Low cost brokerage firms

Best Low Cost Brokerage Firms Investment Accounts

Low Cost Brokerage Firm Overview

Ally Invest, Scottrade, and TD Ameritrade are three very different brokers. They emphasize different investment services, and each one has unique strengths and weaknesses. The following article will compare the three low cost online brokers against each other and see if one can be considered the best value.

Low Cost Brokers Pricing

Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Mutual Fund
Annual IRA
TD Ameritrade $6.95 $49.95 $6.95 + $0.75 per contract $0 $0
Ally Invest $4.95 $9.95 $4.95 + $0.65 per contract $0 $0
Scottrade $6.95 $17 $6.95 + $0.70 per contract $0 $0

Customer Service

The three brokerage firms have representatives who can be reached over the phone. However, only TD Ameritrade offers this service 24 hours a day. Scottrade and Ally Invest do provide phone service on the weekend. Ally Invest also have on-line chat, which Scottrade and TD Ameritrade don't offer.

Both Scottrade and TD Ameritrade operate nationwide networks of branch locations. Currently, TD Ameritrade has more than 100 locations, while Scottrade maintains over 500. Ally Invest does not have any branch locations.

TD Ameritrade wins the category for its 24/7 phone service.


Ally Invest (also known as TradeKing) has the lowest commission in our survey, charging just $4.95 for equity trades. Option contracts are just 65¢ extra. There is no minimum deposit to open an account. Clients making 30+ trades per quarter or with $100K account balance get $3.95 equity trades and 50¢ option contracts. A margin debit of $10,000 at Ally Invest currently costs 9.50%.

Scottrade's commission for stock and ETF trades is higher at $6.95. Derivative contracts are an additional 70¢. The broker has a $2,500 minimum opening deposit for a securities account, although there are no fees to keep it open. A loan of $10,000 in a margin account costs 8.25% right now.

TD Ameritrade charges $6.95 for ETF and stock transactions. Option traders pay an extra 75¢ for derivative contracts. There is no minimum deposit requirement and there are no account fees. Presently, the broker charges 9.25% for a margin loan of $10,000.

This category goes to Ally Invest.

Mutual Funds and ETF's

Ally Invest customers have access to over 8,500 mutual funds. Unfortunately, there are no funds here that have no load and no transaction fee. Funds with no load have a $9.95 charge, while funds with a load are free to buy and sell. The broker does not offer any ETF's commission-free. However, they don't have mutual fund short redemption fee that the two competitors charge.

Scottrade outperforms Ally Invest here, offering more than 11,400 mutual funds. Of these, there are 2,100 that carry no transaction fee and no load. Unfortunately, there are no commission-free ETF's here, either.

TD Ameritrade provides the most mutual funds at 11,900. Slightly more than 1,900 are no-load, no-transaction-fee products. The broker is the lone firm in our competition to provide ETF's that are free to trade. There are 296 exchange-traded funds that carry no commissions.

TD Ameritrade is victorious in this category.


TD Ameritrade: Trade free for 60 days + get up to $600.

Scottrade: Trade free for 60 days + get up to $600.

Ally Invest: Get a $200 cash bonus or $500 in commission-free trades.

Trading Technology

Despite Ally Invest's low commissions, the broker's website is nicely designed and easy to navigate. At the bottom of the browser is a simple trade bar. It shows important data, such as volume and bid-ask spread. However, it is not able to show a chart. A web-based platform named Ally Invest LIVE operates within a browser window. It is free for all clients. There is also a sophisticated desktop system, but it comes with active trader requirements.

Scottrade recently updated its site, and the changes have improved its navigability. The website has good charting tools, which allow a graph to be shown full screen. Hidden in the lower-left of the screen is a trading ticket. It is easily expanded so that orders can be entered. Scottrader Streaming Quotes is a basic platform, which is free to use. A more advanced platform called ScottradeELITE is available to active traders.

TD Ameritrade has the best website and trading ticket of the three. SnapTicket is a handy tool that appears at the bottom of the browsing window. It shows important trade information, is able to display a graph, and trades can be placed on it. The broker also offers Trade Architect, a Java-based platform that is launched from the website. A more sophisticated trading program, thinkorswim, is also available. The software has 400 technical studies. Both platforms are free for all traders.

TD Ameritrade wins again.

Mobile Apps

Trading on the go is available with all three firms. The Scottrade app has bill pay and mobile check deposit free of charge. The platform also has decent charting with a few technical studies. Unlike Scottrade, TD Ameritrade's app offers live streaming of CNBC free of charge. One of broker's three mobile apps is a thinkorswim version with advanced charting. There is mobile check deposit and paper trading as well. TD Ameritrade is the lone broker of the three that offers a platform for Apple Watch. The Ally Invest app is the least advanced of the three. It doesn't offer any live streaming of financial news.

Once again, the victory goes to TD Ameritrade.

Low Cost Investment Firms Summary

TD Ameritrade won four categories, Ally Invest took first place in one category, and Scottrade failed in all categories. TD Ameritrade is the best overall choice. Despite the results, Ally Invest is an excellent broker for mutual fund and frequent stock and ETF traders as well as for beginners.

Scottrade Update

Scottrade was acquired by TD Ameritrade. New customers can take advantage of TD Ameritrade's bonus offer that allows trading for free for two months and gives up to $600 bonus.

Broker Reviews

More detailed information about each company in this comparison is available in our brokerage reviews articles:

TD Ameritrade brokerage review

Scottrade brokerage review

Ally Invest brokerage review.

Updated on 3/16/2018.