Compare Interactive Brokers versus Firstrade: IRA, commissions, investing fees, trading tools, account differences, pros and cons. Which online broker is better in 2019?

Overview of Interactive Brokers and Firstrade

Although Interactive Brokers attracts a lot of attention from active traders, there’s a little unfamiliar brokerage firm named Firstrade that would love to steal a lot of business away from IB. With a new pricing schedule, Firstrade could easily be a better value for many traders. Let’s see how these two firms compare to each other.

Broker Cost

Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Commission
Mutual Fund
Commission
Options
Commission
Maintenance
Fee
Annual IRA
Fee
Firstrade $0 $0 $0 + $0 per contract $0 $0
IB $1+ $14.95 $0.25+ per contract $0-$240** $30

Services

Broker Review Cost Investment Products Trading Tools Customer Service Research Overall Rating
Firstrade
IB

Promotions

Firstrade: $0 commissions + up to $200 in transfer fee rebates.

Interactive Brokers: Open account and get $200 for a friend you refer.


Range of Investments

Interactive Brokers offers futures, options, options on futures, bitcoin futures, stocks (including penny stocks), bonds, mutual funds, ETF’s, currencies, precious metals, and warrants. IB also has a large global investing program, which provides access to many foreign exchanges.

Firstrade customers can buy and sell domestic mutual funds, bonds, equities (including OTC and penny securities), ETF’s, and options.

IB wins the first category.

Website Technology

Firstrade customers can use the broker’s website for submitting orders. While the firm has no browser or desktop platform, a very good trade bar can be found at the bottom of the browsing window. Besides equities, options can be traded from it. Bonds and mutual funds can be traded on simple web pages.


Firstrade vs Robinhood


Charting at Firstrade uses Morningstar’s technology. We found technical studies, drawing tools, company events, and several other useful tools. One weakness is the inability to display a graph full screen.

Interactive Brokers offers both website trading through a client portal and a browser platform called WebTrader. Charting is rudimentary, but we liked the browser platform’s ability to trade a wide range of products.


IBKR vs Firstrade


Overall, it’s a tie here.

Mobile Apps

Interactive Brokers clients can buy and sell investments on the broker’s mobile app, which is compatible with Apple and Android devices. It offers a watchlist, sophisticated charting (including horizontal mode), and multiple order types. iBot is an integrated AI that is able to answer trading questions. Equity scanners are able to look for investments that meet certain criteria, such as most active. Market commentary is another highlight.


Interactive Brokers Mobile App


Firstrade’s app is compatible with the same operating systems. A recent software update provides horizontal viewing of a chart and many technical studies. A watchlist is sortable by price or volume. News article are available by security.


Firstrade mobile app


IB’s app delivers more than Firstrade’s, so we pick IB here.

Other Tools

Interactive Brokers offers a smartwatch platform for Apple Watch. It is able to deliver account information and notifications. Perhaps the best piece of software IB has to offer is Trader Workstation, its desktop platform. Available free of charge, it provides many powerful trading tools, not least of which is full-screen charting with many technical studies. We also like the ability to trade on foreign markets.

Firstrade offers nothing in this category and loses once again.

Extended-Hours Trading

Interactive Brokers customers can enable orders to be filled outside of the regular market session. The company’s pre-market period begins at 4:00 am, EST, and runs until the market officially opens. The after-hours session starts at the closing bell and lasts 4 hours.

Firstrade also provides extended-hours trading, but the broker’s sessions are a little shorter. Its early bird period starts at 8:00 am, EST, and closes five minutes before the regular session begins. The after-hours period takes a five minute break after the closing bell and ends at 8:00 pm.

Interactive Brokers wins this category for its longer sessions.

Level II Quotes

Interactive Brokers clients can use Level II data on Trader Workstation, although the company does charge for the quotes.

Firstrade does not offer Level II information and thus loses this category.

Margin

Borrowing on margin is possible at either brokerage firm. Interactive Brokers requires 50% down for initial positions and 25% as maintenance. Firstrade’s numbers are at 50% and 30%.

The cost of borrowing varies as well. For a loan under $25,000, IB charges 3.9%. Firstrade customers must pay over 9% for the same loan.

We’ll take IB here.

Option Tools

Although Firstrade is now a zero-commission broker, it manages to deliver some effective option trading tools. Option chains include a few multi-leg strategies, and it’s possible to search for LEAP contracts. A more advanced tool called OptionsPlay can be launched. This very useful trade advisor offers bullish and bearish ideas for any ticker symbol entered. Profit-loss diagrams are also displayed.

On Trader Workstation, option chains can be accessed by clicking on the blue ‘New Window’ button in the upper-left corner. This produces a discrete window where calls, puts, or complex strategies can be analyzed. The software program offers more strategies than Firstrade provides, although the program isn’t as user-friendly as OptionsPlay.

Overall, we’ll call it a tie here.

DRIP Service

Interactive Brokers offers a Dividend Reinvestment Program. An entire account can be enrolled or unenrolled. Specific securities cannot be enrolled. At Firstrade, an entire account can be signed up for dividend reinvestment or just certain securities.

We think Firstrade’s policy is better.

Financial Education and Research

IB customers and guests can both access the broker’s educational section on its website. It offers articles, videos, and self-guided courses (Flash player required) on a variety of topics, such as using Greeks, shorting stocks, and technical analysis.

Firstrade also has an educational section on its site. However, we didn’t find as many resources. There are no videos, articles are rather brief, and there are no self-guided courses.

Interactive Brokers takes this category.

Promotions

Firstrade: $0 commissions + up to $200 in transfer fee rebates.

Interactive Brokers: Open account and get $200 for a friend you refer.


Our Recommendations

Traders who need the best technology should definitely go with Interactive Brokers.

For beginning investors, we’re going to suggest Firstrade over Interactive Brokers. Firstrade’s software is easier to learn, and IB’s commission schedules are complicated.

For IRA’s, Firstrade has no annual IRA fee so it is the better choice.

Due to Firstrade’s unbeatable commission schedule, we obviously suggest it over its rival for budget-conscious traders. High-volume traders can nevertheless get a good deal at Interactive Brokers.

We propose Firstrade over IB for mutual fund trading. IB doesn’t emphasize this area, and Firstrade has no transaction fees.

Interactive Brokers vs Firstrade Summary

Firstrade is the ultimate low cost brokerage house. But it doesn’t seem to offer the same level of trading sophistication that Interactive Brokers is able to deliver.



Firstrade


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