TD Ameritrade Review

By Jean Folger  | September 12, 2017

TD Ameritrade atones for relatively pricey commissions by delivering a huge selection of investment products, extensive research tools, comprehensive educational offerings and a well-designed, intuitive platform.

Overall Rating

4.6/
5.0
Products & Fees
3.1
Trust
4.2
Special Features
5.0
Desktop Experience
4.5
Mobile Experience
5.0
Customer Support
4.4
Research & Insights
5.0
Education
5.0
Banking
5.0

TD Ameritrade Fast Facts

For more than 40 years, TD Ameritrade has “been empowering clients by helping them take control of their financial lives.” The firm has a long history of innovation, and has pioneered a number of “firsts” in the brokerage industry, including touch-tone trading (1988), online trading (1994), online options order entry and electronic trade confirmations via email (late 1990s), plus paperless account creation and the industry’s first trade execution guarantee of 10 seconds (2000s). Today, some seven million self-directed traders and investors use TD Ameritrade’s trading platforms to research and trade stocks, ETFs, futures, forex, options, mutual funds, bonds and other fixed-income securities. The firm is based in Omaha, Nebraska.

pros

  • Synched Platforms
    Automatic synching between website, web-based, desktop and mobile trading platforms
  • Free Pro-Level
    Customers can use the pro-level thinkorswim platform for free, with no account or trade minimum
  • Advanced Features
    Social Signals and advanced charting and order-entry, backtesting and automation with thinkorswim
  • Investment Guidance
    Robo-advisors, plus a variety of Investment Management Services
  • Wide Selection of Products
    Trade stocks, ETFs, futures, forex, options, bonds and other fixed-income securities
  • Commission-Free Products
    100+ commission-free ETFs and hundreds of no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds
  • Customer Support
    Live 24/7 phone support, plus secure messaging, email, text, Facebook Messenger and in-person at 100+ branches nationwide

cons

  • Commissions
    Above-average commissions and pricey broker-assisted trades
  • Margin Rates
    Above-average margin rates at most dollar levels
  • Security
    Lacks two-factor authentication and other modern security features
1975
Founded
1.1 Trillion
Total Client Assets
(9/30/17)
100+
Branch Locations
(Covering 33 states, plus the District of Columbia)

Products & Fees

3.1

TD Ameritrade offers access to all of today’s popular investment products, including stocks, ETFs, futures, forex, options, mutual funds, bonds and other fixed-income securities, plus IRAs and fixed and variable annuities. TD Ameritrade’s commissions are flat rate and stay the same whether you trade 100 or 10,000 shares, which is an advantage if you place large trades. But that also means there’s no discount if you trade frequently, which can be a disadvantage for active traders. The firm offers 100+ commission-free ETFs and hundreds of no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds.

  • Stocks
    $6.95
  • ETFs
    $6.95
  • 100+ Commission-Free ETFs
    Free
  • Options
    $6.95 + $0.75 per contract
  • Mutual Funds
    $49.99
  • 100s of NTF Mutual Funds
    Free
  • Futures
    $2.25 per contract*
  • Forex
    $0.10 per 1,000 units ($1.00 minimum)
  • Treasuries
    Free
  • Bonds** (Treasuries at auction)
    $25
  • CDs (New issue and secondary)
    On a net yield basis
  • Annuities
    Varies

Trust

4.2

TD Ameritrade has been in business for more than four decades and has earned industry recognition for its trading platforms, investment offerings and trading tools. The firm is regulated by FINRA, and customer accounts are protected under FDIC (deposit accounts held at TD Bank) and SIPC. In addition, excess-SIPC coverage is provided by London insurers.

$150.5 Million
Total Securities Guaranteed
($150M 3rd Party Insurance + $500K SIPC)
$2.25 Million
Total Insurance for Cash
($2M 3rd Party Insurance + $250K SIPC)
100%
Asset Protection Guarantee
(Coverage of any financial losses due to unauthorized account activity)

What you need to know

As a member of FINRA, FDIC and SIPC, TD Ameritrade offers multiple layers of protection if the firm becomes insolvent. With TD Ameritrade’s Asset Protection Guarantee, if you lose cash or securities from your account due to unauthorized activity, TD Ameritrade will “reimburse you for the cash or shares of securities you lost.” From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, the company has a history of supporting numerous community initiatives and has worked to reduce its carbon footprint by seeking LEED Certification for any new real estate projects.

Special Features

5.0
Special Features

TD Ameritrade offers services aimed at self-directed investors and traders, as well as those who want guidance when it comes to making investment decisions. Its website trading platform (at tdameritrade.com) offers basic tools and resources for casual investors and traders. The firm’s flagship trading platform—thinkorswim—however, is ideal for active traders and anyone who wants advanced charting and trading capabilities. In 2009, TD Ameritrade acquired thinkorswim Group Inc., which included thinkorswim, the fastest-growing brokerage at the time. Ideal for advanced traders, the thinkorswim downloadable desktop platform delivers a pro-level, intuitive and highly visual experience. Users can leverage an archive of tutorials, how-tos and more at the Learning Center, or take advantage of live, in-depth in-platform training with “Swim Lessons.” Trade Architect, a powerful web-based platform, combines features of tdameritrade.com and thinkorswim, and is ideal for active investors and traders. On-the-go investors and traders will enjoy TD Ameritrade’s two mobile apps, which boast many of the same features as the other computer-based platforms.

thinkorswim
Free, pro-level trading platform with advanced features
PaperMoney®
Practice trading in both current and historical markets
Social Signals
One of a kind resource that pulls insights from Twitter

What you need to know

thinkorswim, TD Ameritrade’s pro-level trading platform, is a feature-rich software package that rivals some of the better-known pro-level platforms out there. It’s intuitive, visually impressive and offers numerous advanced tools, including 400+ technical studies, 20 drawing tools, backtesting capabilities, in-depth options analysis and live-streaming newsfeeds from CNBC. Traders can develop their own technical indicators using thinkorswim’s proprietary coding language, thinkScript (it’s worth noting that very few brokerages offer this type of functionality). Social investors will enjoy TD Ameritrade’s “Social Signals,” a one of a kind resource that pulls investing insights from Twitter. Two mobile apps offer different user experiences: one for novice and casual investors (TD Ameritrade Mobile), and one designed for active traders (TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader).

Desktop Experience

4.5
Desktop Platform Experience

The Web trading platform (at tdameritrade.com) is the firm’s most basic platform, but it has enough features to keep casual investors and traders satisfied, including customizable alerts, screeners, social sentiment and access to plenty of third-party research and educational resources. A cool feature that you can access from any page is the “My Dock” customizable dashboard (click the Show Dock button at the top of any page). My Dock has four columns that display up to five “modules” each—such as account balances, indices, RSS reader, stock events, streaming news and your watch list. Drag and drop the modules you want to display, and rearrange to suit your needs. In addition to the Web platform, customers can access Trade Architect (a web-based platform), thinkorswim (their flagship, pro-level platform) and two mobile apps, which all automatically sync with one another to provide a seamless research/trading experience.

Pros

TD Ameritrade’s Web trading platform may be basic, but it’s well-designed, easy to navigate and offers a wide range of tools and resources to help investors and traders research, place and monitor trades. A handy feature is the SnapTicket—a built-in order trading feature that automatically docks to the bottom of your computer screen. Use it to see quotes, enter buy and sell orders, view options chains, see your buying power (cash balance, margin balance, etc.) and monitor your orders and positions. Another convenient feature: Enter a ticker symbol at the top of any page to view an in-depth summary and access additional research resources like news, social signals, charts and fundamentals.

Cons

Like other web-based trading platforms, TD Ameritrade’s web platform lacks streaming-quotes (you’ll have to refresh the page to update prices) and it doesn’t support advanced orders, such as OCO and brackets. These features, however, are available in the thinkorswim platform.

Mobile Experience

5.0
Mobile Platform Experience

While most brokers support a mobile app, TD Ameritrade offers two: TD Ameritrade Mobile, which is designed for novice and casual investors, and TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader—the App Store’s #1 mobile trading app—which is ideal for savvy active traders. Both apps can be used to research, trade and monitor positions, and you can access reliable research from industry leaders, including Credit Suisse, CFRA and The Street. You can also deposit funds (just take a photo of your check) and transfer funds between your TD Ameritrade accounts and other financial institutions. Questions? Access the In-App Video feature to view step-by-step walk-throughs, or use Support Chat to live text with a trading specialist.

Pros

Both apps offer plenty of functionality, but TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader, not surprisingly, is more feature-rich. This robust app boasts advanced charting and order entry, 300+ technical studies and live streaming news from CNBC US, CNBC Europe and CNBC Asia. Trade equities, multi-leg options, futures and forex while accessing Level II quotes, regional quotes, futures market depth and NASDAQ Options Depth. You can even try out new strategies and practice placing trades with PaperMoney®, TD Ameritrade’s simulated trading environment.

Cons

One drawback to TD Ameritrade’s mobile offerings is that there are two apps, which can cause some confusion. It may take a little research to decide which app is better for you. Like most apps, there are occasional bugs and glitches that can affect the apps’ functionality; make sure you have the most up-to-date version and that your device has enough memory. Note that you’ll need iOS 9.0 or higher to run either app on your Apple device.

Customer Support

4.4

Whether you’re already a customer or just thinking about becoming one, TD Ameritrade offers numerous ways to connect—by phone, email, secure messaging, fax, text, Facebook Messenger and via in-person support at one of 100+ branch locations. TD Ameritrade also offers several accessibility services, including telecommunications relay, statement alternatives, sign language and oral interpreter services.

What you need to know

Visit tdameritrade.com and scroll to the bottom of any page, or log into your account and select the Contact Us button at the top of any page, to view support options. Phone support is available 24/7 with dedicated lines for existing clients, new accounts and retirement consultants. You’ll also find dedicated lines for support in Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin. For automated client support, click the Ask Ted button at the top of any page (after logging into your account) to get immediate answers to questions about products, tools and services.

Research & Insights

5.0

TD Ameritrade delivers a powerful suite of research tools to help investors and traders analyze potential investments, including tools for both fundamental and technical analysts. To get started, enter a ticker symbol in the search box at the top of any webpage (after logging in) to view a summary, and click tabs to access news, social signals, charts, earnings, fundamentals, valuation, a calendar, analyst reports, peer comparison and SEC filings. The thinkorswim platform is your best bet for technical analysis, as it offers 400+ technical studies and 20 drawing tools.

Analyst Reports
Detailed reports from CFRA, Credit Suisse, Thomson Reuters, Vickers and more
Bond Wizard
Answer a few questions to find bonds and CDs that match your investing goals
Customizable Charts
Choose your chart style and timeframe, and add upper/lower indicators, trendlines, comparisons and events
Premier List
A list of pre-screened, top-pick funds compiled by Morningstar Investment Management
Product-Specific Screeners
Find stocks, options, mutual funds or ETFs that meet your criteria
Social Signals
One of a kind resource that pulls insights from Twitter

Pros

TD Ameritrade’s research offerings are comparable to those of its largest competitors, and both casual and active investors and traders should be able to find the research tools they’re looking for. The offerings are well organized and easy to navigate. While most of the research is pretty standard, two features stand out. One is the Social Signals tab (powered by LikeFolio), which displays a list of real-time, brand-relevant tweets, along with a summary of the most-tweeted brands in the past 30 days. The other is the Peer Comparison tab, which compares the stock’s performance against its closest competitors, including 52-week change, market cap, Beta, dividend yield, P/E, total revenue, profit margin, earnings growth, revenue growth and Social Signals (7-day tweet volume and sentiment—the percentage of positive tweets about the company or its brands and products).

Cons

TD Ameritrade’s research offerings are solid, and it’s difficult to come up with many negatives. The charting on the Web platform is very basic, but thinkorswim boasts fully customizable charting with hundreds of technical studies, so traders can head there if they need advanced charting. One weak point: You won’t find much news coverage or research on global markets. Also, the Web platform’s research offerings are visually out-of-date. For example, the stock-specific news feed is a list of monochromatic dates and headlines. The information is there—it’s just not as visually pleasing as it could be.

Education

5.0

TD Ameritrade has done a great job assembling its educational resources into one easy-to-navigate place—the Education Center. While this should be standard practice for all brokers, it’s not, which makes it all the more noteworthy that TD Ameritrade’s educational content is so well organized. You can sort content by topic, media type, level and progress to choose material based on your interests and current knowledge.

Topic Essentials
A combination of courses, videos and quizzes organized by topic
Three Learning Levels
Explore and find topics based on your current knowledge
(Rookie, Scholar, or Guru)
Online Courses
Self-paced courses divided into easy-to-understand lessons
(followed by a course assessment)
Progress Tracking
Track your progress and earn points and achievement badges

What you need to know

The Education Center’s landing page features new content at the top of the page, such as “Why Corporate Earnings Matter to You” and “Tax-Efficient Investing.” Scroll down to filter content by topic (bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, forex, futures, options, personal finance, portfolio management, stocks, strategies, technical analysis), media type (course, video, playlist), level (Rookie, Scholar, Guru) and progress (not started, in progress, completed). You can also find a list of online events: Click on any title to view a description, date/time, presenter information and a registration link.

Banking

5.0

With TD Ameritrade’s Online Cash Services, you can access, spend and manage your money with a debit card and free ATM withdrawals, free check writing and free online bill pay. There are no monthly maintenance fees, and you’ll get reimbursed for any ATM charges nationwide. Other banking services are available through TD Bank, though the companies are completely separate (so there are no benefits or discounts/specials with TD Bank).

Online Cash Services
Set up free recurring e-bills
TD Bank Services
Checking, savings, money market accounts, credit cards and loans

What you need to know

TD Ameritrade offers a limited range of banking options; however, its affiliate—TD Bank—offers a full range of banking services, including checking, savings and money market accounts, credit cards, home mortgage loans, home equity loans and lines of credit, personal loans and lines of credit and prepaid cards. It’s possible to link your TD Ameritrade and TD Bank accounts so you can transfer funds between accounts, but you can also do that with another bank you use instead.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for an established broker that offers a huge selection of investment products, extensive research tools, comprehensive educational offerings and a well-designed, intuitive platform, TD Ameritrade delivers. It’s ideal investors and traders who want a broker/platform that can grow with them: Novice investors and traders will be happy with the Web trading platform, and if/when they need a more advanced platform—as their skills increase and/or they trade more frequently—they can move up to Trade Architect or thinkorswim. Thinkorswim boasts real-time quotes, advanced charting, customizable workstations, rich research offerings, advanced orders (including OCO and brackets), and a suite of 400+ technical studies and 20 drawing tools, including eight Fibonacci tools. A new charting feature displays social data in graphical form, making it easy to gauge the social media sentiment of specific stocks. The platform’s Economic Data tool provides access to a wide variety of data about the health of U.S. and global economies. Another plus: traders can join the thinkorswim chat rooms to share ideas, strategies and trades with market professionals and thousands of traders in the thinkorswim community. Overall, TD Ameritrade delivers an exceptional product. The primary drawbacks are the higher than average commissions and margin rates, which could give reason to pause for active traders. There’s also room for improved (modern) security features, such as two-factor authentication. As a member of FDIC, FINRA and SIPC, however, your assets are protected in case the firm becomes insolvent, and with TD Ameritrade’s Asset Protection Guarantee, you’ll be reimbursed for any cash or shares of securities you lose due to unauthorized activity.

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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