Among low-cost brokers, Scottrade gets the highest marks from customers; the firm comes in third in a 2012 survey of individual investors by J.D. Power and Associates. Experts also give Scottrade good ratings, especially since the firm added banking services in 2011. Scottrade places second in SmartMoney's 2012 broker rankings, earning high ratings in the areas of banking services and fees, though the last comes with a small caveat.
Although the stock trades aren't the cheapest around, that's balanced out by the lack of fees on nearly every other service offered. Barron's and Kiplinger.com both point to Scottrade's "reasonable" commissions and fees, although Kiplinger.com finds its website "clunky" and says it "doesn't offer much in the way of research and tools." Scottrade offers $7 online stock trades, and there are no account maintenance or inactivity fees. The minimum to open an account is $500.
Discount broker TradeKing also earns high marks for its customer service; in fact, SmartMoney magazine rates it tops in customer service for the last three years. Costs are low as well. TradeKing charges a flat fee of $4.95 per trade for trades of any type and 65 cents per option contract. There are no hidden fees, and there is no minimum to open an account, which makes this online broker ideal for those who are just starting to build a portfolio.
TradeKing's signature feature is its online community; it was the first online broker to incorporate social networking. In 2011, Barron's noted that TradeKing's online trader community "is well-integrated into the trading platform, so customers can get ideas from one another." Reviewers also like the tools available for options traders. TradeKing operates online only and offers no banking services. So far, according to Barron's 2012 review, TradeKing's mobile apps are "limited, though iPad and Android apps are expected later this year."
For low-cost stock trades, reviewers say it's hard to beat OptionsHouse, which offers a flat fee of $3.95; mutual fund trades are $9.95, with no account minimum. This discount broker is geared toward options trading, as the name implies, but it has a wealth of other offerings. According to Barron's, the average trader there places about 100 trades per year. Barron's 2012 review says that "serious options traders will be very happy here," and calls OptionsHouse's mobile apps "terrific" but notes that this broker offers "very limited access to international markets."
TopTenReviews.com ranks this firm second of 18 online brokers, praising it for its low commissions and good customer service, and Stockbrokers.com gives it several of the site's Best in Class awards, including one for commissions and fees, and one for the ease of use of its online trading platform.