Broker Summary Reviews

Updated Sunday, October 2, 2011

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On this website you will find many popular brokers reviewed in detail in various categories such as stock trading, options trading, charts, research tools and commissions and fees.  This page offers an overall breakdown of the services offered by each broker and our thoughts in general.  Links throughout this page will send you to additional pages on this site which will provide more detailed information on a specific broker or review category.

Platform Comparison:

These days, most brokers have expanded beyond just offering trading on their websites and now include advanced desktop or java based applications, mobile websites and apps built specifically for popular mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry platforms.  Here is a breakdown of which platforms are offered by each broker.  Click on each broker name to view the comprehensive review page for that broker:


Advanced Platform(s)Mobile WebsiteiPhone AppiPad AppAndroid AppBlackBerry App
Interactive BrokersYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Merrill EdgeYesNoNoYesYesNoNo
TD AmeritradeYesYesYesYesYesYesNo
Wells Fargo AdvisorsYesNoNoNoNoNoNo

Comparison Review Matrix:

Below is a quick comparison review matrix for each of the major review categories.  Click on each broker name to view the comprehensive review page for that broker or on each of the grades per category to read those specific reviews:


Stock Trading

Options Trading

Interactive BrokersABBDBCB
Merrill EdgeDCCABBN/A
TD AmeritradeDCBACBC
Wells Fargo AdvisorsCN/ADBN/AN/AN/A

Summary Reviews:


E*TRADE offers excellent charts and research tools, a good stock trading engine and is very good in most other aspects. The web based options trading engine is adequate only for basic order types but Power E*TRADE Pro does offer a better selection of advanced orders.  Be aware of the $40 quarterly account maintenance fee for the minority of investors that may not qualify - see more details on the commissions and fees page. E*TRADE offers very competitive margin rates and an excellent Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP).  The E*TRADE Mobile Pro iPhone and Android apps are good mobile trading platforms while the iPad app is slightly less impressive.  Active traders will appreciate Power E*TRADE Pro thanks to its improved features across the board.

Go to the main E*TRADE page...


eOption plays the role of discount broker well.  The trading platform is not high tech but it is easy to use and gets the job done.  As one would expect from the name, options trading in particular is well done.  Commissions and fees are some of the best in the industry.  Other nice features include excellent margin rates and a good dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP).  Drawbacks include an outdated account opening process and terrible charts.  There are also no mobile trading solutions.  Despite these limitations, those looking for a simple web based trading platform for a good value deserve to give eOption a look.

Go to the main eOption page...


The Fidelity web based stock and options trading platforms are below average. The desktop application, which is available to customers making 36 or more trades per year, offers an improved trading experience but it is still not in the elite category. The charts are much improved with the latest reboot and the research tools are the best in the industry.  The iPhone, iPad and Android apps have some nice features but there are a number of issues with executing stock and options trades that prevent them from being among the best mobile trading platforms.  Commissions and fees have recently been reduced and are now quite competitive. In addition, Fidelity also offers a good selection of commission free ETFs. Margin rates are excessive except for those lucky few with $500,000+ loan balances.  In the end, the commission free ETFs are enough to recommend the service alone but for other trading purposes there are better brokers out there.

Go to the main Fidelity page...


Firstrade starts off on the wrong foot with a paper heavy registration process and limited account funding options.  Following a redesign of the entire platform in early 2011, the overall user experience is much improved.  Stock trading in particular is now very good and so we recommend it for all investors.  The options trading platform is improved as well but has an excessive exercise / assignment fee and is still missing a few advanced features.  Therefore, we recommend Firstrade only for those who utilize simple options trading strategies.  In other areas, the research tools are extensive, the charts are merely average and the commissions and fees are mostly respectable.  The iPhone App has improved from its initial release and now offers a quality mobile trading experience.  Firstrade offers commission free ETF trading on 10 popular funds.

Go to the main Firstrade page...

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Interactive Brokers

The desktop application offers a very powerful stock and options trading engine and advanced charting features that, like thinkorswim, are geared for advanced traders. The web based trading platform is a paired down version of the desktop application but is quite good in its own right.  Besides the nice trading platform, however, the web based platform offers very little of interest. By far the worst aspect of the service is the meager research tools. Commissions and fees in general are quite good, though there is a minimum $10 of commissions applied per month so it is only a good deal for active traders.  There is a quarterly fee for IRA accounts so we do not recommend the service for retirement account holders.  There are also various fees for subscribing to real time market data but thankfully delayed market data is included without charge. Margin rates are the absolute best of any reviewed broker.  The iPhone, iPad and Android apps are all solid mobile trading platforms.

One other aspect of the service worth mentioning is that new users will receive a pass code card in the mail after registration.  The pass code card is the size of a credit card and consists of an ordered list of codes that must be entered each time users log in to Interactive Brokers.  This may appeal to security conscious traders but for us, this can be an unnecessary hassle.  It is up to each individual to decide if this added security is worth the hassle.

Go to the main Interactive Brokers page...


On the upside, Just2Trade features a good stock trading platform and a quality selection of research tools.    Just2Trade also offers a full extended hours trading program and one of the better Dividend Reinvestment Plans (DRIPs).  On the downside, the account opening process could use improvement while options trading and charts are poor.  Watch out for the annual fee for IRAs (applies for those with account values less than $25,000).  With ultra-low stock trading commissions, those looking for a deep discount stock trading platform should be happy with Just2Trade.

Go to the main Just2Trade page...

Merrill Edge

The highlight of the Merrill Edge platform is its fantastic research tools and high quality iPhone and iPad apps.  Besides that, the stock trading experience is disappointing and the charts are merely average.  Options trading is satisfactory but for basic options orders only.  Commissions and fees are now satisfactory thanks to the recent elimination of a quarterly fee.  Margin rates are high and the DRIP program is not very user friendly.  Merrill Edge makes our recommended list for basic options trading and for iPhone and iPad owners.

Go to the main Merrill Edge page...


OptionsHouse offers a competitive service in almost all areas.  The stock and options trading platform gets the job done for both beginner and advanced traders.  The research tools are hit and miss but there are some interesting tools designed especially for options traders.  Commissions and fees are some of the lowest around and the margin rates are highly competitive.  The iPhone App offers perhaps the best mobile trading experience amongst all brokers.  OptionsHouse is an excellent choice for all types of investors.

Go to the main OptionsHouse page...

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OptionsXpress is an excellent all around service.  Both the stock and options trading platforms are well designed.  The Xtend desktop application also offers a good trading experience.  The account opening process, charts and research tools are among the best in the industry.  There is even top flight iPhone and Android apps and an excellent Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP).  So what's not to like?  The commissions are a killer.  Stock commissions, at $9.95, are steep but at least somewhat competitive.  Options commissions are a minimum $14.95 for most customers which is just too much to pay for the typical investor.  If optionsXpress would reduce their trading commissions then we would move the service to near the top of our list.  With the current pricing scheme, we give a lukewarm recommendation of the service for stock traders only.

Go to the main optionsXpress page...

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Schwab offers good research tools, quality charts and acceptable commissions and fees.  The standard web based trading platform is average for both stocks and options. Active traders can step up to StreetSmart Edge, which offers an enhanced stock and options trading platform, a top charting tool and a few additional research tools.  Schwab loses points for a mediocre registration process and excessive margin rates but offsets this by offering an excellent Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) commission free ETF trading via Schwab branded funds.  The iPhone and Android apps both offer quality mobile trading experiences.  We recommend Schwab to investors of all types except those that heavily utilize margin.

Go to the main Schwab page...


Scottrade has a good standard web based stock trading platform.  The Scottrader stock trading platform is even better and ideally suited for high frequency traders.  The options trading engine needs a lot of improvement (sadly, the Scottrader version is not much better) and coupled with excessive commission and fees for options traders, we do not recommend the service for options trading.  Besides that, the charts and research tools are high in quality.  Margin rates are merely average.  Scottrade offers commission free ETF trading on company owned funds. Investors that stick to stock trading should be happy making Scottrade their broker of choice.

Go to the main Scottrade page...

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The ShareBuilder stock and options trading platforms have improved greatly after recent website upgrades but are still only average in quality. Stock trading commissions are acceptable while options traidng commissions are excessive. Charts and research tools have dramatically improved with the website redesign.  The iPhone and Android apps have also improved with recent releases but they are still lacking in certain areas, such as not having options trading.  ShareBuilder has made big improvements over the past few years but still misses our recommended list.

Go to the main ShareBuilder page...


SogoTrade has some very good qualities. The registration process is quick and easy. The stock trading engine is one of the better offerings out there. Having steadily improved since it was first introduced in 2010, the options trading platform is perhaps the best among the web based platforms.  Commissions and fees are among the lowest of any broker. At the same time, the charts and research tools are underwhelming.  SogoTrade does not accept mutual fund trades or retirement accounts such as IRAs so those looking for these features need to look elsewhere. Traders of all types deserve to give SogoTrade a look.

Go to the main SogoTrade page...

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade does many things right.  The research tools are top notch and the selection of commission free ETFs is impressive.  The standard web based stock and options trading platforms are underwhelming but the newly released Trade Architect platform (free for all customers) offers a better experience on both counts. Margin rates are among the worst of all brokers at all balance levels. The TD Ameritrade iPhone, iPad and Android apps lack certain features but both handle trading well.  We do not comprehensively review broker customer service but we have received nothing but horror stories from visitors of this site who were unsatisfied TD Ameritrade customers. When a broker treats customers with such contempt, we have a hard time putting them on a recommended list.  TD Ameritrade does not make the cut.

Go to the main TD Ameritrade page...


On June 11, 2009, thinkorswim was acquired by TD Ameritrade.  Because of this, as of July 27, 2011, all new accounts must be opened through TD Ameritrade.  Existing thinkorswim accounts will soon be transferred from clearing firm Penson Financial Services to TD Ameritrade Clearing, Inc.  Existing customers can still trade on the thinkorswim desktop platform for the time being but web and mobile trading must be done on TD Ameritrade platforms.  For the purposes of this site, please read our TD Ameritrade reviews as we will no longer be covering thinkorswim.

Go to the main TD Ameritrade page...


TradeKing has excellent commissions and fees.  Beyond the low costs, TradeKing features good stock and options trading engines, quality charts, competitive research tools and good margin rates.  The iPhone App is a great resource for traders on the go.  The only major drawback is the registration process needs some improvement. Still, TradeKing is highly recommended.

Go to the main TradeKing page...

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Vanguard has a poor trading engine, terrible research tools, the worst charts we have ever seen and severely lacking iPhone and iPad apps. Combine this with excessive commissions and fees in all areas and you are left without a compelling reason to choose this broker. The lone bright spot is an impressive selection of Vanguard branded commission free ETFs.  Even with this feature, investors of all stripes should steer clear of Vanguard.

Go to the main Vanguard page...

Wells Fargo Advisors

The Wells Fargo Advisors registration process and charts are terrible while the stock trading engine is merely average. The research tools are decent but not quite among the best. Those trading under the standard fee structure will find that Wells Fargo Advisors is far too expensive compared to the competition. Those with PMA accounts receive much better value (see commissions and fees for more information).  Even with a PMA account, options trading fees are too high for us to recommend Wells Fargo Advisors for options traders.  Overall, Wells Fargo Advisors falls short of our recommended list.

Go to the main Wells Fargo Advisors page...


Despite the fact that Zecco is raising its stock and options trading commissions effective March 30, 2011 and are no longer offering free trades, Zecco's commissions and fees are still very competitive.  One catch is that IRA accounts must pay a $30 yearly account fee.  This disqualifies Zecco as a recommended broker for IRA accounts.  Moving beyond the fees, Zecco has a good registration process and high quality stock trading engine. The options trading engine is adequate for basic order types but those who utilize complex option trading strategies should look elsewhere. Research tools are extremely extensive and feature some very useful tools.  The iPhone app is well designed but currently does not offer either stock or options trading.  Zap Trade is an innovative Firefox plugin that makes trading directly from stock market research websites quick and easy.  Zecco has been steadily improving their service over the years and have gone from being a good discount broker to being a good broker period.

Go to the main Zecco page...

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