The 8 Best Options Trading Platforms of 2019
From beginner solutions to expert portfolios
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Options trading is a somewhat high-risk area of the investment world where you can pay for the option to buy or sell a specific security at a set price on a future date. Based on fluctuations in market prices for those securities, the value of options rises and falls until their maturity date.
If you want to trade options, you’ll need an account with a brokerage that supports options. Each platform is unique and has its own pros and cons, so it is best to understand what you want in an options account and platform before you get started. Follow along to learn more about the best options trading platforms and which may be best suited for your options trading needs.
TD Ameritrade takes the top spot in this ranking thanks to a combination of reasonable pricing, excellent beginner resources, and a top-of-the-line trading platform that works well for experts and professional traders. No matter where you are in your options trading journey, TD Ameritrade has something for everyone.
Trades at TD Ameritrade cost $6.95 per trade plus $0.75 cents per contract. There is no account minimum. The site offers a current promotion where you get 60 days of commission-free equity, ETF, and options trades with a deposit of $3,000 or more. You get additional bonuses with larger opening deposits.
Beginners have a wide range of resources that are great for options and other investing and trading strategies. For expert traders, the Think or Swim platform gives you Wall Street quality at a Main Street price.
You can’t get cheaper than free. While some professional traders are not happy with how trades are handled and processed at Robinhood, it is an excellent platform for beginners to get started with less risk. With no trading fee, you can buy and sell options without risking anything more than your initial investment.
Robinhood is a web-first platform and it doesn’t offer much when it comes to education and research tools. But if you read a book on options and want to try your hand as a hobbyist, Robinhood can certainly handle your needs.
Robinhood also offers commission-free stock trades, ETFs, a limited number of cryptocurrencies, and a limited number of ADRs (American Depository Receipts — a type of stock listing in the US for a foreign company). Because it is mobile first, it offers great real-time notifications for investments and trades on the platform.
TradeStation started as a software company for traders, and even though it has grown over time, it has held true to its initial trading principles. If you want professional data and high-speed trade execution on an expert-level platform, TradeStation is a great choice.
TradeStation charges $5 per trade plus $0.50 cents per contract. However, it also offers unbundled and per-contract pricing. Professional and high-volume traders may do better with the flat rate cost of $1 per contract instead of the base + per contract fee most brokerages charge.
While it doesn’t offer as much for beginner traders and new traders, you could host a family office or business portfolio on TradeStation with no problems. In fact, its tools are so good it sells many of them for a fee to professional investors with accounts at other brokers. With an active account at TradeStation, you get those tools for free. Just beware the minimum $2,000 balance or five trades per year to avoid a $95 annual account fee.
Charles Schwab delivers an all around great experience with excellent customer service. Once you open a new account, trades are $.95 each plus $0.65 cents per contract. First-time clients get 500 commission-free trades for two years when you deposit $100,000 or more in a new account.
Schwab offers above-average research and education offerings. It also gives you a very good platform for trading on desktop, web, and mobile. Even outside of options, it is one of the best overall brokerages for a wide range of investing and trading needs.
With the large library of educational and research content, you can enter the high-speed options trading world with your eyes wide open to the risks and opportunities. That said, the competitive costs and quality trading platforms make it a worthy consideration for even the most experienced traders. Accounts require a $1,000 minimum to access options trading.
Ally Invest is another low-cost brokerage best known for its cousin Ally Bank. Like the bank, Ally Invest offers an easy-to-understand and low-fee brokerage lineup. Trades are $4.95 each plus $0.65 cents per contract. There is no account minimum. With a current promotion, you can get up to $3,500 bonus cash depending on the size of your deposit.
You can start with a low investment to learn more about Ally without worrying about big minimum balances or fees. But even some more experienced traders will be happy with the low costs and a wide range of services geared toward option traders.
Highlights include a powerful trading platform and valuable charts, data, and analytics to help you build your options trading strategy. In the world of discount brokerages, you can’t always take the value of a broker from its trading fees. At Ally, that’s certainly the case.
If you are an active trader who prefers making frequent, small trades, Interactive Brokers may be the best fit. There is no pre-trade fee and options commissions are $0.70 cents per contract. High volume traders can qualify for lower pricing down to $0.15 cents per contract with 100,000+ contracts per month. This brokerage also offers pricing that is attractive to active stock and ETF traders. Different pricing applies to non-US options.
This brokerage is not good for passive investors with few trades per year or a large balance. The account requires a hefty $100,000 minimum balance or $10 in commissions per month to avoid an activity fee. The activity fee is the difference between your trading commissions and $10 per month to total a $10 minimum monthly charge. The account charges a higher $20 minimum if you don’t keep at least $2,000 in equities in the account.
If you do have the appetite for at least $10 in trades per month and/or can satisfy that $100,000 minimum, Interactive Brokers has excellent trading platforms. These tools include a natural language bot that will place orders based on your instructions and a professional-grade desktop platform.
Lightspeed is a brokerage with a focus on active and experienced traders. Lightspeed charges $0 per trade and $0.60 cents per contract with a $1 minimum per trade. Tiered pricing starts at 500+ contracts per month. Depending on your volume, discounted rates range from $0.20 cents at 100,000+ contracts per month to $0.50 cents at 500 to 2,000 contracts per month.
Lightspeed offers professional-grade trading platforms. The options platform is known as Livevol X and offers integrated order execution, analysis, customized layouts, historical data analytics, and other useful features. Like competing platforms, you can manage most common account needs right in the desktop, web, or mobile-based platform.
This brokerage is not as beginner friendly as others on our list, so you should look elsewhere if you are brand-new to options trading. But if you are experienced and want expert tools, you can find everything to whet your appetite at Lightspeed. With low pricing for high-volume options traders, you might find it the right home for your options brokerage needs.
Best for Growing Your Skills: ETrade
ETrade is the oldest online brokerage, and it has a long history of supporting both beginner and expert-level traders. Through its dedicated OptionsHouse platform, you can find a wide range of data and research tools. Those include tools to build advanced options chains and trading ladders.
While it is a discount brokerage, commissions are not the lowest on the list. Trades cost $6.95 plus $0.75 cents per contract. However, some discounts apply for high volume traders. Equity and index options drop to $4.95 per trade and $0.50 cents per contract with 30 or more trades per quarter.
With a new account that brings in a balance of $10,000 or more, you’ll get up to $600 in free trades and 60 days of commission-free trades. That’s a pretty good deal to get you started. With ETrade and others, always consider how trade fees cut into your profits over time.