Charles Schwab Review

By Jean Folger  | October 5, 2017

Iconic brand with extensive account protection, robust trading platform and abundant research.

Overall Rating

4.6/
5.0
Products & Fees
3.9
Trust
5.0
Special Features
5.0
Desktop Experience
5.0
Mobile Experience
4.2
Customer Support
5.0
Research & Insights
4.7
Education
3.2
Banking
5.0

Schwab Fast Facts

The Charles Schwab Corp. is a financial services company founded in April 1971 that offers online brokerage, investing, and advisory and banking services. Some 10 million self-directed traders and investors use Schwab's web-based, pro-level, and mobile trading platforms to research, buy, and sell stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, bonds, and other securities, making it one of the largest brokerage firms in the U.S. For those wanting a little help with their investment decisions, Schwab offers advisory services, including personal planning, automated investing, and portfolio management.

pros

  • Commission Free Products
    Hundreds of commission-free ETFs and thousands of no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Third-Party Analysis
    Excellent commentary and analysis from Schwab and trusted third-party providers
  • Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
    Robo-advisor service with no advisory fees, account service fees, or commissions
  • Multiple Platforms
    Automatic syncing of account activity across website, desktop, and mobile trading platforms (available for any iOS/Android mobile device - including your Apple Watch)
  • Customer Support
    Live support 24/7, secure messaging, or online help via live chat and social media
  • Advanced Trading
    StreetSmart Edge, an intuitive platform that offers advanced charting and trading features

cons

  • Product Offerings
    No forex trading, and Schwab is currently not opening new futures accounts
  • Learning Center
    Educational offerings are limited and not as well organized as those of some competitors
  • Mutual Fund Commissions
    You'll pay $76 to buy a mutual fund that's not on Schwab's OneSource Funds list

Products & Fees

3.9

Schwab customers have access to a wide array of investment products, including stocks, ETFs, options, bonds and other fixed-income securities, mutual funds, and preferred stocks. Missing from the lineup are forex and futures trading. Customers also have access to IRAs and various types of annuities, including variable annuities and single-premium immediate annuities. Stock/ETF commissions are a flat $4.95; options trades cost $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract. Phone and broker-supported trades cost an additional $5 and $25, respectively. ETF and mutual fund investors can trade free by choosing from Schwab's 200+ commission-free ETFs and 3,000+ no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds. If you're not happy with a commission or fee you've paid, you can request a refund for any reason.

  • Stocks
    $4.95
  • ETFs
    $4.95
  • Schwab OneSource ETFs
    Free
  • Options
    $4.95 + $0.65 per contract
  • Mutual Funds
    $76 per buy, $0 per sell
  • Schwab OneSource Mutual Funds*
    Free
  • Treasuries
    Free
  • Bonds (secondary trades)
    $1 per bond, $10 minimum
  • CDs
    $1 per bond, $10 minimum
  • Annuities**
    Base fee of 0.65%
  • Phone Trade
    Commission + $5
  • Broker-assisted trade
    Commission + $25
  • Futures***
    Not Available
  • Forex
    Not Available

Trust

5.0

Schwab has a solid reputation backed by numerous industry awards and accolades. The company is doing all the right things when it comes to protecting customer assets and information: It's a member of FINRA, FDIC, and SIPC; adheres to the SEC's Customer Protection Rule; and is a member of the National Business Coalition on E-Commerce and Privacy, a partnership of major financial services companies that works for "robust and consistent data security, security breach notice, privacy, and consumer protection regulation." The company is proactive about corporate social responsibility.

What you need to know

As a member of FINRA, FDIC, and SIPC, Schwab offers customers multiple layers of protection if the firm goes under. In compliance with the SEC's Customer Protection Rule, all customer securities, including stocks and bonds that are fully paid for or excess margin securities, are segregated from Schwab's securities - which means that if Schwab became insolvent, your assets would be protected against creditors' claims. Additionally, the SchwabSafe security guarantee provides that "Schwab will cover 100% of any losses in any of your Schwab accounts due to unauthorized activity." The firm has a long history of corporate social responsibility, including financial education programs, employee volunteerism, and community involvement.

Special Features

5.0
Special Features

Schwab is a full-service broker that offers tools for self-directed investors and traders, plus services for those who want help making investing decisions. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is a robo-advisor service that builds, monitors, and automatically rebalances a diversified portfolio of ETFs - starting with as little as $5,000. It's available to all customers and has no advisory fees, account service fees, or commissions. Customers also have access to dedicated financial advice and portfolio management services. The company has a solid record of providing fast execution at competitive prices. Schwab.com offers basic functionality, but you'll have to use StreetSmart Edge to access certain features such as fully customizable charting and advanced trading tools (including conditional orders).

What you need to know

Schwab offers versatile tools and services to fit the needs of self-directed investors as well as those looking for varying degrees of help with their investment decisions. The trading platform at Schwab.com is ideal for casual investors and novice traders. Those looking for advanced charting and trading capabilities can use Schwab's StreetSmart Edge free, with no account or trade minimums. The firm offers a range of investment advice options, including automated investing (Schwab Intelligent Portfolio), dedicated financial advice (Schwab Private Client and Schwab Advisor Network), and a blend of personal planning and automated investing (Schwab Intelligent Advisory).

Desktop Experience

5.0
Desktop Platform Experience

Schwab customers have access to three platforms that automatically sync with one another to provide a seamless trading experience: web trading on Schwab.com; StreetSmart Edge (Schwab's flagship advanced trading platform); and Schwab Mobile, an app available for iOS and Android devices. This review focuses on the web trading platform, which is appropriate for casual investors and newer active traders who want basic functionality and a platform that is intuitive and easy to use. Users can create watchlists and alerts, and customize charts with basic indicators, studies, and drawing tools. Traders and investors interested in a more robust platform experience can use Schwab's StreetSmart Edge desktop-based platform, with no account or trade minimums.

Pros

- An intuitive interface that's ideal for casual investors and newer active traders
- A range of research tools consolidated into one convenient place: Click the Summary tab for any symbol to view charts, news, ratings, earnings, statements, ratios, and more on one screen
- Customizable watchlists and alerts to keep you up-to-date on changing market conditions
- The ability to manage accounts, view balances, transfer funds, and make payments directly from the web trading platform

Cons

- Charts must be refreshed to view current prices, which is inconvenient but not typically a problem for casual investors
- Customization options are limited (for example, you can select an open-high/low-close or a candlestick chart, but you can't customize the colors or layout)
- Advanced order types aren't supported, though customers can access both more sophisticated charting and advanced orders by using StreetSmart Edge, which is free

Mobile Experience

4.2
Mobile Platform Experience

Schwab Mobile is available for Android and iOS devices, including the Apple Watch. It syncs seamlessly with Schwab's other platforms, so any activity you perform on the app - whether it's placing trades or creating a new watchlist - automatically shows up in the desktop platform. The app is well designed, intuitive, and easy to use, and it offers nearly the same functionality you'll find when you log into your account on Schwab.com. In addition to accessing your brokerage account, you can use the app to manage your Schwab Bank, 401(k), and other accounts.

Pros

- The app is easy to navigate. Tabs on every screen offer quick access to your account summary, watchlists, research, and the trade order interface.
- Commercial-free live streaming news from CNBC TV is available 24 hours a day, every business day.
- Options traders will enjoy Idea Hub, a tool that lets you explore options trading ideas.
- The Trade Calculator shows the potential profit or loss for your options strategy.
- With Mobile Deposit, you can use your smartphone to quickly deposit checks anytime

Cons

- Like Schwab's web trading platform, the mobile app offers limited customization options and does not support advanced order types. To access these features, you'll need to use the free StreetSmart Edge platform.

Customer Support

5.0

Schwab has earned industry recognition for its customer service (it was rated No. 1 in customer service in Investor's Business Daily's Best Online Brokers survey for 2017). Live phone help is available around the clock, and you can get assistance via live chat, secure messaging, snail mail, fax, social media (Facebook Messenger), and in person at 330+ branch locations. Schwab also offers accessibility services, including telecommunications relay, statement alternatives (braille, audio, and large print), sign language interpreters, reader services, and website accessibility.

What you need to know

Schwab has a well-deserved reputation for excellent customer service. Log into your account on Schwab.com and click the Contact Us button at the top of any page to view support options, which include around-the-clock live phone support, live chat, secure messaging, and addresses for snail mail (select your state for the fastest service). Note that you won't find an email address (customers can use secure messaging), and there's no SMS support either, so emailers and texters will have to connect with customer support using one of the other options.

Research & Insights

4.7

Schwab scores high in research tools and insights, making it easy for customers to analyze potential investments. You'll have access to analyst ratings, market commentary, research reports, and buy/hold ratings. There are also screeners for stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, and fixed-income securities. Research and insights come from Schwab and third-party providers, including Credit Suisse, Ned Davis Research, Argus, and Morningstar. News feeds are updated throughout the trading session and are searchable by keyword, symbol or company, date, source, sector, and topic. The web-based platform provides in-depth fundamental analysis with charts, news, ratings, earnings, ratios, and more on a single screen, plus a variety of basic technical analysis tools. StreetSmart Edge offers more robust charting and technical tools.

Product Screeners
Scan for potential investments based on your specific criteria
Analyst Rating and Reports
Third-party research ratings, detailed stock reports, and focus lists
Indicators & Studies
Dozens of technical indicators and drawing tools
Recommendations
Schwab Equity Ratings, a proprietary method for rating performance
Economic Calendar
Track market-moving events with calendars from Econoday and Briefing.com
Fundamental Analysis
View a variety of fundamentals, including earnings and growth trends, net income, dividend growth and payments, and more

Pros

Charles Schwab has excellent research tools. Schwab was rated a Best Online Broker for research tools by Investor's Business Daily in 2017 and has earned industry recognition as a leading research provider. Charles Schwab provides third-party analysis. Investors can count on quality commentary and analysis from Schwab's in-house research team and trusted third-party providers, including Credit Suisse, Morningstar, and Ned Davis Research. You'll find rich fundamental analysis with one click: Select the Summary tab for any symbol to view charts, news, ratings, earnings, ratios, and more on one screen. Stay up-to-date with news from the Associated Press, Reuters, Briefing.com, Market News International, and others (mobile app users get a live stream of CNBC TV).

Cons

Unlike many of its competitors, Schwab doesn't yet offer social sentiment or discussions.

Education

3.2

Schwab has a great deal of educational content on its website to help investors learn about stocks, ETFs, options, bonds, and other fixed-income products. Its Learning Center provides FAQs, articles, and videos on beginner topics such as "Order Types: Getting to Know the Basics" and "Bond Ladders: A Useful Tool for Retirement Income." The Insights & Ideas section of the Schwab.com website (accessible before you log into your account) has a larger selection of educational content - including articles, videos, slide shows, podcasts, and infographics - covering market commentary, "Washington Watch" (write-ups about policies and regulations that may affect investors), personal finance and planning, and retirement. Schwab also offers in-person workshops on topics such as "7 Fundamentals You Need for Investing Success" and "Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan." (You can sign up on the website.)

What you need to know

While Schwab offers a wide selection of educational content - including articles, videos, and podcasts - you might have trouble finding what you're looking for because it is not organized in one place. Some content is filed in the Learning Center, while other materials are in the Insights & Ideas section of Schwab.com. On the plus side, Schwab offers in-person educational events at its branches - more than 330 in 46 states.

Banking

5.0

Schwab offers a variety of banking services, including checking accounts, savings accounts, college banking, credit cards, debit cards, and mortgage loans and home equity lines of credit (provided by Quicken Loans).

What you need to know

Schwab makes banking easy. You can manage your accounts and access a variety of banking services in person (by visiting one of Schwab's branch locations), on Schwab.com, or by using Schwab Mobile for iOS and Android. Online bill pay is available free, and you can link your other bank accounts to your Schwab brokerage account to easily transfer funds. Select paperless statements and tax forms for convenience, security, and 24/7 access. Investor Advantage Pricing offers interest rate discounts up to 0.250% on eligible home loans offered by Schwab Bank's home loan provider, Quicken Loans.

Bottom Line

Some 10 million self-directed investors and traders use Schwab's quality research, diverse trading tools, and intuitive trading platforms. Schwab customers have access to a variety of investment products, including stocks, ETFs, options, bonds and other fixed-income securities, mutual funds, and preferred stocks. Schwab recently lowered its stock/ETF commissions to a flat $4.95 (from $8.95), making it one of the least expensive online brokers in the U.S. Options trades cost $4.95 plus $0.65 per contract. ETF and mutual fund investors can trade free by choosing from Schwab's 200+ commission-free ETFs (from 16 leading providers) and 3,000+ no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds. While Schwab provides plenty of tools for self-directed investors, it also offers a range of investment advice options, including automated investing (Schwab Intelligent Portfolio), dedicated financial advice (Schwab Private Client and Schwab Advisor Network), and a blend of personal planning and automated investing (Schwab Intelligent Advisory). In addition, clients have access to banking services (including checking and savings accounts, mortgages, and home equity loans), as well as retirement products such as IRAs and annuities.

Jean Folger
Reviewed by Jean Folger

Jean Folger is co-founder of PowerZone Trading, a company that has developed high-performance software and tools for active traders and investors since 2004. She is a regular contributor to Investopedia, and writes about active trading, investing, real estate, retirement, travel and other personal finance topics.

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