Ready to get started investing but not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a list of the top brokers we recommend for 2017. Catering to both seasoned and beginning investors alike, there’s someone on this list for everyone. Whether it is customer service, affordability, or platform versatility, each of these brokers shines in its own way.
Table of Contents
Perhaps one of the best brokers for low-cost investing, Vanguard is frequently utilized by buy-and-hold and retirement investors with high account balances.
Its expense ratios on index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are quite below the national average, so it is the go-to broker for long-term investors.
Retirement-minded investors can find a lot of resources with Vanguard through its website. They list safe and healthy investment options that promise long-term growth, and it gives helpful hints on where you should prioritize your time and energy if you’re just getting started.
They also have a sophisticated program that can estimate when you’ll be able to retire and can help calculate your monthly expenses (sudden or otherwise) once you do.
If you have some money to invest, you can save by choosing Vanguard. For accounts with at least $50,000, trades only cost $7 regardless of how big they are. When the account hits $500,000, trades only cost $2. When the account surpasses a million dollars, many trades become free.
Want to make active trades? Keep looking.
If you’re an active trader and don’t have nearly that amount of money laying around, however, Vanguard isn’t the best broker. It doesn’t have any software to support its traders (meaning there aren’t any trading tools or platforms to utilize).
Also, investors who frequently trade (say, more than 25 times a year) are penalized with fees (assuming, of course, they don’t have $1 million invested with Vanguard).
Motif Investing is a great company to go with if you are an ETF investor, looking to invest in IPOs, are an impact investor, or you are looking to buy fractional shares of stocks.
Monthly subscriptions range from $4.95 to $19.95 a month and it costs $4.95 per share and $9.95 per motif.
What are motifs?
They’re essentially value-themed categories you can invest in, like healthcare, green investing, or recent IPOs. If you’re interested but aren’t quite ready to commit, Motif offers a free one month trial to Motif Blue. Currently, there is no account minimum, but if you want to invest in a motif they require a $300 minimum to get started.
Unlike Vanguard, Motif has a decent web presence. Its mobile app, for example, allows users to track and benchmark motifs, peruse newly added motifs, and offers a user-specific news feed created for each investor.
One of the best things about Motif is that it allows investors to trade in dollar increments (also known as fractional shares). So if you have a bit of money you would like to invest, but don’t have enough to buy a whole share of a company, you can invest what you have.
Lastly, if you would like to buy foreign stocks, Motif offers its investors American depository receipts. These ADRs are traded in U.S. Markets, are issued by U.S. Banks or U.S. based brokerages, but they represent individual shares in other countries. This makes them great in helping investors get their feet wet (pun intended) with companies overseas and will help them truly diversify their portfolios.
TD Ameritrade is considered by many investors to be one of the best resources for both beginning and advanced investors.
It offers portfolio building advice, has over a hundred commission-free ETFs, and provides great trading platforms (mobile and PC) — all while not requiring an account minimum for its customers.
TD Ameritrade also has a program online for beginners called Web Platform which is extremely useful. Here newcomers can select their trading ‘skill level’ and their level of education, and TD Ameritrade will help the investor build a properly balanced portfolio, including:
- Mutual Funds
If you like to do your own research before doing any kind of investing, TD Ameritrade also provides its investors with a lot of free resources. Customers can stream CNBC news for free, access market ‘heat’ maps and real-time trading quotes.
They can also communicate with a community of specialists that are available to chat in person or over the phone about investment options and ideas. Ameritrade is one of the few companies these days that offer this kind of service.
Part of its success comes from its ability to delegate. Every quarter TD Ameritrade relies on Morningstar, an independent investment research firm, to compile a list of mutual funds that offer no-transaction-fees. This rather large list hits 45 investment categories and is given out exclusively to Ameritrade customers.
Robinhood is aptly named, offering commission-free stock and ETF trades.
Not just some of the time — all of the time.
On top of this, Robinhood doesn’t have an account minimum. If you want to get started trading, there’s no reason to wait. However, unlike Motif, Robinhood doesn’t offer fractional shares, so you’ll need to have enough disposable income to buy at least one share of stock or ETF.
Robinhood has a great mobile app team. It’s so good there’s no reason for you to ever hop on a PC. It takes five minutes to setup, and only an hour for them activate your account. Seem long? By industry standards, it is pretty darn fast. (Keep in mind this is a trading account, not a twitter account you’re setting up.)
When you transfer $1,000 to Robinhood, it is available immediately for you to invest. If you upgrade to Robinhood Instant (a free upgrade), any proceeds you make from selling stocks or ETFs can be immediately used to buy stocks or ETFs elsewhere.
Don’t like the hassle of transferring money back to your bank account or vice versa? You can set up your account so that money is transferred to and from automatically whenever you want. Once a week, once every two weeks, and so on. For as many perks that Robinhood offers, this one is just the icing on the cake for many users.
Due to popular demand, some of its features do having a waiting list, such as Robinhood Instant. Sign up on day one so you can take advantage of this upgrade as soon as possible.
If you’re a seasoned investor, you may never have heard of Ally Invest, but its newness to the scene shouldn’t make you discredit it.
In 2016, Ally invest bought out TradeKing, and has only recently emerged into the brokerage game. That said, it’s quickly become very clear that everything that was great about TradeKing has only gotten better. Ally offers automated portfolio management and forex trading. There is no account minimum, commissions on trades are $4.95.
Are you a frequent investor?
Ally Invest offers discounts to members who trade 30 or more times per quarter. At that point, the fee drops down to $3.95.
Whether you use a PC or a smartphone, Ally has a great online platform for its users. Trade fast, get current, 24-hour quotes and data, make your own unique dashboard, and get a diverse set of trading tools at your disposal.
Here are some of our favorite helpful features:
- Profit-and-loss calculator
- Maxit Tax Manager, which informs you of any changes to your taxes based off of trades
- Probability calculator to tell you of the likelihood of your desired targets for each share
Worried about trading from work? Don’t be. Ally Invest’s web platform doesn’t require you to download anything. Simply log in and you are ready to trade. Considering everything they offer online, this is quite an achievement in and of itself.
Online platforms are great, but what about talking with actual human beings? Scottrade has about 500 offices across the country where you can actually go inside and speak with a knowledgeable investor.
Don’t have the time for that? Talk with someone over the phone or chat with them online. They have a staggering 1,000+ consultants that work every day of the week, that you can speak with almost any time of day.
It actually offers such good customer service that another company is working on buying it out: TD Ameritrade. It’s not finalized yet, but when it happens, it could be good news for members. Can you imagine the resources of TD Ameritrade coupled with the customer service of Scottrade? That said, Scottrade still has a lot of aces up its sleeve until the buyout happens. Let’s talk about them.
Like many of the stockbrokers mentioned already, Scottrade does not have an account minimum. Commissions are only $6.95 a trade. When you deposit $10,000 or more into a Scottrade account, you get fifty commission-free trades. Do the math. That’s a bit of money saved right there. Also, in June of 2016, Scottrade lowered its contract fee on options from $1.25 to only $0.70.
Scottrade also offers low mutual fund commissions. It only costs investors $17 to sell and buy no-load funds. For funds that charge a sales load, it only costs investors $17 to sell, whereas it is nothing to buy. How many of these transaction-fee-free funds do they offer, you ask?
A whopping 2,600.
There are only a few brokers out there where we can honestly say are well suited for both beginning and advanced investors, but Charles Schwab is one of them. It has the tools to satisfy anyone, no matter their level of expertise.
Are ETFs your thing? Charles Schwab offers over 200 commission-free ETFs. Are you an absolute beginner? Schwab objectively elects what it believes to be the best ETF in every category, so you don’t have to go down rabbit holes of information and research.
On top of this, if you are just starting to build your portfolio, Schwab also offers recommendations based off of your chosen risk tolerance. Take the safe road and know that your money is in good hands.
If you need to speak with a representative, you may do so no matter the time of day, whether via phone or online chat. That said, Schwab actually has a pretty large brick and mortar presence, where you can make an appointment to speak with a representative or attend invaluable workshops.
A downside to Schwab is that they do have an account minimum. While many brokers we’ve discussed require no account minimums, Schwab does require that its investors maintain at least $1,000 with them. If you don’t have that, you can have the minimum waived when you sign up for an automatic monthly deposit of $100.
With low $4.95 commissions per trade, Fidelity is one of the most affordable brokers online, considering what it offers to its customers.
Utilizing top-notch research from over 20 companies, Fidelity provides its investors with some of the best investment advice that money can buy. It could be a lot of information to wade through, but after a few quick questions, Fidelity can match you up providers that resonate with your personal investment style.
Though it’s not considered the best customer support in the industry, Fidelity still offers some pretty sharp service for its customers. Investors can meet with representatives in physical branch locations, as well as attend investor seminars throughout the year for free.
The seminars cover a wide array of topics, such as social security and technical analysis. Plus, if in person doesn’t appeal to you, you can still study and expand your knowledge via webinars.
Looking for a solid online platform? Fidelity is truly among the best.
It offers both PC and mobile support, and if you are an active trader, you can even get real-time feeds displayed on your desktop. Each platform is intuitive and easy to use and provides tools to help you get a leg up on your competition. For those interested, Fidelity also offers a premium tool called Wealth Lab Pro, which offers customizable strategies and 20 years of historical data.