Barron’s Best Online Broker Rankings 2019

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Each year, Barron’s releases their list of top online brokers. I like read and share it, hoping to find deeper insights into industry trends and specific broker features. However, this year their 2019 rankings article is firmly behind a paywall. That is certainly their right, but it also discourages sharing and discussion. (I am a paying subscriber to the NY Times, WSJ, and Bloomberg Businessweek, but not Barron’s.)

However, hidden in a Merill Edge press release, I found that Merrill paid for a full article reprint which lets anyone read the main article for free. I could not find a way to view the their secondary rankings, i.e. “Top 5 for Long-Term Investors” or “Top 5 for Occasional Traders”.

Their rankings only include 14 brokers this year, which means several are being left out. Firstrade and Vanguard were mentioned only to state that they both declined to participate. Robinhood wasn’t ranked, just quickly dismissed with an offhand “they take payment for order flow”, even though many other brokers on their list like E-Trade and TD Ameritrade also take payment for order flow. I mean, TD Ameritrade made $320 million from order flow in 2017 alone! WeBull wasn’t even mentioned.

Commentary. Here is my own list of brokers that I think are worth considering, along with their pros and cons. If a family or friend asked me what I thought were the best online brokers, this would be my reply.

Interactive Brokers

  • Pros: Best for active traders. Low average commissions for active traders. Best trading interface for active traders. Proof: Their average account makes ~500 trades a year. Good interest rate on cash sweep.
  • Cons: Minimum commission of $10 a month for accounts under $100,000, or a minimum commission of $20/month under $2,000. This means you must pay them $120/$240 a year no matter what. Not set up for newbies.


  • Pros: Good all-around broker. Best customer service in my experience. Free ETF list. No more mutual fund minimums. Good index fund selection.
  • Cons: $4.95/trade for stocks and ETFs not on their list. Average cash sweep options.


  • Pros: The classic broker for low-cost index fund lovers. $0 trades on all ETFs, both Vanguard and non-Vanguard (iShares, Schwab, etc). Free trades on Vanguard index and active mutual funds. Excellent index fund selection. Excellent cash sweep options. No direct profit motive.
  • Cons: Not good for active traders. They’ve had some struggles with customer service due to their huge growth.

Merrill Edge

  • Pros: Best for those with a Bank of America checking account. 30+ free trades/month when you move over $50,000+ in assets across Bank of America and Merrill (Preferred Rewards program), even if just moving over a bunch of low-cost ETFs. Good customer service.
  • Cons: Below-average cash sweep options. $6.95 trades without Preferred Rewards relationship.

M1 Finance

  • Pros: My favorite amongst the new crowd of app-centric brokers and robo-advisors. Free stock and ETF trades. Fractional share ownership means full investment of any dollar amount. You can fully customize an asset allocation “pie” using stocks or ETFs, and it will automatically rebalance for free with no management fees. Basically a free robo-advisor that is fully-customizable.
  • Cons: Newer startup. If you really want to add banking features, that will cost extra. (I’d just skip it.)

Disclosure: I am now an affiliate of M1 Finance and TD Ameritrade, and may be compensated if you click through my referral link and open a new account. I am not an affiliate of Interactive Brokers, Fidelity, Merrill Edge, or Vanguard.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. Ralph pal says:

    You have
    Free or fee plus IPOs
    Plus fractional shares
    You get to super drip
    You have stock
    A dollar a trade, fractional shares
    You get to drip
    You have to Ameritrade
    You have Robinhood
    Free but no dripping or fractional shares

  2. I have been with Firstrade for 7 months and I think they are the best. Zero commission for stock and option trades. They have everything an active trader needs. I have tried almost a dozen different brokers in the past. Firstrade beats them all in my humble opinion. The only negative thing I can say about them is their $14.95 fee for options assignment. That means you have to watch it on the expiration day and make sure you roll all your expiring contracts to a future date (paying zero commission to do it). I missed it a few times and payed over $100 in fees, but that’s nothing compared to thousands I saved on commission. Their customer support is also good. I used chat a couple of times in the past, but now I just use email and usually hear back the same day or at least within 24 hours.

  3. Jason Boxman says:

    Weird they don’t even mention Firstrade. It’s $0 for trades. I’ve been experimenting with it as my brokerage account. It’s bare-bones and you can’t set your tax lot treatment beyond FIFO or LIFO for the lifetime of the account, but otherwise seems fine.

  4. Greg Scott says:

    Seems to me that one of the first features I’D look for is a decent sweep account. My Capital One investment account was sold to etrade late last year, when I guess that Capital One got tired of the effort necessary to run the business. Etrade has not impressed me at all, I was finally able to get a sweep account for my regular brokerage account, just over 2%, but for the IRA account I have, .2%….that’s point two percent, and they don’t seem to have any interest in providing anything better. Etrade’s user interface also looks second rate to me, just sayin’ (though I’m hardly a very active trader).

  5. You rate Fidelity’s sweep options as average. Excluding Vanguard, what companies do you rate above average? I would like to know, so I can investigate further.

  6. Linda Thompson says:

    Sorry! Bogus list! Schwab is THE best!

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