Over the last few years, online brokers have increasingly adopted the mantra “mobile-first.” As more investors and traders use tablets or smartphones as their primary platform, online brokers have made efforts to improve their mobile apps, which in turn attract more mobile users.
Rather than producing different apps for their customers who trade on the road, brokers now strive for a consistent experience between desktop and mobile platforms, including sharing watch lists and alerts as well as tools such as stock screeners and depositing checks into your account. Streaming data has made its way to mobile apps along with advanced charting and educational offerings. We’ve seen complex options analysis and trading enabled as well. With the availability of computers in our pockets, the way people interact with their trading and investment accounts have forced brokers to offer mobile apps along with their traditional desktop platforms.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions in the U.S., as of October 3rd, 2019. $0.65 per options contract.
TD Ameritrade gives you a choice of several mobile apps. Their standard app includes quite a bit of sharing capability, allowing you to capture a screen and email it to a friend, or post it on Twitter. The advanced Mobile Trader app, with the power of the think-or-swim platform, streams as much data as your screen can display and includes the ability to plan and trade complex options. You can also use your Apple Watch to receive notifications.
TD Ameritrade also received awards for Best Overall Online Broker, Best for Day Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for Beginners, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, and Best for IRAs.
Unlimited streaming data that can run simultaneously on multiple platforms
Watchlists and alerts synchronize across platforms, allowing you to run a custom screen on your mobile app and access the results of that screen on your desktop
Trade not only stocks, ETF and multi-leg options, but also futures, options on futures, and forex
Test out the powers of the think-or-swim platform using paperMoney, a trading simulator
Use the Snapstock feature to learn more about the company behind any retail product with a barcode
Education offerings, while plentiful, are difficult to locate, buried behind a “More” button
Fees are slightly higher than other brokers
Margin rates are higher than other brokers
You may wind up having to use both mobile apps to access the tools you want
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commission for stock/ETF trades. Options are $0.50-$0.65 per contract, depending on trading volume.
Most of the OptionsHouse platform, E*TRADE’s advanced options analysis, and trading toolset has been renamed Power E*TRADE and brought to their mobile apps. These advanced tools include a performance risk tool which lets you figure out what will happen to your portfolio based on movement in an individual stock or options trade, or for your entire portfolio. You can set up a complex options strategy, such as an iron condor with $5 wide wings, and the data will stream to your device. Both the Power E*TRADE and the standard E*TRADE mobile apps give you access to Bloomberg video.
E*TRADE also received awards for Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for Options Trading, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best for Beginners.
Streaming strategy options chains are a relatively unique tool
Futures traders can use the mobile futures ladder. Its capabilities will be available for other asset classes over the coming year.
The performance risk tools let you stress test your entire portfolio, or just a single asset or potential trade
The advanced options tools are included in the Power E*Trade app but not the regular E*Trade mobile app, so you may end up having to use both if you also want access to all of the available stock research
Fees are slightly higher than average, and there is a trading frequency requirement to qualify for lower commissions
High margin rates
No bank integration
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
Most of Fidelity’s excellent research offerings are now accessible on mobile devices. The mobile apps have been more tightly integrated with the desktop experience, and you’ll find features such as the Trefis stock valuation and the Recognia technical events on your tablet or phone. Fidelity’s trade execution engine seeks out price improvement, so for transactions of 500 shares or more, you can save more on a trade than you pay in commissions. The news feeds show streaming news that is based on your portfolio and watchlists, as well as important dates such as earnings and dividends.
Fidelity also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best for Beginners, Best for ETFs, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, Best for International Trading, and Best Web Trading Platforms.
Customized chart settings are consistent between your phone and tablet
Universal iOS app and Android apps available and adapt to user's device
The “Five Money Musts” game for mobile devices is geared to teach new investors about managing their finances
Face ID or touch ID available to log in quickly on your mobile device
Wild market fluctuations that led to surges in trading made both Fidelity’s browser-based site and mobile apps unavailable in 2018, but the firm has improved its infrastructure to avoid that in the future
Many advanced features from the Active Trader Pro platform are not yet available on mobile apps
No futures trading
- Account Minimums: $0
- Fees: $6.95 per stock trade. Options trades $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 per contract
Merrill Edge, a subsidiary of Bank of America, has a mobile app that links your banking activity and your brokerage account. You’ll find almost all of the planning and goal-setting tools and content from the website on your smartphone or tablet. The mobile app opens with a portfolio summary and presents performance statistics that you can customize. Via a partnership with Morningstar, investing education ranges from basic to extremely advanced. About half of Merrill’s clients use their mobile apps as their primary platform, so you’ll see ongoing improvements.
Merrill Edge also received awards for Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for Beginners, Best for IRAs, and Best for Roth IRAs.
A huge library of planning and goal-setting tools, organized by life stage and priorities
Calculators for charitable giving estimate the potential tax impact of donating an asset
New emphasis on social impact investing extends to their mobile apps
Hours of educational and informative videos, broken down into 2-3 minute long lessons
The self-directed investor may be annoyed by the constant push to engage a financial advisor
Limited options trading capability
No forex or futures trading
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF and options trading commissions in the U.S., as of October 7th, 2019. $0.65 per options contract.
Charles Schwab allows its customers a wide range of assets to trade, including hundreds of commission-free exchange-traded funds. The optionsXpress platform has been completely integrated, including the well-designed All-in-One trading tool, which is built into mobile apps. Once you’ve logged in to mobile, you can access streaming news about your portfolio holdings on that device, even after you’ve logged out. You’ll find numerous security options, such as masking your account balances, which will come in handy when you’re placing a trade in a public place.
Charles Schwab also received awards for Best Overall Online Brokers, Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for International Trading, Best for Options Trading, Best for Penny Stocks, Best for Beginners, Best for Roth IRAs, Best for IRAs, and Best for ETFs.
Mobile apps now have all features, including international market data
Streaming news alerts can be enabled on all your mobile devices, including Apple Watch
Two-factor authentication available on request
IdeaHub feature offers options trading ideas, updated throughout the trading day
Streaming data available only on native iOS and Android apps, not on the mobile website
Some advanced options analytics are not available on mobile
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on their platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting over 3,000 data points that we weighed into our star scoring system.
In addition, every broker we surveyed was required to fill out a 320-point survey about all aspects of their platform that we used in our testing. Many of the online brokers we evaluated provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms at our offices.
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