Investopedia’s Online Broker Review Methodology

Comprehensive, unbiased reviews and ratings of the industry’s top brokerages

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In order to trade or invest in financial instruments like stocks and cryptocurrencies, you need a broker who will execute the orders in the market on your behalf. To help determine the broker that works best for you, we conducted a comprehensive review process of the top online brokers and trading platforms. 

When choosing a broker that fits your needs, it is essential to understand which companies have the infrastructure needed to help you grow as an investor, and which companies are more geared toward active traders. Depending on where each company falls, there could be significant differences in how they make money off of their customers, and whether these practices affect trade execution.

Our in-depth review process takes all of these factors into account as we score the top online brokerage firms using a quantitative ratings model that 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. 

Comprehensive Data Collection & Review Process

In order to provide the best information to consumers looking for an online broker that best fits their needs, we developed a comprehensive ranking methodology based on a variety of factors that are crucial in evaluating the offerings and usability of these platforms. 

By combining industry research, subject matter expertise, and consumer survey data, we developed a quantitative model that rates each company based on 11 major categories and 66 criteria. We used a proprietary scoring methodology that allowed us to properly grade the many key aspects of these often complex platforms. You can trust that Investopedia is providing you with its unbiased and most comprehensive review of the top online brokers because of this all-encompassing methodology.

Data Scoring 

  • Data points are scored on a 0.00 - 1.00 scale
  • Binary criteria = [0,1]
  • Scaled criteria (e.g., 5-point) = [0.00, 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, 1.00]
  • Continuous criteria, minimum value in the database was re-scaled to 0.00 and maximum value was re-scaled to 1.00 

To collect the data, we sent a digital survey, consisting of 85 queries, to each of the 25 companies we reviewed. In addition, we had our team of researchers both verify the survey responses and collect any missing data points by conducting online research and contacting each company directly. 

Many of the brokers we reviewed also performed 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. 

Based on a combination of consumer survey results and subject matter expertise, we developed the following category weights:

These categories were then broken down into 97 variables and 66 weighted criteria, resulting in 2425 data points that make up our scoring rubric.

Research Amenities

Our customer survey revealed strong interest in this category, and for good reason. Conducting research before committing capital to a trade or investment is a critical step in making buying and selling decisions. By studying and evaluating key elements such as price action and industry fundamentals, individual investors can make more informed investment decisions.

The best online brokers will make it easy for investors to screen for key technical and fundamental criteria, help them frame these criteria within the appropriate context, and provide the tools needed to understand future probabilities.

This entire section accounts for 13.57% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Access to proprietary research 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies that provide proprietary, in-house research received a high score and companies without this feature received a low score. This score makes up 0.87% of our overall star ratings.

Access to third party research

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies that offer research from third party providers received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 0.95% of our overall star ratings.

Screeners offered (e.g., ESG/SRI screener, stocks screener, ETF screener, options screener)

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of screeners received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.55% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to build custom screens 

We gave brokers that allow users to build custom screens a score of 1, while brokers lacking this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.33% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to screen based on technical indicators 

Brokers that give users the ability to screen based on technical indicators were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.54% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to save custom screens

We gave brokers that allow users to save custom screens a score of 1, while brokers lacking this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.58% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to turn screen results into a watchlist 

Brokers that allow users the to turn screen results into a watchlist were given a score of 1, while brokers without this ability received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.41% of our overall star ratings.

Trading idea generator offered 

Brokers that provide trading idea generators were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.58% of our overall star ratings.

Daily market research reports offered 

Brokers that provide users with daily market research reports were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.16% of our overall star ratings.

Types of charts offered (e.g., line, bar, candle, etc.) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of chart types received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score.  This score makes up 1.38% of our overall star ratings.

Costs

There are two different types of brokerage firms: full service and discount. The differences between the two and the fees they charge are significant. So how much does a broker cost? Our research takes into account costs and fees that are typical of both, in order to properly compare these companies on an apples to apples basis.

This entire section accounts for 11.58% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Base commission for penny stocks 

Brokers that offer the option of having no base commissions on penny stocks were given a score of 1, while brokers that lack this option received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.84% of our overall star ratings.

Base commission for stocks/ETFs 

Brokers that give users the option of having no base commissions on stocks and ETFs were given a score of 1, while brokers that lack this option received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.73% of our overall star ratings.

Base commission for options 

Brokers that don’t charge base commissions on options were given a score of 1, while brokers that charge a base commission received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.79% of our overall star ratings.

No-load mutual funds offered 

Brokers that offer no-load mutual funds were given a score of 1, while brokers without this offering received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.77% of our overall star ratings.

Recurring investment fees 

Brokers that do not charge recurring investment fees were given a score of 1, while brokers that do charge such fees received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.71% of our overall star ratings.

Inactivity fees

Brokers that do not charge inactivity fees were given a score of 1, while brokers that do charge these fees received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.76% of our overall star ratings.

Account closure fees 

Brokers without account closure fees were given a score of 1, while brokers with such fees received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.84% of our overall star ratings.

Account transfer fees 

Brokers that do not charge transfer fees were given a score of 1, while brokers with these fees received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.71% of our overall star ratings.

Wire fees 

Brokers that charge no wire fees were given a score of 1, while brokers with wire fees received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.79% of our overall star ratings.

Check fees 

Brokers that do not charge any fees for writing checks were given a score of 1, while brokers that do charge for this service received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.74% of our overall star ratings.

Broker assisted trade fees

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest fees for placing broker-assisted trades received a high score and companies with the highest fees received a low score. This score makes up 0.70% of our overall star ratings.

Price per futures contract 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest prices per futures contract received a high score and companies with the highest prices received a low score.  This score makes up 0.82% of our overall star ratings.

Options cost per contract 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest costs per options contract received a high score and companies with the highest costs received a low score. This score makes up 0.79% of our overall star ratings.

Capped fees for options trading 

Brokers that capped fees on options trades upon meeting a certain threshold were given a score of 1, while brokers without this benefit received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.81% of our overall star ratings.

Discounted fees for options trading

Brokers that offer discounted fees on options trades upon meeting a certain threshold were given a score of 1, while brokers without this benefit received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.78% of our overall star ratings.

Trading Technology

Having the right trading technology in place is critical for helping market participants to identify actionable market inefficiencies and high probability trade ideas, all while being able to execute on these trades in a manner that is efficient and fair. 

This entire section accounts for 10.87% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Ability to backtest trading strategies 

Brokers that offer the ability to backtest trading strategies were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.78% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to automate trading strategies 

Brokers that provide users the ability to automate trading strategies were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0.  This score makes up 1.51% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to route orders 

Brokers that offer the ability to route orders were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0.  This score makes up 1.69% of our overall star ratings.

Average payment for order flow (PFOF) per share

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest PFOF received a high score and companies with the highest PFOF received a low score. This score makes up 1.53% of our overall star ratings.

Average payment for order flow (PFOF) per options contract

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest PFOF received a high score and companies with the highest PFOF received a low score. This score makes up 1.66% of our overall star ratings.

Net Price Improvement per share 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the best net price improvement per share received a high score and companies with the worst net price improvement per share received a low score. This score makes up 1.21% of our overall star ratings.

Net Price Improvement per options contract 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the best net price improvement per options contract received a high score and companies with the worst net price improvement per options contract received a low score. This score makes up 1.51% of our overall star ratings.

Range of Offerings

All of the companies we’ve reviewed offer customers a platform on which to trade stocks and ETFs, but that’s where most of the similarities end. In addition to these two asset classes, the best brokers also allow investors to place orders in mutual funds, fixed income, CDs, options, futures, currencies, and cryptocurrencies. 

In addition, investors have the potential to invest with a global reach. However, you’ll find that these companies vary greatly in the global markets they allow you to access, as well as the countries in which they offer support. 

There’s also the question of whether a company allows users to make fractional share trades and fractional dividend reinvestments, and what types of accounts they’ll be permitted to open, such as Individual brokerage accounts, IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, etc. 

This entire section accounts for 8.95% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Asset classes offered (e.g., stocks, ETFs, CDs, Options, Futures) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of tradable and investable asset classes received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.85% of our overall star ratings.

Stocks on the “easy to borrow” list

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest number of stocks on the "easy to borrow" list received a high score and companies with the smallest number received a low score. This score makes up 0.75% of our overall star ratings.

Number of legs possible in an equity options strategy

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the greatest number of options legs received a high score and companies with the smallest number received a low score. This score makes up 1.06% of our overall star ratings.

International Exchanges offered 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the most international exchanges received a high score and companies with the fewest exchanges received a low score. This score makes up 1.11% of our overall star ratings.

Countries available to trade in  

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the most international support received a high score and companies with the least support received a low score. This score makes up 1.10% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to trade fractional shares of stock/ETFs

Brokers that make fractional share investing available were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.10% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to make fractional dividend reinvestments

Brokers that provide users with the ability to make fractional dividend reinvestments were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.87% of our overall star ratings.

Access to a variety of account types (e.g., IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k) etc.) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with access to the largest variety of account types received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.10% of our overall star ratings.

Educational Material

Markets are complex, and trading and investing in them is no easy task. Having an understanding of how markets work and how to use the countless tools and calculators available these days to grow your assets into the future is absolutely essential.

The best online brokers will provide a wide range of educational material across several mediums, such as articles, videos, seminars, and webinars.

This entire section accounts for 9.65% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Types of educational materials offered (e.g., articles, video, webinar, seminar) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of screeners received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 5.25% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to use life stage planning tools 

Brokers that offer life stage planning tools were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 4.40% of our overall star ratings.

Portfolio Analysis and Reports

To be a successful investor, there is so much more to monitoring your account than simply checking on your balance from time to time. Examples of other key items you should have an understanding of are whether you are over or underexposed to certain sectors, or if there are any major tax implications to some of the investments you've been making.

The availability of expert assistance in these matters is also a service that not all brokers offer. Not only will the best online brokers provide you with the proper tools and services to help keep your account on the right track but they'll also allow you to sync your external accounts for a holistic view of your finances.

This entire section accounts for 9.45% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Portfolio reports in real-time 

Brokers that offer portfolio reports in real-time were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.87% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to maintain trading journal 

Brokers that provide users with the ability to maintain a trading journal were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.53% of our overall star ratings.

Portfolio tracking features offered 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of portfolio tracking features offered received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 2.05% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to communicate with a live, licensed broker 

Brokers that provide users with the ability to communicate with a live, licensed financial advisor were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 2.08% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to communicate with a live, licensed financial advisor

Brokers that provide users with daily market research reports were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.92% of our overall star ratings.

Platform Experience

Whether you're a passive investor with a fairly hands off approach to your investing or a more active trader that is constantly looking to speculate in daily market swings, there's a broker that fits your needs. This section covers the critical items that will help make for the best experience when you are actually ready to place an order and set risk parameters around it.

This entire section accounts for 9.02% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Real-time stock streaming on trading platform

Brokers that offer a real-time stock streaming on trading platform were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.21% of our overall star ratings.

Simultaneous real-time stock streaming on multiple platforms (ex: mobile app, desktop software, website portal) 

Brokers that provide users with simultaneous real-time stock streaming on multiple platforms were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.44% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to select a tax lot prior to placing an order online

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the ability to select a tax lot prior to placing an order online received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.64% of our overall star ratings.

Order types offered (e.g., Market, Limit, Stop Limit, etc.) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of order types offered received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.952% of our overall star ratings.

Additional features offered (e.g., stage orders for later entry, customize price chart, trade directly from price chart) 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of additional features offered received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.70% of our overall star ratings.

No serious platform outages in recent years 

Brokers that offer a trading idea generator were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.51% of our overall star ratings.

Mobile App Usability

During our live demonstrations with many of the companies we reviewed, one of the recurring themes had to do with the growth in mobile trading that has taken place in recent years. It's hard to envision a time when a mobile trader will actually get to experience the far more robust trading environment offered by most brokers' desktop platforms.

The best online brokers have made it so their mobile users can access the same tools and amenities available on their desktop and web versions, and at similar speeds.

This entire section accounts for 8.72% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Access to the same order types as the desktop or web platform version 

Brokers that provide users with access to the same order types as the desktop or web platform version were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 3.89% of our overall star ratings.

Access to the same asset classes as the desktop or web platform version 

Brokers that offer access to the same asset classes as the desktop or web platform version were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 3.83% of our overall star ratings.

Drawing tools available in the charting functionality

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the largest selection of drawing tools available in the charting functionality received a high score and companies with the smallest selection received a low score. This score makes up 1.0% of our overall star ratings.

Customer Service 

When it comes to trading it is not uncommon for Murphy's Law to occur, whether it be with technology or markets. This category evaluates the process a customer goes through when something goes wrong, or when a customer needs some additional hand-holding.

This entire section accounts for 6.93% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Account Amenities

In this section we look at the supplemental services that the brokerage offers other than standard trading and investing features.

This entire section accounts for 6.48% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Portfolio margin available 

Brokers that make portfolio margin available were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.16% of our overall star ratings.

Ability to choose and offer shares held long to a loan program 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies offering users the ability to choose and offer shares held long to a loan program received a high score and companies lacking this item received a low score. This score makes up 1.11% of our overall star ratings.

Earn interest on cash 

Brokers that allow customers to earn interest on cash were given a score of 1, while brokers without this benefit received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.0% of our overall star ratings.

Uninvested cash automatically swept into a money market fund 

Brokers that offer users the option to automatically sweep uninvested cash into a money market fund were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 0.96% of our overall star ratings.

Requirement for opening an IRA

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest requirement for opening an IRA received a high score and companies with the highest requirement received a low score. This score makes up 1.14% of our overall star ratings.

Requirement for opening a Roth IRA 

We scored this item on a continuous scale of 0.000 to 1.000, as opposed to a binary scale of 0/1. Companies with the lowest requirement for opening a Roth IRA received a high score and companies with the highest requirement received a low score. This score makes up 1.1% of our overall star ratings.

Security

This category was gauged based on the broker’s security features and how the level of commitment the broker shows in keeping its client’s sensitive information secure. While most of the brokers we reviewed offer biometric login procedures, that's where the similarities end.

This entire section accounts for 5.04% of the total weighted score in our evaluation.

Two-factor authentication login

Brokers that provide users with two-factor authentication login were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.87% of our overall star ratings.

Biometric (fingerprint or face scan) logins on mobile app

Brokers that offer biometric logins on the mobile app were given a score of 1, while brokers without this feature received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.30% of our overall star ratings.

No data breaches in recent years

Brokers that did not have any data breaches in recent years were given a score of 1, while brokers without this item received a score of 0. This score makes up 1.86% of our overall star ratings.

Meet the Research Team!

Rosie Pipada
Research Analyst, Performance Marketing
Rosie Pipada Investopedia

Rosie broadly researches financial services, but specifically focuses on investment and trading, insurance, and mortgages. 

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Hannah Kang
Research Manager, Performance Marketing
Hannah Kang

Hannah has been conducting research for over a decade, with a recent focus on providing data-driven recommendations from synthesizing quantitative data with qualitative data on services and products across finance, health, and lifestyle. 

Prior to joining the Performance Marketing team as a Research Associate, Hannah conducted research for Fortune 500 companies and multinational biotech companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Takeda. Her experience leading rigorous studies for FDA reviews shaped her standard of research integrity which guides her work at Performance Marketing.

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