Matt is a Certified Financial Planner® and investment advisor based in Columbia, South Carolina. He writes personal finance and investment advice for The Ascent and its parent company The Motley Fool, with more than 4,500 published articles and a 2017 SABEW Best in Business award. Matt writes a weekly investment column ("Ask a Fool") that is syndicated in USA Today, and his work has been regularly featured on CNBC, Fox Business, MSN Money, and many other major outlets. He’s a graduate of the University of South Carolina and Nova Southeastern University, and holds a graduate certificate in financial planning from Florida State University.
One constant principle of investing is that markets fluctuate. Stock prices will rise and fall for a number of reasons: the economy, investor sentiment, political uncertainty at home or abroad, energy or weather problems, or even corporate scandals. This means market performance isn’t always predictable. That is why diversification, or spreading the investments in your portfolio among different asset classes and across different sectors within each class, is such an important strategy. Diversification is a time-tested way to manage risk.
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 the software that enables investors and traders to place trades and monitor accounts through financial intermediaries. Oftentimes, trading platforms will come bundled with other features, such as real-time quotes, charting tools, news feeds, and even premium research. Platforms may also be specifically tailored to specific markets, such as stocks, currencies, options, or futures markets.
Schwab is a full-service investment firm which offers services and technology to everyone from self-directed active traders to people who want the guidance of a financial advisor. It has a wide variety of platforms from which to choose, as well as full banking capabilities. It is, however, Schwab’s ETF screener on the StreetSmart Edge platform that will capture the attention of ETF investors. The StreetSmart Edge ETF screener has over 150 criteria that can combine fundamental, technical, and third party data. The ETF screener is extremely customizable and your criteria combinations can be saved for future re-use. Schwab’s news and research offerings overall were also among the deepest of all the brokerages we reviewed, sealing up this category for the industry giant.
When you are choosing an online stock broker you have to think about your immediate needs as an investor. Are you a beginner? Maybe you need a broker that has great educational material about the stock market. Do you only have a small amount of money you can put aside to invest? Some online brokers allow for small minimum deposits which can be a great option for those with limited funds. Are you always on the go and in need of a robust mobile platform? Some online brokers have incredible mobile apps delivering nearly all the features that their desktop counterparts do.
To make comparisons between companies, sectors and markets a little easier, there are a number of mathematical models used. The most common and often the most helpful is the P/E ratio. The Price to Earnings ratio takes the share price and is divided by the earnings per share. It is possible to calculate this using past earnings, projected future earnings and with all sorts of moving averages ;-) Therefore, this is one number that it is vital for any investor to know and understand.
This brokerage is not good for passive investors with few trades per year or a large balance. The account requires a hefty $100,000 minimum balance or $10 in commissions per month to avoid an activity fee. The activity fee is the difference between your trading commissions and $10 per month to total a $10 minimum monthly charge. The account charges a higher $20 minimum if you don’t keep at least $2,000 in equities in the account.

While most online brokers do not offer international trading, some do. Nearly every broker supports trading American depositary receipts (ADRs), which offers US investors an easy, simple way to invest in foreign companies. However, if you want to buy physical shares of an international company, then you need to do your research. Interactive Brokers is the leader in this space but is built for professionals. For casual investing, both Fidelity and Charles Schwab offer international stock trading.
With the large library of educational and research content, you can enter the high-speed options trading world with your eyes wide open to the risks and opportunities. That said, the competitive costs and quality trading platforms make it a worthy consideration for even the most experienced traders. Accounts require a $1,000 minimum to access options trading.
When deciding between trading platforms, traders and investors should consider both the fees involved and features available. Day traders and other short-term traders may require features like Level 2 quotes and market maker depth charts to assist in decision-making, while options traders may need tools that are specifically designed to visualize options strategies.
We used a five-star-based rating system to rate companies in the discount stock brokers list above. The best brokerage firms would get the highest, five-star rating. In 2020 not a single firm got five stars, however six brokers were rated at four and half stars. Any brokerage house with two- or one-star rating should be avoided. Three-star rated firm is perfectly fine, but there are, probably, better options for investors to consider. All companies with three and half stars and higher are recommended for at least one category of investors.
If you are an active trader who prefers making frequent, small trades, Interactive Brokers may be the best fit. There is no pre-trade fee and options commissions are $0.70 cents per contract. High volume traders can qualify for lower pricing down to $0.15 cents per contract with 100,000+ contracts per month. This brokerage also offers pricing that is attractive to active stock and ETF traders. Different pricing applies to non-US options.
To trade stocks online successfully, some stock traders rely purely on their trading tools. Trading platforms come in one of three forms: desktop, web (browser), or mobile. Advanced charting, scanning, hotkeys, virtual trading, watch lists, ladder trading, Level II quotes, and backtesting are just a sampling of the features some brokers offer. To compare trading platform features, use the online brokerage comparison tool.
An essential beginners tip is to practice with a demo account first. They are usually funded with simulated money and they’ll offer you a safe space to make mistakes and develop your strategies. They are also a fantastic place to get familiar with platforms, market conditions, and technical analysis. They’re free and easy to use. What have you got to lose?
NinjaTrader Group, LLC Affiliates: NinjaTrader, LLC is a software development company which owns and supports all proprietary technology relating to and including the NinjaTrader trading platform. NinjaTrader Brokerage™ is an NFA registered introducing broker (NFA #0339976) providing brokerage services to traders of futures and foreign exchange products.

Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
Control greed – Greed often influences traders in the following way; you enter a trade at $80 with a target of $95, but then it hits $95 and you think ‘I’ll just hold on a bit longer and increase profits further’. This only ends with you eventually losing big. The solution; stick rigidly to your strategy. Think long term and don’t deviate from your strategy, there’s simply no need to gamble.

If there are any lessons to be learned from the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, the 2008 stock market crash (information here) and Wall Street bailout that followed - and there are lots of lessons - it is that borrowed money can be very dangerous in investments, even when it is being handled professionally. The failure of LTCM, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock and many others shows just how precarious a business model can be with too much gearing.
Stock trading is a strategy employed to make quick gains, so it’s unlike other investments, which focuses on long-term earnings. Trading infers more frequent activity than investing and when there is a dip in share prices, you should be ready to move, so you need a financial partner to rely on. Scalp traders and day traders operate on a temporary basis, while swing traders could invest for weeks at a time. That is why you must have the best online stock trading site to provide not just the features you need, but also the accessibility, mobility, and customer support necessary to boost your short-term holdings.
NerdWallet’s ratings for brokers and robo-advisors are weighted averages of several categories, including investment selection, customer support, account fees, account minimum, trading costs and more. Our survey of brokers and robo-advisors includes the largest U.S. providers by assets under management, plus notable and/or emerging players in the industry. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include advisory fees, branch access, user-facing technology, customer service and mobile features. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.
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