TD Ameritrade launched in the 1970’s as one of the original, innovative discount brokers, quickly finding traction to grow into one of the largest investment platforms in the country. Investors from all backgrounds are attracted to TD Ameritrade thanks to the wide range of tradable assets, research amenities, educational content, financial tools, and straightforward pricing. TD Ameritrade’s dynamic flagship platform, thinkorswim, is also one of the most comprehensive and powerful trading experiences around.
Robinhood launched much more recently in 2013, immediately resonating with tech-savvy investors by providing a sleek, easy-to-use trading experience and fee-free model. Investors can effortlessly trade stocks, ETFs, and cryptocurrencies on the platform. Advanced investors, however, won’t find the requisite tools needed to pursue more sophisticated trading strategies. The educational library, while improving, still has room to grow—particularly when compared to TD Ameritrade’s educational resources.
Both Robinhood and TD Ameritrade have distinct strengths that appeal to different types of investors. We’ll explore both platforms in detail so you can determine which broker is best for you.
On January 12, 2023, Robinhood announced that Robinhood Retirement, which launched via waitlist in December, is now available to all eligible customers.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 commissions for stock, ETF, options, and cryptocurrency trading
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- Fees: $0.00 for equities/ETFs. $0.65 per contract for options. Futures $2.25 per contract
TD Ameritrade pairs robust platform capabilities with an easy-to-navigate experience across mobile, website, and downloadable versions. The experience is customizable, letting investors optimize the platform to fit their trading preferences and needs. The web version offers a dock tool, letting traders choose from 13 different modules that can be rearranged as desired such as account balances, RSS feeds, market news, and watchlists. The mobile experience shows balances and positions on one screen, making it easy to monitor your current holdings. Market news and research tools are particularly appealing to active traders, giving helpful insights pertaining to price history, technical analysis, analyst ratings, charts, earnings, and the like.
Robinhood’s app is simple and user-friendly. The platform’s focus on providing a seamless mobile experience is clear from the start, making it an easy choice for those who prefer trading from their phone. Intuitive screens let you quickly navigate the app to place trades and access position details like P/E ratio, highs and lows, and market capitalization. The news feed includes a composite of analyst rankings, giving investors more insight into company profiles. A “Trade” button follows you while navigating so you can quickly enter or exit a position as soon as you’re ready to place an order. Charting functionality is improving, with added features such as moving averages so users can better analyze trends and make investment decisions.
Each platform provides intuitive navigation that lets investors execute trades without much effort. Mobile users with straightforward trading needs may prefer Robinhood’s experience, but investors needing more comprehensive tools and resources will gravitate to TD Ameritrade’s platform.
TD Ameritrade offers a powerful desktop trading platform, featuring robust tools and capabilities to deliver a comprehensive investment experience. Using the ticker search functionality on the desktop experience is straightforward, as is executing and monitoring trades. Screening tools let investors filter ETFs, stocks, mutual funds, and more. You can also drill down deeper with advanced filters that include industry, market capitalization, sector, and more, or create your own custom screens. The thinkorswim platform is geared for advanced traders and is one of the most broad ranging options on the market. Users can add indicators, draw trendlines, build their own tools, and conduct technical analysis through the portal.
Robinhood’s platform lets investors quickly get started and enter the market with ease, especially appealing to new investors wanting to get up and running. Since Robinhood focuses more on the mobile experience and lacks some of the more advanced capabilities of other online brokers. Despite some clear improvements, Robinhood’s desktop version still lacks the feel of a full-featured platform. Users can search for stock quotes and build watchlists, assisted by charts, analyst ratings, and news. The improved charting functionality lets you build a more complete company and trading profile, but key aspects such as in-depth insights, customization, drawing tools, and screening options are missing.
Given these dynamics, TD Ameritrade is more comprehensive and complete as a desktop version than Robinhood.
TD Ameritrade has an excellent mobile app, providing trading functionality that is just as seamless as the web and desktop versions. The app has a green “trade” icon that is easy to find, letting investors search for a symbol and execute an order in just a few steps. Real-time data, watchlists, and market news are all readily available for investors to explore. While a few features are missing from the mobile version that are included in the desktop experience, such as fixed-income trading and chart drawing, overall the mobile app is very robust. There is also a dedicated thinkorswim mobile app for more active traders that brings even more advanced capabilities for traders on the go.
Robinhood’s well-designed mobile app is streamlined to allow for easy navigation and trading, with minimal distractions. Quotes stream in real-time and you can easily place orders as the “Trade” button follows you as you navigate to different screens. Basic order types are easy to use and execute, but more complex trading options such as conditional orders aren’t supported. Other advanced trading tools, screening features, and research functions are noticeably absent for sophisticated traders.
Although Robinhood’s focus on a user-friendly mobile experience is appealing to tech-friendly investors, TD Ameritrade gets the nod here given the more robust capabilities and overall intuitive experience for a broader range of users.
Range of Offerings
Users of TD Ameritrade have access to a wide variety of assets across all platform versions, including ETFs, mutual funds, stocks, options, foreign exchange, and futures. Absent from the broker are fractional shares, international bonds, and direct crypto exposure. Even so, the range of available options fits a wide variety of investor needs.
Robinhood’s platform has a much more limited range of tradable assets that includes stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency. Robinhood doesn’t support mutual funds or fixed income products and you can’t trade commodities, forex, or futures.
TD Ameritrade’s range of assets available to trade are more comprehensive and in line with competitor’s. While Robinhood offers more crypto exposure, overall the broker is the less comprehensive offering.
TD Ameritrade offers the expected order types from a major broker across their platforms, including the standard market, limit, stop-limit, and trailing stop orders. The thinkorswim version has a wider range of order types that includes conditional orders such as one-triggers-others (OTO). TD Ameritrade customers can stage orders across all platforms and choose a specific tax lot when placing trades.
Comparatively, Robinhood is more limited when it comes to order types. Outside of standard market orders, there is not much as conditional orders and order staging capabilities are not supported. Tax lots are defaulted to a first-in, first-out (FIFO) method, and can be changed only by contacting customer support.
Robinhood’s limitations or outright lack of support for these features is particularly noticeable for active or sophisticated traders who use presets and conditional orders for position management. TD Ameritrade provides the order types and functionality that is expected from a complete, established major broker, so it takes this category by a wide margin.
TD Ameritrade uses its own proprietary order routing technology. Clients also have the ability to route orders directly to specific exchanges if they so choose. On average, TD Ameritrade’s orders are executed within 0.04 seconds. Data shows that 97.8% of trades placed receive price improvement, with $0.0119 net price improvement per share on average. TD Ameritrade is also one of just a handful of brokers that offers backtesting, which allows for a trading strategy to be tested against historical data.
Robinhood notes that its automated trading system routes orders to market-makers offering the best price, with 84.67% of orders executed at or better than the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO) for stocks. Average price improvement is reported as $0.0174 per share, but this figure does not reflect options. Robinhood lacks demo accounts and backtesting capability, which are appealing to more advanced traders looking to fine-tune their strategies. While both TD Ameritrade and Robinhood accept payment for order flow (PFOF), we found Robinhood’s PFOF to be much higher for the period analyzed.
TD Ameritrade provides more trading technology features and a more complete set of trading statistics than Robinhood.
Robinhood’s innovative fee-free model helped spark renewed broker competition, spurring TD Ameritrade and many across the brokerage industry to reduce fees over time. TD Ameritrade’s fees are generally aligned with industry standard, charging no fees for stocks or ETF trading. Costs for some trades, like options, are a bit higher. Options cost $0.65 per contract and TD Ameritrade charges 12.50% on margin up to $10,000, with step downs as the margin amount climbs.
Robinhood famously doesn’t charge fees for trading on stocks, ETFs, and options. Miscellaneous fees related to trading are included for account management items like wires and account transfers. There is, of course, a $5 per month Gold subscription model that comes with a better margin rate (7.75% versus 11.75% for standard customers).
Robinhood is the lower cost option of the two trading platforms when it comes to options and margin, but overall the fees are pretty close to interchangeable.
TD Ameritrade offers users extensive online tools, including a variety of research-analysis features, screeners, calculators, and charts you would expect from a large online broker. In addition to this already extensive list, TD Ameritrade continues to introduce more innovative features as well, such as the Social Sentiment tool which measures social media trends.
Although Robinhood’s research and trading amenities are limited compared with its larger rivals, there are some useful features including basic charting, news, and third-party research. However, no screening functionality is available and there is a general lack of more sophisticated tools.
Between the two platforms, TD Ameritrade provides the more complete trading experience in this area by far.
TD Ameritrade offers portfolio analysis through both its web and thinkorswim platforms, as well as in Personalized, Selective, and Essential Portfolios via the TD Ameritrade Portfolios App. Personalized Portfolios aggregates holdings from outside accounts for reporting and analysis purposes, providing clients with a portfolio analysis tool that displays realized and unrealized gains/losses in real time. Margin, buying power, and account balance data are also displayed in real time.
Conversely, Robinhood provides very little in this area. The app displays real-time balances, margin, and buying power, but that’s about it. It also shows a one-day graph of your portfolio value and allows you to view specific dates and values by clicking or tapping on a different time period at the bottom of the graph.
Robinhood’s platform isn’t built with robust portfolio analysis features in mind, while TD Ameritrade offers a variety of strong options and features.
TD Ameritrade offers an extensive education center with learning material across several channels and formats. The content is easily searchable based on your goals, investment knowledge level, and topic of interest. The education center has a library of tutorials, podcasts, videos, and webinars available, as well as investment coaching.
Robinhood has made improving its education content a focus as of late. The new Learn section of the platform offers more in-depth articles on investing basics, market insights and general knowledge-building material than previous versions. In August 2021, Robinhood announced its acquisition of Say Technologies, which lets traders take more ownership of the companies they invest in.
While Robinhood is making a clear effort to improve the educational catalog, TD Ameritrade stands out in the industry as one of the most deep and far-ranging educational platforms.
Robinhood offers customer support through its app and website. However, the platform doesn't offer the ability to speak with someone live, although you can leave your number for a callback. TD Ameritrade has several support channels, including a 24/7 phone line and live chat capabilities. In addition, it offers chatbots on Twitter, Facebook Messenger. Overall, TD Ameritrade's customer service is the more flexible and reliable of the two brokers.
TD Ameritrade's security is up to industry standards. You can log into the app with biometric (face or fingerprint) recognition, and you're protected against account losses due to unauthorized or fraudulent activity. TD Ameritrade carries excess Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance provided by London insurers, giving each client $149.5 million worth of securities protection and $2 million of protection for cash.
Robinhood's technical security is up to standards, but it lacks the excess SIPC insurance. However, your cash and securities are still protected by standard SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 (including $250,000 for cash claims). In November 2021, Robinhood had one reported data breach affecting 7 million people.
Transparency issues at Robinhood may give investors pause, although not directly related to security. The SEC fined Robinhood $65 million for “misleading customers about revenue sources and failing to satisfy duty of best execution" in December of 2020. Further, the SEC declared that Robinhood failed to tell customers between 2015 and 2018 that its largest revenue source was derived from the market makers to which it routed customer orders.
TD Ameritrade provides a comprehensive, robust trading experience that appeals to investors from a variety of backgrounds. An extensive array of tools and features are available to power your preferred trading strategy, without sacrificing user experience. Education, screening capabilities, and research materials are wide-ranging and easy-to-use. The desktop, mobile, and website versions have close feature parity, allowing you to trade on your preferred device.
Robinhood offers an uncomplicated trading platform, geared towards tech-savvy investors who use relatively straightforward investment strategies. The mobile experience in particular is sleek and user-friendly, built for those who prefer an app-based trading dynamic. However, the platform isn’t nearly as robust as TD Ameritrade, even though Robinhood now offers IRA and Roth IRA retirement accounts with a 1% match, up to the federal contribution limit, if funds are kept in the account for five years. While some features, such as charting capabilities and education content, are improving, research amenities, screening features, and the range of offerings can all be improved.
As a result, TD Ameritrade is better suited for a wide range of investors given a broader product suite and an overall more comprehensive experience.
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