Futures, foreign currency and options trading contains substantial risk and is not for every investor. An investor could potentially lose all or more than the initial investment. Risk capital is money that can be lost without jeopardizing one’s financial security or lifestyle. Only risk capital should be used for trading and only those with sufficient risk capital should consider trading. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. View Full Risk Disclosure.
The biggest obstacle to stock market profits is an inability to control one’s emotions and make logical decisions. In the short-term, the prices of companies reflect the combined emotions of the entire investment community. When a majority of investors are worried about a company, its stock price is likely to decline; when a majority feel positive about the company’s future, its stock price tends to rise.
We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Commission prices are the key advantage of online discount brokers. Consider that a popular full-service brokerage firm charges a minimum of $50 just to buy or sell stock. The commission is variable, so the larger the order, the larger the commission. To buy or sell $10,000 of stock, a client would pay $80. On a $25,000 order, the commission surges to $205 -- and commissions for funds can be even higher.

If investing in single stocks may be too risky for you, consider investing in good growth stock mutual funds. Mutual funds are a simple, even boring, investment plan, yet they work well for most people. Of course, all investing requires a degree of risk; there really is no sure thing. But mutual funds are a great balance of reasonable risk and excellent returns. They have built-in diversification that will keep you from putting all your eggs in one basket.
There are two types of trading platforms: prop platforms and commercial platforms. As their name indicates, commercial platforms are targeted at day traders and retail investors. They are characterized by ease-of-use and an assortment of helpful features, such as news feeds and charts, for investor education and research. Prop platforms, on the other hand, are customized platforms developed by large brokerages to suit their specific requirements and trading style.
Funding a IRA, Roth IRA, or other retirement account with no annual fees is an extra perk many online brokers offer. There is no reason why you should pay an annual fee to have an retirement account. If managing your own portfolio is not of interest, all full-service brokers offer optional advisory services as well. Furthermore, robo-advisors are growing in popularity. Once again, the experience at larger established brokers is going to be superior to smaller brokers.
Many online brokerages do not limit their customers to just online stock trading. Full-service brokerages offer banking services including checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and more with deposits of up to $250,000 backed by the FDIC. Bank of America (Merrill Edge) and Chase (Chase You Invest Trade) are two examples of banks that also offer online trading.

A trading platform is software used for trading: opening, closing, and managing market positions through a financial intermediary such as an online broker. Online trading platforms are frequently offered by brokers either for free or at a discount rate in exchange for maintaining a funded account and/or making a specified number of trades per month. The best trading platforms offer a mix of robust features and low fees.
Full-service brokerages: This label is given to traditional brokerage firms, primarily those that operate out of brick-and-mortar offices. Their main selling point is service, meaning that they offer more than just the ability to place a trade. A full-service brokerage firm might offer retirement planning help, tax tips, and guidance on which investments to buy or sell. Full-service brokers offer more hand-holding, and will probably even mail you a "happy holidays" card in December, but this service comes with a luxury price tag.
How user-friendly is their platform? – The trading platform provided by the broker needs to work for you. Most brokers offer several to choose from, some will tick the boxes for the average day trader, others will offer more advanced platforms for the veteran trader. Likewise, does it suit your hardware – is the platform compatible on Mac, PC, Linux, or whatever you use?
ECN/Level 2 quotes: ECNs, or electronic communication networks, are computer-based systems that display the best available bid and ask quotes from multiple market participants and then automatically match and execute orders. Level 2 is a subscription-based service that provides real-time access to the Nasdaq order book composed of price quotes from market makers registering every Nasdaq-listed and OTC Bulletin Board security. Together, they can give you a sense of orders being executed in real time.

If you are literally just getting started, the services offered by most major stockbrokers (information here) as a part of their trading account services will be a good place to start (and free). Firms such as Trade King, eTrade, Charles Schwab and Ameritrade provide a range of online tools. These will give you a feel for how portfolio management software works without having to pay extra to learn. However, these services typically offer no advice (known as execution only), which means that a separate service will be required for information analysis.

Interactive Brokers (IBKR) earns this award due to its wealth of tools for sophisticated investors and its wide pool of assets and markets. The firm makes a point of connecting to as many electronic exchanges as possible. You can trade equities, options, and futures around the world and around the clock. Interactive Brokers’ order execution engine stays on top of changes in market conditions to re-route all or parts of your order to achieve optimal execution, attain price improvement, and maximize any possible rebate. The order routing algorithms seek out a speedy execution and can access hidden institutional order flows (dark pools) to execute large block orders. The wide array of order types include a variety of algorithms as well as conditional orders such as one-cancels-another and one-triggers-another. You can also set up conditional orders based on price, volume, daily P&L, margin cushion, number of shortable shares available, rebate available from the trading venue, and other factors.
The best way to practice: With a stock market simulator or paper-trading account. Many brokers offer these virtual trading platforms, and they essentially allow you to play the stock market with Monopoly money. Not only do you get to familiarize yourself with trading platforms and how they work, but you also get to test various trading strategies without losing real money. The link above has a list of brokers that offer these play platforms.
×