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Methodology for online brokers

We rate brokers on nine key categories, including investment options, trading platforms and cash sweep rates.

Finder’s investment experts assess brokers across nine key categories to help you objectively evaluate a broker’s overall performance and suitability for your unique needs.

The nine categories we measure are:

  • Investment options
  • Trading platforms and technology
  • Trading costs
  • Account fees
  • Customer support
  • Mobile app rating and security
  • Features and amenities
  • Cash sweep rates
  • Account types and minimums

Data collection

We collect data manually through online research and from providers directly. For many of the brokers we review, our investment experts perform hands-on testing. Some brokers also provide live demonstrations of their platforms and services.

Category weightings

We weigh each metric based on factors we believe are most important to traders and investors. Brokers earn a score in each category and then an overall score based on the weightings detailed on this page.

Scoring and rating

Brokers are evaluated on the nine key categories outlined on this page. These categories are broken down into 24 core elements and 79 weighted criteria. Some of these core elements are features that Finder’s experts consider perks to the main features. Providers that offer any of these perks are rewarded with additional points. However, brokers that don’t offer any of these perks are not penalized. These features include IPO access, 24/7 customer support, access to a robo-advisor, access to a financial advisor and paper trading.

We rate brokers using a system of one to five stars, incremented in tenths of a star, with 5 stars being the best possible score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Excellent

★★★★★ 4/5 — Good

★★★★★ 3/5 — Average

★★★★★ 2/5 — Subpar

★★★★★ 1/5 — Poor

Investment options

This category evaluates the breadth and diversity of available assets. We also consider whether the broker offers IPO access.

Investment options

If a broker offers stocks, options and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which we consider foundational investment options, it earns the highest score. If a provider offers only stocks and ETFs, it earns the lowest score. Brokers are then awarded five additional points for each additional available asset type. We consider access to mutual funds, bonds, cryptocurrency, futures, forex, precious metals, interval funds, collectibles, royalties, art and certificates of deposit (CDs).

★★★★★ 5/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers stocks, options and ETFs

★★★★★ 1/5 — Offers only stocks and ETFs

IPO access

If a broker offers IPO access, it earns the highest score. Brokers that don’t offer IPO access are not penalized.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers IPO access

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Trading platforms and technology

This category examines the trading platform’s usability, functionality and availability across devices. It assesses the quality of research tools, charts and technical analysis features.

Trading platforms

If a broker offers mobile, web browser and desktop trading platforms, it earns the highest score. If a provider offers only access via a mobile app or web browser, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers mobile, web browser and desktop trading platforms

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers two trading platforms

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers trading only via a mobile app or web browser

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Analysis and research tools

If a platform offers robust and useful tools that are significantly better than most competing platforms, including advanced charting, free third-party research, analyst ratings and price targets, it earns the highest score. If a broker offers no analysis or research tools, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers advanced charts, screeners, watchlists, price alerts, earnings estimates, company financials, free third-party research, analyst ratings, price targets, news and company statistics

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers advanced charting and analysis features and research tools, but not as robust as top platforms

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers a basic mix of tools and information, such as screeners and alerts but no advanced charts or analyst research or price targets

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers company details/statistics and news only

★★★★★ 1/5 — Offers no resources or tools

Trading costs

This category evaluates the broker’s trading fee structure, including stock, ETF and options commissions, as well as options contract fees.

Commissions on stocks, options and ETFs

Platforms with commission-free stock, option and ETF trades get the highest score, while platforms that charge commissions to trade stocks, options and ETFs earn the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Commission-free stock, option and ETF trading

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — Commissions on stocks, options and ETFs

Options contract fees

Brokers that charge no options contract fees earn the highest score. If a broker doesn’t offer options trading, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — No per-contract fees

★★★★★ 4/5 — $1 or less in total contract fees

★★★★★ 3/5 — $0.65 or less per contract

★★★★★ 2/5 — $1 or more per options contract

★★★★★ 1/5 — Options trading is unavailable

Margin rates

If the broker’s highest margin rate is between 6% and 10%, it earns the highest score. Brokers that don’t offer margin earn the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Margin rate of 6–10%

★★★★★ 4/5 — Margin rate of 10.01%–13%

★★★★★ 3/5 — Margin rate of 13.01% or more

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — No margin

Account fees

This category assesses annual fees, inactivity fees and outgoing account transfer fees.

Annual fee

If a broker charges no annual fee, it earns the highest score. If a platform charges an annual fee of $31 or more, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — $0

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — $1–$30

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — $31 or more

Inactivity fee

If a broker charges no inactivity fee, it earns the highest score. If a broker charges an inactivity fee that totals $150 or more annually, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — $0

★★★★★ 4/5 — $1–$49

★★★★★ 3/5 — $50–$100

★★★★★ 2/5 — $101–$149

★★★★★ 1/5 — $150 or more

Full outgoing account transfer fee

If a provider charges clients no fee to transfer their entire account to another broker, it earns the highest score. If a broker charges a fee of $101 or more, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — $0

★★★★★ 4/5 — $1–$75

★★★★★ 3/5 — $76-$100

★★★★★ 2/5 — $101 or more

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Customer support

This category rates the broker’s customer support responsiveness and accessibility and evaluates available support channels, such as live chat, phone and email.

Contact methods

If a broker offers at least three ways to get help, one of which offers a response time of 10 minutes or less, it earns the highest score. If we couldn’t get in touch with customer support on multiple attempts, the broker earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers 24/7 phone support

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers phone support and live chat but no 24/7 support

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers phone support or live chat during regular business hours

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers email support only, and it took more than a day to hear back

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Mobile app rating and security

This category analyzes a mobile app’s security measures, user reviews and ratings.

Security measures

If a broker offers two-factor authentication (2FA) and biometrics to protect customers’ accounts and information, it earns the highest score. If a platform doesn’t offer 2FA or biometrics, it earns the lowest rating.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers 2FA and biometrics to protect customers’ accounts and information

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers 2FA but not biometrics

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer 2FA or biometrics capabilities

App store ratings

We take the average of the broker’s ratings across the Apple App Store and Google Play App Store to calculate a final score.

Features and amenities

This category evaluates the availability of features such as access to advisory services, fractional shares, instant deposits, paper trading and educational resources.

Access to a robo-advisor

If a broker offers access to a robo-advisor with no advisory fees and no minimum balance requirements, it earns the highest score. Brokers that don’t offer access to a robo-advisor are not penalized.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers access to a robo-advisor with no advisory fees and no minimum balance requirements

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers access to a robo-advisor but has a minimum balance requirement or charges an annual advisory fee

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Access to a financial advisor

If a broker offers access to a financial advisor with no advisory fees and no minimum balance requirements, it earns the highest score. Brokers that don’t offer access to a financial advisor are not penalized.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers free access to a financial advisor with no advisory fees and no minimum balance requirements

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers access to a financial advisor but has a minimum balance requirement or charges an annual advisory fee

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Fractional shares

If a broker offers fractional shares, it earns the highest score. If a broker doesn’t offer fractional shares, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers fractional share trading

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer fractional share trading

Instant buying power

If a platform offers instant buying power, it earns the highest score. If a provider doesn’t offer instant buying power, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers instant buying power

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer instant buying power

Paper trading

If a broker offers paper trading, it earns the highest score. Brokers that don’t offer paper trading are not penalized.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers paper trading

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — N/A

Extended hours trading

If a broker offers 24/5 trading, it earns the highest score. If a broker doesn’t offer extended trading hours, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers 24/5 trading

★★★★★ 4/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers extended hours trading, but not 24/5 trading

★★★★★ 2/5 — N/A

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer extended hours trading or 24/5 trading

Educational resources

A broker earns the highest score if it offers live webinars, courses, tutorials, articles, videos, live-streaming news, and market commentary. Brokers that offer no educational content earn the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers live webinars, courses, tutorials, articles, videos and live-streaming news and market commentary

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers articles, videos, interactive courses and market commentary but no live webinars

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers articles and videos but no interactive courses, market commentary or live webinars

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers informational tools only, like newsletters and market news

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer any educational content

Cash sweep rates

This category assesses the annual percentage yield (APY) offered on cash balances through the broker’s cash sweep program. If a broker offers an APY of over 5% on uninvested cash, with no additional steps needed to earn these rates, it earns the highest score. If a broker doesn’t offer a cash sweep program, it earns the lowest score.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers an APY of over 5% on uninvested cash, with no additional steps needed to earn these rates

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers an APY of over 5% on uninvested cash but may require the customer to sign up with a separate product

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers an APY of between 1% and 5% on uninvested cash and may require the customer to sign up with a separate product

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers an APY of less than 1% on uninvested cash and may require the customer to sign up with a separate product

★★★★★ 1/5 — Doesn’t offer a cash sweep program

Account types and minimums

This category examines a broker’s lineup of account types and minimums to open an account.

Account types

Brokers that offer individual, joint and custodial brokerage accounts, 529 plans and traditional, Roth, rollover, custodial and SEP IRAs earn the highest rating, while a broker that offers only an individual brokerage account earns the lowest rating.

★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers individual, joint and custodial brokerage accounts, 529 plans and traditional, Roth, rollover, custodial and SEP IRAs

★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers individual and joint brokerage accounts and traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs, but no custodial brokerage accounts, 529 plans or custodial IRAs

★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers individual and joint brokerage accounts and traditional, Roth and rollover IRAs

★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers individual and joint brokerage accounts, with no IRAs

★★★★★ 1/5 — Offers individual brokerage accounts only

Account minimums

Brokers that have no minimum deposit requirements earn the highest rating, while brokers with a minimum deposit requirement of more than $500 earn the lowest rating.

★★★★★ 5/5 — No minimum deposit required

★★★★★ 4/5 — Minimum deposit of $25 or less

★★★★★ 3/5 — Minimum deposit of up to $100

★★★★★ 2/5 — Minimum deposit of up to $500

★★★★★ 1/5 — Minimum deposit of more than $500

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Finder is not an adviser or brokerage service. Information on this page is for educational purposes only and not a recommendation to invest with any one company, trade specific stocks or fund specific investments. All editorial opinions are our own.

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