Interactive Brokers (IBKR) and E*TRADE are full-service online brokers that have been around for decades. Interactive Brokers was founded in 1978 and is primarily geared toward satisfying the needs of sophisticated investors with its powerful Trader Workstation (TWS) platform. The company offers brokerage services that focus on broad market access, low costs, and outstanding trade execution. More recently, IBKR has added IBKR Lite, a commission-free version of its trading platform, to open up access to more novice investors. E*TRADE is a well-known broker that entered the industry in the 1980s. Investors with E*TRADE have access to a broad spectrum of tools that assist with all types of trading. Investors of all skill levels can appreciate the streamlined, intuitive platform, which allows for active trading or passive investing and offers several pre-built portfolios and automated portfolio building tools. An already robust platform has been enhanced with the recent merger with Morgan Stanley.
Although IBKR and E*TRADE have a lot in common, there are some major differences. Most notably, IBKR offers investors the ability to trade cryptocurrencies and access many international markets, while E*TRADE does not. On the flip side, E*TRADE offers more educational content and savings accounts, while IBKR does not. We'll take a deeper look to compare these two brokers to help you decide which may be a better fit for your trading and investing needs.
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- Fees: $0.00 commissions for equities/ETFs available on IBKR’s TWS Lite, or low costs scaled by volume for active traders that want access to advanced functionality such as order routing. $0.65 per contract for options on TWS Lite; that is also the base rate for TWS Pro users, with scaled rates based on volume. $0.85 per contract for futures.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commission for stock/ETF trades. Options are $0.50-$0.65 per contract, depending on trading volume.
Interactive Brokers offers investors IBKR Lite, for the more novice investor, and IBKR Pro, for the more sophisticated, active trader. IBKR’s pro platform features Interactive Brokers SmartRouting, which helps support ideal order execution by searching for the best available prices for stocks, options and combinations across exchanges and dark pools. This trading technology is coupled with the ability to invest globally across 150 markets in 33 countries in stocks, ETFs, options, futures, currencies, bonds, mutual funds, and cryptocurrency through an impressive all-in-one platform, 24 hours a day and six days a week. Interactive Brokers’ vast offering is accessible via desktop—Trader Workstation (TWS)—or mobile app, and you can fund your account in 26 currencies and trade assets denominated in multiple currencies. IBKR also has Client Portal, a web-based platform, and IBKR GlobalTrader, both of which are simplified experiences compared to the robust TWS and IBKR mobile app. IBKR offers real-time streaming data, charting, tools, research, and news on all the platforms. Simply put, IBKR offers a very powerful and customizable trading platform—a fact that is reflected in the trading categories it continues to dominate in our reviews.
E*TRADE has been a leading name in the retail brokerage industry since 1982. With this history comes a deep knowledge of what investors need and want. This experience serving retail investors is one of the reasons E*TRADE won Investopedia’s Best Broker for Ease of Use category. E*TRADE also offers web platform, downloadable Power E*TRADE, and mobile app versions for each platform. E*TRADE has put a lot of effort into streamlining its experiences for target users while still loading them with readily accessible features and tools. E*TRADE’s web-based platform is the original and offers the tools investors need to research investments, track the markets, and place trades. Power E*TRADE offers more sophisticated, active traders tools for charting, analysis, and historical data for stocks, options, and futures trading.
Sophisticated traders looking for a broker that offers maximum flexibility, customization, and investing options would be best suited for an account with IBKR. Active traders looking for a reliable platform that is a bit more intuitive in its functionality may find that E*TRADE is a better fit.
As mentioned, Interactive Brokers offers investors Trader Workstation (TWS), an all-in-one platform that allows active traders to invest in world markets in a variety of currencies. With TWS, you can immediately transmit orders from the chart using hot buttons and set alerts based on time, price, margin, and other criteria. You can also choose from over 120 technical indicators and overlays to add to charts and scan world markets for undervalued stocks using the ChartTrader tool. Cryptocurrencies have also been added to IBKR’s investing menu recently, giving traders even more options.
E*TRADE offers two levels of trading experience, with Power E*TRADE being the more robust platform. Power E*TRADE has tools aimed at traders, including charting tools and an expanded trade ticket that includes projected profit and loss for your order. Despite the advanced features and customization offered through the trading platform, E*TRADE does not offer investing in world markets with different currencies (or in cryptocurrencies) at this time.
IBKR definitely edges out E*TRADE with the consolidated platform and ability to trade in multiple world markets and different currency types. However, if you are looking for a more straightforward trading platform for domestic investing, E*TRADE may be the better option.
IBKR offers three different mobile apps for different types of investing:
- IBKR Mobile mirrors the Trader Workstation trading platform with the ability to trade and execute orders in the same asset classes, and provides similar research, screeners, and strategy tools.
- IBKR GlobalTrader is a new international trading app that allows investors to deposit funds in their local currency and trade stocks and easily make trades on-the-go. Traders can access 90+ global stock exchanges in North America, Europe, and Asia. This app is ideal for domestic and international investors seeking worldwide market access.
- Impact is IBKR’s mobile app created for investors interested in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing.
E*TRADE offers two mobile apps, which correspond directly with the type of investing account chosen:
- E*TRADE offers basic investing for the novice or less active trader.
- Power E*TRADE offers robust charting, analysis, and screening capabilities geared toward the more sophisticated, active trader.
IBKR has made progress in making its platform easier to use, and that includes the GlobalTrader app and the IBKR Lite account type, but E*TRADE wins in this category for its straightforward app design and ease of use.
Range of Offerings
IBKR and E*TRADE both provide a full spectrum of the typical investment offering that includes stocks, ETFs, bonds, and mutual funds. Beyond the typical, however, IBKR stands out from E*TRADE with the wide variety of assets and markets it offers access to. IBKR has added cryptocurrencies to its list in addition to already offering access to international exchanges forex trading, and nearly double the amount of no-load, no-fee mutual funds that E*TRADE offers.
Interactive Brokers offers access to over 100 order types and algos, also offering third party algos to provide additional order type selections for clients. Very few platforms can approach the level of position entry and exit control enabled by IBKR’s wide selection of orders.
E*TRADE offers a more basic range of order types giving investors several ways to enter, exit, and protect stock trades, including: contingent, bracketed, one-triggers-the-other (OTO), one-cancels-the-other (OCO), and one-triggers-a-one-cancels-the-other (OTOCO) orders. It is also notable that the mobile app only supports contingent and OTO orders.
Interactive Brokers has a large edge over E*TRADE when it comes to order types.
IBKR also offers SmartRouting to investors with a Pro account. SmartRouting automatically transmits the best available prices for stocks, options, and combinations across exchanges, which evaluates each leg of the transaction and constantly assesses rapidly changing market conditions and has the capacity to redirect all or part of an order seeking to accomplish optimal execution. For December 2022, IBKR reported their clients' total trading cost as 2.4 basis points or 0.016% of trade value.
E*TRADE implements advanced order routing technology to seek the best execution available in the market. According to a statistical report, E*TRADE is able to fill its S&P 500 orders at or better than the National Best Bid or Offer (NBBO) 95.83% of the time, execute 83.20% at a price better than the NBBO, and maintain an average of 0.14 seconds order execution speed. E*TRADE reported net price improvement of $5.38 per order.
While both brokers offer their own version of smart or advanced order routing, a direct comparison is tough here because of that lack of standardized data. Overall, the price improvement and payment for order flow (PFOF) stats suggest IBKR does it better, but the broker also caters to larger traders doing larger orders, and E*TRADE likely has more retail traders with trades under the 100-share reporting threshold. On the other hand, E*TRADE does offer in-house tools for backtesting investment strategies, whereas Interactive Brokers only offers backtesting through a third-party application programming interface (API). There is no clear winner between these two in trade technology.
Interactive Brokers commission and fee schedules can be quite complex to figure out. Actual costs vary depending on whether the investor has an IBKR Lite account or IBKR Pro account, and depending on the country from which the client is trading. However, IBKR does offer low commissions on products across 150 global markets, with no added spreads, ticket charges, platform fees, or account minimums.
E*TRADE has a much more straightforward pricing plan, with no difference in fee schedules for account type. One notable fee difference for basic investing is for options contracts, with active traders (those making 30 or more trades in a quarter) getting a reduced fee of $0.50 per contract, as opposed to those making 29 trades or less per quarter, who pay the standard price of $0.65 per contract.
A key difference, however, is found in the margin rates, with IBKR Lite charging 6.83% for $100,000 (Pro 5.33%), while the corresponding margin rate at E*TRADE is 11.70%, giving IBKR the advantage in the cost category.
Interactive Brokers provides several free sources of real-time research, news, and analysis for investors. There are also a number of additional paid services that investors can subscribe to, many offering a free trial period. Research services are also conveniently accessible to investors with demo accounts and do not require an account application to be approved or funded. Additionally, IBKR has PortfolioAnalyst, which is a professional-level investment analysis tool.
E*TRADE offers a sizable suite of investing tools, screening functionality, and research capabilities for traders. Stock, mutual fund, ETF, and options screeners come with many different filtering settings and charting abilities. Research, market news, and several educational tools are featured in E*TRADES Insights.
IBKR easily has the edge in this category with the vast array of real-time research and news from both in-house and external sources, while E*TRADE offers more general market insights and investing information.
Interactive Brokers provides both individual and institutional investors with PortfolioAnalyst, an advanced portfolio management software and account aggregation system that allows investors to consolidate, track, and analyze their portfolio for a complete financial picture. The system provides real-time monitoring and powerful on-the-go analytics. Investors can add investment, checking and savings accounts, credit cards, annuities, mortgages, student loans, and more to get an overall comprehensive picture of their financial situation. IBKR also has the ability for traders to keep a detailed trading journal.
E*TRADE offers several useful portfolio analysis tools. Reports and analysis are furnished in real time and customized to your particular interests. An aggregator tool allows investors to link external brokerage accounts for a comprehensive portfolio view.
Both IBKR and E*TRADE offer insightful portfolio analysis tools for investors to assess their portfolio holdings. However, Interactive Brokers edges out the competition here with its ability to link more than just brokerage accounts to give the investor an assessment of their overall financial situation, as well as providing investors with one of the most comprehensive trading journals in the industry.
Interactive Brokers offers traders several free resources for investor education. Investors can go to the IBKR Campus to find the informational resources they need. Traders’ Academy helps traders learn how to make investment decisions regarding equities, fixed-income, options, crypto, futures, forex, and more. Investors can also learn how to more effectively use IBKR's trading tools, including how to navigate Trader Workstation (TWS), IBKR Mobile, Client Portal, and TWS API applications. Traders’ Insights provides investors with financial analysis, webinars, podcasts, blogs, and videos. Student Trading lab is another valuable, educational tool which allows for paper trading practice. IBKR also offers multi-language tutorials to aid international investors.
E*TRADE has been able to greatly expand its education offerings for investors since joining forces with Morgan Stanley. Investors can start at the “Insights” tab and go from there to decide what type of educational information they need, including: investing basics, advanced trading, retirement planning, tax planning, market news, thematic investing, and more. In each of these areas, investors can find videos, articles, classes, and market commentary. E*TRADE also offers investors a simulated trading platform in which to test out trading strategies without risking real money.
IBKR and E*TRADE both offer a multitude of educational resources. Interactive brokers resources are higher level and best suited for the more advanced investor. Conversely, E*TRADE’s educational resources tend to be geared more toward beginning investors.
IBKR provides 24-hour customer service each business day via telephone through regional Client Services Centers. Even though there are live agents available, Interactive Brokers encourages investors to look through the “Quick Tips,” which are designed to answer basic client questions. Existing clients, as well as clients in the application phase, are encouraged to submit formal inquiries via the Message Center located within Account Management or via the email link on the support page because inbound communications sent via commercial email are not supported due to security and spam concerns. IBKR offers live, online chat services to current and prospective clients 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Sundays.
E*TRADE offers 24/7 customer service via phone, in which investors can speak to a customer service representative, brokers, retirement specialists, financial consultants, active trader consultants, and product specialists. They are also able to find their closest branch and make an in-person appointment using the branch locator. E*TRADE’s website also clearly states that some of its branch locations may still be temporarily closed due to COVID-19, so clients would want to call to confirm if their local branch is available for in-person assistance, and investors can expect delayed response times due to high call volume. Of course, clients also have access to the FAQ page to answer any general questions.
Because E*TRADE offers 24-hour customer care via telephone Monday-Friday, the company has a slight advantage in this category.
Both IBKR and E*TRADE provides investors with security standards, such as two-factor authentication, biometric identification, and security guarantees, which are typical within the industry.
Investor accounts at Interactive Brokers are protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) for up to $500,000, with a cash sublimit of $250,000. Excess SIPC coverage provides up to an additional $30 million, with a cash sublimit of $900,000, subject to an aggregate limit of $150 million. For accounts in excess of $1 million USD, a digital security card is available as well. E*TRADE is a member of SIPC, which protects customer accounts up to $500,000 for securities and cash (including $250,000 for cash only). However, E*TRADE clients will be covered under the Morgan Stanley excess of SIPC supplemental insurance policy, which has an aggregate limit of $1 billion. This amount is above and beyond the required insurance by SIPC.
When it comes to security, your account is safe with either of these brokers.
IBKR offers a wide range of account types for both individual and professional investors, with international accounts available to those living outside the U.S.
Individual account types include:
- Individual and joint brokerage
- Retirement: traditional, Roth, rollover, and inherited individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
- Custodial: UGMA and UTMA
Professional account types include:
- Family office
- Small business: corporation, partnership, LLC, and unincorporated legal structure
- Money manager
- Hedge and mutual fund
- Proprietary trading group
- Broker & FCM
E*TRADE customers can choose from an extensive offering of account types:
- Individual brokerage accounts
- Custodial accounts
- Coverdell education savings account (ESA)
- Traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
- Roth IRAs
- Rollover IRAs
- Beneficiary IRAs
- IRAs for minors
- SIMPLE IRAs
- Simplified Employee Pension IRAs
- Savings accounts
- Line of credit
While both companies offer the standard array of basic account types, each company has nuanced offerings that differentiate it from the competition. IBKR offers several professional account types, while E*TRADE offers educational savings accounts and standard banking accounts, such as checking, savings and lines of credit. No clear winner here, as it depends on the mix of account types that an individual is looking for.
Interactive Brokers and E*TRADE are key players in the financial brokerage industry. Both offer a full array of trading products, account types, customizable platforms, functional trading apps, investor education resources and research, and low costs. IBKR’s platform and research is more focused on the advanced trader, although the company has added IBKR Lite to attract less active traders. While E*TRADE offers an easy-to-use platform and investing basics educational resources that cater to novice investors, the company’s merger with Morgan Stanley has allowed it to offer more to attract the sophisticated trader as well.
In the end, personal preferences will determine which platform style fits a particular investor’s needs best. If you are looking for an easy-to-use investment platform with room to grow into the more advanced features, then E*TRADE fits that need well. You can also move more of your financial life to E*TRADE with its selection of banking accounts. If you are looking for top-end trading tools and access to global markets, however, it is hard to find a broker that has a stronger overall offering than Interactive Brokers.
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. This year, we revamped the review process by conducting an extensive survey of customers that are actively looking to start trading and investing with an online broker. We then combined this invaluable information with our subject matter expertise to develop the framework for a quantitative ratings model that is at the core of how we compiled our list of the best online broker and trading platform companies.
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