Stock trading platforms

Comparison of the best online stock trading platforms available in the US.

By   |   Verified by Andrew Boyd   |   Updated 13th May 2021

Comparing stock trading platforms

eToro

eToro

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Shares, FOREX, Cryptocurrencies, Commodities, ETFs

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • Trade and invest in top financial instruments, including a wide selection of stocks.
  • eToro is regulated by CySec, FCA, ASIC and FSAS.
  • Your funds are protected by industry-leading security protocols.
TradeStation

TradeStation

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Shares, ETFs, Options, Futures, Cryptocurrency, Mutual Funds, Bonds

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • Commission-Free and Innovative Pricing Plans.
  • TradeStation's platforms and tools are embedded with many years of historical market data – use these to test, optimize and execute your trading strategies.
  • Getting in touch with TradeStation’s highly trained staff is fast and easy, whether by phone, email, live chat, chatbot, or their online Client Center.
SoFi Invest

SoFi Invest

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Shares, ETFs, Cryptocurrency

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • Get started with as little as $1 and trade stocks and ETFs with no commissions.
  • Do it yourself by choosing stocks, ETFs, and crypto, or let SoFi build a portfolio for you with automated investing.
  • SoFi makes it easy to spread your money out across stocks, ETFs, crypto, and Stock Bit.
Robinhood

Robinhood

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Stocks & Funds, Options, Cash Management, Cryptocurrency

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

Sign up and get your first stock for free

Highlights

  • No account minimums or commissions.
  • With a dedicated team of customer support professionals that are available to answer your questions.
  • Robinhood Financial and Robinhood Securities are members of SIPC, which protects securities customers of its members up to $500,000
Webull

Webull

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Stocks, Options, ETFs, ADRs

Tradable Indices

Top 15 exchanges around the world - US, CA, HK and more.

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • $0 commissions and no deposit minimums.
  • Webull supports full extended hours trading, which includes full pre-market (4:00 AM - 9:30 AM ET) and after hours (4:00 PM - 8:00 PM ET) sessions.
  • Provides intuitive and powerful advanced charts, multiple technical indicators, and premier Level 2 Advance (Nasdaq TotalView).
Public

Public

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Shares, ETFs

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • Buy any stock with any amount of money, commission-free. No matter the share price, you can own slices of stock with as little as $5.
  • Invest in popular ETFs from Vanguard, BlackRock and others by the slice, and do it without commission fees..
  • Investments made in Public are insured for up to $500,000.
E*TRADE

E*TRADE

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Shares, Options, Futures, Mutual Funds, ETFs, Bonds & CDs

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • $0 commission trades for online US-listed stocks, ETFs, and options.
  • Build your portfolio with stocks, options, mutual funds, ETFs, and more.
  • With helpful insights and support, you’re never on your own.
Ameritrade

Ameritrade

Brokerage Fee

$0.00

Tradable Assets

Stocks, Options, ETFs, Mutual Funds, Futures, FOREX, Cryptocurrencies, Bond & Fixed Income

Tradable Indices

NYSE, Nasdaq

Signup Bonus

N/A

Highlights

  • With TD Ameritrade, not only can you trade commission-free online, but you get access to all our platforms and products with no deposit minimums, trading minimums, or hidden fees.
  • Powerful, intuitive platforms for every kind of investor.
  • Get access to stocks, bonds & CDs, options, non-proprietary mutual funds, futures, forex, commission-free ETFs, and more.

Overview

Shares of a stock represent ownership units in a specific company. A share entitles the holder to one vote and a claim on the profits of that company. Companies issue shares of stock in order to generate money, known as capital, to grow or operate their business. As owners of the company, shareholders may get distributions of the company’s profits, known as dividends.

Typically, ownership of a company is distributed among multiple shareholders. When first made available to the public, shares or ownership units are sold in an IPO or initial public offering. After the IPO, the shares may be bought and sold on an exchange.

How are shares purchased or sold?

The shares of large companies trade on large, public stock exchanges, such as the NY Stock Exchange (NYSE) or NASDAQ market which trade millions of shares daily. Trading occurs electronically, with buyers and sellers submitting the price at which they would buy and sell. When there is a price match, a transaction occurs.

Smaller companies with lower market capitalization do not trade on an exchange. Rather, they trade over-the-counter, also known as the OTC market, which is a network of brokers and dealers that are willing to transact on their own or a clients behalf. OTC markets are generally less liquid than public exchanges, with relatively lower daily share volume.

What is a broker?

A broker is a firm that acts as a middleman between an investor and an exchange. Brokers facilitate the trading of shares by executing on behalf of their clients. When you open a brokerage account with a company, that company will buy or sell shares based on your instructions and hold them on your behalf.

Why are shares bought?

Generally, when someone invests in a company, they are making a bet on the long-term growth in the company’s profits, and therefore its share price. When shareholders are able to sell their shares for a higher price than which they bought it, they generate a positive return. Shareholders may also buy stocks for the dividend income they receive, although dividends are a small fraction of a share price.

In some cases, investors buy shares because they believe there will be news or an event which will cause the stock price to rise over a short period of time. This is generally considered trading rather than investing.

Why are shares sold?

Shareholders may sell shares they own if they believe the company will no longer be as profitable or if they have specific concerns about the company’s ability to generate a profit due to market changes or specific events.

What is a portfolio?

A portfolio is a basket of shares in different stocks. Portfolios are one way to diversify your risk, meaning you do not have to rely on any one company to be successful in order to generate a profit. If you have shares of three different companies, and prices of two of them are rising and one is falling, your account will be less volatile and you will not have to rely on any one company to do well in order to generate a positive return.

What is day trading?

Daytrading is a short-term strategy that entails the buying and selling of shares to generate profits based on small movements in price. This can be risky as daytraders need to transact quickly and often in order to generate profits, which can incur significant transaction charges and leave them at risk of market movement so that they lose money.

What is passive investing?

It is difficult to time your trades in order to “beat the market”. Passive investing is a strategy in which investors purchase a diversified mix of stocks or funds based on their risk tolerance in order to generate the same returns as the market. Some brokerages offer robo-advisory services which use passive investing. After understanding your investor preferences and risk tolerance, your portfolio is automatically invested in a basket of ETFs or stocks according to your goals. This is a good option for novice investors who are unfamiliar with the market.

What to look for in an online trading platform

Online trading platforms are companies that, through their website or an app, allow investors to trade stocks and other assets.

The key things that you should look for in a trading platform are:

Tradable assets. There are a wide variety of assets that you can invest in, including stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, options, bonds, and cryptocurrencies, each with its own set of risks and benefits. What assets does the platform allow you to trade? Some platforms only allow for trading of stocks, while others offer a larger array of tradable assets. Check for geographic limits as well. If you want to trade international stocks, not all platforms will allow you to do so. The trading platform should have the ability to trade assets that you are interested in.

Fees. Trading platforms charge fees for each trade, with a flat fee typically ranging from $0 to $10. In some cases, there may be a per share fee, with a price charged for each share, usually up to a maximum amount. Exchanges may also charge additional fees which will then be passed on to you. There are other fees that may be incurred for inactivity, withdrawals, or going below an account minimum. Fees must always be disclosed by the broker so familarize yourself with the fee pricing before you sign up.

Minimum account balance. Although most trading platforms try to make it easy for anyone to open an account, some will have a required minimum balance in order to begin trading. There many be further penalties if at any time the value if your account goes below this amount.

Market data. All platforms will provide access to market pricing data, so you can check the price of stocks you;re interested in. In some cases, the data may be delayed by up to 15 minutes, so you may not have the actual current price, making it difficult to transact and know how the market is moving. Knowing if the pricing information is accurate to the minute or delayed by a few minutes is important when markets are volatile or when you want to trade quickly.

Margin trading. Margin is the ability to use borrowed money to buy shares. Some companies will allow you to use 2:1 margin, which means you can borrow the same amount you have on hand in order to buy shares. As an example if you have $1,000 in your account you can borrow another $1,000 from the brokerage and buy $2,000 worth of stock. Margin is risky, because if the value of your stock declines, your brokerage may require you to cover the decrease by making a margin call. As an example, if your initial $2,000 stock value decreases to $1,800 due to a price decline, the brokerage may issue a margin call for the $200 difference.

Research. Many brokers offer detailed research about different companies. This can come from their own analysts or from other, established companies. This research can be used to help understand the company you want to invest in and its outlook so you can decide whether it’s a viable investment for you.

Learn about stock trading

Helpful tips to help get you started with stock trading.

  • Tips

  • Guides

Diversify your risk

A diversified portfolio will help you spread out your risk so your account value is not tied to any one company’s fortune or downfall. Buying a variety of shares across multiple sectors, a market index, or other basket of stocks, will reduce the volatility of your portfolio. Other ways to diversify include buying ETFs and REITs.

Find the broker best for you

You’ll need an online broker or trading platform to serve as your intermediary. Do your research before opening an account to find one that suits your requirements and budget. If you are new to trading, then something like eToro — where you can follow experienced traders — could be a good fit.

Practice your strategy

Knowing how the stock market works takes patience, research, and practice. If your trading platform provides access to a practice portfolio, use it as a way to learn the ropes without putting any money down. Or you can start with small trades of highly liquid stocks, but be mindful of transaction fees as those can add up.

Set your investment goals and risk appetite

Decide what your investment goals are such as long-term growth, short-term trading profits, or dividend income and your risk appetite, which is the amount you are prepared to lose. This information will help you choose what companies to invest in, for what amount, and how long you want to hold these shares.

Study the assets you want to trade

Before you start trading a number of different assets, it’s best to study those assets you want to trade so you know the inherent risks and outcomes. For instance, stocks tend to be much riskier than bonds but stocks also have a better long-term return to compensate you for that additional risk.

Understand the market

Familiarize yourself with the details of the stock market and how share trading works. Conduct thorough research on the company as well as the broader economy and stock market news before placing a trade. Don’t just rely on your gut instinct.