Best Direct Market Access Trading Platform in 2022

Review of the top-rated direct access trading platform: features, stock/options charts, cost, fees, pros and cons.

Best Direct Access Trading Platform

A brokerage firm called Thinkorswim (TOS) was bought by TD Ameritrade, and is now part of one of the largest brokerage houses in the country. TD Ameritrade acquired TOS because it created the best direct access trading platform for online stock, options, forex, and futures trading. All new Thinkorswim and TD Ameritrade customers now have the same account with identical features, tools, and services. Thinkorswim platform could be downloaded by opening an account at TD Ameritrade, logging in and going to "Trading Tools -> Thinkorswim" in the main menu.

Thinkorswim charges an ultra-low commission on stocks and ETFs - $0 per trade.

There are no surcharges at the TOS: the same commission applies to all trades, including listed penny stocks, extended hours orders, and large orders. What makes TOS one of the best direct access trading platforms is that there are also no steep monthly trading platform fees or platform access requirements that many other competitors impose.

Best Direct Access Platform

TOS is known for great customer service, and their versatile, powerful, customizable direct market access trading platform. The firm is offering an impressive range of investments for clients to choose from, including forex and futures trading. The ability to trade all types of option strategies along with futures and forex on the same platform is incredible.

Within the Thinkorswim platform you can trade almost every type of investment that you can think of: stocks, options, forex, futures, and others. In addition, it comes with best-in-class technical analysis tools for chart readers, which is critical for active traders.

The charting and trading screens are very customizable to your preferences. You can move windows around, change colors, draw your own support and resistance lines, and add or subtract hundreds of preset technical indicators as you like, including some that you can only find in Thinkorswim, such as "market forecast", "trade the market" and others.

Thinkorswim customers get access to an impressive range of third-party research, including Standard & Poor's, Morningstar, Jaywalk, and TheStreet.

Learn more in Thinkorswim platform review »

Open TD Ameritrade Account

Open TD Ameritrade Account


At the top of the program is a horizontal menu of several categories, one of which is charting. Clicking on 'Charts' produces the graphing tools. This window displays a plethora of charting features and customizations. In the upper-left corner is a field where a company's name or ticker symbol can be entered. Doing so will automatically generate a chart with volume at the bottom. A chart can also be detached to form its own window. Company events such as dividends and conference calls can be overlaid.

Because Thinkorswim is very customizable, the graph style can be set to a variety of options. Clicking on 'Style' at the top of the chart shows the 10 different graph styles that can be selected. These are monkey bars, monkey bars expanded, seasonality, candlestick, candlestick trend, OHLC bars, Heikin Ashi, line, area, and equivolume. TradeStation's charting package, by comparison, also has 10 graph styles. Some of them are different. For example, TradeStation does not have Heikin Ashi, but does have Dot on Close. One difference, however, is that TradeStation requires account minimums that TD Ameritrade does not have. Interactive Brokers' advanced platform Trader Workstation only has 2 chart styles.

Thinkorswim's 'Style' menu also has time axis customization. Tick-by-tick is available, and the time scale can be expanded out to 20 years. By comparison, Ally Invest's web-based platform Ally Invest LIVE has a 30-year time span. Thinkorswim's aggregation type can be set to time, tick, or range. Different time frames can be saved for later use. For example, a 3-year span with weekly intervals can be saved as can a 5-day span with 15-minute periods. These saved time scales can be applied to any security, currency, or futures contract by simply selecting the saved item.

Besides stocks and ETFs, Thinkorswim can display the price history of futures, options, and currencies. All major currencies and futures products are available. The same features and tools that are available with stocks and ETFs can also be used on a commodity or currency graph. These include 20 drawing tools and 400 technical studies. By comparison, Schwab's StreetSmart Edge platform only has about 40 studies and it comes with a $1,000 account balance requirement. Schwab's program has 15 drawing tools. Although it has fewer tools, Schwab's platform is more user-friendly compared to Thinkorswim.

A trade can be placed directly from a chart in Thinkorswim. A green Buy MKT button and a red Sell MKT button both appear at the top of a graph. Clicking on either one produces a pop-up window order ticket. Here, a variety of important information is presented, such as estimated order cost, including commission, along with buying power. The window has an option to automatically send an order with a click of the mouse while holding down the Shift button. Selecting this option will produce immediate fills if you hold down the Shift key while clicking on the red or green button. An order can be edited before it is submitted to an exchange. Features that can be changed include number of shares, whether the order is a purchase or sale, order type, and time in force.

Right-clicking on a chart produces a menu that displays a variety of options that are available in various places in the top menu, although the chart menu is a quick and easy way to manage trading from the graph. The menu has buy and sell options for the product on the graph, auto or manual scale features, all of the program's drawing tools, and complex orders. These orders include OCO, stop, and stop limit orders on both the buy and sell sides. Also available in the pop-up menu are all technical studies, graph styles, and alerts.

Thinkorswim charting tools

The level of customization is very high. Recent trades can be shown on the graph, or the feature can be turned off. CNBC on-demand videos that mention a company can also be shown on its chart. The time scale can be adjusted so that alerts always show on the graph. Because the software has RGB and CMYK scales, virtually any color can be used for background and graph colors.

Thinkorswim Advantages

  • $0 commissions on stocks and ETFs
  • Best direct access trading platform on the market
  • No surcharges on listed stocks under $1, large orders, or after-hours trading
  • Trading with one of the largest and well-known brokerage houses in the country
  • Users can practice trading without risking real money using PaperMoney virtual trading account
  • Easy access to myTRADE trader community
  • No-fee IRA accounts
  • No account maintenance or inactivity fees
  • Free streaming quotes, including Level II
  • Rich selection of independent, third-party research from 13 firms (Standard & Poor's, Morningstar, Jaywalk, TheStreet, and others)

Open TD Ameritrade Account

Open TD Ameritrade Account

About the Author
Chad Morris is a financial writer with more than 20 years experience as both an English teacher and an avid trader. When he isn’t writing expert content for, Chad can usually be found managing his portfolio or building a new home computer.