Featured Robo Advisors

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Best Overall

Fidelity is one of the largest financial services companies in the world.

Visit Fidelity.com

Best for Index Funds

Vanguard’s program allows consultancy for the low fee of 0.30% for portfolios under $5 million.

Visit Vanguard.com

Best for low fee advisory services

Charles Schwab offers a full range of brokerage, banking and financial advisory services.

Visit Schwab.com

Best Trading Platform

Tradestation’s desktop platform offers nearly unlimited customization, including real-time streaming watch lists, custom screening, as well as the ability to test out trade strategies in advance with the Walk-Forward Optimizer.

Visit Tradestation.com

Best for Beginners

SoFi Active Investing is a simple-to-use trading platform that aims to help new traders start trading stocks, ETFs, and even cryptocurrencies. SoFi lowers the barrier to entry by requiring no account minimums, sharing no commissions on stock and ETF trading, and allowing investors to purchase fractional shares of stocks and ETFs, allowing users to start trading with very little money.

Visit SoFi.com

What Should You Look for In An Online Broker?

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of criteria to look for when choosing an online broker. Evaluate these to find a broker that best fits your investing goals.

Best Online Brokers for Beginners

Best Overall: Fidelity

Fidelity is a user-friendly broker that offers excellent investment funds at a low cost, as well as an industry-best user education and financial planning platform. It is currently the largest brokerage firm in the U.S. with over $10 trillion in assets under management. Fidelity offers complete management of your investments through its mobile app, and no account minimums on investment accounts.

Fidelity offers access to several zero-fee index funds, as well as over 3,000 mutual funds across most market sectors. It is also famous for its high-quality customer service, which offers access to agents over the phone or online via chat.

Fidelity also offers a robo-advisory service with no advisory fees for balances under $10,000, making it perfect for beginners. And Fidelity’s Personalized Planning & Advice service offers access to Certified Financial PlannerTM professionals, with fees as low as 0.50%.

Fidelity is our top pick overall, offering extremely low-fee investments, a wide range of user education tools, and a top-notch user experience for both desktop and mobile users.


  • Easy-to-use mobile app

  • No-fee funds available

  • Low-cost advisory services

  • Fantastic customer service

  • Access to thousands of investment choices

  • Fractional share investing


  • Lack of forex and future trading options

Learn More at Fidelity.com


Best for Index Funds: Vanguard

Vanguard is one of the largest brokers in the U.S., with over $7 trillion in assets under management from over 30 million individual investors. Vanguard built its reputation as an investor-owned management firm that created and pioneered the index mutual fund, while charging far less in fees than most competitors. 

Vanguard is now more accessible than ever, with a full suite of online tools to help investors open almost any type of investment account, including retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, 529 accounts, and even employer-sponsored investment accounts (401k, etc.). 

Vanguard also offers a simple-to-use mobile app for account management, including buying securities and tracking your account growth.

Vanguard offers access to a plethora of high-quality mutual funds and ETFs, including broad-based stock and bond market index funds for instant diversification. It also offers very low cost robo-advisory and wealth management services. As one of the most trusted online brokers in the U.S., Vanguard is our top choice for index fund investing.


  • Very low fees

  • Top-rated customer service

  • Access to hundreds of index and mutual funds

  • Shareholder-owned company


  • Mobile app does not have all features of website

  • No fractional share purchases

Learn More at Vanguard.com


Best for Low Fee Advisory Services: Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab (known simply as “Schwab”) is one of the largest brokers in the U.S, rivaling Vanguard with over $6 trillion in assets under management and over 30 million customers. Schwab is also acquiring TD Ameritrade, one of our favorite online brokers as well, giving it access to more advanced trading tools and high-quality user education materials.

Schwab offers its robo-advisory service, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, for free. This gives users access to an algorithmically designed investment portfolio designed by professional investors, for a more hands-off approach to investing. And for an additional $30 per month (and a $300 one-time fee), investors with $25,000 or more gain unlimited access to a Certified Financial PlannerTM. This makes Schwab one of the lowest-cost advisors available online.


  • Free robo-advisory services

  • Low-cost hybrid advisory service with access to CFP© professionals

  • Many low-cost ETFs and mutual funds available

  • 24/7 live chat customer service available


  • Advisory plans may keep a higher portion of cash than other competitors

  • Private advisor service requires $1 million minimum

Learn More at Schwab.com


Best Trading Platform: TradeStation

TradeStation is our top pick for advanced traders who want access to a robust trading platform for options and futures trading. 

TradeStation's desktop platform offers nearly unlimited customization, including real-time streaming watch lists, custom screening, as well as the ability to test out trade strategies in advance with the Walk-Forward Optimizer. Tradestation even brings advanced trading seamlessly to its mobile app, including advanced charting and options and futures trading capabilities.

TradeStation offers very low-cost trading as well, including $0 ETF and stock trades, and $0.50 option contracts. This is great news for traders that may move in and out of positions quickly, keeping the fees to a minimum while actively trading. 

Overall, TradeStation offers the best trading technology, with a competitive pricing structure aimed at keeping trade costs low. With the ability to trade options, futures, penny stocks, and even cryptocurrencies, TradeStation is the gold standard for advanced traders.


  • $0 stock and ETF trading

  • Low-cost options, futures, and cryptocurrency trading

  • Hundreds of advanced charting and scanning tools, nearly unlimited customization

  • Fantastic mobile app to make advanced trades on the go


  • Steep learning curve for new investors

  • Mutual fund trading not available online

Learn More at TradeStation.com


Best for Beginner Trading: SoFi Active Investing

SoFi Active Investing is a simple-to-use trading platform that aims to help new traders start trading stocks, ETFs, and even cryptocurrencies. SoFi lowers the barrier to entry by requiring no account minimums, sharing no commissions on stock and ETF trading, and allowing investors to purchase fractional shares of stocks and ETFs, allowing users to start trading with very little money.

SoFi Active Investing customers also get access to licensed financial advisors and career counselors at no additional cost. This feature is unique in the industry and allows newer investors to meet with a professional to develop a long-term investing and career plan. 

Note: Financial advisors cannot advise on specific trades, but follow a more traditional financial planning path, offering long-term investing and retirement planning advice.

SoFi Active Investing does not offer some of the more advanced investing features, such as options trading or margin loans, nor does it offer standard mutual funds. Its trading tools are designed for simplicity, which means advanced charting and screening tools are not available. 

Overall, SoFi is designed to help younger investors start investing and trading, and it does a fantastic job streamlining that process.


  • Fractional share trading available

  • No-fee stock and ETF trading

  • No account minimums

  • Unlimited access to financial counseling services, including career counseling


  • $75 outgoing transfer fee

  • Limited selection of tradable securities

Learn More at Sofi.com

What Are Online Brokers?

Online brokers are intermediaries that facilitate the buying and selling of securities over the internet. Using an online broker, individual investors can sign up for an account online and start buying or selling quickly.

The shift from in-person to online stock brokers has significantly reduced costs for investors, leading to a rise in no-fee trading and $0 commissions on thousands of mutual funds and ETFs. Many online brokers also offer management services for those who don’t want to manage their own investments. For a hands-off approach to investing with less fees, robo advisors can automate your investing while charging a fraction of the cost of traditional portfolio management.

In addition to buying and selling securities, many online brokers offer investor education, lending services, and banking services.

How Do Online Brokers Work?

Online brokers have access to financial markets (like the NYSE and NASDAQ) where trades are performed. When you choose to buy a security, you place your order and your online broker will match you with a seller of that security. 

The trade is then executed and both parties receive a confirmation. Sellers will receive their money automatically and buyers lock in the value of the security purchased (though there’s a “settlement period” of 2-3 days before they own it).

Brokers make sure trades are properly executed and comply with regulations set by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

How Much Do Online Brokers Charge?

Depending on the services provided, online brokers have several fees and charges:

Trading Fees

Though many brokers offer no-fee trading of stocks and ETFs, there are still many securities that incur trading fees. This is a one-time fee charged for each trade transaction (typically under $10).

Management Fees

A full-service online broker who manages your portfolio will typically charge an assets under management (AUM) fee. This typically ranges from 0.50% to 2% of your total assets.

Account Maintenance (or Inactivity) Fees

Some online brokers will charge an annual maintenance fee on your account (usually under $50). This fee is typically for accounts that drop below a minimum amount. 

Brokers that focus on active trading may also charge an “inactivity fee” on accounts that do not trade frequently.

Margin Fees

For investors who borrow money to invest, these “margin” accounts will incur interest charges until paid in full.

Withdrawal Fees

To withdraw funds from an online broker, there may be a one-time withdrawal fee incurred.

How Much Money Do I Need to Start Investing?

Many online brokers have a $0 minimum to open a standard brokerage account and require very little to start investing. You can purchase ETFs for the price of a single share, many starting at under $100.

If the online broker offers “fractional shares”, you can invest for less – sometimes as low as $0.01.

For a retirement account (such as an IRA) many brokerages require a $500 minimum to get started.

How Do Online Brokers Make Money?

From trading and account fees to charging for management services, brokerages have plenty of ways to stay profitable.

Though many online brokers now offer thousands of $0 fee trades, they continue to grow by providing additional services to their customer base.

For example, many brokers now offer banking services, including checking and savings accounts. They use the deposited funds to invest in securities themselves, earning much more interest than they pay their customers.

Many brokers also offer full-service account management, charging upwards of 1% of total assets to manage investments for their customers.

They also act as a lender, offering margin to customers and collecting the interest income. 

Are Online Brokers Safe?

Most online brokers carry several types of insurance to protect your assets. The two main types are FDIC insurance (up to $250,000 on cash accounts) and SIPC insurance (up to $500,000 on investment accounts).

FDIC insurance is for cash accounts (i.e. money market, savings, checking) and covers up to $250,000 of cash balance if it were to go missing.

SIPC insurance is similar coverage for investment accounts, covering up to $500,000 in lost or missing securities. If your online broker does NOT have SIPC insurance for your investments, your investments are at risk.

Note: Neither of these types of insurance will protect you from the risk of loss when investing your money into securities.

What Should I Look for In An Online Broker?

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of criteria to look for when choosing an online broker. Evaluate these to find a broker that best fits your investing goals.

Account Fees

When using an online broker, understanding how fees are charged is important to your overall investing strategy.

When looking at the total costs for any online broker, some of the fees to review include:

  • Stock, ETF, and mutual fund trading fees
  • Options and futures contract fees
  • Options per-leg fees
  • Margin interest rates
  • Account minimum or inactivity fees
  • Assets under management fees (for managed accounts)

Most discount online brokers should offer no-fee equity trades, low-cost options contracts ($1 or less), and no per-leg options fees. Unless you choose an active trader platform, most shouldn’t require any account minimum or inactivity fees.

Expense Ratios

When investing in any mutual funds or ETFs, there will be an expense ratio for holding those investments. While most index funds are available for less than 0.25%, mutual funds may have more exorbitant fees (sometimes exceeding 1% of your investment).

For managed accounts, the annual AUM fees may be up to 2% of your total portfolio.

Account Minimums

Depending on the type of investment account you open, there may be a minimum investment amount required. Many online brokers boast $0 minimums for most accounts, but some accounts (like IRAs) may require $500 or more.

When choosing stocks or funds to invest in, make note of the minimum investment required for each security.

Investment Options/Choices

When evaluating your favorite online broker, take a look at their available investment options. Some brokers have a more limited selection of securities to invest in while others have thousands of investment options available.

A few options you may want to have available are:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual Funds
  • ETFs
  • Options
  • Futures
  • International markets

Investment Account Options

When looking for the right online broker, review which types of accounts are available. Here’s a quick list of account types to consider:

Portfolio Construction

Building the right asset allocation is a critical part of investing. Understanding how your online broker helps build your portfolio (and maintain your asset allocation) is something to consider.

To help stay on track toward your investment goals, look for features like access to pre-defined portfolios and the ability to automatically rebalance.

Tax Strategy

Investing will typically impact your taxes, so understanding how a broker handles tax statements and reporting will save you a headache down the road.

Customer Service and Support

You want to know that your broker is there to provide support. Understanding how customer services works – and when they are available – is very important to your peace of mind.

Look for companies with 24/7 live support, whether over the phone or online via chat. Waiting on an email can feel like years when there is a critical issue with your account.

Mobile Compatibility

We’re in a mobile-first world, so it’s crucial to have access to your investments on your mobile device. Online brokers should have simple access to your accounts via the mobile web (or better yet, through a mobile app).

Account Setup

Signing up for an online broker should be a simple, painless process. Understanding the necessary information to get started and approved for an account is important when researching a potential online broker.

Education and Security

Online education is available through most of the larger online brokers, with some offering extensive libraries to beginner and advanced investors alike.

Regarding security, every broker should carry SIPC insurance (and FDIC insurance for any banking products).

Ease of access

Logging into your investment account and accessing your account tools should be easy. If you want to actively trade, you’ll need a powerful trading platform and mobile app that gives you complete control.

No matter what your investing goals are, your online broker needs to be built with the user in mind.

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Ask an Expert
All of our content is verified for accuracy by Rachel Siegel, CFA and our team of certified financial experts. We pride ourselves on quality, research, and transparency, and we value your feedback. Below you'll find answers to some of the most common reader questions about Discover the Best Online Brokers and How They Work For Building Wealth.

How Can I Quickly Start Trading?

Once you open your account, you’ll need to connect your bank account to fund your investment account. Many brokers will allow you to ACH transfer money directly from your bank account to the brokerage account. 

It may take a few business days for the money deposit into your account. Once your account is funded, however, you can start trading right away.

How Does Diversification Work with Online Brokers?

Splitting your investments across several asset classes is always a good idea, but online brokers vary in how they approach diversification. Some will provide a suggested asset allocation (depending on your age, goals, risk tolerance, and other factors) while others are geared for active traders and don’t focus on investment diversification advice.

No matter which broker you choose, it’s ultimately up to you to determine how your investments are diversified and managed.

Rachel Siegel, CFA
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Rachel Siegel, CFA is one of the nation's leading experts at ensuring the accuracy of financial and economic text.  Her prestigious background includes over 10 years creating professional financial certification exams and another 20 years of college-level teaching.

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All of the opinions expressed herein are the author's alone, and not those of any bank, brokerage, credit card issuer, lender, insurance company, outside financial institution, or any other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post or any other third parties.