Top Rated For:

With $0 commissions on trades, top-of-the-line educational programming, enhanced trading platforms, and a user-friendly mobile app, TD Ameritrade offers a full-service brokerage experience that caters to the needs of both new investors still learning the ropes and advanced day traders taking positions in a variety of asset classes. New investors in particular will find that TD Ameritrade is one of their best options, given the educational content and overall ease of use.

Although Charles Schwab has acquired TD Ameritrade, the company is still functioning as a separate entity, so we will look at how it ranks as a standalone brokerage in service to a variety of investor needs.

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Key Takeaways

  • TD Ameritrade earned our top spot as the best broker for beginners. 
  • TD Ameritrade offers a breadth and depth of education that is unparalleled in the industry. When it comes to educational programming for its customers, TD Ameritrade is at the top of its class. 
  • The trading experience is highly customizable on TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim platform, web-based platform, and mobile apps. 
  • TD Ameritrade’s investment selections are extensive. The online broker offers a full range of investment products, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), option contracts, and forex futures. TD Ameritrade also offers Bitcoin futures for investors looking for cryptocurrency exposure. 
  • Although TD Ameritrade offers one of the largest investment selections on the market, some competitors offer more cost-efficient alternatives. Additionally, TD Ameritrade does not offer fractional shares.

Who TD Ameritrade Is For

TD Ameritrade is one of the larger online brokers in the U.S., so it offers multiple platforms aimed at different levels of expertise. For passive and active investors, the web-based and standard mobile app platforms are intuitive and easy to use. However, for casual traders and day traders, the robust thinkorswim platform is likely the best bet, due to its extensive screening capabilities, charting tools, and advanced analytics. All in all, passive investors, active investors, casual traders, and day traders will all be impressed with TD Ameritrade’s range of trading platforms and overall offerings.

Pros
  • Extensive educational programming for beginner investors

  • Well designed web platform and mobile applications

  • A range of trading platforms and investment selections for all types of investors and traders

Cons
  • TD Ameritrade does not offer fractional shares

  • Higher account fees and fund fees than competitors

  • Uninvested cash is not automatically swept into a money market fund

Pros Explained

  • Without a doubt, there is no better online broker to learn the basics of investing in the stock market than TD Ameritrade. TD Ameritrade offers a breadth and depth of education that is unparalleled in the industry, including instructional videos, an online digital magazine “tickertape,” a quarterly periodical “thinkmoney,” daily streaming live market commentary on the TD Ameritrade Network, in-person instruction via live events, and virtual learning experiences via online workshops, webcasts, and courses.  
  • For both the passive investor and the day trader, TD Ameritrade’s range of trading platforms makes the broker an ideal choice for every investor. TD Ameritrade’s web-based and mobile platforms promote simplicity and ease of use, and the thinkorswim platform provides robust capabilities for experienced traders.

Cons Explained

  • Fractional shares allow investors with limited capital to add high-priced securities to their portfolio a little at a time. Unfortunately, TD Ameritrade does not offer fractional share purchases. This may not matter for much longer, however, as TD Ameritrade has been officially acquired by Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab does offer fractional shares, so this feature may migrate to existing TD Ameritrade customers as the two companies merge. 
  • While TD Ameritrade has an array of investment products, close competitors have more cost-efficient alternatives. Investors who use margin in their trading should also note that TD Ameritrade’s margin rates are not as competitive as those of some peers. 
  • Unlike some of its competitors, TD Ameritrade does not automatically sweep uninvested cash into a money market fund. However, the broker does allow clients to opt into the sweep program or hold cash in an FDIC-protected account.

Usability

TD Ameritrade’s focus on the client experience has made its platforms seamless and easy to navigate. Using innovation to transform the individual client experience, TD Ameritrade puts the user at the center of the design to optimize the individual experience. TD Ameritrade web, thinkorswim, and the mobile apps are all highly customizable based on the user’s unique interests. 

TD Ameritrade web includes a dock tool, which is a fully customizable dashboard. When screen size allows, the dock tool appears and remains on the right side of the screen as users navigate through the site on the left. Users can generally choose between 13 unique modules to view. Modules include account balances, bookmarks, and streaming content such as watch lists, news and events, videos, Twitter trends, Yahoo Finance headlines, and RSS feeds, among others. Once modules are added to the dock, users can rearrange the module order and size. They can also filter most of the modules to set information preferences. 

Logging into TD Ameritrade is a breeze on any of the four platforms (web, mobile, thinkorswim, or thinkorswim mobile). Both the web-based and standard mobile app platforms are easy to use—an advantage that's especially helpful to investors just starting out. 

On the app, the user's positions and account balance appear on one page, so that checking in on market changes is a quick and efficient process. In addition, users can scroll down the dashboard to find general market news, as well as information on their specific positions.

For active investors who want more market information such as earnings, dividends, analyst ratings, and upcoming initial public offerings (IPOs), the web and mobile platforms are easy to navigate. Investors simply type in the appropriate ticker and news, ratings, charts, and fundamental information appear at their fingertips.

Trade Experience

Trading on the web platform is a straightforward process, as users can type in a ticker symbol and enter their orders directly. With the exception of fixed-income products, both the mobile app and web platforms offer the same asset classes and support the same type of orders, including stop-limit orders. Moreover, all platforms allow users to stage orders for later entry, while thinkorswim and TD Ameritrade web enables conditional orders, which allow users to set triggers based on price movements.

In general, selecting a good stock or mutual fund to invest in isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, the selection process can be overwhelming—especially for new investors—simply because of the sheer number of companies available. Fortunately, TD Ameritrade offers stock screeners on their web platform, located in its research and ideas section. Users can easily create their own screens with a wide variety of parameters like sector, industry, market capitalization, and much more. For beginners, however, the layout of this section of the site can be tricky to navigate. 

TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim is a robust trading platform for experienced traders that lies within the broker's broader platform. While the trader can draw trendlines, add indicators, and do basic technical analysis through the web platform, thinkorswim goes far beyond this toolset. The thinkorswim downloadable platform can be customized to a trader’s preferences and offers the full suite of analysis tools across asset classes, including options and derivatives. There is also a trading simulator and the functionality for traders to create their own tools using the thinkScript programming language. As far as trading, charting, and analysis are concerned, TD Ameritrade’s mobile app and the website do not compare to the depth and breadth of thinkorswim. Thinkorswim is essentially a broker-provided trading engine and, for this reason, serious traders will primarily use the thinkorswim desktop platform for position analysis and entry. 

Mobile Trade Experience

Those who choose TD Ameritrade as their online broker will find that trading in the regular mobile app is even easier than via the web. On the top right of the user’s screen is a large green “trade” button; the user just enters a symbol for an easy and effective trade. For added convenience, TD Ameritrade mobile has watchlists and streams real-time data. And even though the mobile app does not support the capability to draw on charts, users can trade directly from the charts.

With this in mind, the charts on the thinkorswim mobile app are better than those on the standard TD Ameritrade app by a considerable margin. The thinkorswim mobile app allows users to trade multi-leg options, customize charts, conduct position analysis, and much more. In fact, thinkorswim mobile is very similar to the downloadable platform, marking it an easy transition for traders moving between the two.

Range of Offerings

TD Ameritrade clients can trade a wide variety of assets on both the web platform and the mobile apps. These assets include ETFs, stocks, options, futures, and cryptocurrency. One notable limitation is that TD does not offer fractional shares or international bonds, and the mobile app does not support fixed-income purchases. Beyond that, investors using TD Ameritrade can access:

  • Stocks (long and short)
  • Mutual funds (with more than 13,000 on offer, 3,689 of which are no-transaction-fee funds)
  • Bonds (corporate, municipal, Treasury, and CDs)
  • Futures/commodities
  • Single and multi-leg option contracts
  • Bitcoin futures
  • Foreign exchange (70 currency pairs)
  • OTCBB (penny stocks)

Order Types

TD Ameritrade clients can enter a wide range of order types on all of their platforms. While all of the broker’s platforms enable stop-limit orders and trailing stops, only the thinkorswim platforms and the web platform allows conditional orders (for example, one-cancels-the-other) and simultaneous multiple orders. Investors also have the ability to select a specific tax lot when placing orders.

Trading Technology

With rapidly moving markets, fast execution is a top priority for investors. Order routing is the process by which an order goes from the end-user to an exchange. An order may go directly to the exchange from the customer, or it may go first to a broker who then routes the order to the exchange. As a result, the method by which a broker routes orders will determine the likelihood of receiving the best price at the time the trade order is placed. This is known as price improvement. 

TD Ameritrade uses proprietary order routing technology, and clients can also direct route orders to specific options and equities exchanges. The majority of TD Ameritrade’s orders are spray-routed, enabling trade orders to be executed within 0.04 seconds, on average. According to TD Ameritrade, their execution quality metrics cover market order sizes 1 to 1,999 shares, which makes up over 90% of their client order sizes. The broker touts a price improvement to their clients of $0.0209 per share on average, and this price improvement proves to be consistent, covering 97.5% of orders.

TD Ameritrade is one of the few brokers that offer backtesting, which is the evaluation of a particular trading strategy using historical data. Traders who wish to use this feature can do so in a variety of ways, as thinkorswim backtesting can be done using thinkscript, strategies, ondemand, or thinkback. Investors can also automate trading strategies, setting orders to trigger automatically upon a set of conditions.

Costs

TD Ameritrade has joined in the industry race to zero fees, but it hasn't done so quite as fully as some of its major rivals. For the most part, however, the broker is in line with the industry.

  • TD Ameritrade charges no commissions for online equity or ETF trades.
  • OTCBB trades incur a commission of $6.95/transaction—most other brokers have made these trades free.
  • There is no per-leg commission on options trades. Per-contract commissions are $0.65. VIP option customers are able to privately negotiate discounted commissions based on volume.
  • An order for 50 options contracts is $32.50.
  • A covered call trade of 500 shares plus five contracts would cost $3.25.
  • Mutual fund commission for funds outside the No Transaction Fee program is $49.99. 
  • Fixed income is sold on a "net yield" basis, which means TD Ameritrade is marking the price of the bond up for a purchase or down for a sale. The fee is not transparent.
  • Most orders incur exchange fees, which are typically fractions of a penny per share or contract, which TD Ameritrade absorbs rather than passing them through to its customers.
  • Margin interest ranges from 10% for a $10,000 balance to 8.5% for a balance of more than $100,000 as of June 2022. This rate is about 1–1.25% higher than that of its primary competitors. High-net-worth account holders are able to negotiate lower margin rates based on account size.
  • Futures transaction fees are $2.25 per contract per side plus exchange fees.
  • Forex currency pairs are traded in increments of 10,000 units and there is no commission. The cost of the trade is reflected in the spread and TD Ameritrade is compensated by its liquidity provider based on the volume.
  • No fees for inactivity.
  • Transferring part of an account incurs no charge. Transferring an entire account is $75.
  • Sending a wire is $25. Sending a paper check is free, though there is a $15 fee if the client requests overnight mail.
  • Voluntary reorganization fee for corporate actions is $38.
  • Paper statements incur a $2 handling fee for accounts with low balances. Trade confirmations are free.
  • Live broker fee is $25 per trade across asset classes. 

How This Broker Makes Money

The race to zero fees has increased competitive pressure in the asset management industry and changed the business model for many online brokers. However, $0 commissions do not mean that everything is free, as brokers can still make money from and for the client in less obvious ways. 

  • Interest on cash: TD Ameritrade clients do not earn any interest on cash held in their accounts by default. Clients have to opt into TD Ameritrade’s cash sweep program to earn interest on idle cash. This can be perceived as a slight disadvantage since there are competitors who automatically enroll clients into a cash sweep program. 
  • Payment for order flow: It is common for brokers to generate revenue by directing trade orders to different parties known as market makers. Some competing brokers like Vanguard and Fidelity do not accept payment for order flow on equities.
  • Stock loan programs: Although TD Ameritrade clients can participate in a stock loan program, they do not have the ability to choose which stock can be loaned. Stock loan programs generate revenue for brokers who are usually providing the loaned shares to traders and hedge funds shorting the stock.
  • Price improvement: TD Ameritrade reports that their net price improvement per share is $0.0219 on average for orders sized between 1 and 1,999 shares. TD Ameritrade does not disclose net price improvement on options orders. 
  • Portfolio Margin: Qualified investors who have a portfolio value of $125,000 or more may qualify for portfolio margining, which can increase their buying power significantly as compared with standard margin accounts. The goal of portfolio margining is to set margin requirements that reflect net risk, which may allow clients to benefit from lower margin requirements and more effective use of capital.

Account and Research Amenities

As is expected of the larger brokers, TD Ameritrade comes loaded with account and research amenities.

Stock Screeners

Although TD Ameritrade has 25 predefined stock screens built into the screener, clients can create their own screens using a wide variety of parameters like sector, fundamental metrics, technical indicators, valuation, performance, and much more. The best tool for performing screens is the thinkorswim desktop platform, as its scan capabilities are extremely robust compared with those of the website, and it caters to the experienced trader who has used similar programs in the past. 

ETF and Mutual Fund Screeners

Similar to the stock screener, the ETF and mutual fund screeners have various predefined screens with similar in-depth criteria. For instance, the Morningstar category alone gives clients the ability to select from nearly 100 fund categories, ranging from large growth funds to alternative investment funds, such as real estate. There are even funds for investors who desire exposure to specific regions or strategies. TD Ameritrade saves the last five customized screens for future use and gives clients the ability to turn them into a watchlist.

Options Screeners

TD Ameritrade offers an option-specific screener as well as a strategy builder. Thinkorswim is a great platform for finding investment opportunities. With tools such as Options Hacker and Spread Hacker, clients can search for either simple or complex options strategies, including covered calls, iron condors, iron butterflies, verticals, diagonals, double diagonals, and so forth. Moreover, they will be able to stream real-time data based on their preferred criteria, including volatility levels, time to expiration, probability of profit, delta, spread price, maximum risk, etc.

Fixed Income Screeners

TD Ameritrade customers will also have access to a bond screening tool. The Bond Wizard allows clients to search for individual bonds and CDs, as well as build a bond ladder. They also can choose from a selection of pre-packaged bond ladders and a five-year Monthly Income Portfolio.

Tools and Calculators

Similar to many other online brokers, TD Ameritrade offers a range of tools and calculators suitable for clients who are DIY investors. Using the web platform, they will find an Income Estimator to get a sense of the income investors can expect from a given portfolio over a 12-month period. Clients also have access to a Retirement Calculator, Portfolio Planner, Retirement Income Planning Worksheet, Required Minimum Distribution Calculator, 401(k) fee analysis tool, IRA selection tool, and a Contribution and Eligibility Calculator for Small Business Retirement Plans, all of which come in handy for prudent financial planning.

Trading Idea Generators

TD Ameritrade offers a wealth of market highlights and analyst reports from industry-recognized third parties such as Dow Jones, Credit Suisse, and the Center for Financial Research and Analysis (CFRA). This library provides comprehensive stock research and recommendations on companies, industries, funds, and bonds to help clients make informed investing decisions and validate new trading ideas.

News

For no additional charge, TD Ameritrade offers a variety of third-party news sources, including real-time streaming news from the TD Ameritrade Network, Dow Jones, Benzinga, Midnight Trader, MarketWatch, numerous press release wires, TradersAudio live pit audio, CNBC Video, Benzinga Audio Squawk, Econoday calendar data, and Wall Street Horizons. TD Ameritrade web also integrates past CNBC segments into the stock-specific news pages based on stocks mentioned in the segment and provides streaming news and events via the dock. In addition to these news sources, the dock also provides access to The Wall Street Journal, Barrons, and Yahoo Finance. TD Ameritrade also delivers more than 131 hours of live-broadcast, trader-focused content daily.

Third-Party Research

Although all of TD Ameritrade’s platforms offer free charts, the brokerage firm also offers daily market reports and fee-based research. TradeWise Advisors, Inc., TD Ameritrade's affiliated advisory service, offers option trade strategy recommendations directly to the client inbox for $20 per month. In addition to the free Market Edge reports TD Ameritrade offers, clients can choose to subscribe to two levels of premium Market Edge subscriptions. The first premium tier offers real-time reports and commentary. The second tier, at $19.99 per month, offers full access to Market Edge's platform and its research, screeners, commentary, and tools.

Charting

Whether new or seasoned, TD Ameritrade's investors find the charting capabilities of the thinkorswim platform to be exceptionally robust—and better than the standard web and mobile platforms by a considerable margin. Through thinkorswim, clients can adjust their charts for size, color, study, and strategy, and insert drawings. These charts can be saved, recalled, shared, and reprogrammed.

The web platform does allow users to draw trendlines and add indicators, but the trendlines are blurry and difficult to set up. The experience of viewing a chart on the mobile app when the phone is horizontal is also less than ideal; the tabs at the top of the app occupy most of the screen space, affecting the size of the chart and its usability. Unlike most other brokerage apps, analyzing charts on the mobile app is more useful when the screen is vertical.

Dividend Reinvestment Program (DRIP)

TD Ameritrade enables clients to enroll in a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP) for dividend-paying equities.

Cash Management

Although TD Ameritrade doesn’t automatically sweep cash into a money market fund, clients have the ability to opt into the cash sweep program to earn higher interest.

SRI/ESG Research Amenities

A growing number of investors today want to align their portfolios with their specific values or beliefs. Although all of TD Ameritrade’s platforms have screening capabilities, none are specific to environmental, social, governance (ESG) criteria or socially responsible investment (SRI) factors. This can be perceived as a disadvantage as investors are seeking both financial and social returns on their invested capital. 

Portfolio Analysis

Portfolio analysis is available via TD Ameritrade web and thinkorswim, as well as in Personalized, Selective, and Essential Portfolios via the TD Ameritrade Portfolios App. Portfolio analysis is customizable, and the broker offers the ability to aggregate holdings from outside accounts for reporting and analysis purposes using Personalized Portfolios. Both realized and unrealized gains/losses are reported in real time, as well as net deposits and withdrawals. Margin, buying power, and account balance data are also displayed in real time. Moreover, clients can attach trade notes before and after executing orders and maintain a trading journal within the platform.

Although investors cannot calculate the tax impact of future trades, capital gains reporting is available monthly and can be accessed directly from the website. In addition, TD Ameritrade offers the enterprise integration of GainsKeeper, a third-party tax reporting service that helps determine the tax consequences of trades. GainsKeeper is integrated directly within their platform for all clients free of charge, regardless of activity or asset level.

Education

TD Ameritrade offers a breadth and depth of education that is unparalleled in the industry. For beginner investors who want hands-on learning, paperMoney is the perfect tool. Essentially, paperMoney offers the thinkorswim experience as a stock simulator so investors can learn without putting any real money at risk. Although paperMoney is a great educational resource for new investors, experienced traders also stand to benefit from the platform by using virtual trading to test new strategies. 

In addition to hands-on learning, clients can consume content across a variety of channels and content types. TD Ameritrade has coupled investing education with technology and innovation to curate content for investors’ specific needs, ensuring a smooth experience that caters to each individual. TD Ameritrade personalizes content recommendations, allowing the broker to provide unique content and experience recommendations to investors based on history, account holdings, or most viewed content from customers in a similar financial position. 

TD Ameritrade’s client-centric education hub is available to all investors, regardless of experience or asset level. The education center houses an extensive library of content organized for ease of use and curated by topic, level, goals, and objectives. Clients are given access to on-demand videos, step-by-step tutorials, in-depth investing coaches, event opportunities, and much more.

Customer Service

  • TD Ameritrade has a telephone helpline that operates 24/7.
  • Clients can get trading and account support by phone, email, website, and directly from the trading platform, as well as on Twitter and Meta.
  • TD Ameritrade also provides chat support through thinkorswim mobile, where clients can chat live with a support associate without leaving the app.
  • TD Ameritrade clients can talk to a live broker, but fees may apply. Many of the reps staffing TD’s trading desk and answering client questions were either former professional floor traders and market makers themselves or were trained by such.
  • Clients have the ability to speak with TD Ameritrade financial advisors.
  • Chatbox capability is supported using Apple Business Chat, Meta Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, and, in Asia, WeChat.

Security and Reliability

  • Clients can use two-factor authentication for all of their platforms, as well as a biometric fingerprint scanner and facial recognition.
  • TD Ameritrade provides each client with $149.5 million worth of protection for securities and $2 million of protection for cash through supplemental coverage provided by London insurers.
  • If clients lose cash or securities from their account due to unauthorized activity, TD Ameritrade will reimburse for the cash or shares of securities that were lost. 
  • TD Ameritrade has not reported any significant data breaches in the last four years.
  • Due to unprecedented volumes of activity, TD Ameritrade has encountered login issues across multiple TD Ameritrade platforms that impacted some clients’ ability to log in during 2020. 
  • On January 27, 2021, TD Ameritrade, along with several other brokerage firms, experienced intermittent downtime, with users struggling to log in, check their portfolios, or perform any trades. It is likely the downtime came as Gamestop stock ($GME) surged due to a market dislocation.

Transparency

TD Ameritrade’s pricing structure and fees are clear and transparent as per a webpage dedicated to pricing. This webpage highlights costs associated with brokerage fees, margin trading, and so on. Margin interest rates vary due to the base rate and the size of the debit balance. When setting base rates, TD Ameritrade considers indicators like commercially recognized interest rates, industry conditions related to credit, the availability of liquidity in the marketplace, and general market conditions. The current base rate is 8.50%.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), from 2013 to September 2015, TD Ameritrade terminated its business relationship with 111 independent investment advisers after determining that they had presented an unacceptable business, credit, operational, reputational, or regulatory risk to TD Ameritrade or its customers. Although TD Ameritrade filed a number of suspicious activity reports relating to suspicious transactions of certain terminated advisers, the broker failed to file reports on the suspicious transactions of a number of other terminated advisers. 

While none of the advisors were employed by the brokerage firm, according to the SEC, activities of the advisers in question included suspicious securities trading, questionable transfers to the adviser or entities affiliated with the adviser, and managing client assets at TD Ameritrade while the adviser was making potentially material false and misleading statements to a client. As a result, TD Ameritrade was fined $500,000 for failing to report advisors’ suspicious activity in 2018.

Our Verdict

As is to be expected from the large online brokers, TD Ameritrade offers a wide range of assets, tools, and educational resources, combined with industry-standard pricing, security, and reliability. The trading experience across platforms is relatively seamless, but active investors and traders will opt for the robust tools and capabilities of the thinkorswim trade engine. That being said, TD Ameritrade’s multiple platform offerings make trading and research more accessible for investors from all backgrounds and experience levels. 

For beginner investors, TD delivers a client-centric learning experience across multiple channels, including TD Ameritrade Network, articles, videos, and courses. Similarly, newer investors will enjoy TD’s fully integrated platforms, as they are personalized, goal-driven, and intuitive. Traders and active investors will prefer the thinkorswim platform for its in-depth capabilities. TD Ameritrade’s impending integration with Charles Schwab will hopefully keep the best of both industry giants, bringing fractional shares and other elements to the TD Ameritrade experience, while preserving the excellent user-centered trading and education experience.

Compare TD Ameritrade to Other Brokers

As TD Ameritrade is among our top picks for brokerage services, we have the following direct comparisons between TD Ameritrade's trading platform and other top brokers:

What Type of TD Ameritrade Account Should I Open?

TD Ameritrade has one of the most extensive offerings of account types of all the brokers reviewed. TD Ameritrade has all the common accounts like the traditional individual retirement account (IRA), Roth IRAs, rollover IRAs, and taxable accounts, including joint tenant with right of survivorship (JTWROS). Beyond that, however, TD Ameritrade has pretty much any account one can think of, including solo 401(k), Coverdell education savings accounts (ESA), custodial Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA), and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts, and even investment club accounts. So whether one is looking to trade in a taxable account, save for retirement, or do something else entirely, TD Ameritrade probably has an account for that. In fact, they offer an account help tool that can narrow down the account selections after the client answers a few basic questions.

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Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on its platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting thousands of data points that we weighed into our star-scoring system.


Click here to read our full methodology.