Don’t own any securities like stocks or bonds? Expect a much harder time saving for retirement — or building wealth at all.
Whether you’re a student with under $1,000 to your name or a working adult who simply hasn’t taken the plunge to open a brokerage account and start investing, there’s no better time than the present to start catching up.
Best Online Stock Brokers and Trading Platforms for Beginners
You get that you need an investment portfolio that includes stocks and possibly bonds. But where should you open an account?
Choose one of these brokers as an affordable, rounded option for beginning investors, and start building real wealth.
1. Charles Schwab
Best Well-Rounded Brokerage
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commissions; no robo-advisor fee for digital-only; $30 per month plus a one-time $300 setup fee for human hybrid advisor; no account opening fee for common accounts like taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs.
I use Charles Schwab as my primary broker. There’s very little to dislike about it.
Schwab pioneered the trend of eliminating commissions. Many other online brokers reluctantly followed suit, but Schwab was the first to stop charging clients a fee every time they bought or sold a security.
It offers every account type you could ask for, including IRAs, Roth IRAs, ESAs, and HSAs. Likewise, it offers every type of security as well, including options trading, futures trading, and thousands of mutual funds with no commission or load fee.
I particularly like the robo-advisor, which is free if you invest the account minimum of $5,000. It utilizes Schwab’s own index funds, which come with extremely low expense ratios and provide broad exposure to the stock market at large.
- No commissions: Buy and sell securities with no transaction fee.
- Free robo-advisor: Many robo-advisors charge for their service; Schwab does not, although it does require a minimum investment of $5,000.
- Extensive account options: Open virtually any tax-advantaged account at Schwab.
- Trading software: For active traders, Schwab offers free trading software called StreetSmart Edge.
Schwab’s online platform offers detailed research on stocks and funds, although it can be a little overwhelming for novice investors. But as a well-rounded brokerage, Schwab is hard to beat.
2. TD Ameritrade
Best for Day Traders
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commissions; 0.3% robo-advisor fee; no account opening fee for common accounts like taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs.
TD Ameritrade makes for a solid competitor to Schwab, with a similarly well-rounded platform. Like Schwab, it offers many different account types, including IRAs and ESAs. And it allows you to trade all the same types of securities, including stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, options, and futures. Among mutual funds, it offers over 4,100 funds with no transaction fee.
New investors particularly appreciate TD Ameritrade’s customer service. It offers 24/7 customer support by phone, email, text message, and Facebook messenger. It even offers support via Twitter messaging and Amazon Alexa.
More active traders appreciate TD Ameritrade’s renowned stock trading tools. The firm ranks among the best trading platforms on the market, going beyond stock trades and ETF trades to offer options trades and futures trades.
TD Ameritrade does offer a robo-advisor service, but it’s not particularly flexible, and the company charges an advisory fee of 0.3%. If automated investing through a robo-advisor interests you, consider free alternatives like Schwab, SoFi Invest, or Ally Invest when you start investing.
See our TD Ameritrade review for more details, and keep an eye on TD Ameritrade’s new-account sign-up promotions, which often offer substantial perks.
- No commissions: You can’t argue with free.
- Built for traders first: Strong, flexible website, mobile app, and software platform called thinkorswim.
- Extensive account options: Like Schwab, you can open most account types at TD Ameritrade.
- Strong customer service: TD Ameritrade offers better customer service than most brokers, especially “discount” online brokerages.
Best for Fund Investors Looking to Minimize Fees
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commissions; 0% to 0.35% robo-advisor fees; no account opening fee for common accounts.
Like all the best online brokerages, Fidelity doesn’t charge commissions. But that’s only the beginning of how they save investors money.
Fidelity particularly shines in offering ETFs with no expense ratios at all. Even the most evangelical index fund advocate brokers like Schwab and Vanguard can’t claim the same.
They aim for similar affordability with mutual funds, offering over 3,700 with no transaction fees.
While Fidelity does offer a robo-advisor, they aren’t known for it. The service is free for account balances under $10,000, then costs $3 per month until the balance passes $50,000, then charges 0.35% management fee.
- Free or low-cost funds: I don’t know of any other service offering ETFs with no expense ratio, and Fidelity offers many mutual funds with no transaction fees.
- Customer service: Fidelity enjoys a strong reputation for customer service.
- Education: Fidelity offers a wealth of free educational resources for investors at all skill levels.
For more detail, read how Fidelity compares to Robinhood (more on them shortly).
4. SoFi Invest
Best Free Human Hybrid Robo-Advisor, Best Broker for Crypto
- Account Minimum: $5
- Fees: No commissions; no robo-advisor fee; no account opening fee; $5 paper statement fee (which you can avoid by going paperless).
As a Silicon Valley disruptor, SoFi Invest does business a little differently. The online brokerage charges no commissions or annual fees and even offers free career counseling. I particularly love that SoFi Invest offers its robo-advisor service for free with a minimum deposit of only $5. It also includes access to human investment advisors with the robo-advisory — typically a costly premium feature.
That makes SoFi Invest unique among the best robo-advisors on the market.
SoFi also allows investors to buy fractional stock shares, another uncommon feature. That means you can purchase portions of shares if the price of a single share is more than you can afford.
Intriguingly, it also offers access to buy several cryptocurrencies directly from the brokerage rather than having to go through a potentially risky crypto exchange. Very few brokers offer that service currently.
But it doesn’t offer some staple financial products like bonds and mutual funds, which leaves it unfeasible for many investors, particularly older and more traditionally-minded investors.
- Free human hybrid robo-advisor: I don’t know of any other robo-advisors that offer investment advice from a live human free as part of their robo-advisor service.
- Fractional stock shares: Buy portions of a single share, rather than entire shares.
- Cryptocurrencies: Buy and sell cryptocurrencies directly through the brokerage.
Read our SoFi Invest review for more info.
5. Merrill Edge
Best for Integrating Traditional & Investment Banking
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commissions; 0.45% robo-advisor fee or 0.85% human hybrid advisor fee; no account opening fee for common accounts.
Bank of America bought brokerage firm Merrill Lynch in 2008, and has since taken great pains to integrate their traditional banking arm with the acquired investment brokerage, which they rebranded Merrill Edge.
Customers can access all their banking accounts with a single login, instantly transfer money between accounts, and view all of your financial assets in a single place. The twin banks also offer customer rewards programs that many find enticing.
Merrill Edge also serves day traders well, with a robust research and trading platform. Socially conscious investors also appreciate their Idea Builder tool, which can help them find appealing assets such as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments.
Just don’t expect some of the more advanced, “disruptive” bells and whistles such as cryptocurrencies or fractional share investing. Merrill Edge does offer a robo-advisor but isn’t known for it, and the fees are relatively high. When two older, established companies marry, they don’t generally produce industry-disrupting offspring.
- Seamless integration between traditional & investment banking: One login, all accounts; plus banking rewards available.
- Excellent research tools: Both traders and long-term investors alike will enjoy Merrill Edge’s stock screeners and other research features.
- Education: Merrill Edge produces not just articles but also a podcast, videos, webinars, free tools such as calculators, and virtual live events.
Best for Mobile Traders
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: No commissions; no account opening fee for common accounts.
Robinhood’s mobile app is so easy to use that some more paternalistic lawmakers accused it of “gamifying” day trading and investing.
The brokerage offers commission-free stocks, ETFs, and options. I particularly love that Robinhood offers fractional stock investing. But where Robinhood sets itself apart is in offering cryptocurrencies — I even opened a brokerage account with Robinhood specifically for cryptocurrency speculating. That said, rival SoFi Invest has overtaken Robinhood in the number of coins available.
Robinhood’s securities end there however. It doesn’t offer mutual funds or bonds, taking them off the table for many investors. Neither does Robinhood offer any other types of accounts beyond taxable brokerage accounts — no retirement or education savings accounts and no robo-advisor service.
See our Robinhood review for more details, and keep an eye out for Robinhood’s new-account sign-up bonus offers.
- Simple, intuitive interface & mobile app: Robinhood keeps its web interface and mobile app extremely simple and clean, which many new investors appreciate.
- Cryptocurrencies: Robinhood offers seven cryptocurrencies currently, with the promise of more to come.
- Fractional shares: Buy portions of stocks if you don’t want to buy a full share.
Best for Combining Automated Savings with Automated Investing
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $3 per month for most features, $5 per month for UGMA/UTMA accounts added in.
If you want to completely automate both your savings and your investments in one swoop, check out Acorns. It creates a checking account for you and gives you a debit card. When you make purchases, it rounds up the cost to the next dollar and transfers the difference to your brokerage account or IRA. By automating your savings, it helps you boost your savings rate to set aside money faster.
Its robo-advisor steps in to invest that money automatically for you based on the investing strategy you select. While it doesn’t offer many options, those options are easy to understand and work for most investors. Acorns has expanded its options over the past few years too, and now offers UGMAs and UTMAs for college savings, along with ESG investment options.
Keep in mind that Acorns does one thing well, and one thing only: automation. If you want any control over what you invest in, or you want an account other than a brokerage account or IRA, look elsewhere.
Acorns does charge for its services, but not much, with prices ranging between $3 to $5 per month. For more information, read our Acorns review.
- Automated saving: Acorns rounds up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and sets aside the difference for you.
- Integrated robo-advisor: Once saved, Acorns invests the money for you based on your preferences.
- Simplicity: Acorns doesn’t try to be everything to everyone, and it keeps its automated services simple and hands-free.
Best for Combining Automation with Flexibility
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $1 to $9 per month; higher-than-average ETF expense ratios
Instead of investing your money for you like a robo-advisor, Stash recommends an asset allocation and EFTs based on your assessment questionnaire. You then invest on your own, incorporating those recommendations as much or as little as you see fit.
Stash shows you their recommended ETFs, a quick synopsis of why they recommend this portfolio, a visualization bar marking the risk level, the expense ratios of each ETF, and the ticker symbols and last price. They offer over 1,800 ETFs and stocks — nothing to write home about, but not bad either, especially considering they allow fractional share investing.
In addition to a brokerage account, Stash offers a bank account complete with debit card, retirement account options, and even custodial account (UGMA/UTMA) options for minors. As a nice feature, Stash offers automated savings known as Auto-Stash from your linked checking account to your brokerage account by rounding up your purchases and transferring the difference for you.
Stash charges between $1 and $9 per month, and their ETFs charge higher-than-average expense ratios. Unfortunately, they only offer stocks and ETFs, with no mutual funds, bonds, or other securities.
- Advice you can adopt flexibly: You get the expert investing advice, but can manage your own investment choices.
- Integrated traditional banking & savings automation: Like Acorns, Stash offers a checking account with automatically rounded up savings.
- Fractional shares: Buy and sell fractional shares of stocks if you don’t want to buy a full share.
Best Women-Oriented Robo-Advisor
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $1 to $9 per month
Billed as a robo-advisor built specifically for women, Ellevest does some things well but has its limitations. As a robo-advisor, it creates your investment plan based on your personal finance goals and manages them over time based on your investor profile. It doesn’t offer a traditional brokerage where you invest manually. Ellevest does offer retirement accounts with higher-priced memberships, and its investing portfolios include both stocks and bonds.
In its marketing materials, the robo-advisor and money membership says it takes women’s unique financial needs into account with its financial recommendations. Members and non-members can also purchase one-on-one sessions with financial advisors and executive coaches to get more specific advice, and higher membership levels come with higher discounts off the retail price.
In addition to its flagship robo-advisor service, Ellevest now also offers online banking, the option for savings automation similar to Acorns through rounding up purchases, no ATM fees, and a wealth of online learning modules. Plans start at $1 per month.
- Female-centric design: The company claims to serve women’s specific financial planning needs — messaging that appeals to many women.
- Education & coaching: Ellevest prides itself on educating women in financial literacy.
- Integrated traditional banking & savings automation: Similar to Acorns and Stash, Ellevest now offers similar checking account services and automated savings through purchase round-ups.
If you’re new to stock investing, start with a robo-advisor. You have several strong free and low-cost options to choose from and can start investing with little knowledge or skill. The automation leaves you free to invest your free time elsewhere rather than learning how to pick stocks or set an ideal asset allocation.
Consider starting with an IRA or Roth IRA if you don’t currently have a retirement plan. Might as well save some money on taxes while you’re saving money.
The younger you start investing, the more you can lean on compounding to do the heavy lifting for you. To reach $1 million in 10 years, it takes $5,467 invested per month at an 8% return. To reach $1 million in 40 years, it takes only $287 per month — a dollar difference of roughly 20 times to account for a time difference of only 4 times.
Start investing now. Enjoy real wealth later.