2019 discount stock broker comparison: Etrade vs Charles Schwab vs TD Ameritrade vs Fidelity Investments? Brokerage commissions, IRA account fees, companies ratings and rankings. Which online brokerage firm to choose?

TD Ameritrade Review Charles Schwab Review Etrade Review Fidelity Investments Review
Rating 4.5-star brokerage firm rating Charles Schwab rating Etrade brokerage firm rating Fidelity Investments rating
Stocks $6.95 $4.95 $6.95 $4.95
Options (per contract) $0.75 $0.65 $0.75 $0.65
Mutual Funds $49.99 $76 $19.95 $49.95
Initial Deposit $0 $1,000 $500 $2,500
Inactivity Fee $0 $0 $0 $0
IRA Annual Fee $0 $0 $0 $0
IRA Termination Fee $0 $20 $50 $50
Outgoing Wire Fees (Domestic) $25 $25* $25 $10
Outgoing Wire Fees (International) $25 n/a $25 n/a
Full Account Transfer Out $75 $50 $60 $0
Partial Account Transfer Out $0 $25 $25 $0
Account Closing Fee $0 $0 $0 $50
Number of Commission-Free ETFs 296
best selection for investors who are looking for the most liquid and lowest cost ETFs (by Forbes)
200 101 90
Commission-Free NTF Funds 3,500+ 3,000 4,400 3,500+
Investments Stocks, Options, ETFs, Bonds, CDs, Mutual Funds, Futures, Forex. Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual Funds, Bonds & Fixed Income, Annuities, Global Investing, CDs, Money Market Funds, Margin Loans, Insurance. Stocks, ETFs, Options, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Futures, Forex, Fixed Income. Mutual Funds, ETFs, Stocks, Bonds, Annuity Investments, CDs, Commercial Paper.
Open an account Trade free for 60 days + get up to $600. Make $100,000 deposit and get 500 commission-free online equity and options trades. Deposit $10,000+ and get up to $600 bonus and 60 days of free trades. Get 500 free trades with $100,000+ deposit.
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Overview of Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Schwab, and E*Trade

The four most popular brokerage houses in the United States are Fidelity Investments, TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, and E*Trade. They all advertise heavily and compete for the same pool of clients. This article will compare and contrast the firms in important categories so that you can make a better judgment when you’re ready to open an investment account.

Commissions and Account Requirements

Schwab and Fidelity have the lowest commissions in our examination. They both charge $4.95 for ETF and stock trades. Options at both firms cost an additional 65¢ per contract. Neither broker has any on-going fees, such as annual or low balance fees. However, Schwab does require a $1,000 deposit to open an account; although this requirement can be avoided by opening a Schwab Bank account with the securities account. Fidelity requires $2,500 to open a taxable account.

The next two brokers charge $6.95 for ETF and stock transactions. TD Ameritrade does not offer any rebates to frequent traders, while E*Trade gives a $2 discount for clients who place at least ten trades every month. For derivative traders, both brokerage firms carry a 75¢ charge for option contracts. At E*Trade, there is a 25¢ discount on options.

A trading account at either broker comes with zero fees. TD Ameritrade requires no opening deposit, while E*Trade requires $500.

Margin is available at all four firms. For a loan under $10,000, TD Ameritrade charges 10.-0%, E*Trade customers pay a higher 10.50%, Schwab is at 9.575%, and Fidelity assesses 9.325%.

Account Management Services

All four broker-dealers offer financial advice and portfolio management if you would rather let a professional manage your money. TD Ameritrade customers can sign up for a robo-advisory service that costs 0.30%, one of the lowest rates in the industry. The algorithm trades low-cost non-proprietary ETF’s. The broker imposes a $5,000 minimum to start the service. Human advisors are available for higher fees. These range from 75 to 125 basis points, depending the amount invested and securities desired.

Although 30 basis points is very low, Schwab has thrown down the gauntlet here by offering its software program for free. It requires the same minimum as TD Ameritrade. Schwab makes money on the service by maintaining large cash positions. It also earns income from the ETF’s that are traded. The brokerage firm has several other packages, including both robots and humans, that start at 0.28% with a $25,000 minimum.

E*Trade customers also can select from a range of modern and traditional account management packages. The company’s robo service is 0.30% annually with a $15 minimum. Like the previous two brokers, there is a five grand minimum. Human advisors start at under 100 basis points.

Investors at Fidelity can sign up for the broker’s robo-advisory service for just 0.35% of assets under management. There is a $5,000 deposit requirement, which makes Fidelity a little less competitive here. The broker-dealer does offer human advisors with different fee schedules. The exact cost varies from 0.20% all the way to 1.70%.


TD Ameritrade vs Charles Schwab vs Etrade

Mutual Funds

The four brokers in our study do a good job in the mutual fund category. The E*Trade mutual fund screener returned 8,472 securities. Of these, 4,193 had no load and no transaction fee. These funds have an early redemption fee at E*Trade of $49.99. This is in addition to anything the fund itself charges. Funds that aren’t on the broker’s NTF list are $19.99 on both the buy and sell sides.

TD Ameritrade offers more funds. We found 11,409 during our testing. But this large selection comes at a price as the broker provides just 3,912 that are no-load and no-transaction-fee products. TD Ameritrade’s early redemption fee and transaction fee are both $49.99.

Fewer mutual funds will be found at Schwab. The broker’s screener returned just 5,785 funds. Despite this small selection, there are 3,462 that come with no transaction fee and no load. The broker-dealer charges $76 for purchases of non-NTF funds, while sales are free of charge. There is a short-term redemption fee of $49.95 for NTF products.

We ran Fidelity’s fund screener and found 10,789 securities. Trimming this list down to no-transaction-fee funds resulted in 3,725 products. The broker’s quick-sell fee is $49.95, and furthermore, there is a $49.95 charge to purchase non-NTF funds.


TD Ameritrade vs Fidelity vs Etrade

Exchange-traded Funds

ETF’s are available at our four brokers as well. Fidelity’s website has a thorough ETF section with lots of resources. These include videos, a screener, and a comparison tool. Fidelity customers can trade 93 ETF’s without paying a dime in commissions. The funds are from Fidelity and iShares.

E*Trade’s website also has a very good ETF center with lots of helpful resources. The broker’s screener returns 231 commission-free funds. There are a large variety of fund families, including Global X, iShares, Janus, John Hancock, PIMCO, and others.

We found another good ETF section on TD Ameritrade’s site. It’s possible to scan for ETF’s based on style, such as mid-cap value or large-cap growth. There are articles from Morningstar that cover a variety of fund topics. TD Ameritrade provides 313 commission-free funds.

Finally we come to Schwab, who doesn’t disappoint, either. The broker’s site has a detailed ETF section with lots of helpful resources. Its fund screener shows 254 that have zero commissions. Schwab is the only broker in our survey not to have a short-term redemption fee for its zero-commission ETF’s.


TD Ameritrade vs Fidelity vs Charles Schwab

Customer Support

All four companies in our examination have 24/7 customer support. TD Ameritrade is the only broker not to have an on-line chat function. There is an AI bot named Ted who is able to answer, sometimes adequately, basic questions. The questions have to be typed.

For foreign-language speakers, Schwab offers Vietnamese, Spanish, and Chinese. TD Ameritrade has representatives who speak Chinese and Spanish.

If you prefer in-person service, you’re in luck with any of the four brokerage firms. Each has a network of brick-and-mortar locations spanning multiple states. The largest belongs to TD Ameritrade, who manages more than 450 offices. Schwab is next at roughly 325. Fidelity customers can visit one of the broker’s 190 locations; and E*Trade comes in at 30.

Promotions

TD Ameritrade: Trade free for 60 days + get up to $600.

Charles Schwab: Make $100,000 deposit and get 500 commission-free online equity and options trades.

Etrade: Deposit $10,000+ and get up to $600 bonus and 60 days of free trades.

Fidelity: Get 500 free trades with $100,000+ deposit.

Trading Tools

The four broker-dealers in our survey provide a large selection of trading tools. Fidelity is the only one to have an app for Apple TV. TD Ameritrade and Fidelity are the only two with skills for Amazon Echo.

For desktop trading, thinkorswim from TD Ameritrade is the most advanced platform. It includes 400 technical studies, the most we have ever seen on any platform. Despite this great feature, thinkorswim is free for all clients. Other advanced features include stock and option scanners, and the ability to trade futures and forex.

Schwab’s desktop software, StreetSmart Edge, is more user friendly than thinkorswim, but has fewer features. Nevertheless, it is free to use and boasts live streaming of CNBC (which thinkorswim also has) and provides advanced charting tools.

When E*Trade purchased OptionsHouse, it received the old broker’s browser-based trading system. This is now free for all E*Trade clients. E*Trade’s old desktop platform, E*Trade Pro, is still available to active traders.

We now come finally to Fidelity, but it is certainly not last in performance. Its desktop program Active Trader Pro comes with no trading requirements or account minimums. It boasts advanced charting and live streaming of Bloomberg in HD.


Charles Schwab vs Fidelity vs Etrade

Mobile Apps

Now we come to our final category, which is mobile trading. TD Ameritrade is the only broker in our investigation to offer more than one app. There is a thinkorswim app, which somehow includes many of the powerful trading tools of its desktop twin. The other one is a basic app that can be used for account management. It also is able to place orders for mutual funds, which neither thinkorswim platform is able to do.

E*Trade’s app provides live streaming of Bloomberg at no charge. Option chains are available, and the platform can be used to submit orders for mutual funds.

Fidelity’s mobile app also streams Bloomberg. It seems to have the biggest emphasis on market and financial news. It shows global indexes and provides news articles from Dow Jones and a few other outlets.

The Schwab app comes with CNBC in standard definition. Like the other three brokers, the firm has included mobile check deposit and funds transfer. Limited information on markets is available. The platform can be used to trade options, stocks, ETF’s, and mutual funds.

Judgement

All four brokerage firms do a good job of providing trading services. If you know what you need before opening an account, you should now be able to choose the best one for your financial needs.

If you are still not sure, open an account with TD Ameritrade - it's completely free and has the best promotion offer for new customers. If you like it, you can make a deposit later.


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