Honing in on the best discount broker has become harder as nearly all major brokers now offer a low-to-no cost trading experience. This is a good problem for investors to have, but the loss of clear trading fees to compare can make it harder to separate the best low-cost brokers out of the no-fee pack. Instead, we have shifted our focus from the increasingly small list of fees still charged by some brokers to the value a low-cost online broker is providing to investors in terms of the overall trading platform. Consequently, the brokers that rose to the top in this category are an excellent deal for all investors, not just the cost-conscious ones.
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Best Discount Brokers:
- Best Low-Cost Online Broker: Fidelity
- Best Broker for Low Margin Rates: Interactive Brokers
- Best Broker for Fractional Shares: Interactive Brokers
- Best Low-Cost Options Broker: Webull
Fidelity: Best Low-Cost Online Broker
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
Get $100 when you open a new, eligible Fidelity account with $50 or more. Use code FIDELITY100. Limited time offer. Terms apply. Offer Disclosure.
Why We Chose It
Fidelity continues to be our pick for the best broker overall and, given the overall lack of trading fees and elimination of many account related fees, the natural pick for our best low-cost online broker. Fidelity offers the big broker experience at a low price point. This includes rich educational resources and a deep set of tools for investment and portfolio analysis. In terms of value for the average investor, Fidelity gives you a lot and asks for almost nothing in return.
Fidelity has continued to eliminate common account fees
Excellent account features
Strong portfolio analysis
Ability to sync external account data
Automated telephone trades are $12.95 per trade
Rep-assisted trades are $32.95 per trade
Added fees charged for International stock and currency trades
Fidelity has been around since it was founded in Boston in 1946. The company holds its own as one of the largest brokerages in terms of assets under management, with $4.3 trillion in discretionary assets as of March 2022. Now in its 76th year, Fidelity is still open to new things and has dipped its toes in the cryptocurrency market with the Fidelity Crypto Industry and Digital Payments ETF (FDIG) as well as a Fidelity Metaverse ETF (FMET). Fidelity has also continued to add services on its institutional client side by opening up some of its proprietary tools like Fidelity Bond Beacon.
For investors looking for individual help, Fidelity has added to its lineup with digital direct indexing accounts called Fidelity Managed FidFolios. The FidFolios use fractional shares to mimic indexes with ownership of the actual stock rather than an ETF, allowing for deeper customization. Individual investors will also notice that Fidelity has continued to upgrade its mobile experience, with streaming quotes on the home screen, a redesigned dashboard, and further customizations to your news feeds.
In terms of keeping costs low while delivering value, Fidelity is hard to beat. Fidelity is commission-free like many other brokers, but it has also slashed many of its account fees to $0 including bank wire fees and account transfer out fees. This isn’t new either—Fidelity has been dropping fees ahead of its competition for a number of years now. Fidelity doesn’t really have a glaring weakness either, as it has a stellar reputation as a broker and a huge customer service network supporting its low-cost, high-value offering.
Interactive Brokers: Best Broker for Low Margin Rates & Best Broker for Fractional Shares
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform or 1% of trade value, $0 for IBKR Lite
Interactive Brokers: Best Broker for Low Margin Rates
Why We Chose It
Trading on margin is using borrowed money to invest with the hope that returns cover the margin interest and then some. For this to work, the lower the margin rate the better. Interactive Brokers (IBKR) has made having the lowest margin rates a key selling point. Interactive Brokers margin rates are consistently lower than the industry averages at every level.
Lowest margin rates in the industry
Access to 150 global markets
Advanced trading tools and screeners
Fees and commissions depend on selected plan and investment type
Beginners may find trading platform overwhelming
Founded in 1978 by Thomas Peterffy as T.P. & Co., Interactive Brokers was an early adopter of computerized trading. IBKR’s early adoption evolved into leading the brokerage industry in many areas. Interactive Brokers has continued to upgrade its technology and expand its offerings. In the time that has passed since our 2021 review, the company has added direct exposure to cryptocurrencies, launched a simplified mobile platform called IBKR GlobalTrader, and integrated TradingView, all based on client demand. IBKR is constantly tweaking and improving its platform, but these are some of the bigger changes that are more noticeable and appreciated the deeper you get into them.
Although IBKR has the most obvious edge when it comes to how many markets and assets you can trade, its trading technology and reach also play key roles in keeping costs low for investors. The IB SmartRouting for IBKR Pro customers uses Interactive Brokers' reach across markets and exchanges to execute orders at the lowest price available. In terms of lowering margin costs specifically, IBKR has the lowest margin rates as well as portfolio margining for eligible clients.
Interactive Brokers can be intimidating to newer and more casual investors. Trading on margin should also be intimidating to the same investors, but we are seeing lower rate margin trading rolled out in platforms aimed squarely at those investors. Robinhood, for example, was close to Interactive Brokers prior to increasing rates in 2022 as the interest hikes began. Unlike Interactive Brokers, Robinhood doesn’t provide the level of investment analysis or tools that should be used when you are dipping into margin to increase your investment returns. If you are looking to trade on margin, you’ll be better served at a broker like IBKR. Unlike its nearest competition on margin rates, it actually equips you with the tools you need to keep that low margin rate from costing you in the long run.
Interactive Brokers: Best Broker for Fractional Shares
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform or 1% of trade value, $0 for IBKR Lite
Why We Chose It
Interactive Brokers’ reach once again plays a role in it taking our Best Broker for Fractional Shares. Interactive Brokers continues to dominate the category by offering fractional shares on U.S. stocks with over $10 million in daily volume and market cap above $400 million. If that wasn’t enough, Interactive Brokers added European fractional shares in 2022 for stocks on select exchanges with daily volume above $5 million and market cap above $5 billion. Simply put, IBKR has more fractional shares available across more markets than anyone else.
Fractional shares for the U.S. market, plus European stocks
Fractional share trading available across all trading platforms
Zero commission fractional share trading with IBKR Lite
Extensive tools and screeners
Confusing fee schedule for IBKR Pro
Access to Trader Workstation (TWS) required to experience the best trading tools
Fractional shares are part of the low cost category because they allow you to buy a portion of an expensive stock or ETF with whatever funds you have on hand. This puts direct ownership of stocks like Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, and Apple, which have triple digit share prices, in reach for average investors.
Interactive Brokers has gone further than any other broker in offering fractional shares. This rules-based approach of $10 million in daily volume and a market cap above $400 million for U.S. shares means that IBKR has fractional shares for stocks outside the National Market System (NMS) where other brokers’ offerings usually stop. On top of this, there are all the European shares with $5 million in daily volume and $5 billion in market cap that you can now purchase in fractional shares.
It also bears repeating that the screeners and other tools you can use to search for stocks to buy fractional shares in are superb. Interactive Brokers allows you to quickly pull up and compare stocks across all its platforms, but the TWS is the most in-depth experience. If you aren’t looking to go that deep into trading and just want the fractional shares and basic stock trading, you can get that commission-free experience with a IBKR Lite account using either IBKR mobile or the streamlined IBKR GlobalTrader app. While users who take this approach will miss the full trading experience of TWS, it eliminates the intimidation factor of the TWS platform and gives you access to a wider fractional shares offering and simpler user experience.
As is the case with many of the other categories Interactive Brokers regularly dominates, it is hard to see any other broker unseating Interactive Brokers in terms of best online broker for fractional share trading because the gap is so wide.
Webull: Best Low-Cost Options Broker
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 commission to trade stocks, listed options, and ETFs
Why We Chose It
There are two standout points when it comes to Webull’s pitch to options traders: First, U.S. listed options are free to trade on its platform, in addition to the regular stocks and ETFs. Second, its option tools and charting capabilities are actually quite good, especially compared to the short list of other brokers that also offer commission free options trading.
No commissions on stocks, ETFs, U.S.-listed options, OTC, or cryptocurrencies
Extended hours and pre-market trading
Solid trading platform and features considering it’s free
Limited platform relative to some options-focused competitors
No access to assets beyond options, crypto, ETFs, and stocks
Webull is a Chinese-owned, U.S.-based brokerage formed in 2017 and launched as a trading platform in May 2018. Since 2020, it has been seen as a chief rival of Robinhood, gaining users as that platform struggled with the meme stock fallout and other controversies. Webull has been expanding its offering, announcing the addition of over-the-counter (OTC) stock as a new commission free asset.
Webull has a lot going for it as the no-cost platform of choice. The app, website, and desktop platform started out solid and have been upgraded several times since. There is also an option to paper trade to learn the system and build your confidence as a trader. Webull still has some work to do building out its education offerings to new traders and investors, but the paper trading feature allows for hands-on learning to somewhat fill that gap.
Like many newer brokerages, Webull seems to have instinctively streamlined its app in the right way, enjoying 4.7 out of 5 rating on the Apple App Store and 4.4 out of 5 on Google Play. The experience offered by the mobile app likely won’t convert hardcore traders coming from more full-featured platforms, but all the assets are certainly available.
The key point to keep in mind with Webull is that it does lean on payment for order flow (PFOF) to make ends meet in lieu of charging customers commissions of any kind. It is upfront about this right on the pricing page, and it is up to the individual investor whether the subtler fee via PFOF is a concern. The main critique of payment for order flow is that it is likely coming at the cost of your order execution quality and there is certainly analysis to back that up.
Before major brokerages moved to a commission-free trading model, the definition of a discount broker used to be much clearer. Discount brokers were all heavily focused on online trading and undercut the full-service offerings by a significant amount. By that definition, all brokers are discount brokers now. Even the traditional full-service brokers like T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Charles Schwab have a discount broker offering differentiated from their full-service offerings. This means our list of contenders for the best low-cost brokers is constantly growing while also having to reassess how we balance the remaining costs against the overall value of the tools, resources, and features of a trading platform. Consequently, having low or no-costs doesn’t matter much if the trading platform is below average.
Fidelity, Interactive Brokers, and Webull are strong platforms overall. Looking solely from a cost lens, Webull has no obvious costs and is a slick platform for that price. If you want something more robust, however, Fidelity and Interactive Brokers both bring more tools to bear on your portfolio as well as for guiding your trading and investing. And, finally, if you are looking for the broadest platform in terms of assets and markets, as well as tools, then you are left with Interactive Brokers. In fact, of the three, we found that Interactive Brokers took the biggest strides in terms of improving its offerings and simplifying its platform through the GlobalTrader app for those investors not ready to go all in on its more sophisticated TWS platform. Fidelity still holds an overall edge for the ease with which the average investors can manage their portfolio well, but it is getting to be a closer call than before.
How Does a Discount Broker Work?
Discount brokers offer lower commissions than full-service brokers, but they typically don't guide your trading in any sense other than offering tools you can use yourself. Discount brokers also avoid providing advice or services like tax planning, estate planning, and personal consultations. That means it's up to you to research potential trades, place orders, and manage your positions. Discount brokers usually offer at least a web and mobile platform for your trading needs, and some offer more robust downloadable desktop platforms at no extra cost. Discount brokers are best suited for investors who don't require professional advice and prefer to take an active role in their investments. Full-service brokers, on the other hand, are a better option for those who need professional financial advice or support.
Discount Brokerage vs. Full-Service Brokerage
There are different types of brokers you can consider based on the level of service and price you are willing to pay. A full-service, or traditional broker, generally provides a deeper set of services and products than what a typical discount brokerage does. Full-service brokers can give their clients financial and retirement planning as well as tax and investment advice. Full-service brokers can also execute parts of your financial plan for you, as is done when an advisor trades in your portfolio on your behalf. These additional services and features usually come at a steeper price overall or a specific fee for accessing an additional service.
If you are looking for a cheaper option and are comfortable with the do-it-yourself approach to portfolio planning and management, a discount broker is a better choice. Discount brokers offer low (or no) commission rates on trades and usually have web-based platforms and/or apps to manage your investments directly. Discount brokers are cheaper, but require you to pay close attention and educate yourself. Luckily, most discount brokers provide educational resources to help you learn to trade and invest.
Beyond that, we also live in a world with digital investment managers, known colloquially as robo-advisors, that can blend elements of full-service brokerages at discount brokerage pricing by cutting out the human advisor in favor of a digital one.
Are All Brokers Discount Brokers Now?
The internet disrupted a lot of industries, and the brokerage industry wasn’t spared. As brokerages moved fully online, it made it easier to compare and contrast them in every way. This was an opportunity for those brokers who recognized that individual investors could grow if given easy access to the market. Full-service brokerages still exist, but their service lines usually include a low-fee discount brokerage segment, a hybrid segment with some services delivered by advisors and others by algorithm, and a full-service segment that can overlap with the traditional wealth management side of the business. These brokers are all large and have a long history, so we tend to refer to them as large brokers or traditional brokerages even if they are also discount brokers as well. Newer brokers that started in the internet era tend to just focus on the individual investor and were the first discount brokers before the old guard also jumped on commission-free trading.
Put simply, all brokers operating now have a discount brokerage business, but the more established ones still have their full service business lines as well. It is possible that things might get even more confusing in the future, as we have seen some internet era platforms like Wealthfront and Personal Capital make a push into traditional full-service areas like wealth management for high net-worth clients.
Pros & Cons of Discount Brokers
Discount brokers can be ideal for those looking to save money. If you need more hands-on guidance, however, they may not be the right fit for you.
No need to worry about biased investment recommendations
Access to basic educational resources to help you do it yourself
No advice or guidance
Possible hidden fees
Less hands-on customer service
What To Consider When Choosing a Discount Broker
When choosing a low-cost brokerage, look for the same features you would want from any broker: a strong industry reputation, up-to-date security standards, solid customer service, reasonable costs, robust trading tools, helpful educational content, and access to the markets you want to trade. If low costs are a priority, review the broker's entire pricing schedule—not just the commissions—to ensure you understand the total cost of trading with that broker. For example, while most brokers no longer charge platform fees, there are a few that still do (and it can be expensive). If you will be trading a lot, it also makes sense to consider the broker's price improvement statistics and payment for order flow practices since both ultimately affect your bottom line.
Some brokers charge a per-leg fee for options trades, so frequent spread traders might want to look for brokers who only charge a per-contract fee.
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. This year, we revamped the review process by conducting an extensive survey of customers that are actively looking to start trading and investing with an online broker. We then combined this invaluable information with our subject matter expertise to develop the framework for a quantitative ratings model that is at the core of how we compiled our list of the best online broker and trading platform companies.
This model weighs key factors like trading technology, range of offerings, mobile app usability, research amenities, educational content, portfolio analysis features, customer support, costs, account amenities, and overall trading experience according to their importance. Our team of researchers gathered 2425 data points and weighted 66 criteria based on data collected during extensive research for each of the 25 companies we reviewed.
Many of the brokers we reviewed also gave us live demonstrations of their platforms and services, either at their New York City offices or via video conferencing methods. Live brokerage accounts were also obtained for most of the platforms we reviewed, which our team of expert writers and editors used to perform hands-on testing in order to lend their qualitative point of view.
Read our full Methodology for reviewing online brokers.