products including US Treasuries, CDs, and corporate, municipal, and agency bonds. Ally Invest also provides foreign exchange trading in 52 currency pairs via a dedicated platform, but they do not offer futures, crypto currencies, fractional share trading, or international securities listed outside US-based exchanges. Investors using Ally Invest can trade the following:
- Stocks long and short (including extended hours trading)
- Listed Options
- Mutual Funds (~18,000/~7,000 with loads)
- Fixed Income: US Treasury Securities (490), corporates (7,099), municipals (48,631), U.S. agencies (670), certificates of deposit (2,704)
- Foreign Exchange (52 currency pairs; via Ally Invest Forex application)
- Ally Bank Accounts (interest bearing, but investor needs to proactively transfer funds to and from investment account)
The basic order types, market, limit, stop, and stop limit orders are available on all platforms, with the website also offering market on close. Neither the website nor mobile app supports combining order types to create contingent orders, such as adding stops and/or profit-taking levels when entering a limit order. Trailing stops are not currently available on Ally Invest’s platforms, either. Options orders are available for four-leg options strategies on all the trading platforms. When selling, there is a dropdown list available in the symbol field showing current holdings. All or none was an option for orders on the website, but this wasn’t an option for Ally Invest Live or the app.
Trading technology at Ally Invest is perfectly functional, but the websites is somewhat dated and would benefit from the addition of features such as conditional orders and trailing stops. The platforms all support four-leg options strategies. The primary website does not provide streaming quotes, which seems standard on many platforms now. Order entry was basic, and there is no integration of positions or orders into charts. Moreover, there is no order automation, or control over order routing at Ally Invest.
The primary Ally Invest website serves as the link to Ally Bank, which most would utilize for the purpose of gaining interest on cash balances; and Ally Bank offers some of the best short term rates available. Options trading is different on the different platforms, too, with the Ally Invest website required to use all the tools. This includes the ability to see probabilities for a market staying in or moving outside of a user defined range and date, as well as profitability graphs for different dates to see the price graph of the option compared to the profit graph at maturity. While not best of class, these tools are helpful and are not commonly offered by online brokerage platforms.
Trading costs at Ally Invest are competitive, and include zero commission trading for Stocks and ETFs. Options trades are a flat $0.50 per contract.
- Stocks and ETFs – Commission free
- OTCBB (and stocks priced less than $2.00) - $4.95 plus $0.01 per share; maximum commission per order not to exceed 5% of the trade value, with the minimum $4.95 plus $0.01 per share. There is a minimum order purchase of $100.00 for OTCBB and Pink Sheet stocks.
- Options – $0.50 per contract; there is also a $0.50 fee to close low-value options positions
- Mutual Funds – $9.95 per no-load mutual fund trade
- Fixed Income – No charge for US Treasury securities, otherwise, $1 per $1,000 bond, with a $10 minimum and $250 maximum per transaction.
- Robo-Managed Accounts – minimum investment of $100. No management fee on Cash-enhanced portfolios with 30% allocated to cash, and a 0.30% annual management fee annually for other robo-created portfolios.
- Margin rates are based on account size, by breakpoint: Under $10K 7.75; $25K 7.75%; $50K 7.50%; $100K 6.75%; $250K 5.50%; $500K 4.50%; $1 million 4.00%; $1 million+ 3.25%
- Foreign Exchange – No commissions; Ally is compensated for its FX services through the bid/ask spread
- Account Closing – None (besides ACAT Fee)
- Transfer an Account Out - $50
- Live Broker Trading – Ally reserves the right to charge $20 for broker assisted trades, but Ally informs us that this fee is rarely applied.
- Domestic Wire Transfers - $30 to send a wire transfer; no fee to receive a wire transfer
- Checks - $5 fee to send a check
- Voluntary Reorganization Fee (for corporate actions) - $50
- Inactivity and Maintenance Fees – None
How This Broker Makes Money From You and for You
Ally Invest offers no commission stock and ETF trading. With fewer brokerages charging commissions these days, it's less obvious how they make money. Like other (but not all) online brokers offering commission-free trading, Ally Invest receives payment for order flow. The brokerage also lacks fractional shares and any kind of portfolio margining. On the plus side, Ally Invest accounts can be linked with an Ally Bank account that allows investors to gain interest on cash balances. Here are some of the ways Ally Invest makes money for and from you:
- Price Improvement: While Ally Invest customers can only route their own orders by placing their order through a live broker, Ally’s average net price improvement is $0.005 per share for all SEC Rule 605 eligible marketable orders. On options, the net price improvement is $7.34 per contract.
- Payment for Order Flow: Ally Invest receives payment for order flow. Equity trades brought Ally Invest an average of $0.002 per share, while the average order flow payment on option orders is $0.50 per contract.
- Interest on Cash Balances: Ally Invest offers competitive interest rates on cash balances transferred by the client from the investment account to a linked Ally Bank account. The client needs to make transfers to and from the bank account to realize interest on their cash balances. Transfers of up to $250,000 can be made daily to or from the Ally Invest account.
- Securities Lending: Customers can make additional money at Ally Invest by offering shares held in an account for securities lending, but customers can’t choose specific stocks for lending.
- Payment for Initial Cash Balance: Ally Invest will pay investors up if their initial account funding is above $10,000. There are seven payment ranges starting at $150 for a $10,000 balance and all the way up to $3,000 for funding an account with $2 million or more. Accounts are reviewed after sixty days to determine the level. The account credit is not available for another 300 days, allowing Ally Invest to retain the account and prevent people from simply moving assets for a quick incentive payment.
Account and Research Amenities
Ally Invest provides a number of helpful tools and amenities for its customers.
Ally Invest has a stock screener available on the primary website, but not on Ally Invest Live or the mobile app. The screener works well and provides many criteria users might want, including fundamentals, sectors, exchanges, price performance, and valuation. There is also fundamental information such as accounting ratios, earnings per share (EPS), dividends, and consensus analyst ratings from FactSet. The stock screener also has technical information that includes some specific patterns.
There are convenient buy and sell links next to each result in a screen. A nice feature of the screener is how it shows matches across each of the criteria selected, not just a final number of matches for the entire search. This allows you to see where adjustments might show more or less information for a successful search. User defined screens can be saved for later use and the data exported, but results from screeners can’t be turned into a watch list. There are also six predefined stock screens available: stable dividend, small cap value, mid to mega cap value, small cap growth, mid to mega cap growth, and top growth tech stocks.
ETF and Mutual Fund Screener
As mentioned, Ally Invest only provides an ETF screener on the Ally Invest Live website. The stock screener’s basic functionality is utilized for both the mutual fund and ETF screeners on the primary website, with some adjustments as appropriate for the different asset type. For example, the mutual fund screener includes total expense ratio as a criteria.
The ETF and mutual fund screeners both have criteria for profile, performance, risk analysis, portfolio, and Lipper ratings. The risk analysis, which is not available on the stock screener, includes both beta and R-squared vs. the S&P 500, standard deviation, and the Sharpe Ratio. Unfortunately, no predefined screens were available for ETFs or mutual funds. It was also difficult to see which ETFs among those with similar objectives are more actively traded, so a search for a leveraged inverse equity ETF returned multiple results that required my checking volume manually on each. As with the stock screener, users can save their customized screens for future use, but watchlists can’t be created from screen results.
Ally Invest has an Options Strategy Scanner that returns potential options strategies meeting trader-set criteria. The user enters an option strategy (up to two leg strategies) and other criteria, such as the universe of stocks to search, market sentiment, options criteria such as time frame and strike preferences, risk/reward, and the Greeks. The tool will then look for options strategies that meet the set criteria. Ally Invest also has other options analysis tools to further assist option traders, including a probability calculator and profit/loss calculators and graphing.
Fixed Income Screener
On the standard website, you can scan for bonds by clicking on "Trading" and then on "Fixed Income". Select a bond type by clicking on one of the buttons (Muni, Agency, Strips/Zeros, Treasury, Corporate, CDs). Each bond type has a query definition page where you define the search, a query result page that lists the bonds that match your query definition, and a bond detail page where you can get more information about a bond on the list. This is a fairly basic screener, with few criteria from which to choose.
Ally Invest has charts on the mobile application, but they are limited. You can’t draw trend lines, there is no cursor to show the specific open/high/low/close prices, and once a chart was on the screen you could not resize it any way except changing the time frame. The other studies available, such as moving averages and Bollinger Bands, are quite limited. The mobile app charting doesn’t provide a trading button or show open orders, such as a stop loss, or positions on charts.
The web-based charting on the primary website was sufficient but unimpressive. While the primary website had links to buy and sell from a quote screen above the chart, positions and order information was not incorporated into the charting. The primary website’s charting allowed for a customized timeframe and the ability to show a comparison symbol. This included a nice drop-down for choosing common comparisons, such as equity indexes, currencies, or individual commodities, in addition to typing in a specific symbol. That said, we were unable to extend trendlines as far as we wanted to, and the drawn trendlines did not follow the chart when resized – they just floated in space in the same spot as where they were drawn. The studies available were adequate, but not extensive.
The Ally Invest Live website has better charting functionality that includes readjusting the chart with the mouse and scroll wheel, more studies, and better drawing tools, but there was still no ability to trade from the chart screen (the quote window with trading links was not available the way it was on the primary website). Further, the comparison symbol function only allows for a symbol to be added, eliminating the primary website’s drop-down options. Using a combination of the Ally Invest Live and the primary website can work for chart traders, but it is more of a headache than it needs to be.
Tools and Calculators
Ally Invest does not offer a wide range of tools and calculators. There is a profit/loss calculator and a bond yield calculator. There are also helpful calculators related to options trading available on the primary website, including a probability calculator to show the likelihood of prices being inside or outside of a user-defined range using historical or implied volatility and an options tool showing profitability graphs that can be adjusted to see how a strategy might perform over time based on user input for timing, strikes, and options strategy.
Trading Idea Generator
There is a Strategy Builder under the tool menu’s technical analysis section, which is in addition to the options scanning feature already described. The Strategy Builder functions very similarly to a screener but also includes backtesting. There are nine expertly created and backtested strategies including growth at a reasonable price, quality stocks at a reasonable price, and good things come in small packages. The strategies are really screens, however, as it is still up to the account-holder to choose from among the individual securities that meet the search criteria.
In addition to these nine strategies, there are also a number of other screens that can be used to start a screen, such as top performers, top rated, top dividends, value stocks, and more. These screens can be further edited and saved. The strategies can also be backtested, which is done by taking the top ten stocks in the scan results, and comparing them to the S&P, DJIA, or NASDAQ to provide a representative return for that search. Again, the trader still needs to make their own decisions on individual securities to trade.
The Strategy Builder is really more of a helpful screener and is probably better placed in the screener area of the website. Many investors may overlook this tool because it is located in the technical analysis section under tools, rather than under the section for screeners.
Ally Invest has basic news headline information from MT Newswires, and news and fundamental information is available when a specific security on the platform is selected. This offering is generic and lacks filtering or search functionality, but is still likely to be sufficient for most investors. Additional helpful market information in this section includes market overviews and an events calendar showing macroeconomic releases, expected earnings, and dividend announcements.
As previously mentioned, Ally’s website has intuitive menus, which made it easy to find this type of content, as there is a “News” page under the “Quotes and Research” option on the website’s primary top menu line. The primary menu items also show the sub-menus, so the “Markets” tab had sub options including “US Markets”, “Global Markets”, “News”, “Events & Calendars”, “Commodities”, “Rates”, and “Sectors & Industries”.
Ally Invest Live has similar content, but is organized differently. The mobile app has a news scroll with general headlines, and recent headlines for individual stocks, but no events calendars. Blog headlines at Ally Invest are provided by Seeking Alpha.
Third Party Research
Ally Invest does not offer third party research, but there is Lipper information incorporated into various screeners and some Morningstar information on the site when looking at individual securities. There is also an algorithmic rating available on some screeners from Trading Central called “Quantamental Rating”. This was only available on the website screeners and not on the mobile app.
Dividend Reinvestment Program (DRIP)
Ally Invest has a dividend reinvestment program. There is an account-wide default on dividend investment, but you can also specify this at the time of the trade via phone or live help..
Ally Invest allows account owners to transfer free cash from their investment account into a deposit account at Ally Bank so they can earn interest. Ally has made this cash management a seamless process, but it still requires customers to make the transfers into and out of the investment account rather than through an automatic sweep. Although short term interest rates are very low in the current environment, Ally Bank offers some of the most competitive rates on cash deposits at 0.50%. This is nice considering some brokers don’t pay any interest on cash balances.
SRI/ESG Research Amenities
Ally Invest lacks the ability to screen for socially responsible investing (SRI) or environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). While SRI/ESG investing is currently unavailable for self-directed accounts and there are no tools for this, SRI/ESG investing is available as a choice for managed accounts.
Ally Invest provides the basics for analyzing a portfolio. Ally Invest uses Maxit for its tax manager, where realized and unrealized capital gains can be viewed and tax strategy settings such as FIFO or LIFO managed. There was no ability to see your account compared to major indexes. You can see account composition by investment type, and unrealized and realized gains and losses, but not much else.
The managed portfolio offering has a well-designed asset allocation display, but that feature does not extend to the self-directed investing account. For more on Ally Invest’s robo-advisory, which manages the portfolio in conjunction with investment professionals, check out our review of that specific feature.
The Education section also has an intuitive drop down menu providing options for learning by security type (stocks, options, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, forex), experience level (rookies, veterans, all-stars), and market outlook (bullish, bearish, neutral, volatile). Unfortunately, these logical menus did not correspond to the content. Instead, virtually all of the links from this drop-down menu took the user to Ally’s community page.
There was plenty of helpful content on these pages, such as how to start investing in three simple steps and how to become a better investor, but the information was not organized in a logical way. Different pieces of content were listed based on when it was created. The content is solid and geared more towards newer investors and traders but it was not as specialized or as deep as the menu selections indicated.
Ally Invest’s community page also has content areas for life, money, car, home, bank, invest, trends, and so on. This community page can be customized by the user under each of these content areas. Under money, for example, options were available to either include or filter out topics including budget, credit, estate planning, finance basics, savings, and taxes. There are also blogs, market updates, and the ability to connect with other Ally Invest traders.
- Phone line available 24/7
- Average hold time of 30 seconds
- Live chat available
- Assistance can be provided via social media
- Only U.S. residents can open accounts.
- Ally Invest offers two-factor authentication for its platforms, and biometric login is available on the mobile platform.
- Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance on accounts is bolstered by a Lloyds of London policy purchased by Ally’s clearing firm provides Ally’s customers with coverage of $150 million for securities and cash in the event that SIPC lines are exhausted.
- Ally Invest has not had any data breaches in the past four years, but did experience three notable outages in 2020.
Ally Invest clearly lists their commissions, fees, and non-existent or extremely low minimums on its website. Ally Invest’s competitive rates and fees is a key aspect of their marketing efforts. There is an overview of margin trading when navigating to margin rates from the “Client Services'' tab at the top of the page, and another page answering questions on margin trading. There is also an extensive disclosures page that included content from FINRA.
Ally Invest is a solid choice because they have well-functioning and mostly intuitive investment and trading platforms and very competitive commissions, fees and margin rates, while providing plenty of support for investors to choose investments through various screeners and options analysis tools. There are no commissions for stocks/ETFs and options, at $0.50 per contract, are at the low end of the commission range.
While the website is a bit dated and there are some inconveniences and inconsistencies between the different platforms, they do work well. Further, Ally Invest’s helpful tools for options analysis are unavailable at many brokers. Ally Invest will appeal to active traders looking for low costs and margin, new investors, and Ally Bank’s online banking customers. More active traders may miss the functionality for trailing stops and conditional orders on Ally Invest’s platforms.
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