TD Ameritrade Overview
TD Ameritrade is this author’s favorite online broker. After reviewing dozens of broker platforms over the years, this one has consistently outperformed the rest.
That is not to say that TD Ameritrade is for everyone. Their platform costs a fair bit more than a lot of other discount brokers, and if that platform is not utilized properly, then it is probably a waste of money. If you are just doing the occasional trade, and don’t have a lot of money to invest, it is probably not for you. There are other discount brokers such as TradeKing that will work better. However, if you have a sizable amount of money being invested, and could lose thousands of dollars if a server goes down at the wrong time, TD Ameritrade is the right broker for you.
Having used their platform for years, including through a few massive market sell-offs, I can vouch that things just work. I have never had an issue with the mobile app, thinkorswim platform, or the main site.
|Stock Commission||$9.99 per trade|
|Options Commission||$9.99 + $0.75 per contract|
|Account Minimum||No account minimum|
|Signup Bonus||Yes. Trade commission-free for 60 days|
|Fees||No hidden or rumored fee|
|Top Features||ThinkOrSwim platform, mobile app, education center, CNBC live, reliability|
|Mobile App||Yes. Best mobile app we have reviewed. 4.5/5 stars on Google Play store and 4/5 stars on iTunes store|
|Customer Support||Available 24/7 via phone, chat, or email|
The first part of this review I want to talk about their flagship trading platform, Thinkorswim. Thinkofswim was voted the number one trading platform by Barrons multiple times, and for a good reason. The platform offers access to virtually everything an investor or day trader would need to make successful trading decisions.
One of my favorite features of the thinkorswim platform is the syncing across devices. You can build the platform to look exactly to your specifications, and then view it on iPads, phones, or computers and have the same experience each time.
In App Chat
Another great feature is the ability to chat with support or trading specialist before you make a trade, all within the app or program.
Social conversations are one of the futures of online stock brokers and Thinkorswim and Ameritrade are leading the way. The social sentiment section, shown below, will scan social media platforms for mentions of the stock ticker that you are researching. It can also measure trends over time so you can see current social signals as well as how the share price has reacted to past social signals. There is also a very active community and you can view other investors portfolios (if they allow it).
For this thinkorswim review I spent a couple of hours at different times in the day playing withe the platform. I used my mac (Macbook Pro) and my PC (Toshiba), and had no issues with either computer. It takes about 20 seconds to launch the platform from the website and once it is up and running it ran smoothly on both operating systems.
One of my favorite parts about TD Ameritrade is their commission free ETFs. For beginners that may not know, an ETF is an investment fund with multiple stocks and bonds that typically have something in common. For example, TAN is an ETF that tracks the world solar market. Stocks in this ETF include Solar City, Canadian Solar, and Vivint Solar.
Commission-free ETFs provide a way for long-term investors to invest in specific market sectors for free. As long as you hold the ETF for over 30 days, you will pay no commission or fees whatsoever. I currently have a Roth IRA set up through TD Ameritrade that runs exclusively on commission free ETFs. I started it when I was 25 and only had $100 to get started. Since then I have added about $1,000 a year, all invested, without paying a penny in commissions.
As far as the ETFs in the offering, there are well over 100 ETFs. They range from global, to country-specific ETFs and so far I have never had an issue finding one that comes close to matching what I am looking for.
If you plan on using your broker to do a lot of fundamental research then TD Ameritrade has access to a lot of information that you will likely need. Your account comes with access to Morningstar reports, Thompson Reuters, Jaywalk Consensus, Market Edge and S&P Capital IQ. They also offer discounts on deep and exclusive research like Zack’s. Third-party reporting is definitly one area where TD Ameritrade shines, and while you shouldn’t base your decision solely on this, it is an important feature for full or part-time investors.
For this review I spent a couple of days playing around with different features on the mobile app and testing its speed and quality. I have used the mobile app in the past when I did all my trading via TD Ameritrade, but decided to test it out again, just in case.
The mobile app far outpaces competitors. One need only look at the reviews online to see that this is one area where TD Ameritrade shines. I couldn’t find another single broker (at the time of this review) that had a mobile iPhone app with more than 4 stars on the Apple store. TD Ameritrade has 4.5, and that is with thousands of reviews.
Many brokers have added too many features and customizations to their mobile app resulting in a poor base performance for simple tasks. TD Ameritrade has a robust mobile platform, likely the most robust I have seen, but has great reviews and I never experienced glitches or server issues. That is not to say if you have an old phone you won’t have issues – if you use an iPhone 5 during the age of the iPhone 7 you should expect issues on everything.
Virtually everything that is available on the desktop is available on the mobile platform. This includes live quotes, CNBC video, complicated options trading, customized viewing, and more. The only things that I couldn’t find on the mobile app were some of the account management stuff that you wouldn’t mess with very often anyway (taxes, etc.).
If customer service is important to you than TD Ameritrade is one of the best. As do most brokers, they are available via phone, email, or chat, but they also have the added bonus of having over 100 physical locations across the U.S. that you can visit and discuss your account with. If you prefer to do business that way, it is a great feature. It also gives you the ability to deposit funds quickly if there are emergencies, and if you trade a lot, there will be emergencies.
I sent test emails to their customer service team a few times as well as made a few calls throughout the day. I never had to wait more than 3 minutes to get a representative on the line and I never waited more than an hour or two to get back an email.
The only downside I saw to their customer service is their chat feature. They don’t have live chat with a representative, which I much prefer to phone or email. Instead they have a virtual assistance, who does a decent job of directing you to the right place, but obviously will never be able to replace an interaction with an actual human.
However, on the mobile platform there is a robust live-chat feature that allows you to share your screen and chat with representatives all within the app. Currently no one else has a feature like that. I tested it and was able to chat with a rep almost immediately.
TD Ameritrade Education Center
Another area where TD Ameritrade shines above the competition is that of education. If you are looking to use your broker to learn additional investing strategies and improve your personal trading strategy TD Ameritrade has hours of video on just about every market-related subject you can think of. This includes stocks, bonds, options, mutual funds, and forex. As part of the education center they also offer dozens of training videos on using their platforms, including Trade Architect (basically think or swim for beginners and more basic trades), Thinkorswim, and their mobile app.
As part of the education center they also have a market news and commentary section that is quite robust. This includes “The Ticker Tape” and thinkMoney. Both are well worth staying up-to-date on if you have the time. Following market commentary like this is one thing beginners often fail to do, but shouldn’t. There are few better ways to understand market movements than daily commentary from experts.
If you have a larger sum of money to trade and plan on trading often, then TD Ameritrade might just be the platform for you. They outshine other brokers when it comes to reliability, features, training, customer service, and research.