Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Monday, December 2, 2019
Charles Schwab has been known as a leading discount broker for decades, and its online brokerage outfit maintains that reputation. Schwab isn’t cutting any corners with its online operation, and clients enjoy a lot more than just inexpensive investing.
In addition to no trading fees and no minimums, you’ll receive great around-the-clock customer service, solid execution, an easy-to-navigate website with a sophisticated trading platform, and a wealth of research and educational tools. It’s really hard to go wrong here.
Who should consider Charles Schwab
Schwab is a great option for all types of investors. Beginners will enjoy its extensive educational resources and responsive customer service, while advanced investors will love its sophisticated trading platform and screeners. All investors will appreciate fee-free trading with the benefits of a full-service broker.
Cost-conscious investors will also like Schwab for its research and plethora of commission-free exchange traded funds (ETFs) and no-load mutual funds. Anyone looking for a complete experience at a bargain price — free — will feel right at home here.
Charles Schwab fees and features
|Stock trading fees|
|Amount minimum to open account|
|Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)|
|Mobile app||iOS, Android|
|Customer support||Phone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 346 branch locations|
Charles Schwab trading platforms and tools
Charles Schwab offers three ways to trade: a web platform, a downloadable software platform, and a mobile platform.
- Web trading: On Schwab’s website, clients can track investments, watch the market and place trades. Customizable screeners allow you to search for specific trade opportunities. The Strategy Screener lets you search for ideas based on different technical strategies, such as which equities are performing better or worse than other stocks in their sector. News updates give you the latest intel on your holdings, and the Gain/Loss Analyzer offers analysis on your trade history.
- Software: Schwab’s StreetSmart Edge trading platform offers streaming real-time data, including quotes and news. Customize your screen layout and take advantage of stock and ETF screeners and advanced stock charting to make decisions. View a commercial-free stream of CNBC with the latest news. You can build and place stock, ETF and options trade orders within a single window, and get alerts based on real-time bullish or bearish signals. Clients can access it via downloadable software or online via the cloud.
- Mobile: The Schwab mobile trading app is available for iOS and Android platforms, plus the Apple Watch. From the app, you can manage your account, place trades and monitor orders and positions, and view market data in real-time. You can also access a live stream of CNBC TV and research opportunities with interactive charts.
- Alexa: It’s worth mentioning that by enabling Schwab Skills on Amazon’s Alexa, you can use voice commands to request quotes, get market news or get a summary analysis of your favorite securities.
In addition to trading platforms, Schwab has a variety of research tools clients can use:
- Schwab BondSource: Lets clients review Schwab’s range of fixed income offerings including new issues, bond ETFs, individual corporate and government bonds, and bond mutual funds with no loads or transaction fees.
- ETF Screener: Schwab’s ETF Screener offers more than 100 criteria, including performance, ratings and technical data, and allows users to compare up to five ETFs at once. Schwab expert picks are available in the ETF Select List.
- Mutual funds: Compare up to three funds at once or use Schwab’s screener to filter funds by category, fees and ratings, among other things. Expert fund picks can be found in the Schwab Mutual Fund OneSource Select List.
- Stock screeners: Screen stocks on more than 100 criteria, including earnings, analyst ratings, company and price performance and financial strength. Clients also get access to Schwab Equity Ratings Reports, as well as Morningstar reports.
Charles Schwab investment options
Charles Schwab clients can choose from a healthy selection of investments, including more than 7,200 no-load mutual funds. The platform offers the ability to trade options, futures, bonds and fixed income products.
Although there are no trade fees for stocks, ETFs or Schwab-managed mutual funds, there are some fees associated with other trades:
- Options: $0.65 per contract
- Futures: $1.50 per contract
- Futures options: $1.50 per contract
- Treasury bonds: $0 per trade
- CDs: $1 per certificate, $10 minimum
- Corporate bonds: $1 per bond, $10 minimum
- Municipal bonds: $1 per bond, $10 minimum
Margin rates at Schwab start at 9.325% for balances under $25,000. While Fidelity’s rate is the same, TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE have higher rates.
When it comes to cryptocurrency, clients with a Charles Schwab Futures account can trade Cboe Bitcoin Futures on Schwab’s StreetSmart Central or StreetSmart Mobile trading platforms. Real-time quotes for Cboe or CME Bitcoin futures prices can be monitored on StreetSmart trading platforms.
Too many options? Schwab also offers a Personalized Portfolio Builder tool that will use Schwab’s asset allocation models to help you build a diversified portfolio based on your fund preferences (mutual funds or ETFs), risk tolerance and initial investment. (There is no minimum, but Schwab recommends at least $5,000 to allow for proper diversification.)
Charles Schwab news and research resources
As a Schwab client, you have access to a wide swath of research tools, from earnings reports and breaking news from Reuters and Briefing.com to customizable options screeners and charting tools. Schwab offers Morningstar Ratings for mutual funds and ETFs, as well as market commentaries from Credit Suisse, Ned Davis, Argus and Market Edge. For stocks, Schwab offers its own proprietary Equity Ratings, Stock Lists and stock screeners, alongside third-party research from Morningstar and others. Schwab also offers ratings on over 4,000 international stocks by Schwab Equity Ratings International.
Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
If you’d rather not DIY, Schwab offers two robo-advisor options:
Schwab Intelligent Portfolios gives clients access to algorithm-based recommendations and portfolio management with no fees aside from the expenses you’ll pay on the investments themselves. You’ll get a portfolio created from ETFs chosen by experts (from a pool of 53), and your investments will be rebalanced as needed. This option requires a minimum investment of $5,000, which isn’t bad, but other robos require less: Wealthfront and E*TRADE both have account minimums of just $500, and Wealthsimple has no account minimum. (That said, Wealthfront, E*TRADE and Wealthsimple all charge for their services: 0.25% to 0.50%.)
Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is less of a slam-dunk unless you’ve got a sizable portfolio. Clients here must bring a minimum investment of $25,000 and get access to both the site’s robo-advisor recommendations, plus one-on-one guidance from a certified financial planner. However, the service requires a one-time planning fee of $300, and a $30/month advisory fee after that. If you’re just investing $25,000, this fee is on the steep side (percentage wise), but the more you invest, the lower this fee becomes in relation to your portfolio. At $100,000, the $360 per year is just 0.36% of your portfolio. Compare that with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services fees, which are 0.30% of your portfolio and require a $50,000 minimum.
Strengths of Charles Schwab
- Extensive research and educational tools: Schwab offers a lot of research. From market commentary to stock screeners, advanced charting to Schwab stock lists, the broker offers plenty of resources that allow you to dig for interesting stock ideas. All of that is bolstered by stock pages with news, press releases and SEC filings to help you with your primary research. There’s also free research available from Morningstar, Ned Davis, Credit Suisse, CFRA and others. It’s a wide selection of well-regarded reports. Schwab also offers an online Learning Center with on-demand educational content and virtual workshops for those looking to boost their know-how.
- Great customer service: Need someone on the phone at 3 a.m.? Schwab can handle that. The company offers phone service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you don’t need that kind of reachability, Schwab also offers web chat and email. Plus, even though Charles Schwab is known for its discount online service, the company also has more than 365 branches around the U.S., so you can stop by for a full consultation.
- Low-cost funds: Schwab has done a lot over the years to make investing low-cost, and its current selection of ETFs and mutual funds follows that tradition. The broker offers all of their more than 2,000 ETFs commission-free. Schwab also offers more than 7,200 no-load mutual funds. These funds are sold without a sales charge (otherwise known as 12b-1 fees), and Schwab offers more than 4,200 with no transaction fee.
- Comprehensive trading platform: Schwab’s basic online trading platform is completely serviceable, offering smooth, no-frills order entry that works if you’re entering a one-off order or not trading frequently. But for advanced traders who need efficiency, Schwab’s more robust StreetSmart Edge has a lot to offer.
Drawbacks of Charles Schwab
- Low interest paid on cash: If there’s uninvested cash in your brokerage or retirement accounts, Schwab pays just 0.06% to 0.30% APY. Schwab’s High Yield Investor Savings account pays 0.05% APY, and the High Yield Investor Checking pays 0.03% APY.
- Fees on mutual funds: If you want to invest in a fund that isn’t one of Schwab’s no transaction-fee funds (and there’s a long list of those), you’ll pay $49.95 per transaction.
Is Charles Schwab safe?
Charles Schwab & Co. is a member of the SIPC and carries insurance of securities up to $500,000, plus excess insurance on securities and cash up to an aggregate claim amount of $600 million. Your cash deposits at Charles Schwab-affiliated banks are FDIC-protected up to the legal limit. Schwab also guarantees 100% loss coverage if you lose any assets due to unauthorized activity.
In terms of site and account technology, Schwab uses multiple layers of controls and technologies, including advanced encryption, to protect client data. They use pattern analysis and other analytics to sniff out suspicious activity, and the platform alerts you when sensitive transactions occur in your account. They also limit the number of employees who have access to your info.
With no fees and no minimums, Charles Schwab investors can access thousands of low-cost funds, along with stocks and other investments. They can access a full gamut of research, 24/7 customer service and trading platforms with advanced features if needed. It’s hard to beat the total package that Schwab offers investors here. With all these perks, Schwab ranks among the best of the full-service brokers.