Top Online Stock Trading Platforms for Newbies

Danielle Antosz
Last Updated on December 17, 2019
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If you are new to online stock trading, you might be overwhelmed by all the platform options. We’re going to demystify finding the right trading platform. We’ll cover trade commissions, fees, and perks of various platforms. You’ll also discover who offers great beginner resources for trading ETFs (exchange-traded funds), mutual funds, stocks, and futures.

Introduction to Online Stock Trading

Online stock trading involves purchasing small portions of a company online, using a brokerage company to make the purchases for you. In the past, you would work with a stockbroker who would purchase the stocks on your behalf, often taking a portion of your spend.

By working with an online stock trading platform, you can save on commissions and even make commission-free trades. You can get access to important information about companies before you invest.

And you can make trades on your schedule instead of waiting for your broker’s availability. These benefits make online stock trading an ideal way to get your feet wet in the world of investing.

Merrill Edge supported devices
Some online trading platforms like Merrill Edge allow for easy trading via mobile devices. Regardless of your device, be aware that the reliability and speed of your internet connection can impact your trades.

Five Essentials When Choosing an Online Stock Trading Platform

Your online stock trading platform is the place you go to buy and sell stocks for a small fee. Because there are dozens of options out there, it can be challenging to know who to trust with your money and stock trades. We are going to cover ten of the most popular platforms in the next section, but first, let’s cover what you should keep in mind before you get started.

  • Do you want to manage your investments or will your advisor?
  • How often will you trade?
  • What type of investments are you looking to make?
  • How much will you deposit in your brokerage account? (Some brokers have a minimum.)
  • How easy is the platform to use? Can you find the information you need easily?

Ten Popular Online Stock Trade Companies for New Investors

Now that you know what to look for, let’s explore ten online stock trading companies and compare.

BrokersCommissionAccount MinimumInactivity FeesMobile-Friendly


eToro
No fee (EU only)$200.00$10.00/month
(after 12 months)
Yes

ally invest
Ally Invest
$4.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

etrade
E*Trade
$6.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

td ameritrade
TD Ameritrade
$6.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

Robinhood trading
Robinhood
No fee$500.00No feeYes

Fidelity trading
Fidelity
$4.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

Interactive brokers
Interactive Brokers
$1.00 per tradeNone$10.00 (accounts
with balances
over $100k)
Yes

Trade station
Trade Station
$5.00 per trade$500.00$50.00 (after 12
months & min.
balance $2000)
Yes

Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab
$4.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

Merrill Edge
Merrill Edge
$6.95 per tradeNoneNo feeYes

eToro: A Social Trading Platform

etoro online stock trading

eToro is a popular online trading platform. Due to its no-commission model, it is especially popular amongst online traders based in the European Union (EU). Traders outside the EU will pay a low fee for all trades.

The social trading option allows you to look at what other investors are doing, so you can copy their strategies. If you plan to trade often and are okay with doing your own research outside the platform, eToro is a viable option.

Pros

  • No commission ETF and stock trading for EU citizens
  • Low fees for US-based traders
  • Easy to set up
  • Innovative social trading

Cons

  • High non-trading fees (especially for withdrawals)
  • No instant withdrawals
  • Limited educational resources

Ally Invest: No Account Minimum Stocks, Funds, and Forex

ally invest online stock trading

Formerly TradeKing, this platform features very low trade fees, making it an ideal choice for frequent traders. The platform is clean and easy-to-use. You can invest in a wide range of opportunities, including stocks, penny stocks, mutual funds, and Forex (foreign exchange market).

Ally Invest accounts have no account minimums.

Pros

  • No account minimum
  • Low commissions on trades
  • Robust educational and research tools
  • Fast, browser-based trading platform

Cons

  • High fees for trading mutual funds
  • No physical locations (which may not matter to some investors)

E*Trade: Advanced Investment Tool Suite

etrade online stock trading

E*Trade offers a beginner-friendly platform that is simple to use. They have a wide range of financial services like investments in stocks and bonds, IRAs, mutual funds, and even mortgages. Their fees tend to be on the higher side, but the educational tools may make it worth the cost for many investors.

They also provide advanced investment tools which can be useful after you gain some trading experience.

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use platform
  • Managed portfolio option
  • Plenty of educational resources
  • Advanced investment tools
  • Wide range of financial services

Cons

  • Expensive fees
  • High minimum account balance

TD Ameritrade: Learning Material and No Account Minimums

td ameritrade online stock trading

TD Ameritrade offers a robust trading platform with many analysis tools. Whether you are just getting started or have a few years under your belt, they have what you need to make the most of your investments.

Their fees are higher than other online platforms, but the investment and advice may make this worth the cost. They also have hundreds of physical locations, so you can get in-person support if needed.

Pros

  • No account minimums to start trading
  • Lots of research tools
  • Easy-to-use trading platform
  • Hundreds of physical locations

Cons

  • Higher trading fees
  • Broker-assisted trades are costly

Robinhood: Mobile-Friendly Trading with No Inactivity Feesrobinhood online stock trading

If affordability is your greatest concern, Robinhood is a stand-out option. This no-frills platform features very low fees, but the trade-off is minimal trading tools and educational resources.

With low trading fees, Robinhood is a decent choice for the bargain-hunter and research-savvy traders since learning resources are scarce.

Pros

  • No account maintenance or inactivity fees
  • Low broker-assisted trade fees
  • Mobile app

Cons

  • High account minimum
  • No physical locations
  • Limited educational resources
  • No online community
  • No live support

Fidelity: Built-In Research Tools and Professional Advice

fidelity online stock trading

As one of the more established investment companies, Fidelity is a well-known brand. Are they the right choice for you? Fidelity’s features are very robust and their monitoring tools allow you to keep on top of your investments.

Fidelity’s fees can be a bit high and we didn’t find the platform particularly easy-to-use. If you are willing to learn how to use the platform, the research tools may be worth the learning curve.

Pros

  • No account minimum
  • Mutual funds trading
  • Comprehensive research tools
  • Built-in monitoring features

Cons

  • Relatively high fees
  • A dated platform, with a learning curve for beginners

Interactive Brokers: Advanced Trading Analytics

interactive brokers online stock trading

Interactive Brokers has long been part of the top picks for advanced and frequent traders. Commission rates are very low, which is a boon for frequent or day traders. More, the data and research tool allows you to dig deep to find the right investments.

They do charge pretty high inactivity fees, however, and beginners will need to look elsewhere for research. The low fees may make this platform worth the cons.

Pros

  • Extremely low commissions
  • No account minimum
  • Wide range of investment types
  • Advanced trading tools
  • Easy-to-use trading platform
  • Robust research and data

Cons

  • High inactivity fees
  • Limited educational resources, which is less than ideal for beginners

Trade Station: Data and Community-Driven Trading

trade station online stock trading

A long favorite of serious investors. Trade Station’s recent decrease in account minimum has given made it easier for new or aspiring investors to gain access to high-powered tools and research.

The account minimum for a broker is quite high (at $25,000), but you only need $500 to use their online trading platform, which is very robust and data-heavy.

Pros

  • Robust, easy-to-use trading platform
  • Access to advanced trading tools
  • Active Trade Station community
  • Access to research and data

Cons

  • High account minimum for non-brokered
  • Higher than average trading fees
  • Commission fees on all ETFs

Charles Schwab: On-The-Go Trading with No Inactivity Fees

charles schwab online stock trading

This platform shines for many reasons, not the least of which is their robust mobile app that gives you access to many of the same tools and research as their desktop site.

They also provide access to high-quality research, a great aid to make better decisions about investments. Their fees are a touch high, but Charles Schwab offers great value overall.

Pros

  • No account minimum
  • No inactivity fees
  • Robust mobile app
  • Access to high-quality research and sophisticated tools
  • Option to obtain brokerage-related Schwab Amex credit card, debit card, and checks
  • Debit cards and checks require a minimum of $100 in your account

Cons

  • Higher than average trade commissions

Merrill Edge: Research Tools and In-Person Support

merrill edge online stock trading

Are you looking for a good balance of value and robust research to help you make better trading decisions? Merrill Edge is a solid option for customers of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, or high-balance investors.

Thousands of physical locations mean you can get in-person support nearly anywhere, and the educational resources are a boon for beginners.

Pros

  • Access to real advisers (for a fee)
  • No account minimum
  • Access to robust research
  • Exclusive trade offers for BoA customers and high-balance customers (over $25K)

Cons

  • Higher than average maintenance fees
  • High commissions

Ready to Start Investing?

Whether you are are looking to save for retirement or just want to put your money to work, online stock trading is one of the most effective ways to manage and increase your wealth — if you do it right. The tools above can help you get started earning money and protecting your financial future.

FAQs About Online Stock Trading

Investments can be intimidating to those starting out. If you are a beginner and you want to familiarize yourself with the basics of trading stocks online, the questions and answers below may be a useful starting point.

How do beginners invest in stocks with little money?

If you are able to spare $100 for investment, you can already afford to invest in exchange-traded-funds (ETFs) and dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs). If you can’t afford to invest more than single digits and have a lower limit, say $5, you can start by buying a share of a stock. Many online stock trading applications allow you to purchase shares of stocks – these options are explicitly made for lower-budget investors.

How can I buy stocks without a broker?

There are numerous ways you can buy stock without a broker. One of them is to purchase directly from the company. Some companies – especially blue chips – are part of a Direct Stock Purchase Plan, a scheme that allows investors to purchase stocks directly from the company. Dividend reinvestment programs (DRIPs) are another way of purchasing stocks without a third-party broker by using cash dividends to buy additional company stock.

What is risk tolerance in stock trading?

Like any investment, stock trading comes with the chance of gains and the risk of losses. Risk tolerance depicts the extent to which an investor can afford to fluctuate in their investment returns. Risk tolerance shows how much an investor can afford to lose. Investors are classified by their assessed level of risk tolerance – some of these categories include: conservative, moderate, and aggressive.

What does “commission-free” mean?

When you buy a stock through a third-party like a broker, you typically pay a commission when you buy or sell shares. Some online brokers offer what they refer to as “commission-free” trades. Commission-free trades are usually offered for certain types of trade, most commonly exchange-traded funds (ETFs). When a broker offers commission-free trades, it doesn’t mean there are no other applicable fees. 

Are there any hidden fees in online stock trading?

Whilst fees are often not hidden purposefully, they can be hard to notice. Traders are often distracted by “commission-free” offers, but this doesn’t mean the complete absence of fees. Some difficult to spot fees include:

  • Inactivity fees – incurred when you don’t submit enough trades in a specific time-frame.
  • Maintenance fees – a fee to simply have an account with the broker.
  • Certificate order fees – brokers may charge a fee when you order paper certificates of ownership.

Does online stock trading affect your credit score?

When you create an account with an online stock trading platform, the company will need to ensure you are who you say who you are. In some cases alongside the identity check, the stock trading company will also carry out a “hard inquiry” credit check which may impact your credit score. Hard inquiries are only carried out when you are trading with borrowed money – normal trading accounts will not need to check your credit score.

Does owning stock affect my taxes?

Depending on your gains or losses, you may be liable to pay tax when selling your stocks. When you sell stocks and make a profit, you are liable to pay capital gains tax on those profits. Capital gains taxes are split into two categories – short-term and long-term – depending on how long you owned a stock. In the case of losses, you may be eligible to claim back those losses for your taxes that year.

How do I start online stock trading?

If you have decided that you’d like to start online stock trading, you start by choosing an online stock trading platform. After you have created and topped up your account, you need to choose the type of trades you want to execute. These steps are quick and simple, but the most important step is to research potential stocks to ensure you are not taking on a risk bigger than you can handle.

How can I learn online stock trading?

There are many ways you can learn about online stock trading. There are tens of thousands of books available on investing, as well as specific publications on conventional and online stock trading. However, the most popular and efficient way to learn is via online courses and dedicated resources. Finding a mentor is also a great way to get hands-on information.

Is online stock trading safe?

In terms of financial risk, any kind of trading carries a certain degree of risk, and online stock trading is no exception. Security is another matter, however. Providing you conduct meticulous research and only trust established online brokers, your money will be in safe hands. As we become more net-savvy, online investment scams become easier to spot. Ensure your chosen company is FCA-regulated before you provide any financial details or deposit money.

Can I trade commodities with these companies?

Commodities traditing is different from stock trading. As such, it should be researched specifically. Although some online stock traditing companies also broker commodities, in general, they are different.

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