Fidelity and TD Ameritrade were both among our top five brokers for 2019, but Fidelity's lower fees helped make it the winner. Overall, Fidelity ranked first and TD Ameritrade placed fifth in our reviews. More than 500 commission-free ETFs were available at both brokerages, but Fidelity charged just $4.95 per stock trade compared to $6.95 at Ameritrade. However, Ameritrade has advantages for day traders and options trading. Both have websites packed with features, news feeds, helpful research, and educational tools. The two brokers also offer web-based, mobile, and downloadable platforms aimed at frequent traders.
Fidelity Investments was among the Best for Beginners, Best for International Trading, Best for ETFs, and Best for Penny Stocks. Retirement was another Fidelity strength, with awards in the Best for Roth IRAs and Best for IRAs categories. Finally, Fidelity also had one of the Best Stock Trading Apps and Best Web Trading Platforms.
TD Ameritrade excels at active trading, ranking near the top for Best Web Trading Platforms, Best for Day Trading, and Best for Options Trading. Ameritrade was also among the Best for Beginners, Best Stock Trading Apps, Best for ETFs, Best for Roth IRAs, and Best for IRAs.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $4.95 per stock/ETF, $4.95 plus $0.65/contract per options trade
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $6.95 for stock and ETF trades, $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 for options
Choosing between these two comes down to personal investing style and access to regional offices. TD Ameritrade's presence in many locations expanded when they absorbed Scottrade into their brand. Ameritrade clients can trade futures and futures options, while Fidelity's customers have greater access to international equities. Short sellers have opportunities on both platforms. The two firms will also let investors open cash accounts without funding them.
Fidelity's trade execution engine gives its clients a high rate of price improvement. Active Trader Pro, Fidelity's advanced platform, offers streaming data and customizable charting. There is always an order ticket on display, and contextual help has been added to guide you through the process. Fidelity has improved its entry interface since 2018 and removed a couple of ways that clients could make mistakes when placing orders. They also added a quantity calculator to the order ticket to help customers avoid exceeding their buying power. Fidelity is planning significant changes to the entire order entry process during 2019, which should improve the user experience considerably.
TD Ameritrade customers can choose from several platforms, from their standard website to their thinkorswim platform for frequent options traders. The downloadable thinkorswim platform is extremely customizable. It allows the client to define color schemes, layouts, and trading defaults. The basic website has added numerous options since early 2018, including a customizable dashboard. Trade tickets are ubiquitous on all platforms, so you can enter an order no matter where you are. TD Ameritrade's order routing algorithms seek out price improvement, which can offset the cost of placing a trade. You'll find real-time streaming data on all platforms.
- Excellent order executions that generate price improvement
- Streaming real-time data on the Active Trader Pro platform
- Making significant improvements during 2019
- Streaming real-time data on all platforms
- Customization options abound on thinkorswim
- My Dock on the website dashboard can also be customized
- The smart order router seeks out price improvement
Mobile and Emerging Tech
Fidelity's mobile apps are much fresher and easier to use than the website, which was reflected by a 50% increase in trades placed on mobile devices between 2017 and 2018. The startup screen can be customized, and contextual help was added to the trade ticket. Watchlists generated on the website can be viewed on mobile devices as well. You can trade the full range of offerings on your phone or tablet.
TD Ameritrade has two mobile apps. The TD Ameritrade Mobile App is simple and mirrors most of the capabilities of the website. TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader is the mobile companion to the thinkorswim platform. It lets you sync your watchlists, charts, and market scans between your desktop and your smartphone. Mobile Trader also gives you the tools to analyze and place complex options orders. You can watch streaming videos produced by the TD Ameritrade Network on your mobile device as well. There are ways to connect with TD Ameritrade on Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WeChat.
- Easy to use mobile apps
- Customizable landing page
- Watchlists sync across platforms
- Mobile App is simple and similar to the website
- Mobile Trader offers more advanced options
- Watchlists and charts sync across platforms
News and Research
Fidelity's screening tools can be used to narrow down your investment choices across a wide array of asset classes, including stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, and fixed income. Their proprietary charting package is augmented by Recognia's technical patterns and events. On Active Trader Pro, you can set up streaming news feeds and video from Bloomberg TV. The stock snapshot pages include environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings from MSCI.
The Ameritrade thinkorswim platform lets you scan for trading opportunities using real-time data for equities and options. The TD Ameritrade website has an excellent bond screener and bond ladder builder. The news feeds can be filtered according to your portfolios and watchlists or by sector. Charting on thinkorswim is highly customizable, and it is packed with technical analysis tools.
- Stock, ETF, option, mutual fund, and fixed income screeners are available
- Stock snapshot pages include data for socially responsible investing
- Customizable charting package includes technical events from Recognia
- Customizable charting on the thinkorswim platform uses real-time data
- The website has screeners for options, stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and fixed income
- News feeds can be filtered by sector or by the contents of your watchlists
Education and Security
Fidelity's online Learning Center contains articles, videos, webinars, and infographics that offer education for many investing topics. Options trading, fundamental analysis, fixed income selection, technical analysis, and retirement planning are covered. The firm also provides frequent webinars and online coaching sessions for more advanced topics. There are learning programs aimed at beginning investors in mobile apps. Fidelity conducts a risk assessment when a client logs in and may challenge the client with a two-factor authentication process or a security question.
TD Ameritrade has made education a primary focus, bringing it onto their trading platform and expanding the amount and depth of their content. They have produced hundreds of 2-minute videos that are available across the internet. Ameritrade also offers a security guarantee.
- Online learning center contains articles, videos, and other media
- Mobile app learning programs for new investors
- Support for two-factor authentication
- The security guarantee covers you in case of losses due to unauthorized activity
- An ever-expanding library of original educational content
- Hundreds of short videos on a wide array of investing topics
- TD Ameritrade offers a security guarantee
Fidelity's commissions are mostly in the middle of the pack, with a $4.95 charge for a stock or ETF trade. They also offer commission-free trades on more than 500 ETFs. Fidelity’s margin rates are slightly higher than average. For mutual funds that are not on the no transaction fee list, there is a $49.95 charge for an initial purchase, which is higher than average. Their bond transaction fees are just $1 per bond, and they do not mark up the secondary market bonds, which lowers the yield. Frequent traders can work out their own commission schedule.
TD Ameritrade's standard pricing is on the high side in the current marketplace. They charge $6.95 for a stock or ETF trade and $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 per contract for options. These prices include all exchange fees, so there won't be any surprise charges tacked on. What is more, there are over 500 commission-free ETFs that you can trade. Margin rates are also high. Frequent traders or those with high account balances can negotiate their own prices, but our review is based on the published rate schedule.
- Stock/ETF trade fees: $4.95
- Options: $4.95 per leg plus $0.65 per contract
- Futures fees: Futures trading not enabled
- Stock/ETF trade fees: $6.95
- Options: $6.95 per leg plus $0.75 per contract
- Futures fees: $2.25 per contract
Investopedia’s mission is to provide 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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