Interactive Brokers Review: A Great Online Platform for Active Investors

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Introduction

When navigating the many choices you have for selecting an online trading platform, it’s important to know what you want. Do you want good customer service? Would you like the interface to work for you? In the case of Interactive Brokers, folks who prefer the latter will be very pleased.

What are Interactive Brokers’ Main Features?

Interactive Brokers has been around since 1977, and is one of the industry’s leaders in crafting effective investment technology and equipment to help investors make the best trades. As such, they’ve made a reputation for themselves as having access to a wide array of diverse and effective products.

It is this level of technological prowess that attracts most people to Interactive Brokers — they’re always innovating and coming up with new and fascinating ways to track the market in unconventional and efficient ways.

As a platform, Interactive Brokers offers a bevy of choices to investors of any stripe. Their most advanced platform is the Trader Workstation (TWS), which allows advanced users to access real-time charting, to customize datasets to explore ideas, and to trade on virtually anything. This approach is not for the novice, but it is something to keep in mind.

For those who can speak the lingo and favor function over form, TWS offers a utilitarian, yet very customizable program that lets you place trades, view charts and do all the research necessary for regular traders.

For those who are newer to the world of investing, Interactive Brokers still has a few options for them. The HTML-based browsers IB WebTrader and Mosaic work within the TWS platform to offer a simpler, more streamlined process for traders who don’t need advanced settings.

Interactive Brokers offer a wide variety of investments from around the world, with the TWS platform giving you access to just about any kind of investment. Whether you want to work with equities, forex, futures, mutual funds, options, or any other kind of investing, TWS has you covered.

Also, Interactive Brokers’ selection of ETFs is going to be pretty appealing to beginning investors or traders with some risk intolerance. There are hundreds of ETFs across several exchanges that you can explore.

The only weak spot we can find in the options Interactive Brokers gives you is in mutual funds, as there are just shy of 3,000 available for purchase. Other firms offer you more if you specifically want to work with mutual funds, but the sheer breadth of options overall makes Interactive Brokers extremely competitive.

What are the Pros and Cons?

Pros

  • Innovative, award-winning TWS platform
  • Active traders rewarded with deep discount brokerage
  • Best published margin interest rates of any competitor
  • Access to 100 markets around the globe
  • Large selection of products to be traded
  • Durability and efficiency in its trading models

Cons

  • Poor customer service
  • Most accounts require a $10,000 account minimum balance
  • High learning curve and barrier to entry for new traders
  • Poor research resources and trader education
  • Pricey pay-per-share commissions for traders who make more than 1,600 trades
  • $10 monthly fee if $10 minimum commission requirement is not met each month

How Do You Open an Interactive Brokers Account, and What are the Requirements?

The process of opening an account on Interactive Brokers is incredibly easy — just go online and fill out the application at InteractiveBrokers.com. It’s best to look through their website first to see just what kinds of options they have available, so you are well-versed in the kind of account you want to open with them.

After selecting the type of account you want, put in your normal information — name, address, date of birth, employer information, social security number — and Interactive Brokers takes care of the rest. Be sure to have multiple types of ID available to help get through these requirements.

Note that Interactive Brokers requires a $10,000 minimum account balance to get you started with an account. With that in mind, be sure you are a sufficiently experienced trader and are committed to the practice before investing with them.

Trading

What Are the Rules for Trading on Interactive Brokers?

The tiered fee structure of Interactive Brokers is pretty affordable, with a 0.5-cent (that’s right – half a cent) stock trade fee per share. That’s one of the lowest we’ve seen. What’s more, there are no options base fees, and a 70-cent fee on options per contract.

Granted, this is made up for by the more long-lasting costs that exist for traders regardless of their level of activity. The monthly cost for someone who trades occasionally is about $20, which isn’t bad. However, despite the transparency of its tiered fee structure, more frequent traders can spend up to $847 a month in fees at Interactive Brokers.

That said, if you are already planning on investing a great deal of time and money in the investment world, Interactive Brokers’ commission rates are fairly competitive to encourage that kind of active trading — they want you to trade a lot, attracting the kind of people who will consistently check their accounts and make adjustments. This can yield great dividends for the committed, but inexperienced traders might want to shy away.

What Kind of Trader is Interactive Brokers Best For?

Interactive Brokers is probably best for traders who have a bit of experience with the market, but want to try something new and innovative. Day traders, for instance, or even penny stock traders, might find a lot to love about Interactive Brokers’ unique system.

Being an active, everyday trader is perhaps the most essential element to getting the most out of an Interactive Brokers account, as they fine users for inactivity. If you do not pay at least $10 worth of commissions over the course of a month, you will be charged a $10 inactivity fee.

Traders who seldom need customer service will also find little wrong with Interactive Brokers. Customer service, as previously mentioned, is one of the company’s weak spots, but those who feel a little more hands-off shouldn’t let access to support or to a live broker discourage them.

However, if you do care about customer service, you might want to seek out other options. Interactive Brokers has consistently received reports of customer service staff being rude to relatively inexperienced customers or traders.

Granted, Interactive Brokers still boasts 24/7 support over phone, live chat and email, so the option to consult them is still there — you won’t be deprived of access to some help.

Other Good Products

Emerging technologies such as mobile apps and other streamlined methods for trading are gaining in popularity and Stash Invest is a nice mobile-first platform. It’s all done on one app, where you can buy and sell in a variety of pre-packaged portfolios that reflect your values and levels of diversification and risk.

One of the brokerages worth looking into is TradeStation. TradeStation’s features are a little thinner, but its fee structure spreads more evenly. Whereas Interactive Brokers requires a minimum balance of $10,000 and charges $30 for broker-assisted trading, TradeStation requires $5,000 and charges $20. But InteractiveBrokers also has no flat fee for a stock trade, whereas TradeStation charges $5.

If you want similar features but want to spend a little less upfront, consider E*Trade, which has a minimum balance requirement of only $500. E*Trade does charge a little more for most of its trades, but it also doesn’t charge fees for IRAs or for inactivity, which Interactive Brokers does.

If you want the kind of solid technological framework Interactive Brokers sports, but want a better focus on customer service, TD Ameritrade might well be your ideal choice among brokerages. Their trade pricing is a bit more expensive, but their customer service is second to none.

What’s more, even if you love TWS, there are those who might argue that TD Ameritrade’s Thinkorswim platform is a better combination of readability and functionality. With that in mind, you have to know what you are looking for in an online platform before deciding between the two.

A Few Final Thoughts

One interesting thing to note is that Interactive Brokers was one of the few stock trading firms to come out relatively OK after Brexit thanks to effective and clever preparation. As such, you can probably rely on them to steer you through harsh financial weather.

Apart from that, Interactive Brokers is an ideal stock trading firm for those traders who are a little more adventurous, and don’t mind a little bit of experimentation. Their fee structure is easy, their technologies and research tools are innovative, and they have a lot of experience in the market.

Their greatest blind spot is their customer service, so don’t expect to get a lot of help if you run into trouble. What’s more, Interactive Brokers provides investors with very little research and only very rudimentary onboarding on how to trade — another reason novices need not apply.

Interactive Brokers’ approach seems tailor-made for the person who wants to dedicate their time to investing in the most efficient way possible, with little to no help from outside. For these confident investors, Interactive Brokers has a lot to offer.


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