Stock Brokers: Which Broker Is Best For You & Your Trading?

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Risk Warning: Your Capital is at Risk.

If you're eager to start trading on the stock market, it's critical to choose the right stock broker. You also want to find a trading platform that's well-suited to your goals.

In this post, we'll explain how online stock brokers work and what features you should look for. We'll also give you the details about popular stock trading platforms and why we think they stand out.

In a hurry and looking to start right away? Here's a quick preview of two top online broker platforms with free practice accounts and modern mobile trading platforms:

  1. eToro – Social trading with CopyTrader and access to NASDAQ and NYSE for US residents and many international countries.
  2. Trading212 – Intuitive interface. Access to indices around the globe. Try their demo account without signing up. (not available in US)

If you're interested in learning more about buying and trading stocks what various platforms offer, read on.

Online Stock Trading: How Does It Work?

Stock trading involves buying or selling shares of publicly held companies. When you purchase a stock, you're really buying part-ownership of a large company.

As a part-owner, a share entitles you to a portion of the company's earnings and assets — e.g., buildings, equipment, intellectual property, etc. The money you pay for a share is used by the company for its operations. In return, you get a proportionate share of the company's profits, if any. When a company disburses profits to shareholders, the money is called a dividend.

If you decide that you no longer want to own your share in a company, you can sell your shares at the current market price. If the price at which you sell is higher than the price you paid, then you profit; otherwise, you've lost money.

What Is a Brokerage Account?

There are two ways to buy stocks:

  1. Hire a professional stock broker
  2. Learn to make trades yourself with a brokerage account

If you hire a professional stock broker, you simply tell him or her about your financial goals and trust that they'll make successful trades on your behalf. They typically get commissions on your earnings, so they are motivated to succeed on your behalf.

If you prefer a self-directed approach to stock trading because of the cost of a professional broker (or for some other reason), you'll want to find an online broker that allows you to open a brokerage account.

A brokerage account holds your profits and investment money. It's also where your losses are deducted from. This account enables a brokerage firm to act as the intermediary between you and the company whose stocks you want to purchase.

Choosing an Online Stock Trading Platform

There are a variety of stock brokers and trading platforms, ranging from low-cost budget options to full-service boutique options. Here's what you need to think about to find the best option for you.

What New Traders Should Look For

If you're new to trading or investing in stocks, here are some features to look for when evaluating a stock broker (we will take a closer look at these factors in later sections):

  • Commissions & Fees
  • Account Minimums
  • Charting Tools
  • Mobile Accounts
  • Demo Accounts

Demo accounts or practice accounts can help you learn to trade stocks with “play money” before risking your own money.

Video: How to buy stocks on eToro. [:30]

Active Trader Platforms

If you're an active trader (sometimes called a day trader) seeking to profit off short-term price changes, you'll want to compare these features:

  • Low costs per trade are critical if you make a large number of trades per day.
  • High-quality research materials that update frequently will help you stay informed about what the markets are doing.
  • Minimum balance requirements are typically high for active traders. Trading platforms offering accounts conducive to day trading will usually require minimum deposits of $25,000+.

Costs of Stock Trading

Many online brokers, such as eToro and Trading212, don't charge commissions on stock market trades. However, they may offer additional services as add-on costs or charge other fees depending on the type, amount, and timing of your trades.

Your minimum account balance is a source of income for the broker via interest. Depending on the type of account you have, you may see some return on your deposits, but if you do, it's likely to be significantly less than what the brokerage is earning.

Video: Trading212 helps you understand the costs of no-commission stock trading. [10:09]

Another source of income for brokers is via arbitrage. Arbitrage allows a broker to execute trades at prices lower than the general public pays.

Brokers also offer a variety of derivative ways to trade stocks like CFDs, ETFs, and mutual funds, which come with other fees, commissions, or spreads.

Account Minimums

Most stock brokers require you to maintain a certain level of funds in your account at all times — also known as an account minimum. Account minimums vary. Some brokers allow you to start with no specific minimum, while others require you to start with a small deposit, like $500.

Consider whether you can afford to keep the required minimum amount of funds when you're researching brokers.

Note: Account minimums or minimum initial deposits can vary by country. For example, eToro requires a $200 minimum deposit everywhere except in Australia ($50), the US ($50), and Israel ($10,000).

Mobile Trading Apps

Most brokers offer mobile trading apps that allow you to open and fund accounts, track your investments, and make trades via your mobile devices.

Some mobile apps mimic the desktop browser experience exactly while others only allow for minimal interactions with your account. For example, market research, tutorials, and stop-loss or take-profit trade options might be limited with some mobile apps.

Consider your goals and whether the broker's mobile app will be adequate for your purposes.

Charting Tools

If you're day trading, charting is a part of the technical analysis you'd do to determine the future performance of a stock based on its past movements. Charts allow you to identify patterns and other technical details that may influence your buying and selling decisions.

Most online brokers offer charting capabilities, but some offer only simple line and candlestick charts while others provide a more detailed analysis with charts like Doji candlesticks or MACD indicators.

How to Open a Brokerage Account

Regardless of which stock broker you choose to work with, the steps required to set up a brokerage account are fairly similar. You can open an account on the broker's website or via their mobile app.

  1. Complete a user profile. In addition to providing basic information about yourself (eg, name, address, phone number), you will need to provide employment and financial information. Depending on the brokerage you work with, this process should take about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Verify your identity. Typically, a government-issued ID like a passport is required. You'll need a high-resolution photo of the document and it must show your name, a photo, your date of birth, and the ID's expiration date.
  3. Proof of address. You'll need to prove your residency via documents like bank statements or utility bills.
  4. Fund your account. Most brokers offer multiple ways to fund your brokerage account — including credit cards, bank wire transfers, and PayPal.
Trading212's home page

Start With a Practice Account

If you're not sure if you want to start trading stocks just yet, most brokers offer demo or practice accounts where you can trade with “play money.”

Some brokers like eToro take you through the standard account setup process before giving you access to a demo account.

However, Trading212 lets you practice with their online trading platform without signing up at all. From Trading212's home page, click Practice For Free to try out their interface.

Trading212 practice dashboard
Trading 212's practice dashboard.

Head-to-Head: Two Popular Online Stock Brokers Compared

To help you get started, we compared two popular online stock brokers head-to-head. We'll take a look at how much it costs to trade with a given broker, what stock trading instruments they offer, and mobile app details.

eToro's stock trading dashboard
eToro's stock trading dashboard.
Please note, this is an example trade – not a recommendation. This screenshot is only an illustration. Current market prices can be found on the broker website.

eToro

eToro is a multi-asset brokerage company that is known for pioneering “social trading” with CopyTrader. With CopyTrader, any trader can follow and mimic the trades of eToro's most successful traders.

  • No commission stock trading: Yes
  • Costs: No commissions or account management fees. $5 withdrawal fee. Other fees are applicable when investing in leveraged positions and stock CFDs.
  • Account minimum: Initial deposit $200 to $10,000 depending on country and region.
  • Stock instruments offered: Stock trading, stock CFDs (not in USA), ETFs, fractional shares.
  • Mobile apps: For iOS and Android, you have access to the same browser-based platform as their desktop platform.

Learn more about this broker in our full eToro review.

Trading212 trading ticket
Trading212's trading ticket window.
Please note, this is an example trade – not a recommendation. This screenshot is only an illustration. Current market prices can be found on the broker website.

Trading212

Trading212 is a London-based company that was the first to offer zero-commission stock trading in the UK and Europe. Trading212 also lets you start trading with a practice account without signing up.

  • No commission stock trading: Yes
  • Costs:
    • London Stock Exchange: Stamp Duty Reserve Tax is charged at 0.5% on share purchases. PTM LEVY is charged on purchase and sale. £1 per trade for orders over £10,000.
      New York Stock Exchange: Transaction Fee $0.0000207 of the value of the sale order. FINRA fee on stock and ETF sales at $0.000119 x quantity sold; a minimum charge of $0.01.
  • Account minimum: $1 ($10 when using bank wire).
  • Stock instruments offered: Stock trading, stock CFDs, ETFs, fractional shares.
  • Mobile apps: For iOS and Android.

Learn more about this broker in our full Trading 212 review.

Conclusion

The choice of a stock broker can greatly impact your investment experience, both in terms of general usage and overall fees assessed as you make trades. Learn more with our commodities trading guide.

FAQs

What's the difference between Stock Trading vs. Investing in Stocks?

The difference between trading stocks and investing in them is risk and how long you'll wait for your money to earn a profit. Stock trading is most often a short-term practice while investing generally involves waiting for years or sometimes decades for a return on investment.

Trading is generally thought of to be more risky than investing. Though, all types of trading & investing have inherent risks.

Since stock trading is the buying and selling of stocks in the short-run for profit, the focus is usually on price & patterns of the stock.

Investing, on the other hand, requires more patience. Investors speculate a stock's long-term profitability, similar to investing in IRAs or mutual funds.

What's the best online stock broker for beginners?

The best online stock broker depends on your needs. Look for robust educational materials as well as demo accounts where you can practice making trades without requiring real funds. For example, eToro lets you copy the trades of more experienced traders to help you get started.

Can you buy stocks online without a broker?

Yes, you can buy stocks online without going through a broker. To do so, you can take advantage of options like direct stock plans and dividend reinvestment plans. The advantage of these options is the simplicity it affords, especially when you're investing in a small number of companies, but it requires research and diligence on your part.

What is a robo-advisor?

A robo-advisor is a bot that assists you with your trading decisions. You provide it with information about yourself (eg, what your investment goals are, what your risk tolerance is, etc.) and the robo-advisor presents you with advice and options it thinks are suitable for you. You can think of a robo-advisor as a cheap alternative to a financial planner.

What's the difference between TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, eTrade, and Interactive Brokers?

Like our favorite brokers listed above, all of these online brokers except Interactive Brokers offer no-commission stock trading (though other fees apply). TD Ameritrade has multiple trading platforms and offers free advice from elite stock market professionals. Fidelity features stock scoring, equity trading, and the option to buy fractional shares. Charles Schwab sells fractional shares too, grades stocks as A-F, and offers a gain/loss analyzer. Stock trading with Interactive Brokers costs $0.005/share but traders can earn interest on shares by loaning them to traders who short.

What are exchange-traded funds (ETFs)?

An exchange-traded fund is a security that consists of a set of multiple other securities, including stocks. They often track indices, like the S&P 500 Index, and can be traded similar to other instruments. ETFs are low in cost compared to purchasing individual stocks, but these funds are derivatives so you do not own the stocks you trade.

What is stock options trading?

Options are contracts that give you the opportunity (but not the obligation) to buy or sell a share of stock on or before the date specified on the contract. Typically, one stock option represents 100 shares of a given stock. Stock options trading allows you to speculate on stocks or hedge risks. Some brokers specialize in options.

Important:

eToro is a multi-asset platform which offers both investing in stocks and cryptoassets, as well as trading CFD assets.

CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. Between 73.0%-89.0% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

eToro USA LLC does not offer CFDs and makes no representation and assumes no liability as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this publication, which has been prepared by our partner utilizing publicly available non-entity specific information about eToro. Your capital is at risk.

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