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Methodology: How we rate trading platforms
We rate online stock trading platforms on 6 key categories.
Not all trading platforms are created equal. To help you identify where a platform shines — or falls flat — our editors objectively assess each platform across a spectrum of performance metrics.
We consider six key factors in our ratings:
- Securities available for trade
- Customer support
- Customer feedback
- Platform resources
- Overall reliability
Our ratings are designed to help you assess a trading platform’s strengths and weaknesses. But the best way to inform your decision is to read our full platform review for an in-depth breakdown of platform features.
We rate trading platforms using a system of one to five stars.
★★★★★ 5/5 — Excellent
★★★★★ 4/5 — Good
★★★★★ 3/5 — Average
★★★★★ 2/5 — Subpar
★★★★★ 1/5 — Poor
How we rate fees
This is the most heavily weighted category, with twice as much impact on the final score as any other category, and we measure platforms on three separate types of fees: commissions, management and other.
Most platforms will have a rating in only two of the three categories. For example, if a platform doesn’t offer portfolio management, we won’t rate management fees. And if a platform only offers managed portfolios, it generally won’t charge a separate commission on individual stocks.
For platforms that offer both active and managed services, we combine these first two scores and use the average in our final rating.
Commissions on stock and options purchases
As digital startups contribute to growing competition, commission fees are becoming less common. But most trading platforms still fees on options, and a few still charge stock trading fees as well.
Platforms with commission-free trades get our highest rating, while platforms with options contract fees or commissions on stocks, bonds or mutual funds receive fewer stars.
★★★★★ 5/5 — Commission-free trading
★★★★★ 4/5 — Commissions on options, but $0.65 or less per contract — no commissions on stocks
★★★★★ 3/5 — Commissions on options, but $0.75 or less per contract — no commissions on stocks
★★★★★ 2/5 — Commissions on options and/or stocks, but $1 or less per contract
★★★★★ 1/5 — Commissions of more than $1 per contract
For platforms that offer portfolio management, and active investing platforms with ongoing fees, we take into account both flat-rate and percentage-based management fees.
★★★★★ 5/5 — No management fees
★★★★★ 4/5 — Flat management fee of up to $5 a month or percentage-based management fee of up to 0.25%
★★★★★ 3/5 — Flat management fee of $5 to $10 a month, or percentage-based management fee of 0.26% to 0.35%
★★★★★ 2/5 — Flat management fee of $10 to $25 a month, or percentage-based management fee of 0.36% to 0.5%
★★★★★ 1/5 — Flat management fee of more than $25 a month, or percentage-based management fee of more than 0.5%
We also evaluate transfer, unused account, advisory and any other fees charged by the brokerage or platform.
★★★★★ 5/5 — Few fees, lower than average costs
★★★★★ 4/5 — Reasonable fees, slightly lower than average costs
★★★★★ 3/5 — Fees slightly higher than average
★★★★★ 2/5 — Fees noticeably higher than average
★★★★★ 1/5 — High fees
How we rate available securities
If you’re looking to build a stock portfolio, it’s useful to be able to manage all of your investments on one platform. But while some brokerages offer everything from futures to forex, others are more limited.
We look into how many securities each platform offers, including:
- Mutual funds
How this breaks down
★★★★★ 5/5 — Offers 6 or more investment options
★★★★★ 4/5 — Offers 4 to 5 investment options
★★★★★ 3/5 — Offers 3 investment options
★★★★★ 2/5 — Offers 2 investment options
★★★★★ 1/5 — Offers only 1 investment option
How we rate customer support
The quality of a brokerage or platform’s customer support can make or break the customer experience. We evaluate the ways in which you can get help against the overall responsiveness of its support reps, contacting each platform to time their response.
★★★★★ 5/5 — At least 3 ways to get help, and a response within 10 minutes
★★★★★ 4/5 — 1 to 2 ways to get help, and a response within 10 minutes
★★★★★ 3/5 — We got in touch with help, but it took more than 10 minutes
★★★★★ 2/5 — We got in touch with help, but it took more than a day to hear back
★★★★★ 1/5 — We couldn’t get in touch with customer support
How we rate mobile apps
In today’s age, apps matter. Many traders rely on mobile apps when traveling or making quick purchases during market shifts — and it’s getting increasingly popular for traders to buy and sell stocks exclusively on their phones.
We take the average of all the reviews on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App store and use it here. Our mobile app ratings are updated at least yearly — if there’s a major change to a company’s rating, we may update it sooner.
How we rate resources and tools
Resources can include market research, strategy tools, charting capabilities, personalized trading advice, financial advisers and access to subscription-based articles or videos. The goal is making sure you have access to innovative guidance on trading options, tracking the market, or tracking the performance of your investments, if you need it.
★★★★★ 5/5 — Robust and useful tools that are significantly better than most competing platforms, such as advanced charting or personalized advice
★★★★★ 4/5 — Useful tools to keep track of and monitor investments, but not as robust as top platforms
★★★★★ 3/5 — Basic mix of tools and information
★★★★★ 2/5 — Informational tools only, like newsletters and market news
★★★★★ 1/5 — No resources or tools
How we rate reliability
We assess a platform’s reliability based on reports of major outages, site crashes and app glitches. We factor in outages announced by the platform, as well as found in user reviews and news stories.
★★★★★ 5/5 — No known major outages or site crashes in the last 5 years
★★★★★ 4/5 — No major outages or site crashes, but reports of site freezes, glitches or short downtime
★★★★★ 3/5 — 1 known major outage or site crash, or many reports of site freezes or temporary glitches
★★★★★ 2/5 — More than 1 major outage or site crash and/or many reports of site freezes or glitches of more than an hour
★★★★★ 1/5 — Platform known to crash and experiences outages than can affect trading
We award the occasional bonus star when a platform has a unique or standout feature that goes far above what we’ve seen among competitors. When this happens, we’ll call it out on the page.
We’ll also award bonus stars before calculating the average. Because 35 stars are available, a bonus star can affect the final rating by a maximum of 0.14 stars.
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