Both Interactive Brokers (IBKR) and TD Ameritrade (TDA) were early entrants to the online brokerage space in the 1990s, and have consistently earned recognition for technology, analytical tools, and availability of different products to trade. This year, both brokers won a number of categories. TD Ameritrade was top rated for beginners, mobile, mobile options, investor education, and customer service. Interactive Brokers has an even longer list of accolades, ranking in the top for advanced traders, advanced options traders, advanced day traders, day trading in general, charting for day trading, low margin rates, fractional share trading, ETF research, and was our pick for best for non-U.S. investors and best for international trading by a wide margin.
TD Ameritrade acquired thinkorswim in 2009, and incorporating this innovative trading platform has helped keep TDA at the forefront. IBKR has developed its own technology, and continually innovates from company roots that go back to the first hand-held stock trading devices. IBKR has long been well known by sophisticated traders for its extensive array of product offerings, including futures, options, foreign exchange, and access to a wide range of international markets, while TD Ameritrade has more history on the retail side of the business before acquiring thinkorswim and adding futures and sophisticated options trading tools.
Both IBKR and TDA have a lot to offer investors and traders. We’ll look at both the similarities and differences between these two brokers so you can determine which might be the right fit for your investment and/or trading needs.
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- $0.00 commissions for equities/ETFs available on IBKR’s TWS Light, or low costs scaled by volume for active traders that want access to advanced functionality such as order routing. $0.65 per contract for options on TWS Light; that is also the base rate for TWS Pro users, with scaled rates based on volume.Futures $0.85 per contract
- Account Minimum: $0.00
- $0.00 for equities/ETFs.$0.65 per contract for options.Futures $2.25 per contract
As leading online brokers, both TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers offer a wide range of amenities for its customers. Both companies provide access to streaming quotes, news, research, watchlists, charting/technical analysis, fundamentals, calendars, and daily commentary and market updates. Both brokers also have web, desktop, and mobile versions of the trading platforms. TDA’s flagship program is thinkorswim, and this is the platform with the sophisticated tools and features that are directly comparable to IBKR’s Trader Workstation (TWS). TD Ameritrade also has a simpler web platform and two apps—one mirroring the web platform and one mirroring thinkorswim.
Interactive Brokers has added two new platforms: the GlobalTrader app supports cryptocurrency trading and assists investors and traders looking for opportunities in international markets, and Impact Mobile helps investors interested in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing across 90 international markets. In addition to these two, IBKR still has an online Client Portal, IBKR Mobile, and the robust Trader Workstation.
Opening an account is smoother with TD Ameritrade, which makes the process of opening and funding an account easy via computer or mobile. This is probably owing to the broker’s long experience on the retail side. In contrast, IBKR’s process is a bit more complicated, even though it has improved. The sheer breadth of offerings on IBKR can overwhelm some less experienced users even as the broker has made strides to be more welcoming to retail investors.
We give the edge in usability to TD Ameritrade because the account opening process was smoother and the platforms are more intuitive to use overall—partially due to the fact that TDA’s offering is narrower than IBKR.
The two desktop trading platforms, TWS and thinkorswim, both have good functionality and multiple features traders and investors would expect of leading online brokers. Both platforms provide great customization, the ability to route orders, set up custom defaults, select tax lots, group orders, stage orders, and create very specific customized trade orders that can utilize criteria such as volume, percent gain or loss, and many other specific data pieces. Sophisticated investors and traders will find the experience with either of these to be satisfying, although we have noted that TWS is evolving faster than thinkorswim recently as IBKR continues to add assets, markets, and features, while TD Ameritrade is perhaps focusing on its final integration into Schwab.
Both IBKR and TDA have excellent platforms, with functionality that surpasses most brokers. While thinkorswim has a newer look and feel than IBKR, we rate this category a tie, with IBKR being the better choice for access to international markets and more asset classes.
TD Ameritrade offers two mobile options, the simpler TD America Mobile app for more passive investors and a thinkorswim app for active traders. IBKR has IBKR Mobile, which does a good job to put some organization on the multi-country, multi-exchange, product offerings on one platform. There is also GlobalTrader, which is a more streamlined experience and actually the best on-ramp into IBKR for newer investors.
IBKR mobile and the thinkorswim app largely replicate the workstations, with pages for portfolio, watchlists, and the ability to easily set up an order ticket or look at options chains. Both apps also support a wide range of order types, including conditional orders and the easy ability to choose an options strategy, such as vertical and calendar spreads, butterfly, and condors using drop downs. IBKR Mobile does not support drawing on charts. but charts do show orders which can be brought up to change or cancel. TDA has drawing tools available on its mobile charts. Also, watchlists sync between the desktop and mobile apps.
One limitation of TDA’s thinkorswim mobile app is its lack of support for fixed income trading. Thinkorswim, however, allows users to log onto both the desktop and mobile versions simultaneously, while IBKR only allows users to log on to one platform at a time. That said, IBKR supports trading for all of its products on its mobile platform.
The Google Play Store app reviews give a clear edge to TDA’s Thinkorswim Mobile, with 3.8 stars (4.7 at the Apple Store) on more than 11,000 reviews to just 2.8 stars (2.9 at the Apple Store) on more than 8,000 reviews for IBKR Mobile. It should also be noted that IBKR’s newer Impact and Global Trader apps received higher ratings than TWS Mobile.
As our choice for best mobile app, we give this category to TDA’s thinkorswim app because it is an easy to use platform that does a good job of replicating the desktop experience. That said, IBKR has a wider range of products available to trade.
Range of Offerings
Both TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers have a wide range of asset types available to trade on their platforms, including stocks/ETFs (long and short); OTCBB issues, mutual funds, fixed income, futures/commodities, single and multi-leg options, CDs, and foreign exchange. There are some differences between the two brokers within these categories, however, such as IBKR’s 9,030 no-load mutual funds to TDA’s 3,628, and IBKR has 4,405 to TDA’s 1,608 for no-transaction fee no-load mutual funds.
Access to international exchanges shows a wide disparity between brokers, as IBKR supports traders in 200 countries and provides access to 95 international exchanges, compared to just 1 international exchange offered by TDA. For foreign exchange trading, IBKR offers 100 currency pairs using 24 different currencies, where TDA offers 70 pairs using 19 currencies.
Both brokers have a good set of offerings, like futures, that are not widely available on other broker platforms. However, the breadth of products from markets all around the world that are all tradeable on Interactive Brokers’ platform is unrivaled by TD Ameritrade or any other broker. IBKR is the clear winner for its range of offerings.
TD Ameritrade has a full suite of the most common order types, such as market, limit, stop-limit, and trailing stop orders. The thinkorswim platform also allows conditional orders, including one-cancels-the-other (OCO) and order-triggers-two (OTT). TDA also allows users to stage orders for later entry and gives investors the ability to select the tax lot when placing an order.
Interactive Brokers also has these same orders available, but goes much further, supporting more than 100 order types and algorithms on the TWS Pro platform. This allows users to combine logical conditions with OCO orders that let users use price, time, volume, margin cushion, daily P&L, percent change, and other variables to create finely customized orders for position entry and exit. Even IBKR Lite has more than 25 order types available on its platform, including the ability to use custom algorithms.
While both brokers have a good selection of order types to choose from and most traders will just use those order types, IBKR goes much further. Overall, IBKR has a clear edge over TDA for order types.
Both Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade have excellent technology to support trading. Both brokers allow automated trading strategies and the ability to stage and route their orders. Regarding price improvement and payment for order flow, TDA receives $0.001 per share for equity trades and $0.50 per contract for options trades. IBKR receives $0.0020 per share in payment on order flow for equity and $0.092 for options. Price improvement at IBKR is $0.01076 per share for equity trades and $0.02856 per options contract. TDA has price improvement of $0.019 per equity share, and does not disclose price improvement for options.
Both IBKR and TDA offer features not available at all brokers, such as securities lending and portfolio margining. There are some differences between the brokers, such as IBKR’s support for fractional share trading, which is unavailable at TDA. However, TD Ameritrade offers backtesting, which is a feature not available at most brokers, including Interactive Brokers. Considering how much IBKR does to support professional and sophisticated traders, such as its flexibility with order types, it is surprising that backtesting is not available from IBKR. Also of note in a rising interest rate environment, IBKR pays interest on cash balances over $10,000, while TDA pays basically nothing at just 0.001% on cash.
With backtesting and better price improvement, we give TDA the advantage over IBKR for trading technology.
IBKR has different commission and fee schedules for the various countries it has customers in; we will focus on US dollar-based commissions in this review. IBKR has a more complicated commission structure for equities and ETFs because there are three options: IBKR Lite, IBKR Pro Fixed, and IBKR Pro Tiered. IBKR Lite is a zero commission model for stocks and ETFs, and $0.65 per options contract. IBKR Pro Fixed charges $0.005 per share traded, with a minimum commission of $1 and maximum of 1% of the trade value. IBKR Pro Tiered has a scaled commision rate based on monthly volume, with a minimum of $0.35 and maximum of 1% of the trade value. The tiered pricing is $0.0035 per share up to 300,000 shares; $0.002 to 3 million shares; $0.0015 up to 20 million shares; $0.001 to 100 million shares; then $0.0005 per share.
IBKR Pro options pricing is also tiered based on monthly volume. There is no per-leg fee for trading options. Trading up to 10,000 contracts, you’ll pay $0.65 per contract for options trades with a minimum commission of $1. Low value contract fees drop to $0.50 (premium $0.05–$0.10) or $0.25 (premium under $0.05). These fees go down in tiers until after 100,000 contracts in a month, where the options commission drops to just $0.15 per contract. Less active traders looking for zero commission trading will likely choose IBKR Lite, but higher volume traders will probably gravitate to the IBKR Pro model, determining whether the tiered or fixed model is best for them based on their trading activity. The highest volume traders will gravitate towards the tiered model.
IBKR also has industry leading margin rates. Margin rates are tiered for IBKR Pro users, with a rate of 4.58% (base rate + 1.5%) up to $100,000, and a low margin rate of 3.58% (base rate +0.5%), while IBKR Lite charges a fixed 5.58% (base rate +2.5%) rate regardless of amount.
TDA has a much simpler commission schedule, with no charge for stock and ETF trades, and $5 + $0.65 per contract for options. TDA’s margin rates are also tiered at 12.5% (base rate + 1.25%) for less than $10,000, to 10.5% (base rate – 0.75%) between $250,000 and $500,000.
Although TDA has industry competitive zero commission stock and ETF trading, and $0.65 per contract for options trades, IBKR has better pricing. IBKR’s most expensive platform, IBKR Lite, matches TDA, but active, high-volume traders focusing on execution speed and control over order routing will consider IBKR Pro’s reasonable fees. For options traders, the $0.65 maximum charge at IBKR (lower for high volume accounts) is still lower than TDA’s $5 + $0.65 per contract fee for all options regardless of monthly trading volume. For futures traders, TDA’s $2.25 per contract is more than 2.5 times higher than IBKR’s highest rate of $0.85. IBKR is the clear winner on costs compared to TDA.
Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade have excellent research amenities, such as stock, ETF, mutual fund, and fixed income screeners, as well as several tools, calculators, and idea generators alongside piles of professional research. For both brokers, users can build their own screens, screen based on technical factors, save screens for future use, and create a watchlist from screen results.
Interactive Brokers has two screeners for ESG/SRI and options that are unavailable at TDA. Further, the trading idea generator at TDA is limited to covered call and calendar spreads from CFRA (formerly the Center for Financial Research and Analysis), while IBKR allows scans on almost limitless criteria, and also provides actionable news and research that includes analyst recommendations. TDA offers daily market reports, fee-based research, and Market Edge reports (both free, and two levels of premium service). IBKR also offers a daily market report, as well as multiple premium market research and news providers with no additional cost.
Both brokers have above-average research amenities, but IBKR has the better suite of research amenities because of the ESG/SRI and options screeners unavailable at TDA as well as more extensive news and research offerings.
IBKR’s PortfolioAnalyst is a strong offering. The full version with advanced features and real-time updates is available to customers and a less robust version is available to anyone. PortfolioAnalyst tracks and analyzes financial accounts, including linked accounts such as checking, savings, and debt, so you get analysis on your entire financial picture. Realized gains/losses, net deposits, margin, and buying power are all available in real time. Functionality on PortfolioAnalyst also includes a portfolio checkup that shows total return, risk, and allocations. IBKR also calculates a portfolio’s ESG ratings. IBKR also has a proprietary Tax Optimizer that lets users set their preferred matching method and provides a preview of profits and losses for each method. Finally, IBKR has an excellent Trader’s Journal, which allows users to record and save trading notes and ideas, including the ability to add screenshots and configure charts to show orders and executed trades.
TDA also has good portfolio analysis tools, including the ability to consolidate outside assets for reporting and analysis through its Personalized Portfolios tools. Realized and unrealized gains/losses, net deposits, withdrawals, and margin and buying power are all in real time, but the tax impact of future trades is not available. Capital gains reporting is available from the website monthly.
Both TDA and IBKR provide good portfolio analysis tools for their customers, but IBKR has the edge in this category because of the ability to analyze the tax impact of trades. IBKR also has better trade journaling capabilities.
Interactive Brokers has robust investor education programs available to customers and the public. This includes short videos for customers to learn how to use the TWS and client portals as well as multi-language content to help international users with the platform. IBKR’s Traders Academy is available online, on demand, and provides a rigorous curriculum complete with quizzes and tests to help students gauge their progress against objectives. Content includes information about asset classes, markets, technical analysis, specific assets, and IBKR platform functionality. There is also more detailed and specific content, such as a section on hedging with grain and oilseed futures and options that shows why IBKR is our top pick for advanced traders. IBKR has been expanding its educational offerings to include daily webinars with various topics, such as product education and platform tools.
TDA is our top pick for investor education because it has all the information you could ask for tailored to every level of investor. In addition to detailed information on how to use the platform, TDA has educational information segmented for personal finance, investing, trading, and retirement. It also has content on technical analysis and product specific information, such as options strategies and advanced concepts like options spread trading. Also a positive for investor education, both Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade offer real-time paper trading using their actual platforms.
As our top pick for educational resources among all brokers is TD Ameritrade, it also comes out on top of IBKR in the education category because of the breadth of material and adaptation for all levels of investor.
TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers provide a wide range of customer service options, including email, live chat, phone support, access to live brokers (there are fees for broker-assisted trading), and a helpful FAQ section. TD Ameritrade customers can also speak with a financial advisor. IBKR, which has been investing in better customer service and faster response times, also has an AI-powered IBot that can receive questions asked by a customer in plain English and direct users to helpful resources, such as FAQs. IBKR encourages its customers to use the IBot as the first customer service, rather than a live person. IBKR is also slower in answering phones than TDA, even though the broker has improved.
TDA is our top pick for customer service overall in the 2022 review cycle. It has the edge in the customer service category over IBKR because its reps are much quicker to answer the phone and the company makes registered investment advisors (RIAs) available to customers, while IBKR does not.
Both IBKR and TDA meet or exceed industry standards for security. Neither broker has experienced a data breach or outage in the past year. Both brokers offer two-factor authentication and biometric recognition. Excess SIPC protection is also offered by both brokers, although TDA offers better excess coverage, with IBKR providing $30 million in account protection and $900,000 for the cash sublimit, while TDA offers in account protection of $149 million and a cash sublimit of $2 million.
IBKR also offers a Securities Class Action Recovery service, which automatically detects, based on securities bought or sold on the IBKR platform, if a customer is eligible to file a claim for a class action lawsuit. IBKR submits the claim and assists to recover funds for a 20% contingency fee.
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In terms of security, it is effectively a tie. TD Ameritrade does have more excess coverage, but the insurance at both firms is above industry standards. Similarly, IBKR’s Securities Class Action Recovery service is a neat feature, but it doesn’t make the platform any more secure than it already is.
We have a bit of a split decision on this. Both TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers are elite companies in the online brokerage world, with roots in the early days of online investing. This shines through in their excellent technology and access to a wide array of products not available for trading on many online brokerage platforms. IBKR is our choice as best broker for both advanced traders and international trading, while TD Ameritrade is our choice for best broker for beginners and mobile. True to these rankings, IBKR is the better suited platform for the most sophisticated and high volume traders. TDA provides easier to use platforms and excellent educational materials to help newer investors and traders, making TDA a better choice for new and less active traders.
Overall, the platforms have a great deal of overlap in their functionality, so either platform will meet the needs of nearly all U.S.-focused investors and traders, especially since IBKR Lite provides a comparable no-commission platform with lower options pricing than TDA. The easier to use and learn from platform is TDA, so that is likely to attract investors and less active traders that also want some access to sophisticated tools and options markets. However, traders who want access to markets around the globe, traders who use margin, high-volume traders, and futures traders will likely choose IBKR. For some traders, another factor that might tip the scale in favor of IBKR is the availability of cryptocurrency trading (not available on TDA) and the new Impact app for the ESG-conscious. On the whole, however, investors are well served by either of these top ranking platforms.
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. This year, we revamped the review process by conducting an extensive survey of customers that are actively looking to start trading and investing with an online broker. We then combined this invaluable information with our subject matter expertise to develop the framework for a quantitative ratings model that is at the core of how we compiled our list of the best online broker and trading platform companies.
This model weighs key factors like trading technology, range of offerings, mobile app usability, research amenities, educational content, portfolio analysis features, customer support, costs, account amenities, and overall trading experience according to their importance. Our team of researchers gathered 2425 data points and weighted 66 criteria based on data collected during extensive research for each of the 25 companies we reviewed.
Many of the brokers we reviewed also gave us live demonstrations of their platforms and services, either at their New York City offices or via video conferencing methods. Live brokerage accounts were also obtained for most of the platforms we reviewed, which our team of expert writers and editors used to perform hands-on testing in order to lend their qualitative point of view.
Read our full Methodology for reviewing online brokers.