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Best Online Brokers for Beginner Investors 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

If you’re an investing novice, learning how to put money in the markets can seem overwhelming. There are countless online services at your disposal, which can make it challenging to pick the right one and get started.

Not sure where to begin? Let’s take a closer look at the best online brokers and the best robo-advisors. Both product categories offer low fees, lots of flexibility and functionality that simplifies the investing process. Either can make it simple to take your first steps in the world of investing.

Deciding whether you need a robo-advisor or an online broker is straightforward. If you prefer to actively manage your investments, an online broker is what you’re looking for. A broker’s job is to help you buy and sell securities, and many brokers offer educational and research resources to help beginners learn. Below we’ve included our top online brokers for beginners.

If you prefer a more hands-off approach to your investments, go with a robo-advisor. These automated investing services put your money into diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds that are customized to your needs. Best of all, they charge low annual fees. Since computer algorithms do the hard work, you’re freed from actively managing your investments. See below for our top robo-advisors for beginning investors.

How we chose the best investment platforms for beginners

We regularly review the landscape of investment services. For this review, we began with a selection of brokers and robo-advisors that represent the best in the industry. For the brokers, we evaluated 20 different services in our latest round; for the robo-advisors, we evaluated 19 different services. We then distilled each list down to the top four choices. All of the brokers and robo-advisors listed below are worth considering, with those at the top of each category scoring best.

The things we weighed most heavily when ranking the best online brokers were trading fees, account minimums, the diversity of investment products offered (stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds or ETFs, and mutual funds), and low account fees (annual fees, transfer fees, and inactivity fees). To determine our list of the best robo-advisors, we focused on management fees and account minimums, and also considered ease of use and customer support.

See our methodology article for a more detailed explanation of how we create our rankings.

The best robo-advisors for beginners

Robo-advisor

Annual Management Fee

Average Expense Ratio (moderate risk portfolio)

Account Minimum to Start

Wealthfront

0.25%

0.09%

$500

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios

0.00%

0.14%

$5,000

Betterment

0.25% (up to $100,000); 0.40% ($100,000.01 or more)

0.11%

$0

SoFi Automated Investing

0.00%

0.08%

$1

Wealthfront: Low fees, high cash management APY

Wealthfront Advisers LLC Wealthfront is one of the most visible names in the robo-advisor space, and its low annual cost and free financial planning tools make it a great fit for beginners. The $500 minimum deposit to open an account is higher than peers, many of whom have no minimum. If you would like to fund your account but also want to keep some money on the sidelines, Wealthfront offers a cash management account with an attractive 2.51% APY. Wealthfront intentionally offers very little opportunity for human interaction on its platform. This keeps fees low, but could be a drawback for those who want personalized attention or who have complicated tax situations.

Wealthfront Highlights:

  • $500 minimum to start investing is beginner-friendly
  • Low fees: 0.25% management fee; 0.09% avg ETF expense ratio
  • 20 portfolios available to fit a variety of investing goals, from conservative to aggressive
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Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios: Backed by a major brokerage

The Charles Schwab Corporation Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is a great choice if you’d like to start with automated investing but anticipate becoming more actively involved in managing your investments over time. Note that Intelligent Portfolios requires a relatively steep $5,000 minimum deposit to start investing. Also, do not be misled by the 0% management fee, as it’s not the only cost involved using this robo-advisor.

Intelligent Portfolios requires users to hold 6% to 30% of deposited funds in a cash management account that offers a 0.67% APY. This requirement will eat into overall returns in years where the market returns above 0.67%. And this is on top of an average 0.14% expense ratio for a moderate-risk portfolio.

That said, this robo-advisor has an exceptionally detailed description of their ETF selection methodology. Intelligent Portfolios users also get access to Charles Schwab’s 300 U.S. branch locations, where you can talk to advisors and handle administrative tasks in person.

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Highlights:

  • Schwab offers many additional account types and services for investors looking to expand beyond robo-advising down the road
  • 0% management fee, though you do need to hold a portion of your portfolio in cash and an avg 0.14% expense ratio still applies
  • Over 300 physical branch locations for in-person assistance
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Betterment: Great choice for smaller balances

Betterment Holdings Inc. Betterment is another good choice for beginner investors, offering strong features at low cost, with no minimum deposit. Their step-by-step account creation process translates your financial goals into investment recommendations, helping to ensure that your portfolio fits your objectives. The annual management fee for accounts under $100,000 is 0.25%, plus an average 0.11% expense ratio, which is in line with peers. Unfortunately, accounts over $100,000 will see the annual management fee jump to 0.40% — so if you are managing more than $100,000, you may want to consider a different robo-advisor.

Betterment Highlights:

  • $0 minimum to open an account makes it easy
  • Low 0.25% management fee for account balances under $100,000 plus low 0.11% avg ETF expense ratio
  • Premium features available for account balances greater than $100,000, including unlimited access to Betterment’s financial advisors
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SoFi Automated Investing: Low costs, great perks

SoFi Securities LLC SoFi Automated Investing aims to minimize fees and eliminate investing friction points, and they succeed at both. The firm’s 0% management fee and ultra-low 0.08% average expense ratio makes it one of the most competitively-priced robo-advisors in the market. Beginners will find the free access to SoFi financial advisors as an especially valuable perk. Others include free career counseling and discounts on loans.

The main downside with Automated Investing is that SoFi’s portfolios are less customizable than those of competing services. It offers only five risk levels to choose from, as opposed to at least 10 available with other services. SoFi does not offer tax loss harvesting.

SoFi Automated Investing Highlights:

  • Rock-bottom fees: 0% management fee, plus 0.08% avg expense ratio
  • Free access to financial advisors
  • SoFi also offers brokerage accounts for investors looking to trade individual stocks or ETFs
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Best online brokers for beginners

Broker

Fee per trade

Commission-free ETFs

No-transaction-fee Mutual Funds

Charles Schwab

$0.00

514

3,457

Fidelity

$0.00

503

3,636

TD Ameritrade

$0.00

571

3,887

E-Trade

$6.95

277

4,222

Charles Schwab: Full-featured offering

The Charles Schwab Corporation Charles Schwab can support your investing journey from your first steps as a novice through to advanced trading strategies. Schwab has no account minimum, charges only $0.00 per trade in commissions, and allows you to trade many products commission free. Accounts come equipped with a suite of tools to help you construct your portfolio and pick the correct mutual funds, ETFs and stocks. Schwab also offers 24/7 phone support and has over 350 branches if you need in-person help.

Charles Schwab Highlights:

  • Affordable trading with $0.00 per trade commissions and no minimum deposit to open an account
  • More than 500 commission-free ETFs and over 3,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Robust research tools for beginners include analyst reports and screeners for stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs
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Fidelity: Strong mutual funds options

Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC Fidelity is well known for its retirement offerings and has a lot to offer beginners. Their $0 minimum to open an account, low $0.00 per trade commission and excellent selection of commission-free ETFs and mutual funds make this service a great choice for new investors. Beginners looking to learn about investing will appreciate Fidelity’s stock screening tools, library of analyst reports and portfolio selection tools. Fidelity also offers clients exclusive access to several proprietary mutual funds that have no transaction fees and 0.00% expense ratios.

Fidelity offers strong customer support with representatives available by phone 24/7 and at over 190 branch locations if you need in-person help. Some reviews on their site suggest that response times can lag for support though. Low fees, no minimum to start and a large menu of investments to choose from make Fidelity a compelling option for beginners.

Fidelity Highlights:

  • $0 minimum to open an account and no fees on account transfers
  • Tons of low-fee options: Over 500 commission-free ETFs and more than 3,600 no-transaction fee mutual funds
  • Stock screening tools, analyst reports, and portfolio selection tools will be helpful for beginners
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TD Ameritrade: Broad offering of investments

TD Ameritrade TD Ameritrade’s long-standing commitment to helping clients access financial markets make it a strong choice for beginners. TD Ameritrade offers a wide assortment of commission-free mutual funds and ETFs, helpful customer service and educational tools. Beginners starting with stocks and bonds will appreciate TD Ameritrade’s analyst reports, charting tools and watch lists. Another upshot is that there is no minimum deposit required to open an account.

TD Ameritrade’s high $0.00 per trade commission is a drawback, though beginners are unlikely to be placing enough trades for this to have a large impact. With 24/7 phone support and branches spread across the country for in-person help TD Ameritrade is solid broker choice for beginners.

TD Ameritrade Highlights:

  • Keep fees low with nearly 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds and over 550 commission-free ETFs
  • $0 minimum to open an account
  • Current TD Bank account holders may qualify for special promotions based on amount deposited including free trades and account rebates
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E-Trade: Good research options

E-Trade Securities LLC E-Trade is a well-known online broker and offers a wide assortment of available investments for beginners. The $500 minimum to open an account and high $6.95 trading fees could deter folks with a small amount to invest, though. E-Trade’s breadth of no-commission ETFs and mutual funds offers a wealth of choices for first-time investors step into the market. E-Trade’s mobile tools stand out for dynamic charting and easy access to research materials. For investors seeking to automate a portion of their portfolio E-Trade also offers their Core Portfolios robo-advisor product for a 0.30% management fee.

E-Trade Highlights:

  • Respectable selection of low-fee options with over 250 commission-free ETFs and more than 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Mobile tools feature beginner-friendly charting, research, and trading
  • E-Trade’s robo-advisor, E-Trade Core Portfolios, is available for users who’d like to automate a portion of their portfolio
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FAQs about online brokers

A robo-advisor is an automated service that selects investments for you utilizing sophisticated computer algorithms. Robo-advisors help investors take advantage of the best parts of wealth advising — like diversification and asset allocation — without incurring the cost of hiring a human advisor to manage your accounts.

Most robo-advisors begin the investing process by asking you a series of questions about your assets, investing history and investing goals to help establish the right balance in your investment portfolio. Then the robo-advisor automatically manages your money and sets you on the path to achieve your financial objectives.

When considering which robo-advisor to choose, you should evaluate several different things:

  • Minimum Balance: The minimum amount you need to invest can help you narrow the field of robo-advisors. A number of newer robo-advisors have no minimum to start, while the ones offered by the traditional large brokerage houses will typically require an initial deposit of several thousand dollars.
  • Fees: Even small fees can add up to thousands of dollars of lost returns over time. The top-rated robo-advisors in our ranking typically charge a flat yearly management fee of 0.00% to 0.50% of your deposited balance. In addition to the management fee, robo-advisors also charge investors an expense ratio to cover fees that ETF companies charge for the funds that make up your portfolio. Average expense ratios typically range from 0.08% to 0.15%.
  • Ease of use: When you create your account, ask yourself: Do I understand what the robo-advisor is telling me? Can I easily figure out how to deposit and withdraw money? Do their planning tools help me understand how much I need to invest and when? If the answer is no to any of these, you might be better off going with another option.

Online brokers help you purchase and trade investments on your own, without the need for an advisor or investment manager. Online brokers put you in the driver’s seat. Instead of relying on a particular firm’s recommendations, you can select the stocks, mutual funds and bonds that work best for you. Online trading is also convenient; you can manage your assets from anywhere, without having to wait on anyone else. Even better, online brokerage accounts tend to be more cost-effective than traditional brokerage accounts because they often have fewer fees.

Keep in mind that the earlier you get started with investing in markets, the more your money can grow. Even if you have only a small amount to invest, investing with an online broker can help you lay a strong foundation to build wealth. Start with what you can afford and contribute regularly to begin boosting your returns. Before you start investing, be sure that you’ve paid down high-interest debt and saved enough money for an emergency fund. This will ensure that you can avoid potential losses from having to withdraw your investments early in case of big, sudden expenses.

While there’s always risk with investing, online brokerages are typically quite safe. Most brokerage sites will have a section on their website that details their security measures. Your accounts are also often protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which helps safeguard you against the loss of your investments if the brokerage closes.

When shopping for an online broker, there are a few factors to keep in mind before making a decision:

  • Fees: While you can’t control the returns on your investments, you can control what you pay in fees. Look for an online brokerage that offers low trading fees; some even offer free trades on select investments or if you meet certain account usage criteria.
  • Investment advisory services: While online brokerage companies give you flexibility, it can be helpful to check in with a professional once in a while. Some give you the option to connect with an investment advisor to help you stay on track.
  • Research tools: Access to research tools can help you choose the right investments. Look for an online broker that offers research tools to help you analyze and choose investments based on past performance and professional recommendations.
  • Investment mix: You want to be able to invest in a wide range of investments, including stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and bonds.
  • Customer service: Customer service can be key, especially if you have trouble with your account. You want an online broker with easy-to-use customer service tools so you can get the help you need quickly.

Many online brokers allow you to invest in a wide range of investments, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs. Online brokerage accounts offer you a great deal of flexibility, so you can invest in what makes sense for you.

To begin investing and trading online, you have to open an account with an online brokerage firm. To do so, click on the company’s website and select “open an account” or “apply now.” The site will prompt you to enter your personal information, such as your name, address, employment details, Social Security number and proof of identity. Next, you’ll be asked to enter your bank details so you can make an initial investment and set up recurring deposits if desired. Verifying your account can take a few days, but then your account will be in effect and you can begin investing your money.

About our ranking

Please see the full lists below of brokers and robo-advisors that we considered for this ranking.

All brokers considered:

Ally Invest
Charles Schwab
Fidelity
Firstrade
Interactive Brokers
J.P. Morgan You Invest
Just2Trade
Lightspeed
Merrill Edge
Robinhood
E-Trade
eOption
SogoTrade
Stash
T. Rowe Price
TD Ameritrade
TradeStation
USAA Investments
Vanguard
Zacks Trade

All robo-advisors considered:

Acorns
Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
Betterment
Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
E-Trade Core Portfolios
Ellevest
Fidelity Go
Folio Investing
FutureAdvisor
Merrill Guided Investing
Motif
Personal Capital
SigFig
SoFi Automated Investing
TD Ameritrade
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
Wealthfront
Wealthsimple
WiseBanyan

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Joshua Rowe-Heupler
Joshua Rowe-Heupler |

Joshua Rowe-Heupler is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Joshua here

Kat Tretina
Kat Tretina |

Kat Tretina is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kat here

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Investing

Great Financial Planning Networks for Millennials

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The youngest millennials turn 24 in 2020, and most of this generation has already entered the workforce. Whether it’s to evaluate retirement plans or simply to start budgeting more effectively, many millennials are seeking out the help of a financial advisor.

Financial planning is a great way to improve the health of your personal finances. However, just grabbing the first financial planning professional you come across is not an effective option. You need to take thoughtful, deliberate steps to evaluate your options and choose the right advisor.

Check out our advice for pursuing your own search for a millennial money advisory that measures up to your own expectations. In addition, we’ve provided brief profiles of five financial planners tailored to the unique needs of millennials.

Millennial financial planning: How to find the right advisor

With a variety of financial planning services designed to appeal to their generation, millennial clients should explore their options before choosing an advisor. It’s important to find the person who will be a match for your unique personality and needs. The planner you choose to hire will depend on a variety of criteria, and before you sign on the dotted line, take these five steps to find the right fit.

Look for the CFP designation

When choosing an advisor, check if they’ve received a CFP designation. “This means the person has completed extensive education and experience requirements and are held to high ethical standards,” said Lindsay Martinez, certified financial planner with Xennial Planning in Oceanside, Calif.

CFP professionals have to pass a comprehensive certification that test their abilities to apply financial planning knowledge to real-life situations. The exam covers the financial planning process, tax planning, employee benefits and retirement planning, estate planning, investment management and insurance, to ensure the planner understands the complexities of the changing financial climate and know how to make recommendations in your best interest.

Get referrals, do background checks

Ask family, friends and professional colleagues if they use a financial planner and if they’re satisfied with their services. While your needs may vary depending on your life situation, it can help to hear about the experiences of others.

Whether your advisor candidates come from referrals or your own search, you should also do a background check on your advisors. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is not-for-profit industry group that oversees all entities in the United States that sell securities products. FINRA offers BrokerCheck, a website where you can research the background and experience of securities brokers and dealers.

Another place to find information is through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). As it applies to the public, the mission of the SEC is to protect investors and maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets. The SEC helps you check an advisor’s background with search features on investor.gov.

If the financial planner claims to be a certified financial planner, take the extra step to verify their credentials by checking the CFP website. And you can also check for reviews of financial advisors at the Better Business Bureau.

Schedule a consultation

Don’t underestimate the importance of finding an advisor that fits your personality. An advisor may be smart and savvy, but if you don’t feel like they’re a partner who wants to take time to make sure you understand and feel good about your choices, the relationship could end badly.

Financial planning networks for millennials ditch the suit-and-tie meetings and offer a more relaxed way to interact and share ideas, via phone or web-based consultations.

“Since many planners provide complimentary getting-to-know-you-style consultations, take advantage of the offer to see whether they’re a good fit for you,” said Sarah L. Carlson, certified financial planner and founder of Fulcrum Financial Group in Spokane, Wash. “Do they talk to you or talk down to you? They need to speak in terms you understand.”

Carlson recommends looking for an advisor who has been in the business for at least five years. “Anyone who can pass the tests can come into the business,” she said. “Only advisors who are successful at helping people can stay in the business more than five years.”

Know the right questions to ask an advisor

Millennials should be asking the right questions, said Janice Cackowski, a certified financial planner with Providence Wealth Partners, in Rocky River, Ohio.

Cackowski suggests asking whether an advisor works with other people in your age bracket. Do they have account minimums or a minimum annual fee? How are they paid? Do they offer tax planning?

“In my opinion, [tax planning] is the most important part of planning for young people,” Cackowski said.

Kashif A. Ahmed, president of American Private Wealth in Bedford, Mass., adds two more questions: Is the planner a fiduciary? And can the planner be compensated by being paid for their time and advice instead of being required to purchase a product directly from them?

Advisors who are fiduciaries hold themselves to a standard where they put your financial interests above their own. “If they hesitate or say ‘no’ to either of these, run away,” Ahmed said.

Understand your advisor’s fee structure

Millennials are known to be impervious to sales pitches and are highly cognizant of hidden costs. They want to know exactly how much they’re paying and what they’re getting in return. For this reason, many find that they prefer a fee-only financial service. It’s important to understand the difference between fee-only and fee-based.

“‘Fee-only’ indicates the advisor does not sell products or work on commissions, so there are inherently fewer conflicts of interest,” said Martinez. “These folks have a fiduciary responsibility to act in their client’s best interest.”

Fee-based planners, however, collect money from clients as well as other sources, such as commissions from companies whose products they sell. Both fee-only and fee-based advisors can give a client investment and financial planning; however, the input you receive from a fee-based advisor might be different from a fee-only advisor due to how they get paid. In some cases, this can create a conflict of interest.

5 financial planning options for millennials

From networks to solo practitioners, financial planners designed specifically for millennials are making waves in the marketplace. These five financial planners and planning networks have business models geared to millennials. They offer digital platforms not tied to any one location, no minimum deposits and fee-only services.

XY Planning Network

XY Planning Network The  XY Planning Network includes more than 500 certified financial planners (CFPs) who specialize in financial planning for millennials. Advisors in the XY Planning Network are fee-only, which means they do not accept commissions, referral fees, or kickbacks. There are no minimums required to get started as a client.

These advisors offer comprehensive financial planning help, including debt management, estate, insurance and retirement planning, real estate analysis, and investment advice and management. Advisors are available to work with clients either in person or online.

Garrett Planning Network

Garrett Planning Network Garrett Planning Network is a network of nearly 300 financial planners who check many key boxes for millennials. Members charge for their services by the hour on a fee-only basis. It does not accept commissions, and clients pay only for the time spent working with their adviser.

Members of the Garrett Planning Network requires no income thresholds or investment account minimums to access its hourly services. Garrett Planning Network advisors help clients with cash flow issues, investment management questions, tax preparation, pensions and retirement plans, estate planning, insurance issues and savings opportunities. Members must either already have their CFP designation or agree to become certified within five years. Clients can set up an in-person meeting or work with a member by phone or online.

Millennial Wealth

Millennial Wealth Millennial Wealth is a small fee-only financial advising firm that specializes in planning and investing for millennials by millennials. Planners are not compensated with commissions or kickbacks. Located in Seattle, customers can also meet virtually via meeting software or other technology.

Millennial Wealth doesn’t have account minimums, and it has designed its fee structure to work primarily with young professionals just starting out and wanting to build a solid foundation to achieve financial goals.

Gen Y Planning

Gen Y Planning Gen Y Planning is run by certified financial planner Sophia Bera and specializes in clients in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have high incomes but haven’t had time to do proper financial planning. Gen Y Planning offers help and advice for the life stages millennials are likely facing, such as navigating new jobs, purchasing a first home, getting married and starting a family.

The team works with clients across the country online. Gen Y Planning offers fee-only services, with an up front planning fee followed by a monthly retainer. The CFP also offers a robo-advisor for investment advice as an add on service for 0.70% annual management fee. Gen Y Planning does not require account minimums.

Grow

Grow Grow is a millennial-owned service that focuses on serving other millennials. The company takes a holistic approach by offering solutions that improve its clients’ lives and finances with financial planning, investment management and personal growth coaching.

Grow is a fee-only advisor that receives no commissions. Clients do not have minimum account requirements, and Grow doesn’t charge a fee for managing assets under $10,000; instead the balance is left in cash or market ETFs until increases.

The bottom line on millennial financial planning

When you’re in your 20s or early 30s, long-term goals like retirement or purchasing a new home may feel far off. However, it’s never too soon to start working with a financial planner. When it comes to your money, take your time to find the right person to help you.

“I’ve found the millennials I work with to be hard-working and extremely conscientious about their finances,” Cackowski said. “They want to get set up to save appropriately and make better financial decisions than their parents’ generation.”

Finding a financial planner who can help meet all of your needs and work toward reaching your goals is an investment in yourself and your future. You want to hire someone who is not only knowledgeable; you want a coach and partner you can trust to grow along with you and your account balance.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Stephanie Vozza
Stephanie Vozza |

Stephanie Vozza is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stephanie here

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Thinkorswim Review 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Thinkorswim is a free trading platform available to TD Ameritrade customers. You must have a TD Ameritrade account to use thinkorswim, which is described as a “professional-level trading platform for serious traders.” It lives up to this promise, providing one of the most feature-rich trading platforms on the market, right up there with Interactive Brokers or TradeStation.

Users get a raft of premium features, including real-time data streaming, more than 400 technical studies and advanced charting tools. For this reason, thinkorswim can be complicated for those not used to navigating an advanced platform.

thinkorswim
Visit thinkorswimSecuredon thinkorswim’s secure site
The Bottom Line: A trading platform with everything a professional trader needs.

  • All TD Ameritrade customers can use thinkorswim for free.
  • Investors can use thinkorswim to trade a variety of assets, including options, futures and forex.
  • You can trade select securities 24 hours per day, five days per week (except holidays).

Who should consider thinkorswim?

If you’re a TD Ameritrade customer, consider using thinkorswim if you’re an active trader or you want to test out investing strategies risk-free. It’s available as a desktop platform or an app for iOS and Android devices.

If you don’t have an account with TD Ameritrade, it might be worth opening one to get access to this powerful trading platform, which includes its paperMoney stock market simulator. The simulator allows you to test trading strategies and monitor progress without putting real money at risk. Because no minimum deposit is required to open an account with TD Ameritrade and all account holders can access thinkorswim for no fee, you have little to lose by giving the platform a spin.

Although thinkorswim provides the data you want in an intuitive and easy-to-use platform, TD Ameritrade charges a high fee of $13.90 if you invest in commission-free exchange traded funds (ETFs) and don’t hold them for at least 30 days. If you’re a frequent ETF trader and want to make regular trades, you might pay more for the privilege through thinkorswim.

thinkorswim fees and features

Current promotions

Get up to $600 when you open and fund an account within 60 calendar days of account opening, depending on deposited amount.

Option trading fees
  • $0.00 / trade + $0.65 / contract
Stock trading fees
  • $0.00 per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Options
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Futures / commodities
  • Forex
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 364 branch locations
Research resources
  • Mutual fund reports

Trading commissions on thinkorswim

As with most online brokers, thinkorswim charges no trading commission for most services, including:

However, some fees are associated with thinkorswim. These include:

  • A $0.65 per contract fee for options trading
  • A $6.95 commission for trading stocks not listed on U.S. exchanges
  • A $25 fee for broker-assisted trades
  • A $5 fee for using the interactive voice-response phone system

Tradable asset classes on thinkorswim

Thinkorswim users can invest in a full array of investment products offered by TD Ameritrade. This includes:

  • U.S. and international stocks
  • Options
  • ETFs, including more than 2,300 commission-free funds
  • Futures
  • Forex

Trading tools on thinkorswim

All the data and charting tools an investor could hope for are available on thinkorswim. When analyzing markets, you’ll have access to more than 400,000 data points from the Federal Reserve. The accessible information covers six continents, which makes it easy to examine economic indicators from around the globe.

With so much data available, robust search features are essential, and thinkorswim delivers. Those who want to track data over time also can generate charts that include data points that span decades.

Traders also can make sure they never miss opportunities that all this data helps them to identify, because thinkorswim allows traders to set rules to trigger orders automatically. So, if you’re unavailable to enter a trade manually, you won’t miss out.

Trade 24 hours per day, 5 days per week

With thinkorswim‘s advanced charting tools and ample available data, investors might find trading opportunities outside of customary trading hours. Fortunately, thinkorswim makes that possible with 24/5 trading.

Thinkorswim’s 24/5 trading covers international markets as well as a list of securities in multiple sectors. Trades made outside of normal business hours become active immediately, which enables experienced investors to react to market moves immediately.

Investor education on thinkorswim

Because a TD Ameritrade account is required for access, thinkorswim users benefit from the robust educational resources that TD Ameritrade provides. This includes:

  • Real-time streaming of quotes
  • Financial news from third-party sources, such as CNBC, as well as market briefings that include commentary from in-house strategists
  • Courses on a wide range of subjects taught by investment coaches, which provide opportunities for new investors and seasoned traders to increase their knowledge
  • In-person educational seminars periodically throughout the year
  • More than 200 instructional videos and webcasts that appeal to investors at all levels

Strengths of thinkorswim

  • Professional level-trading tools, rich data sources: Thinkorswim provides access to advanced charting tools including visuals, Fibonacci tools, and a choice of 20 drawings. You also can use thinkorswim to analyze more than 400,000 economic data points and economic indicators across six continents, build algorithms through thinkScript. You even can access options statistics, such as the Sizzle Index, which allows you to compare current option volume with the five-day average.
  • Easy navigation and support: You can find the information you want quickly through a dedicated search engine. And if you run into trouble when you use the trading platform, a chat feature allows you to text with a trading specialist and even share your screen to get immediate assistance.
  • The paperMoney trading simulator: This stock market simulator is a great option for beginning traders and experienced investors who are more risk-averse and want to see real-world results before putting their hard-earned money to work.
  • 24/5 trading of a wide range of investments: You don’t have to limit your trading to standard market hours.

Drawbacks of thinkorswim

  • Expensive fees for active ETF traders: For traders who take advantage of commission-free ETFs, a $13.90 fee is charged if the fund is held for fewer than 30 days. This can make frequent ETF trading costly.
  • A steep learning curve: Mastering thinkorswim can be difficult for beginning investors who aren’t familiar with professional-level trading tools. A learning center is available, but it might take a lot of time to watch demos and read the training manual to learn how to navigate the platform.

Is thinkorswim safe?

Investing is never risk-free. When you buy stocks, ETFs or other investments, you assume the risk of losing money if the investments perform poorly.

However, the fact that thinkorswim is provided by TD Ameritrade should give you some peace of mind. TD Ameritrade has $1.3 trillion in assets under management and is a well-respected and well-established brokerage company.

TD Ameritrade is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) and the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC), so cash that’s deposited into your account is federally insured against insolvency. And TD Ameritrade’s FINRA BrokerCheck listing attests to the fact that it’s in full compliance with regulatory requirements.

TD Ameritrade also aims to deliver the tightest security in the industry. It even promises to reimburse you for cash or shares lost from your account because of unauthorized activity that occurs through no fault of your own.

Final thoughts on thinkorswim

If you want a full-featured trading platform that provides round-the-clock trading, automatic orders and all the data you could want, thinkorswim is a great choice. The educational information and extensive data library alone make it well worth trying out this professional trading platform — particularly because it’s free to all TD Ameritrade customers.

Fees mentioned in the article are accurate as of the date of publishing.

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Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here