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Best Online Discount Brokers, November 2011

This article was written by in Investing. 44 comments.


Unlike long-term investing for the future, active stock trading has qualities in common with gambling. On top of that, it’s expensive gambling. When you step up to a quarter slot machine, you know each bet will cost a quarter. You don’t lose a nickel on each spin as a “transaction fee.” In order to play the stock market, with “play” being the operative word, you lose money right off the bat in the form of commissions.

So if you’re going to invest in stocks, it makes sense to find the least expensive option. Here are some of the more popular choices, updated for November 2011. If you have experiences with these brokerages, please feel free to share your comments at the bottom of this article.

To lower your tax burden this year by up to $5,000, consider opening up an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). Mint.com has an IRA wizard that can show you what kind of IRA to open and where to open it.

Discount Broker
Online Trade Cost
Notes

Low Annual Fee

Betterment Review

$3.95

OptionsHouse Review

$4.00

ShareBuilder Review

$4.95

Zecco Review

$4.95

TradeKing Review

$7.00

Scottrade Review

$7.99

E*Trade Review

$8.00

Fidelity Review

$9.95

OptionsXpress Review

Betterment. Betterment is a brand new investment website which takes all of the guesswork out of making money. Similar to other brokers on this list, Betterment allows users to purchase stocks and bond ETF’s but focuses more on automation, so investors don’t have to spend hours each week putting together their portfolio. Fees are charged on an annual basis and a $25 cash bonus is given to all new investors who sign up specifically from Consumerism Commentary.

ShareBuilder. ShareBuilder’s lowest commission fee on an account without a monthly fee is $4. A few years ago, ShareBuilder was incorporated into ING Direct. I’ve had several years’ worth of experiences with ShareBuilder, and I have never had any problems. I currently have three investment accounts, each initiated with free money from account opening bonuses. I invested in one exchange-traded fund and two stocks. The accounts haven’t fared well, but since I’m playing with small amounts of free money, I am not shouldering much overall risk to my portfolio.

TradeKing. This online brokerage features low $4.95 online trades. SmartMoney Magazine has awarded TradeKing the award for Best Discount Broker in 2006 and 2007 and Best Customer Service among discount brokerages in 2008. TradeKing continually sports $50 cash bonuses for signing up during the summer and offers users a community of stock traders to help you make the best decisions for your portfolio.

Scottrade. Three years ago, Wachovia announced they were adding a $50 annual fee to my discount brokerage account. I tried to get the fee waived, but my protests fell on deaf ears. Rather than paying the $50 fee once and continuing to do so every year, I opted to pay the $75 account termination fee to move my funds to Scottrade. Scottrade offers no account fees other than the $7 commission for online trading. As I was holding only one mutual fund and I didn’t plan to do any trading, the account was free for me.

Since I am not an active trader, I don’t actively seek out new discount brokerages. If you have experiences you’d like to share, please leave comments below.

Updated February 13, 2014 and originally published May 27, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Brian

Man, you work through your “to-do” list quickly! Thanks for the informative article.

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avatar zeromoney

I’d love to see the same thing written up for us Canadians. It’s something that interests me but I don’t know where to begin, and get overly confused as soon as I visit one of those trading sites.

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avatar dave

I’ve use tradeking for about two years. It’s a nice site. I especially like the chat feature since they give lots of free insight and information for newbies. I’ve recently tried trading options and they have been pretty helpful. I ask a lot of dumb questions, but have always received patient advice and information. The other site I like to use is a site called buy and hold. It costs $14.95 per month for unlimited window trades – no special extras like options – and if you only trade twice a month, you can get the special for $6.99. Also available are real time trades for $15 each. I started with them about 8 years ago and have not been disappoined. Everything is done online, so if you are afraid of the net, this is not the place for you. I forget what the minimum investment amount is but it is not more lthan $2500. Check them out.

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avatar Ryan

Woohoo! I just checked since I thought that sharebuilder still charged 15.95 to sell. Yep, you were right with $9.95.

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avatar Tony Leach

Hey Flexo, thanks for the writeup on the different brokerages. I gotta ask – did you check out any of Zecco’s social features (ZeccoShare)? We think it really sets us apart!

Tony (Zecco Product Manager)

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avatar Lindsay

As of March 1, 2009, Zecco changed their policy regarding the minimum account balance required to be eligible for free trades. People should be aware that the minimum account balance to obtain free trades has increased from $2,500 to $25,000.

While this may not impact most “traders” who are accustom to paying fees for trades, the responses from Zecco customers were not positive. Per some of the other comments posted, review the “social community” responses to the recent changes. It appears that a number of customers felt alienated by the adjustment to the business model and applying those changes to existing customers.

It is important to note that Zecco still does not offer after hours trading, so if this is a feature that you value, it may be worth it to explore other low-cost brokerage options.

I became a customer of Zecco in 2007 and was initially attracted to the company because of the free trade model. I retained my ETrade account because I prefer the format and they provide better research and after-hours trading, which Zecco does not offer. In terms of customer service, I have always had positive experiences.

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avatar slbrown

Why don’t you let everyone know that you just raised your fees to trade stocks under a $1 by 55% from $4.50 a trade to $6.95 a trade, plus you eliminated all free trades that you used to provide. Many folks don’t know that yet because you hide it in your fine print while advertising $4.95 a trade. Who raises fees by 55%? Zecco does!!!!!

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avatar Black Hammer

E*Trade really rapes us on ESPP commissions. Even selling multiple blocks as a single transaction it seemed like they just multiplied the commission by the number of blocks.

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avatar dunkoman

Beware of Zecco trading! They will execute canceled orders if it will push you into the paid trades number! Very scary! Best to stay far away from this one.
Customer service was totally incompetent as well when I complained about the canceled orders being executed.
I went back to Scottrade for now, the trading interface is much better, and canceled orders go away immediately, and you can change them as many times as you like.

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avatar John

As a young company Zecco is working out a few kinks, but improvements are being made quickly. We kick ass thanks to our social network and transparent investing community. What’s also cool is that investors can join our community without opening a Zecco account, so collaboration is free and transparency is celebrated.

John (ZeccoShare Community MC)

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avatar slbrown

Plus you just raised fees by 55% on all stocks under $1 and eliminated all free trades.It is scary how you advertise $4.95 a trade and hide the $6.95 charge for stocks under $1 in your fine print. Who raises fees by 55%? Zecco does!!!!!

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avatar jamie

i have had bad experiences with sharebuilder as they restrict the securities that you are allowed to invest in saying it must meet their criteria but when you show them that it does they then use the excuse that allowing you to invest in it will drive up the price and then you will be able to buy fewer shares

i think that they are hiding something as i always thought that when you buy shares in something it is a good thing if the price goes up

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avatar mark

I’ve had problems with Sharebuilder as well. They recently lost a $600.00 check I mailed to them. After ten days, they blamed me. They also didn’t place trades that I had ordered at the opening of the markets as I had requested. My total loss due to their messups— $600.00 approximately. I’m now looking for another broker. Too many excuses.

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avatar john sloan

I took a good advice and signed up with scottrade.com and got 3 free
trades with this promo code: YWEU0574

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avatar Broc

Anyone have experience with Sogo? I have Zecco account and find them very good, except for foreign stocks? I’ll be working on that with them :)

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avatar Red

I too had a very bad experience with Sharebuilder. They gave me wrong information and then they said it was my fault that they took double of the amount I requested to be transferred from my bank account. One supervisory said it was our fault, they’ll take care of it but I would have to call another day. I called another day, they said they can’t honor what they said before because this is a new day with new rules. I’m taking my business elsewhere. I’m looking for another company that honors their promises.

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avatar SavingEverything

Have anyone heard of, or have experience, with the following brokers: Interactive Brokers, TradeStation, TradeKing, SogoTrade, OptionsHouse, OptionsXpress, thinkorswim (owned by Ameritrade), FirsTrade, TradeMonster, Zecco, ScotTrade, e-Trade, ShareBuilder, Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, TDAmeritrade? Has anyone heard of Penson Financials and Genesis Securities?

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avatar Eric

I have been a member of SogoTrade for over 6-years now and up until a few months ago I had been recommending this brokerage to all my friends. However, since they have been taken over by Wang Investments (http://www.wangvest.com) the execution and customer service has really gone down hill.
I recently placed several trades over the last couple months and only one of them was executed as I had directed. Some market trades weren’t even executed at all!
I have liquidated my portfolio with SogoTrade and am shopping for a new brokerage firm, which by the way is why I landed on this page.

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avatar Jay

I also liquidated my portfolio with SogoTrade, I was pretty happy before they changed. Now it is a fight to even get a 1099 from them, they are saying March 15. Just as a side note, the number they used to use gets a disconnected message when you call it….

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avatar Cukaru

I have been with TradeKing since Feb. 1, 2011. GOOD: Can talk to or place order with human on phone for same price as DIY online: $4.95 per trade and +$.65 per option contract; TERRIBLE: Website inaccessible on “Chaos Monday”, Aug. 8, 2011, for 37 minutes at market open; then, unreliable off and on all day. I emailed my newsletter guy and he said he knew that the E-Trade website was up all day long and suggested I switch to them. They will cost me $9.95 per trade, but how much would it have cost me if my newsletter guy had said “sell” and I couldn’t access my account at TradeKing? E-Trade GOOD: I just learned that I can transfer my open positions from TradeKing to E-Trade without closing them and my account is an IRA. It will also be a direct transfer, not a Rollover (can only do 1 rollover per year). Yeah!

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avatar dave

Trade King is associated with Penson. Don’t know what you are looking for, but I’ve been with Trade King for about 2 or three years. No problems so far.

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avatar Jeremy

I think SOGOTRADE is pretty good. It only cost $3 to make a trade (unlimited shares). They have good online and phone support, quick execution and a good inventory of shares that you can short! Oh and you only need $500 to open your account. You also get 100 free trades when you open your account. Can’t beat that.

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avatar Mike

Charles Schwab is amazing. It has my favorite funds available in an IRA with low initial contribution requirements. The Index funds have a low contribution as well. Checking account is awesome. The ETFs have no commission costs. The 2% cashback visa card is fantastic. The customer service is great.

I love those guys to death.

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avatar Alex

I agree. The no commission ETFs are great and the 2% cash back credit cards is awesome.

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avatar Dragon

I was considering Ameritrade but saw no comments…

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avatar Mike

I’ve been using Ameritrade for about 10 years now and I haven’t had any negative experiences. Granted, I don’t do a lot of trading but I can say that their customer service is excellent.

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avatar Bryan

Ameritrade is great. Only thing i dont like about them is that you can trade international stocks. If you want to invest only in the usa there decent but look at fidelity and interactive brokers if your a global investor

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avatar Gary

I have been using “Think or Swim,” which is owned by Ameritrade now, for quite a few years. I was actually here looking for another platform for less expensive trades, though theirs seem middle of the pack here. The problem I have is that Think or Swims option trading platform is incredible. I used OptionsExpress before I switched to Think or Swim. Before I would consider a switch, I would have to analyze another firms options analysis and I would not consider moving unless the analytic software is similar.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

I have used TDAmeritrade for several years. Trades are 9.99, you can usually get a promo with some free trades upon account opening. It’s not the cheapest. Their support has been good when I’ve had to call—–online trading was all new to me. I haven’t had any problems. The fee is probably a good thing—-it keeps me from trading too much on whims.

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avatar Alex

You forgot SoGo Trade with $3 trades.

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avatar Joe

Be careful with SoGotrade, they lost 4K because they screwed up on Facebook IPO back in May 2012. I placed an order for 500 shares before it went public, and about an hour before it opened (late) I canceled. That following Monday morning I found out that I owned it, I couldn’t believe it so I called they admitted to me that the cancel order didn’t execute but when I spoke with the SoGotrade president told me he was not going to pick and choose who gets their money back because there were so many cancellations that didn’t execute…..so all they offered was a few free trades.
That same Monday I sold it and I wrote to the SEC, they gave the case to a woman who was worse than useless, she did nothing and they had the proof and everything I mailed to them, they needed to do something, my recourse of course was to hire an attorney which would cost more than I lost. Then they wonder why small investors say the stock market is a racket, and stay out, this is one good reason why some stay out.
I have one question, has anyone heard from the Facebook CEO yet? He got his money the day it opened so I guess he is done.
I have not traded with them since and took all my money out, I am presently looking for a new company, and closing SoGotrade, or Wang Investments.

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avatar keene

Trade King goes down too often and it takes over 30 minutes to make a trade.. Be careful getting an account here if you really like to pay attention to the market.

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avatar dave

I’ve never had that problem. Trades are usually instantaneous . Sometime it takes a little longer, but I’ve never had a problem with them being down.

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avatar Lyn

New 2011 and 2012 Scottrade referral code: IXFV9382

Will get yuou 3 free trades when you open any type of Scottrade account.

Lyn

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avatar Dan - BankVibe

@ Lyn, I use scottrade too and referred my roommate last year and they gave me $200 in gift cards, but I had to talk to a rep directly and tell them how much he was moving into the account. I bet you can get more than 3 free trades if you actually get someone on the phone and the sum of money is enticing enough for them. He was moving in $5k and I got the $200 so that should give you an idea of where to start when you speak with them.

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avatar beginner

where can I find results that compare the fee to register stock in my name ( vs the street name ) among brokerage firms?
Firstrade $100
Tradeking $75
…are there other firms with lower prices?

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avatar TITO

Hi everyone:

Can anyone please help me with information regarding OptionsHouse as a broker?
Has anyone used it? what do they charge for Electronic trading? does a trader have access to international markets with NO DIFFERENCE in price? (stocks from other countries like Canada or China, or Peru, etc.). My current broker wants to charge $75 in & $75 out! – $150 round trip!!. Talk about “robbery”. This is NEW NEWS TO ME. Just found out.
You can understand why I’m now looking for a new broker.

I would appreciate ALL comments to my mailbox please: hotoya@yahoo.com

Thanks and happy trading to all!

Best Regards,

TITO.

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avatar DN

2012 code – Get 3 free trades ($21 value) when opening a new account.

KORF2746

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avatar MM

Newbie here and after reading the comments to this article I have the same perspective as I did before: “Boiler room” thanks for sharing and I will not be “sharing” :(

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avatar DoxGator

You have left off on the the best platforms for online trading, Merrill Edge, http://www.MerrillEdge.com, with 25k of cash or 50k of enterprise wide assets between Bank of America and Merrill Edge 30 free stock/etf trades a month, otherwise they have very competitive $6.95 commissions.

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avatar RICH

LOW TRADE IS BEST OF ALL

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avatar AS

Just wanted to mention that your info on ShareBuilder is not exactly accurate. The $4 you have listed is for their AUTOMATIC INVESTMENTS for the “basic” account. (The “Advantage” account, $12/mo service charge, gives you 12 free trades per month, $1/each after that..

Their ONLINE TRADES are $9.95 PER TRADE, even if you do multiple trades in one transaction, you will be charged $9.95 each time!!

Happy New Year!! :)

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avatar Larry Mountain

Nobody mentioned Marsco. I’ve been using them for three years and think they’re great. $3.95 a trade. I used to be with Scottrade but they charge $7.00 a trade, but what really forced me to move is Scottrade started blocking trades on stocks that were moving up or down quickly and the only way to execute the trade was to actually call them and have them place it. I do a lot of trading. That nonsense cost me about $4000 in three months and I said enough is enough. Don’t have that problem with Marsco. The only negative for Marsco with some people might be that their online research is very very weak and almost non-existent. That means nothing to me because I never use the research tools on the brokerage sites but it may be a big deal to others.

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avatar raquelita

Sharebuilder is no longer for people living outside the US. Your citizenship has no effect – SB checks where you log in from. What will happen is that you can still check your positions but you can only sell, not buy. Now that Sharebuilder is part of Capital One instead of ING this no beyond-US-borders still holds.

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