Best Broker For 2016

24/7 Customer Service

With a customer service representative always just an email, phone call, or live chat message away, investors and traders know that they can get the help they need precisely when they need it the most with TD Ameritrade. It can be 9:30 AM on a Tuesday in the middle of the market opening or 2:00 AM on a Saturday, someone from TD Ameritrade will be there to assist you. On top of this, TD Ameritrade customer service representatives, and especially the trade desk, are extremely knowledgeable and patient when helping clients. Not only can they assist with technical account issues, but they can also explain the nuances of complicated investment products, and they’re available to do this 24/7.

thinkorswim Desktop Platform

Compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, thinkorswim (read review) is one of the most comprehensive and robust trading platforms available, and it’s entirely free. There are no extra fees for using the software, unlike many other brokerages, and it’s unquestionably on par with institutional software. What’s unique about thinkorswim, and this separates it from many other trading platforms offered by retail brokerages, is that it’s downloadable, which means it inherently has more capabilities. Having a program where an investor can logon to place trades is vastly superior to using a web browser to access a web-based trading platform, and it comes with full customization.

Streaming of real-time data is smooth and seamless with no apparent memory leaks or issues loading data. Popping out and detaching level-II windows, customizing option chain layouts, and accessing 300 studies and strategies in the chart tab put the platform on a different level than its competitors.

The “Analyze” tab lets investors determine potential losses and profits, account for theta decay, and analyze the probability of profit for trades that haven’t been submitted yet as well as analyze current account positions. Moreover, with thinkscript language, you can program and create your own studies and technical analysis. In terms of the look and feel of the platform, there are specific options to adjust the font style/size, background color, and contrast to your liking.

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Mobile Applications

With one of the highest rated mobile trading apps in the Apple Store, the thinkorswim mobile application offers many of the same capabilities as the desktop version. If an investor prefers the simplicity of trading from the TD Ameritrade webpage, however, there is an additional app available designed by TD. Although futures cannot be traded through the Ameritrade mobile app, it offers smooth access to equity and option trading as well as research reports and live news.

No Hidden Fees

There are no software fees for using any of the services or trading platforms offered by TD Ameritrade. Trade Architect, thinkorswim, and the TD Ameritrade webpage trading terminal are 100% free with no forced paid-subscription services for data or news. In fact, all the platforms are loaded with live, free real-time level-II data for equities, options, futures, and forex.

TD Ameritrade Apex Review

Additionally, if an investor holds an account balance of $100,000 or more, or trades five or more times per month over a three-month period, then they can qualify for “Apex”. Calls, emails, and live-chat messages from Apex clients at TD Ameritrade are given top priority with the same 24/7 availability. Moreover, outgoing wire transfers are completely free for Apex clients, or a charge of $25 for non-Apex clients. As per usual, incoming and outgoing ACH transfers are free with no fees attached. There are also no inactivity or account maintenance fees with a regular account or an “Apex” account.

Ease of Access to Different Investment Products

Between equities, options, forex, futures and futures options, TD Ameritrade offers access to every type of investment vehicle an investor could ever need. There are only a handful of other brokerages that offer access to all of these products, and the process of entering the underlying or contract name is complicated and confusing.

With TD Ameritrade, it’s extremely straight forward. All the tradable futures are listed in publicly available watchlists where the symbols, initial margin requirements, tick value and tick size are displayed. Individual futures can be searched and traded by entering a forward slash and then the product symbol. For example, Light Sweet Crude Oil is, “/CL”. When an investor enters this into the “All Products” search button under the trade tab, every tradable month of options appears. For many other major brokerages, the symbols are not this straightforward and simple. The expiration month and other dashes and parentheses must be entered further complicating and slowing down the trading process.

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While monthly trading volume and account size may ultimately determine the commission rates an individual investor can get, there are different levels of commission rates available – if you ask. Current TD Ameritrade commissions are $9.99 for stocks, $9.99 plus $0.75 per contract for options, and $2.25 per contract for futures. Although these rates are not the lowest in the industry, you truly do get what you pay for (better technology, better customer service, diverse range of products for trading, etc.).

However, for active traders, TD Ameritrade offers lowered commissions depending on monthly volume and overall account size. Typically, they like to see over 1,500 contracts traded in a 30 day period for options to truly lower their advertised rates. For futures, they like to see around or over 100 contracts traded in a thirty day period.

Physical Branch Locations

TD Ameritrade is not solely an online brokerage, they have over 100 branch locations in 34 states in the US. As opposed to many retail brokerages who conduct business solely online, having a branch that clients can physically visit is reassuring and convenient when dropping off forms or asking for account assistance.

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For all the above reasons in 2016 we rated TD Ameritrade (TD Ameritrade review) the "Best Broker" for self-directed investors.

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Updated on 9/19/2016.

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