2023: TD Ameritrade thinkorswim TOS vs Interactive Brokers IBKR brokerage firm comparison: fees, commissions, benefits, differences, pros and cons. Which broker to choose?

thinkorswim vs. Interactive Brokers Introduction

Although active traders often turn to Interactive Brokers for the best in software and trading services, TD Ameritrade’s advanced desktop platform thinkorswim has a lot to offer, too, and may even surpass Interactive Brokers in some cases. Let’s have a look.

Overview of TOS and TWS Platforms

Interactive Brokers customers get to use Trader Workstation. This is a very high-level desktop software that takes time to fully learn. The upside of this learning curve is that the program provides lots of great tools that are sure to please the most demanding of traders.

Trader Workstation is compatible with macOS, Windows, and Linux. Among these operating systems, there are multiple download choices, beta versions, and so forth.

TD Ameritrade has thinkorswim. Like its rival here, thinkorswim is a very sophisticated desktop program that does take time to learn and master. It is compatible with the same operating systems we saw with Trader Workstation plus Unix.

The really great thing about both programs is that they have demo modes that allow trades to be executed without using real money. These simulated-trading modes are really great for practicing these high-level platforms.

Trader Workstation can be downloaded and used by anyone with or without an Interactive Brokers account. thinkorswim, on the other hand, requires a TD Ameritrade account (or at least a login) to open and use.

Overall, both trading programs are pretty even in the first category.


Fees and Minimums

Although thinkorswim and Trader Workstation are professional-level programs, neither TD Ameritrade nor Interactive Brokers charges any fees or imposes any account minimums on them. Combined with $0 commissions on U.S.-listed equities, almost anyone can spend an afternoon trading like a pro at little to no cost.

Another tie here.


Tradable Instruments

On Trader Workstation, a large number of investment vehicles can be traded. These instruments include:

  • Forex
  • Futures
  • Structured products
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • ETFs
  • Closed-end funds
  • Warrants
  • Precious metals

thinkorswim offers a smaller list of tradable assets. Subtract bonds, digital currencies, warrants, precious metals, and structured products.

One more issue worth mentioning here is foreign exchanges. The list of tradable assets on TWS generally applies to American and several foreign exchanges around the globe. thinkorswim, on the other hand, only provides access to the U.S. exchanges, so there are no foreign assets available.

Interactive Brokers easily wins this category.


Order Entry

To actually submit an order for one of the assets mentioned above, Trader Workstation has a trade ticket sitting in the top-left of the platform window. This is where it is at in the Mosaic layout. In the Classic layout, the order ticket will be found by clicking on the Order icon in the top menu. Both tickets have tons of order types, including some really advanced ones like mid-price, trailing limit, and snap market. Some order types are not available with all asset classes or on all exchanges. We found 6 duration choices for equity limit orders on U.S. exchanges.


Interactive Brokers or Thinkorswim


thinkorswim’s order ticket will be found at the bottom of the screen (look for the tabbed arrow). Because there’s only one default layout, there’s no second version. During our test drive of it in simulated mode, we found it easy to use. We really liked the ability to save an order ticket. We also like green as the indicator for buy (TWS uses blue).


Thinkorswim vs IBKR


The thinkorswim ticket has lots of order types. Examples include:

- Blast all
- Market/limit on close
- 1st triggers OCO
- Pair

Limit orders on thinkorswim have a toggle switch that allows the limit price to follow market changes.

Both platforms have good order tickets, so we call it even here.


Charting

This time we won’t call it even. Charts on both platforms can be expanded the full width of the computer monitor. Right-click menus with trade buttons appear on both trading systems.

On Trader Workstation, buy and sell buttons can be overlaid on a chart. On thinkorswim, the order ticket is always at the bottom. It’s also possible to click on a bid or ask price at the top of the chart to fill in the order ticket.


IB vs thinkorswim


Both platforms have lots of tools. During our research, we found over 300 pre-installed technical indicators on thinkorswim. It’s also possible to install custom-built indicators, so in theory, there is an infinite number of indicators.

On Trader Workstation, we found less than 150 technical studies. It is not possible to install custom-built indicators, so that number is the limit.

For drawing tools, TWS has a few gizmos, like Fibonacci lines and arrows. thinkorswim has a much larger selection. Examples include:

- Regression channels
- Fibonacci time ratios
- Andrews’ Pitchfork
- Quadrant lines

The situation for plot styles looks much the same. Trader Workstation has just two choices: OHLC bars and candlesticks. thinkorswim, by comparison, has candlesticks, OHLC bars, Heikin Ashi, monkey bars, and more.

thinkorswim is definitely the outperformer in this category.


Other Platform Features

Besides tools for charting and order entry, thinkorswim has live streaming of CNBC, on-demand videos from the same media outlet, security screeners with many search variables, and even a few simple computer games.


TOS vs IB


Trader Workstation doesn’t have any computer games, but it does have Bloomberg TV, on-demand videos, and security screeners, including ones that can scan foreign exchanges. It also has an Artificial Intelligence that doesn’t appear on thinkorswim.

Pretty close here overall.


Margin

And what about trading on margin? It’s certainly possible at both firms. Trader Workstation shows margin details for an entered ticker symbol. This tool can be found on the “advanced” tab that appears on the Mosaic trade ticket (be sure to select buy or sell first). thinkorswim does not have this capability.

Borrowing funds through Trader Workstation will cost anywhere from 5.33% to 6.33%, depending on the commission schedule chosen (IBKR Lite or IBKR Pro). thinkorswim is much more costly. Currently, TD Ameritrade’s tiered schedule ranges from 13.25% to 11.25%.

Investors at both firms can sign up for portfolio margin. This pro-level service decreases margin requirements on some assets. Interactive Brokers requires $110,000, while TD Ameritrade requires $125,000.

Trader Workstation seems better here.


Promotions

TD Ameritrade: $0 stock/ETF trades + transfer fee refund.

Interactive Brokers: Get up to $1,000 in IBKR stock with this referral link!



Other Platform Versions

TD Ameritrade had this ingenious idea: build a version of thinkorswim for a web browser. The company did just that. During our test drive of this platform, we found that it underperformed the desktop version quite a bit. For example, the web version has fewer technical studies, and many gadgets found on the desktop system are simply missing on the web version. But at least TD Ameritrade has a web version of its desktop platform. Interactive Brokers does not.

TD Ameritrade has also rolled out a thinkorswim mobile app. This is available alongside the broker’s regular mobile app. As the name suggests, it is modeled after the robust desktop platform. As such, it has really great charting and order entry tools. Not that the Interactive Brokers mobile app doesn’t, but there’s only one app available.


Thinkorswim vs TWS


thinkorswim is our pick here.


Day and Swing Trading

Both TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers can be used for short-term trading, and for good reason—actually several reasons. Here they are:

Shorting: Short positions can be entered on TWS and thinkorswim. Neither platform has a short sell or buy to cover button, though.


Interactive Brokers vs thinkorswim


Routing Fees and Rebates: Interactive Brokers offers maker-taker fees. TD Ameritrade does not.

Leverage: Day traders get 4:1 leverage on both thinkorswim and TWS.

Extended Hours: Orders can be submitted through Trader Workstation from 7 am, EST, to 8:00 pm for securities that are eligible for extended-hours trading. Clients who sign up for IBKR Pro get to start at 4 am. While thinkorswim has the same hours as IBKR Lite, TD Ameritrade also offers a list of ETFs for trading 24/7, which Interactive Brokers lacks.

Level II Quotes: Available on both platforms. Interactive Brokers does charge for this data. TD Ameritrade does not.


TOS vs Interactive Brokers


Direct-access Routing: There are more than twenty routing destinations on TWS. thinkorswim, by contrast, has just three.

Looks like Trader Workstation has a slight lead in this category.


Other Services

DRIP Service: Stocks purchased on Trader Workstation are eligible for Interactive Brokers’ DRIP service. Stocks and ETFs purchased on thinkorswim are eligible for TD Ameritrade’s service.

Fractional-Share Trading: Available only on TWS.


IBKR vs TOS


Banking Tools: Interactive Brokers has a debit card. TD Ameritrade has a debit card and checkwriting.

Individual Retirement Accounts: Interactive Brokers has Roth, Traditional, Inherited, SEP, and Rollover accounts. TD Ameritrade has these plus SIMPLE and Minor accounts.

Initial Public Offerings: Available only with TD Ameritrade and thinkorswim.

thinkorswim wins the final category.


Recommendations

Small Accounts: Trader Workstation doesn’t require any account at all.

Beginners: As already mentioned, both programs are difficult to learn, although they have practice modes. They also have educational articles and videos, so self-education isn’t that hard. The browser version of thinkorswim is probably the easiest to learn.

Stock & ETF Trading: For its fractional-share trading service, we defend Interactive Brokers.


IBKR vs thinkorswim: Final Judgment

Both Interactive Brokers (read review) and thinkorswim (read review) have excellent desktop platforms that are sure to please the most demanding of traders.


Open thinkorswim Account


Open TD Ameritrade Account

Open Interactive Brokers Account


Open IB Account



Updated on 7/15/2022.

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