USAA is one of the largest and best-known names in the financial industry, offering a wide range of products from insurance to investment advice. The USAA platform is a full-service product, offering a solid option for casual traders, buy-and-hold investors, and folks who want a professional to do the heavy lifting. Its lack of streaming data or advanced analytical tools make it less suited to active traders.
USAA’s banking and investment products are only available to current and former members of the U.S. military and their families, so this platform isn’t suited to those who don’t meet USAA’s eligibility criteria.
Wide range of products and services
Expansive selection of educational resources
Online chat support
Solid research and analysis tools
Higher than average commission charges
No 24/7 support
Limited securities supported, no cryptocurrency, futures or forex
Only available to U.S. military, veterans and their families
The USAA platform has an intuitive trading workflow and a near-ubiquitous trade ticket, which makes placing trades easy from almost anywhere on the platform. A full range of order types are supported, though advanced conditional orders are not. While there are no order-staging or basket-trading capabilities, users can select shares to sell based on a tax basis.
Though the USAA platform offers a broad range of analytical tools and information, it won’t be the best platform for those who want to execute trades quickly. While most tabs feature a large pull-down trade ticket near the top of the page, the News & Research tab has a smaller link to a more complicated trading interface. This trade ticket only supplies new fillable fields and order options as you complete the fields already provided, meaning users need to wait for new fields to populate after each entry.
USAA is currently rolling out a new interface, so these glitches may disappear up once the transition is complete. For now, day traders or other investors who need to be able to execute trades quickly might use the USAA platform for research only.
Another drawback for very active traders is lack of streaming data. While data on the USAA platform is updated in real time, it requires manual refreshing. At this time, no streaming data packages are available.
Likewise, even very advanced investors cannot control order routing, and USAA offers no best price or best execution guarantees. While price improvement potential is one factor among many considered in routing decisions, it is not the focus. USAA does accept payment or other consideration in exchange for routing orders to specific venues.
The USAA platform is intuitive and user-friendly, though the sign-up process is a bit cumbersome due to USAA’s strict eligibility requirements. The huge selection of educational resources and research tools does mean that it can take new users a while to find what you’re looking for. But once you’ve clambered up the learning curve, you’ll find that USAA is a great platform for research and analysis.
USAA’s pending new dashboard layout offers an even-more modern streamlined interface. The new dashboard will also make it easier than ever to access tax documents, manage your dividends, make transfers, and check on your current positions and historical activity.
It should be noted that the current iteration of this new dashboard layout is still only a preview (as of 2/7/19), and the full functionality of the completed interface won't be available for review until the roll-out is complete.
Again, the platform won’t be a good fit for day traders and other who like to have multiple windows of dynamic data available at once. The platform is not customizable and users can only view one window or data set at a time.
Mobile and Emerging Tech
The USAA app has the same streamlined feel of the new desktop dashboard, but with limited functionality. Users can view balances and history, check current positions, and trade stocks and ETFs quickly and easily. To view more in-depth quote info, use the stock screener, or view your watchlist, you’ll need to click View Full Quote in any ticker’s pop-out quote box or click “News and Research” in the Menu. Here you’ll find a mobile version of many of the same resources and tools available on the desktop platform. What you won’t find is any advanced charting capabilities – a popular feature of the app’s previous version.
While the News & Research, Market Insights, and Tools & Calculators sections all have the look and feel of a mobile website, they are still nested within the app, with no additional login required. However, trading from these pages pulls up a different trade ticket. Navigating between sections requires going back to the app dashboard and re-entering your investment account.
The app is useful if you want to simply check in on balances or place a simple trade. The new update is somewhat glitchy and difficult to navigate, however, so anything more advanced is better left to the desktop platform.
Range of Offerings
USAA offers access to U.S. and international stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and fixed income investments. In addition to annuities, USAA offers U.S. Treasury, municipal, and corporate bonds, CDs, and bond funds. All bond orders and any options orders of more than one leg must be placed over the phone.
Users can elect to self-manage their investments or opt for a fully managed portfolio option ($25,000 account minimum). For those who want the best of both worlds, USAA offers a robo option: Digital Investment Advisor ($2,000 account minimum).
For those with margin accounts, short sales are supported. There is no physical Borrow List available, though you can call in to ask a customer service staff member before executing a trade. Alternatively, the system will give you an error message if the stock you are shorting is difficult to borrow.
News and Research
USAA consistently outshines much of its competition when it comes to its research and educational resources. Both the desktop and mobile platforms offer access to a robust stock and ETF screener, and the desktop platform links to a proprietary mutual fund screener powered by Morningstar.
You can search the news portion of the News and Research section by keyword or prioritize news items featuring tickers on your watchlist with a single click. Analyst reports are available for any ticker.
Portfolio Analysis and Reports
In terms of portfolio analysis for self-directed investment accounts, the USAA platform is solidly middle-of-the-pack. The new dashboard layout offers a quick view of your current positions, balances, total and intraday gains and losses, but no input on asset allocation or performance other than the raw data. All balances and history are updated in real time but require manual refreshing.
Of course, those who opt for either of USAA’s managed account options (fully managed or robo) will have access to much more in-depth portfolio data, suggestions, and guidance.
Customer Service and Help
USAA has long been known for its dedication to customer service. Whether you’re a current member or not, getting answers from an actual human won’t take too long. While phone lines are only staffed Monday through Saturday, wait times are generally short. USAA also offers an online chat function that is faster and more convenient for most general questions.
For specific questions about placing trades or platform features, you may need to hop on the phone with a live broker (available 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. ET, Monday - Friday). The wait to speak to a broker is typically longer than to speak to general customer service staff.
The investing section of the website includes an entire series of investing education articles from Morningstar, while the advice center features articles, how-to’s, and FAQs for life stages. The retirement center provides articles, calculators, and other resources curated based on how close you are to retirement.
The USAA Educational Foundation is a non-profit funded by USAA that offers a wide range of educational resources, articles, infographics and videos covering all aspects of finance, investing and life planning.
While there is no monthly fee to use the online platform, USAA’s trade commissions are some of the highest in the industry. At $8.95 per trade for stocks and ETFs, and $8.95 + $0.75 per contract for options, active traders will find commissions seriously eating into their returns.
International stocks can only be traded over the phone via a live broker at a cost of $70 per trade. USAA does offer some no-load-no-transaction-fee mutual funds via its Fund Marketplace, but other no-load funds cost $45 per transaction. Since bond orders ($45) and options orders of two legs or more ($25 + $0.75 per contract) can only be placed over the phone, investors looking to regularly trade these securities may want to look elsewhere.
Other fees for wires, outgoing ACATS, and late payments are standard. Accounts with balances below $100 and no activity for 12 consecutive months will be charged a $10 fee and closed. Closing an IRA account incurs a $35 penalty.
Margin rates are calculated based on the current broker call money rate and your account balance. At the time of this review, the broker rate was 4.25%, meaning USAA’s margin rates range from 8% (for balances more than $1M) to 10.75% (balances of less than $50,000).
What You Need to Know
The educational resources alone make USAA a solid choice for novice investors. If you’re looking for a robo-advisory or managed-portfolio option, this may also be a good choice since they have such a large selection of investment options.
However, neither the platform nor the fee schedule are built for active traders. Those looking to place a few trades a year or simply set up some long-term positions will do well with this platform. If you’re looking for a dynamic, customizable, responsive platform (with streaming data, for example), you’ll be better off using USAA primarily as a research and educational resource.
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