Fidelity and TD Ameritrade are among our top-ranked brokers for 2021. Both have websites packed with helpful features, news feeds, research, and educational tools. The two brokers also offer intuitive web-based, mobile, and desktop platforms to address the needs of both casual investors and frequent traders.
Fidelity, founded in 1943, built a reputation on its mutual fund business. Today, it’s an industry giant with a solid trading platform, excellent research and asset screeners, and exceptional trade executions. TD Ameritrade is also a significant force in the industry. Founded in 1975, it offers best-in-class educational content, live events, and robust trading platforms.
While Fidelity and TDA have a lot in common, we’ll look at some of the key differences to help you decide which is better for your investment and trading needs.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions. $0.65 per options contract.
We found Fidelity to be quite user-friendly overall. It offers three platforms: a web version, the downloadable Active Trader Pro, and Fidelity Mobile App. Opening an account is straightforward, especially if you already have another type of Fidelity account (e.g., an IRA). Like many brokers, you need to fill out additional paperwork to enable margin and options trading. Overall, Fidelity.com is easy to navigate once you find the numerous sub-menus. If you have trouble finding what you’re looking for, there’s a handy search bar at the top of most pages.
TD Ameritrade supports four platforms: a web version, thinkorswim (its advanced platform for active traders), and two mobile apps—TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader and thinkorswim Mobile. It’s easy to get started, and you can open and fund an account online or via the mobile app. Like most brokers, TD Ameritrade has numerous account types, making it tricky to pick the right one. However, there’s a “Most Common” accounts list that may help narrow it down, or you can try the handy “Find an Account” feature. TDA’s website is fresh, well-organized, and easy to navigate, and you’ll find a good variety of educational content, including articles, videos, webinars, and a glossary.
Both brokers have put effort into creating well-designed mobile apps with good functionality. On Fidelity, you can trade the same asset classes on mobile as you can on its standard platforms, except for bonds. TD Ameritrade supports the same asset classes across all platforms. Quotes at both brokers are delayed by default, but it’s easy to enable real-time quotes, so you don’t miss any market moves.
Overall, Fidelity and TDA scored closely across many of our metrics, and most investors would do fine with either broker. The choice may come down to your preferred trading instruments: Fidelity has the edge for international trading, but only TDA offers access to futures, futures options, and cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin futures only).
Desktop Trade Experience
Fidelity’s web platform is reasonably easy to use. You can set a few defaults, such as whether you want to use a market or limit order, but you make most choices when you place a trade. Active Trader Pro is, not surprisingly, more powerful and customizable. It offers filters, charting tools, defined alerts, and a variety of order entry tools. There are three ways to stage orders for later entry: standard, time-delayed, and conditional staging.
With TDA’s web platform, you customize the order type, quantity, size, and tax-lot methodology. Of course, the thinkorswim platform is more robust, easier to navigate, and you can create custom analysis tools using thinkScript (TDA’s proprietary programming language). It’s easy to enter trade orders, stage orders, send multiple orders, and trade directly from charts. Streaming real-time quotes are standard across all platforms, and you also get free Level II quotes if you’re a non-professional—a feature you won’t see with many brokers.
Overall, Fidelity’s Active Trader Pro is more user-friendly and takes less time to learn than TDA’s thinkorswim platform, which has a steep learning curve. However, thinkorswim offers a more robust and customizable trading experience that should appeal to active traders.
Mobile Trade Experience
Fidelity’s mobile app is easy to use. You can manage your orders, check pending transactions, and place trades. The app falls short in its research and charting, which are very limited. Overall, it seems the app is designed for investors, not traders. Mobile watchlists sync across desktop and web applications. Except for conditional orders, the order types you can use on the web or desktop are also available on the app.
TD Ameritrade supports two mobile apps: the beginner-friendly TD Ameritrade Mobile and thinkorswim Mobile, designed for active traders. Both are robust and offer a great deal of functionality, including charting and watchlists. Streaming real-time data is included, and you can trade the same asset classes on mobile as on the other platforms.
According to user ratings on the App Store, Fidelity has a 4.8-star rating from some 1.7 million reviews.
At the same time, TD Ameritrade Mobile has 4.5 stars from 91,000+ reviews, and thinkorswim has a 4.7-star rating from some 242,000 reviews. Overall, we found casual investors would be fine using either broker’s app, but active traders will likely find the thinkorswim app offers the most functionality.
Range of Offerings
Fidelity and TDA offer all the usual trading products, including stocks, ETFs, bonds, and mutual funds. However, only TDA provides access to futures, futures options, and cryptocurrencies (limited to Bitcoin futures).
|Fidelity Investments vs. TD Ameritrade Range of Offerings|
|No-Load, No-Fee Mutual Funds||3,457||4,259|
|Complex Options||4 legs||5 legs|
|Cryptocurrency||No||Yes (Bitcoin futures only)|
|International Exchanges||25 countries||1 (Canada)|
|OTCBB and Penny Stocks||Yes||Yes|
Fidelity and TDA support the usual order types (e.g., market, limit, stop limit) plus conditional orders like one-cancels-the-other (OCO) and one-triggers-the-other (OTO). However, TDA has a slight advantage here since it supports conditional orders on mobile—something Fidelity doesn’t offer. Both brokers allow you to stage orders for later.
Fidelity’s smart order routing technology seeks the best price available and can access all types of market venues, including dark pools, exchanges, and market makers. The company reports a net price improvement of $2.64 per 100-share equity trade—well above the $0.48 industry average. Fidelity has an average execution speed of 0.04 seconds, and it does not accept payment for order flow for stocks or ETFs (it does collect an average of $0.2514 per options contract).
TDA’s order routing algorithm looks for fast execution and price improvement. Third-party statistics show execution speeds of 0.05 seconds and an average net price improvement of $1.75 per 100 shares. TDA receives $0.0012 per equity share and $0.55 per options contract in payment for order flow.
Only TDA supports backtesting and automated trading, features that are attractive to active traders. Still, Fidelity takes a slight lead here due to better price improvement and execution speeds, and its lack of payment for order flow on equity trades.
Fidelity and TDA both have $0 commissions for online equity, options (both have a per-contract fee of $0.65), and ETF trades. Only TDA supports futures, which you can trade for $2.25 per contract. You’ll pay about $50 at either broker to buy mutual funds outside the no-fee list, and neither broker charges a platform fee.
Still, there are a few notable cost differences between the two brokers:
- OTCBB trades are $0 at Fidelity and a $6.95 flat fee with TDA
- Broker-assisted trades are $25 at TDA and $32.95 at Fidelity
- Margin interest rates across all balances are lower at Fidelity
Overall, Fidelity wins when it comes to low costs and margin rates.
Account and Research Amenities
Fidelity and TDA are comparable in terms of research amenities. Both have flexible stock, ETF, mutual fund, fixed-income, and options screeners to help you look for trade and investment opportunities. Both brokers also offer the tools, calculators, idea generators, news offerings, and professional research you would expect from a large brokerage. Overall, both brokers have similar offerings, but TDA has the edge due to its robust charting, backtesting, and trade automation capabilities. If you prioritize these features, TDA may be the better choice.
Fidelity and TDA offer access to real-time buying power and margin information, internal rate of return, and unrealized and realized gains. Both provide tax reports, and you can combine holdings from outside your account to get an overall view. Overall, traders and investors will find Fidelity and TDA offer similar portfolio analysis tools, so this category is too close to call.
Fidelity’s online Learning Center has articles, videos, webinars, and infographics that cover various investing topics. There are regular webinars and online coaching sessions for more advanced topics, plus learning programs for beginning investors on the app.
TDA sets a high bar for trading and investing instruction. In addition to a robust library, the broker offers close to 100 webinars a month and in-person workshops and branch seminars. The website uses artificial intelligence to suggest content and give clients a personalized experience. Overall, TDA is the better broker for educational content as it has more resources designed for a broader range of investor types and experience levels.
Fidelity and TDA offer flexible customer service, with live chat, 24/7 phone line support, and access to live brokers and brick-and-mortar branch offices for in-person help. You can count on reliable customer service from either broker.
Fidelity and TDA’s security are up to industry standards. You can log into the apps using biometric (face or fingerprint) recognition, and both brokers protect against account losses due to unauthorized or fraudulent activity.
Fidelity carries excess Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance with a per-customer limit of $1.9 million on cash awaiting investment. There’s no per-customer dollar limit on coverage of securities, but the total aggregate excess policy is $1 billion. TDA’s excess SIPC insurance provides each client with $149.5 million worth of protection for securities and $2 million of protection for cash, with an aggregate limit of $500 million.
Through 2021, neither brokerage had any significant data breaches reported by the Identity Theft Research Center. Overall, investors can have confidence in the security standards at either of these brokers.
Fidelity and TD Ameritrade are well-respected industry powerhouses and neither is a clear winner for all investors, just as neither is a bad choice no matter your style. Both offer low costs, robust trading platforms, and mobile apps with good functionality. Fidelity offers excellent value to investors of all experience levels, and it may be a good fit for some active traders (remember, it doesn’t support futures trading). Due to its comprehensive educational offerings, live events, and intuitive platforms, TD Ameritrade is a good choice for more experienced investors interested in taking an active approach to their investments. Overall, these two brokers offer comparable experiences, and the choice may come down to your preferred trading instruments or preferences for backtesting and automated trading.
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