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Options trading has become extremely popular with retail investors since the turn of the 21st century. Our best options brokers have a wealth of tools that help you measure and manage risk as you determine which trades to place. They also include valuable education that helps you grow in sophistication as an options trader.
Best Online Brokers for Options Trading in April 2020:
- tastyworks: Best Options Trading Platform
- tastyworks: Best Broker for Advanced Options Traders
- tastyworks: Best Broker for Mobile Options Traders
- E*TRADE: Best Broker for Beginning Options Traders
- eOption: Best Broker for Low-Cost Options Trading
Best Options Trading Platform, Best for Advanced Options Trades, and Best for Mobile Options Traders: tastyworks
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0.00 stock trades, $1.00 to open options trades $0.00 to close
Tastyworks says that more than 90% of the trades placed by its customers are derivatives, so they naturally spend their time designing a lot of tools specifically for options and futures traders. Everything is designed to help traders evaluate volatility and the probability of profit. Tastyworks’ entire platform is geared towards making decisions and taking action. Tastyworks opened its virtual doors in 2017, so it isn’t saddled with legacy systems that bog down many of the older online brokers. This has helped it tremendously in keeping the options trading experience to the essentials. Tastyworks’ executions are fast and the costs are low, with commissions capped for opening orders for options on equities and futures at $10 per leg.
Watchlists are a key component of the tastyworks platform, and they are the same on mobile, web, and download. The look and feel of the mobile platform is very similar to the desktop versions, though you’ll find price wheels and ways to define trades that minimize the possibility of making a mistake. As you build a position from a chart or from a volatility screener, a trade ticket is built for you. There’s also a video viewer embedded so you can keep an eye on the tastytrade network. Though a newcomer to options trading might be initially uncomfortable, those who understand the basic concepts will appreciate the content, features, and focus apparent throughout tastyworks’ platforms.
All of the tools you’ll need for analyzing and trading derivatives are built into the platforms.
The charting capabilities are uniquely tuned for the options trader. If you have multiple positions on a particular underlying, you can analyze the risk profiles of the combined position.
There are hours of original video from tastytrade every weekday, offering up-to-the-minute trading ideas, plus a huge library of pre-recorded videos and shows.
Newcomers to trading and investing may be overwhelmed by tastyworks at first.
There is no fixed income trading (outside of ETFs that contain bonds) for those who want to allocate some of their assets to a more conservative asset class.
Any additional portfolio analysis beyond profit and loss requires setting up a login on a separate site, The Quiet Foundation, which is also part of the tastytrade empire.
Best for Beginning Options Traders: E*TRADE
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commission for stock/ETF trades. Options are $0.50-$0.65 per contract, depending on trading volume.
New options traders need some help in understanding how trading derivatives can help improve portfolio returns. E*TRADE’s more advanced platforms are elegantly designed and guide you along the way. When you graduate to options and derivatives, the Power E*TRADE website and mobile app can help you learn. The Power E*TRADE site and app can be set up to put the functions you use most often front and center so you don’t have to dig around for them. The platform has all the features inherited from E*TRADE’s acquisition of OptionsHouse technology, which includes a wealth of helpful educational resources for the developing options trader. Watchlists are integrated across E*TRADE’s platforms, and the full range of tradable assets is accessible on the mobile apps. The workflow is very smooth on the mobile apps. We also found that using Power E*TRADE on a tablet is quite pleasant.
Mobile apps are extremely well laid-out and easy to use and are among the most comprehensive and extensive apps tested.
Spectral Analysis on Power E*TRADE is a visually stunning tool that helps you visualize maximum profit and loss for an options strategy and understand your risk metrics
You can test strategies using the paper trading capabilities of E*TRADE Pro’s desktop platform, which uses delayed data so you won’t think you’re placing real trades.
On all platforms, you’ll find a ubiquitous trade ticket with streaming real-time data.
Tiered commission schedule for options trades, charging $0.65 per contract for less frequent traders and $0.50 for those who place more than 30 options trades per quarter.
Investors who would like direct access to international markets or to trade foreign currencies should look elsewhere.
You cannot consolidate your externally-held accounts to form a complete picture of your net worth on E*TRADE.
Best for Low-Cost Options Trading: eOption
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 per stock/ETF trade, $1.99 base per leg plus $0.10 per contract for options trades
eOption charges $1.99 per leg for options trades, but the per-contract fee is significantly lower than its competitors, making it great for heavy options traders. eOption also offers commission-free stock and ETF trading so those who are options-oriented traders but also want access to other assets at a low cost will have no issues here. Clearing and exchange fees, typically a fraction of a penny per share, are spelled out on the order confirmation screen and are passed through to customers. eOption also scored highly for its relatively low margin rates.
eOption offers great value for frequent options traders.
The browser-based eOption Trader platform is easy to use.
Newsletter subscribers can auto-trade their alerts.
Limited education offerings.
News feeds are limited.
Any OTCBB (penny stock) trades must be made with a live broker.
Other Options Considerations
The commission structure for options trades tends to be more complicated than its equivalent for stock trades. Until the commission cuts that swept the industry in the fall of 2019, most brokers charged a fee for each leg of an options spread plus a commission per contract being traded. The per-leg fees, which made 2- and 4-legged spreads expensive, have been eliminated industry-wide, for the most part. We are also seeing some brokers place caps on commissions charged for certain trading scenarios.
Investors with fairly large portfolios can also take advantage of portfolio margining at some brokers. This is a practice that assesses the total risk inherent in a portfolio that contains stocks and derivatives. Investors with large portfolios can use portfolio margining to reduce the size of the margin loan.
What Kind of Options Trader Are You?
The first and most important piece of information to consider before selecting an options trading account is what kind of trader you are. What is your trading style and risk appetite? Which tools would you like to have handy?
Options are complex products to understand and trade. All of the brokers listed above allow customers to build complex options positions as a single order. Some brokers, such as Vanguard, only allow one position per order, leaving it to the individual trader to place multiple orders one at a time to create a combination position. Merrill Edge lets you place two-legged spreads, but anything more complex will require an additional order.
If you're just getting started with options trading, the quality of education and help offered by your broker is important. Frequent traders and those who trade a large number of contracts will be more sensitive to commissions and fees, so check out your prospective broker's charges and make sure you understand them.
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on its platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting thousands of data points that we weighed into our star-scoring system.
In addition, every broker we surveyed was required to fill out an extensive survey about all aspects of its platform that we used in our testing. Many of the online brokers we evaluated provided us with in-person demonstrations of its platforms at our offices.
Our best options brokers have a wealth of tools that help you measure and manage risk as you determine which trades to place. These brokers include valuable education that helps you grow in sophistication as an options trader. Investors with fairly large portfolios can take advantage of portfolio margining at certain brokers, a practice that assesses the total risk inherent in a portfolio that contains stocks and derivatives, and can reduce the size of your margin loan.
Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking online investing platforms for users at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.