Updated July 24, 2016

TD Ameritrade Review: Pros and Cons

Read more about TD Ameritrade
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Ameritrade fees are higher than competitors, but is it worth it? We say yes and here’s why. We analyze and compare it for you in our in-depth review.

TD Ameritrade Promotions

Overall Score

4.1

Stock Trading

3.0

Options Trading

4.0

Banking

4.0

Mobile App

5.0

Commissions and Fees

3.0

Ease of Use

5.0

Online Community

3.0

Research

5.0

Trading Platform

5.0
5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Easy to Use
  • Thinkorswim Platform
  • Customer Service
  • Trade Fees

Bottom Line

Good online broker for long-term investors

TD Ameritrade is one of the biggest and oldest names in online brokerages. It is also among the priciest at a flat fee of $9.99 per trade (twice as much as its super-budget competitors).

But is the high price justified? Why choose it over someone only half as much?

In this in-depth review, we'll go over the advantages of using TD Ameritrade, why it may not be for you, and comparisons with other online brokerages.

Why We Like It

  • The Thinkorswim platform's goodies: Thinkorswim is TD Ameritrade's top-notch trading platform. It offers advanced tools, from heat maps to earnings calendars to back testing (trying out a current strategy on historical financial information), making research possibilities seemingly endless. The tools and features available manage to please the newbies as well as the most analytical of traders.

  • Easy access to the heart of the site: The best part about using TD Ameritrade is that there are no trade or account value thresholds you have to meet in order to access the Thinkorswim gold standard platform.

    This is a major differentiating factor from its competitors. Other sites often provide a lower tier platform to casual investors and reserve the more advanced platforms for the most active of traders. With TD Ameritrade, you have the option of "graduating" to the more advanced platform at any time if you find yourself in need of more technical or in-depth analysis.

  • User-friendly website: Trading platforms aside, the TD Ameritrade site itself comes with some nice perks for users. There's a customizable sidebar, real-time quotes, and a feature called SnapTicket, which lets you execute trades from any page instead of having to navigate back to a central trading page every time you want to buy or sell.

  • Always-on customer service: Customers have access to 24/7 support, either by phone or email. Customer service has been reported to be extremely professional, knowledgeable, and fast responding.

  • No minimum deposit: TD Ameritrade requires no minimum deposit to open an account, so you can start investing with as little as you'd like. Most other online brokers have a minimum requirement to open an account.

Drawbacks

  • A high per-trade fee: At $9.99 per trade, TD Ameritrade is definitely toward the high end of the trade pricing spectrum for online brokerages. Its other services aren't cheap either - both broker assisted and mutual fund trades will cost you upwards of $40 each.

  • Potential confusion with multiple apps and platforms: While it's nice to have options, having 2 distinct mobile apps and 2 distinct trading platforms - both of which have very different target audiences - might get a bit confusing for those who are new to the platform. You'll definitely have some homework to do to figure out which platform and mobile app is the best fit for your needs.

Who TD Ameritrade Is Best For

© stewart (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

TD Ameritrade charges more per trade than some of its competitors, but it makes up for that with a great trading platform and superior research offerings. You may find that they're worth those extra couple of dollars.

We think this platform is good for moderately experienced to experienced investors who want to build wealth for the long haul and who will appreciate the slew of features, analytical tools, and research options. It might be overkill for the more beginner of investors, who may not take full advantage of all the features. In that case, you might be better off with a lower cost online brokerage.

Commissions and Fees

TD Ameritrade's fee structure is as follows:

  • Stock Trade Fee (flat): $9.99
  • Options Base Fee: $9.99
  • Options Per Contract Fee: $0.75
  • Mutual Fund Trade Fee: $49.99
  • Broker-Assisted Trades Fee: $44.99

You do have access to over 100 commission-free ETFs, but if you purchase one of them and then sell it within 30 days, you'll be subject to a $19.99 short-term trading fee.

Research Tools

TD Ameritrade's on-site research tools are impressive: a single search will bring you several different third-party research reports. Third-party data on securities is provided by Thomson Reuters (equities) and Morningstar (mutual funds). You also have the option to customize your site's appearance with the My Dock sidebar feature - choose up to 13 modules to display at once, depending on which information you want most easily at hand.

Another major feature of the site is the streaming of real-time quotes - a functionality not matched by some of the other main competitors. Investors who like to be able to trade quickly will also appreciate the SnapTicket feature, which allows you to place orders from any page on the site.

Trading Platform

TD Ameritrade has made 2 different trading platforms available to users:

  • Thinkorswim is more geared toward highly advanced investors who will be doing in-depth technical analysis. It was a standalone trading platform until it was acquired by TD Ameritrade, and even the most analytical of investors will find little missing when using it. Heat maps, earnings calendars, and hundreds of technical studies to accompany each chart are just the beginning of what the Thinkorswim platform has to offer.

    • Live streaming of real-time quotes and newsfeeds from CNBC
    • Automatically roll forward your predefined strategy every month
    • Market Maker Move that predicts the movement of your stocks based on market volatility
    • Screen for stocks that meet your criteria
    • Get recommendations from former CBOE traders
    • See the market displayed through heat maps
    • Back testing – trying out a current strategy on historical financial information
    • Over 300 customizable technical studies for each chart
    • myTrade forum that allows you to share your strategies and charts

  • Trade Architect is intentionally streamlined toward more casual and/or beginner investors. It's still a very good platform, offering real-time quotes, tools and third-party research, and fully customizable layout.

Both are available to any TD Ameritrade customer who wants to use them. There are no trade quantity or account value thresholds to access either one.

Mobile App

Like its trading platforms, TD Ameritrade has decided to offer 2 different mobile apps as well. The names are similar, and therefore can be confusing for newer customers:

  • TD Ameritrade Mobile is for the casual investor. You can view real-time quotes, get news and research, and monitor your accounts.

  • TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader is for more active and advanced traders who want more functionality from their app. There's an In-App support so you can get live help from a trading specialist. You also get access to over 300 advanced charts, elite tools, and a virtual account funded in test money.

Online Community

Investors who want to plug in to the online community can access myTrade. This online forum allows investors to communicate with each other, see each other's trades, and even post investment-related materials (strategies, recommendations, or general opinions) to their own personal myTrade page.

How It Compares

ETrade: Occupying the upper end of the per trade pricing spectrum along with TD Ameritrade is ETrade, as both charge $9.99. But TD Ameritrade gives you a whole lot of extra features distinctly absent from the ETrade platform. ETrade does have a slight edge in the mobile app comparison, though.

 

TD Ameritrade

E*TRADE

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$9.99 per trade
$9.99 per trade
$7.99 per trade if you make 150-1499 trades a quarter
$6.99 per trade if you make 1500+ trades a quarter
Options Trading
$9.99 + $0.75 per contract
$9.99 + $0.75 per contract
Mutual Fund Trading$0 for no-transaction-fee mutual funds
$49.99 for no-load mutual funds
$0 for load mutual funds
$0 for no-load, no-transaction-fee funds
$19.99 for transaction-fee funds
Commission Free ETFsOver 100 including 34 Equity Funds, 33 Bond Funds, 31 International Funds, and 2 Commodity Funds.118 including ETFs from WisdomTree, Global X Funds, and db-X Deutsche Bank
Penny Stocks
Broker Assisted Trades
$44.99
$25 + Regular Commission
Inactivity Fee
$0
$0
Maintenance Fee
$0
$0
Minimum Deposit
$0
$500 for brokerage accounts
No account minimum for retirement accounts
BankingCash Management account offers free ATM withdrawals, no monthly maintenance fees, free online bill pay, and free check writing.Checking account offers no minimum balance requirements, free online bill pay, and unlimited debit card and check transactions.
Mobile App
Desktop App
thinkorswim
E*TRADE Pro (requires you execute at least 30 trades during a calendar quarter or maintain brokerage account balance of at least $250,000)
Forex Trading
Futures Trading$2.25 per contract (plus exchange & regulatory fees)
Customer Service
(800) 669-3900
(650) 599-0125
LocationsMore than 100 locations in 34 states
30
Online Community ETrade Community lets you exchange trading and investing ideas with other ETrade customers.
Seminars
Online webcast
Live events and educational seminars at local branches.
Virtual TradingPaper Trading to practice/test strategies and ideas. 
Stock Trading
Options Trading
Banking
Mobile App
Commissions and Fees
Ease of Use
Online Community
Research
Trading Platform

Blank fields may indicate the information is not available, not applicable, or not known to CreditDonkey. Please visit the product website for details.

TD Ameritrade: Pricing information from published website as of 01/19/2015

E*TRADE: Pricing information from published website as of 01/19/2015

Scottrade: Scottrade is a full $3 cheaper than TD Ameritrade on basic trades, but that cheaper price tag translates into a more limited trading platform. Scottrade does have one intriguing advantage, however - nationwide it has about 500 physical branch locations to TD Ameritrade's 150.

 

TD Ameritrade

Scottrade

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$9.99 per trade
$7 per trade
Options Trading
$9.99 + $0.75 per contract
$7 + $0.70 per contract
Mutual Fund Trading$0 for no-transaction-fee mutual funds
$49.99 for no-load mutual funds
$0 for load mutual funds
No Fee to Buy/Sell/Exchange No-Load, No-Transaction Fee Funds
$17 to Buy/Sell/Exchange No-Load Funds
$0 to Buy Load Funds and $17 to Sell/Exchange Load Funds
Commission Free ETFsOver 100 including 34 Equity Funds, 33 Bond Funds, 31 International Funds, and 2 Commodity Funds. 
Penny Stocks
$7 per trade + 0.5% principal for any stock trading under $1
Broker Assisted Trades
$44.99
$32
Inactivity Fee
$0
$0
Maintenance Fee
$0
$0
Minimum Deposit
$0
$2,500 for brokerage accounts
No account minimum for retirement accounts
BankingCash Management account offers free ATM withdrawals, no monthly maintenance fees, free online bill pay, and free check writing.Scottrade Bank has no monthly maintenance fees, ATM reimbursement program, online bill pay, and mobile banking.
Mobile App
Desktop App
thinkorswim
ScottradeELITE (requires you execute 9 or more stock or option trades during the past 3 months, have $25,000 in your primary account, or have $15,000 in your primary account and combined linked assets of $25,000 or more)
Forex Trading
 
Futures Trading$2.25 per contract (plus exchange & regulatory fees) 
Customer Service
(800) 669-3900
(800) 619-7283 (Monday to Friday 6am to 1am Eastern; Saturday and Sunday 9am to 7pm Eastern)
LocationsMore than 100 locations in 34 states
More than 500 branch locations
Seminars
Online webcast
In-person branch seminars, online events and live webinars
Virtual TradingPaper Trading to practice/test strategies and ideas.ScottradeELITE offers virtual trading
Stock Trading
Options Trading
Banking
Mobile App
Commissions and Fees
Ease of Use
Online Community
Research
Trading Platform
Customer Service

Blank fields may indicate the information is not available, not applicable, or not known to CreditDonkey. Please visit the product website for details.

TD Ameritrade: Pricing information from published website as of 01/19/2015

Scottrade: Pricing information from published website as of 12/11/2016

Fidelity: Fidelity undercuts TD Ameritrade on pricing by about $2 per trade, but Fidelity has a frustrating habit of using trading thresholds to limit which users get to use its most advanced trading platforms. With TD Ameritrade, any user can access the advanced Thinkorswim platform.

 

TD Ameritrade

Fidelity

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$9.99 per trade
$7.95 per trade
Options Trading
$9.99 + $0.75 per contract
$7.95 per online trade, plus $0.75 per contract
Mutual Fund Trading$0 for no-transaction-fee mutual funds
$49.99 for no-load mutual funds
$0 for load mutual funds
$0 transaction fee for Fidelity funds
$0 on purchase for NTF (no transaction fee) non-Fidelity funds. ($49.95 on redemption if held less than 60 days)
$49.95 on purchase for non-Fidelity funds; $0 on redemption. (Certain funds may have a $75 transaction fee).
Commission Free ETFsOver 100 including 34 Equity Funds, 33 Bond Funds, 31 International Funds, and 2 Commodity Funds.85 including 11 Fidelity Sector ETFs, 3 Fidelity Bond ETFs, Fidelity ONEQ, and 70 commission-free funds from iShares ETFs
Penny Stocks
 
Broker Assisted Trades
$44.99
$32.95 per trade for representative-assisted trades.
Inactivity Fee
$0
$0
Maintenance Fee
$0
$12 per year for each noncore Fidelity fund under $2,000.
$25 per year for SIMPLE IRAs.
$48 per year ($12 per quarter) administrative fee for Fidelity HSA.
Minimum Deposit
$0
$2,500
BankingCash Management account offers free ATM withdrawals, no monthly maintenance fees, free online bill pay, and free check writing.Fidelity Cash Management Account includes reimbursed ATM fees, no monthly fee, no minimum balance requirement, FDIC insurance, mobile check deposit, free billpay and free checkwriting.
Mobile App
Desktop App
thinkorswim
Active Trader Pro (requires you trade 36 times or more in a rolling 12 month period)
Forex Trading
 
Futures Trading$2.25 per contract (plus exchange & regulatory fees) 
Customer Service
(800) 669-3900
(800) 343-3548
LocationsMore than 100 locations in 34 states
More than 180
Seminars
Online webcast
 
Virtual TradingPaper Trading to practice/test strategies and ideas.
Stock Trading
Options Trading
Banking
Mobile App
Commissions and Fees
Ease of Use
Online Community
Research
Trading Platform
Mutual Fund Trading

Blank fields may indicate the information is not available, not applicable, or not known to CreditDonkey. Please visit the product website for details.

TD Ameritrade: Pricing information from published website as of 01/19/2015

Fidelity: Pricing information from published website as of 03/09/2016

Bottom Line

Whether this broker is right for your needs may come down to price. You will get a breadth of resources, access to round-the-clock customer service if you run into a snag, and easier access than you might get with another firm (TD Ameritrade does stand apart for not requiring a minimum deposit).

Will you be trading so much that the per-trade fee is going to really hurt? Or do you find the price worth it for the access to research and a tool that you may feel comfortable using?

Only you can decide (and the answer depends on whether you are more of a beginner investor or not), but TD Ameritrade does get a vote of approval from us.

(Pricing information from published website as of 5/31/2015)

Leah Norris is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a stock broker comparison and financial education website. Write to Leah Norris at leah@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped investors make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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More Articles in Reviews

TD Ameritrade

Get 60 Days of Commission-Free Trading

Scottrade

$100 in Transfer Fees Refunded. No Set-Up Fees. No Annual Fees

Fidelity

Get $200 Deposit Bonus


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