TD Ameritrade versus Firstrade - compare IRA, commissions, investing fees, trading tools, account differences, pros and cons. Which brokerage firm is better?

Overview

Firstrade went to $0 commissions, and soon TD Ameritrade followed. Now that they have similar (but not identical) pricing schedules, does that mean they are similar brokers? This survey will shed some light on the subject.


Comparison Table

TD Ameritrade Review Firstrade Review
Rating 4.5-star brokerage firm rating Firstrade rating
Stocks $0 $0
Options (per contract) $0.65 $0
Mutual Funds $49.99 $0
Initial Funding Requirement $0 $0
Inactivity Fee $0 $0
IRA Annual Fee $0 $0
Full Account Transfer $0 $75
Partial Account Transfer $0 $55
Account Closing Fee $0 $0
Trading Experience & Technology brokerage ratings brokerage ratings
Mobile brokerage ratings brokerage ratings
Research Amenities brokerage ratings brokerage ratings
Portfolio & Analysis Reports brokerage ratings brokerage ratings
Customer Service and Education brokerage ratings brokerage ratings
Open an account Open TD Ameritrade account and get $0 fee stock trades. Get transfer fee rebate.


As you see from the table above, Firstrade is better priced than TD Ameritrade.


1st Category: Available Investments

Firstrade clients can buy and sell equities, fixed-income products, funds (mutual, closed-end, and exchange-traded), options, penny stocks, and over-the-counter stocks.

TD Ameritrade offers the same assortment but adds forex, IPOs, and futures (including bitcoin) for good measure.

TD Ameritrade defeats Firstrade in the first category.


2nd Category: Mobile Trading

Firstrade’s app provides horizontal charting with roughly 80 technical studies. There are 6 graph styles (including baseline and Heikin Ashi). Up to 5 years of price data can be shown.


Ameritrade or Firstrade


The broker’s trade ticket provides extended-hours trading, plus several order types, including stop and trailing varieties. Options can be traded on the platform, but not mutual funds. While there is an ACH transfer tool, there is no mobile check deposit. Also missing is streaming financial news. There is a watchlist on the app, but there are no alerts.

TD Ameritrade does offer alerts and streaming financial news on its app; and actually, there are three of them. Two of them are trading apps, while a third is a basic app. Strangely, it is this third one that has Level II quotes. The trading apps offer very advanced charting with 400 technical studies and 20 years of price data. The basic app offers 4 graph styles.


Firstrade vs Ameritrade


Features that exist on at least one app include mobile check deposit, mutual fund trading, and an ACH transfer tool. Options, forex, and futures can also be traded.

TD Ameritrade is the champ in the second category.


Promotions

TD Ameritrade: Open TD Ameritrade account and get $0 fee stock trades.

Firstrade: Get transfer fee rebate.



3rd Category: Website Trading

Firstrade’s website is easy to navigate, but it doesn’t have much material on it, which we view as a weakness. The one great highlight is a trade bar at the bottom of the browsing window. The tool is able to provide real-time data on equities, funds, and options. And best of all, it can actually submit orders to the exchanges. The tool operates in a second mode, where limited security analysis can be performed, such as looking at Morningstar ratings. Graphs and option chains can be accessed from the bar.


Firstrade or Ameritrade


Firstrade’s charting program is simply Morningstar’s software replicated on Firstrade’s website. It offers technical indicators, company events, and a few drawing tools.

TD Ameritrade’s site offers much more information than Firstrade’s; but it nevertheless is still easy to use. A trade bar also makes an appearance on TDA’s site. Called SnapTicket, it is able to submit orders for stocks, funds, and options. One difference is a rapid mode. To use it, you can type in a string of characters like ‘s100amzn1750.95’ to sell 100 shares of Amazon at a limit price of $1,750.95. Messages from the broker are displayed on the bar, and it can also be detached into a separate window.

Once again, TD Ameritrade is our pick.


4th Category: Desktop Trading

Firstrade has no desktop software. TD Ameritrade does, and the broker maintains no account minimums to use it. Called thinkorswim, there are many advanced features such as professional-level charting, an advanced order ticket, and a demo mode.


TD Ameritrade Thinkorswim


Firstrade loses another category.


5th Category: Funds

There is no ETF center on the Firstrade website. ETF profile pages are simply pulled from Morningstar. This does mean that there’s a wealth of information on them.

TD Ameritrade has an ETF center, and it offers CFRA picks based on risk, performance, and cost. Other highlights include Morningstar commentary and an icon-based ETF search tool (in addition to the broker’s regular ETF screener).

On the mutual fund side, we found 10,914 available investments at TD Ameritrade. And on the Firstrade platform, we located 8,340.

All ETF's are free at both brokers. All mutual funds are $0-commission at Firstrade. TD Ameritrade has 4,200 $0-commission mutual funds and the rest are $49.99 per trade.

This category is a tie.


6th Category: Education & Research

Beginners and even seasoned investors may need to brush up on a few topics before placing a trade. Both firms in this study provide learning materials. On Firstrade’s site, there is a glossary with trading terms. And we found articles and videos as well; although the selection was rather small. Firstrade uses Morningstar profile pages as its own.

TD Ameritrade customers (and guests) get to watch the broker’s TV network free of charge. On the day we did our research, there was live commentary on U.S. dollar futures. Stock profiles offer free reports from third-party researchers. For example, Amazon has eight reports on TDA’s site. By comparison, Firstrade offers analysis from Morningstar only.

Firstrade fails again.


7th Category: Option Contracts

Options can be traded at either firm. TD Ameritrade does impose per-contract charges, while Firstrade does not. And who offers the better trading experience?

Firstrade customers get to use OptionsPlay, a very helpful derivative-trading platform launched from the website. The software shows many useful features, such as profit-loss diagrams and explanations of suggested trades. More advanced multi-leg strategies like calendar call spread and vertical put spread are available on the regular website.

TD Ameritrade customers can use either the website or thinkorswim. The website doesn’t have a platform like OptionsPlay, but we did find more multi-leg strategies than Firstrade offers. thinkorswim provides direct-access routing for option orders, an unusual service.

We’ll call it a tie here.


Finally, Other Services

DRIP service, IRAs, and auto investing in mutual funds are available at both brokerage houses.

Another tie.


Promotions

TD Ameritrade: Open TD Ameritrade account and get $0 fee stock trades.

Firstrade: Get transfer fee rebate.



Our Recommendations

Mutual Fund Traders: We recommend both Firstrade and TD Ameritrade.

Beginners: For its learning materials and customer support, we defend TD Ameritrade.

Retirement Savers: Firstrade doesn’t have a solo 401(k) plan, which TD Ameritrade does have. We also think retirement savers could benefit from TDA’s financial planning services, which Firstrade doesn’t offer.

Trading Tools: Hands down, TD Ameritrade.

ETF and Stock Trading: Once again, TD Ameritrade is the easy pick.


Firstrade vs TD Ameritrade Summary

Firstrade won only Pricing category. Although the two commission schedules are now similar, TD Ameritrade offers a lot more.



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