Best Online Brokers, 2021

With new traders flocking to the market, can firms keep up? We test how well they serve clients of all stripes.

illustration of online surfers
(Image credit: Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite)

Online brokers are enjoying explosive growth as investors beat a path to their virtual doors. In fact, 2020 was a record year: More than 10 million new brokerage accounts were opened, many by first-time investors, according to market research firm J.D. Power, driven by the seemingly unstoppable bull market, commission-free trades and the pandemic lockdown all helped to break down investing barriers, both financial and emotional. And then there was the meme-stock frenzy (Game Stop, AMC Entertainment Holdings) that enticed hordes of eager investors to get in on the game.

The influx of new investors has put a spotlight on finding a good brokerage firm. In this year’s annual online broker survey, we review nine. Five are large brokers that offer something for almost every kind of investor: Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Fidelity, Merrill Edge and TD Ameritrade. (Schwab’s 2020 acquisition of TD Ameritrade has not resulted in changes to most of the services the firms offer, and it may not for at least another year.) The remaining four—Ally Invest, Firstrade, Interactive Brokers and J.P. Morgan Self-Directed Investing—are contenders in this area, but to some extent they target particular customers.

Read on to see our rankings—and, at the end, more about our methodology, including our new approach to commissions and fees in an environment where fewer brokers levy those. Plus, a look at Robin Hood, Tastyworks and some other newer players.

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Michael Korsh, Adam Shell, Karee Venema and Michaela Wang.

Nellie S. Huang
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Nellie joined Kiplinger in August 2011 after a seven-year stint in Hong Kong. There, she worked for the Wall Street Journal Asia, where as lifestyle editor, she launched and edited Scene Asia, an online guide to food, wine, entertainment and the arts in Asia. Prior to that, she was an editor at Weekend Journal, the Friday lifestyle section of the Wall Street Journal Asia. Kiplinger isn't Nellie's first foray into personal finance: She has also worked at SmartMoney (rising from fact-checker to senior writer), and she was a senior editor at Money.