When it comes to looking for an online broker it can take a lot of work. There are many online brokers available, and each one offers competitive commission prices; free research and trading tools, multiple trading products; useful trading platforms, good customer service, and additional banking options.
With so many similarities, it can be time-consuming to thoroughly review each online broker that interests you. The exhaustion of the process may also leave you to make a snap decision and choose a broker with low commission fees without looking at the bigger picture (such as what extra costs there are and how helpful customer support is). For example, there are online brokers out there that provide low commission fees, but then hit you with a required minimum of trades to use the trading platform or an extra cost for it. If you’ve experienced this or other issues with your broker, you’re probably looking for a new broker that will provide you with good service, low commission fees, and minimum extra costs. Charles Schwab offers reasonable commission fees, great service, and extremely low extra costs.
Known as a client-focused online broker for its exceptional customer service, Charles Schwab is described by many of its customers as an honest and trustworthy company. In this article, we will cover how Charles Schwab stands out and/or compares to its competitors in the following categories:
- Costs and Fees
- Special Offers and Special Services
- Customer Service
- Available Trading Products
- Trading Platforms and Trading Tools
- Research and Education
Costs and Fees
One area where Charles Schwab beats many of its competitors is in the minimum requirement for customers to start an account. At this company, you have a choice between an Individual Brokerage account or a Joint Brokerage account. In either case, you need to deposit a minimum of $1,000 in your account. This is less than Fidelity, Scottrade, Interactive Brokers, and TradeStation. (As seen in Table 1.)
Table 1. Minimum Account Deposit Comparison Between Online Stock Brokers
|Charles Schwab||Fidelity||Scottrade||Interactive Brokers||TradeStation|
With a lower minimum account deposit, it is not only easier for customers to open an account sooner, but it also saves them more money right off the bat.
Commission Costs for Stocks are $8.95. This is less than E-Trade and TradeStation, but more than Scottrade. Commissions also come with no Per-share fee, unlike TradeStation. (See Table 2.)
Table 2. Online Broker Stock Commission Fees Comparison
There are 3 fees for options:
- the Options Trade Fee plus Contract fee
- the Options Exercise Fee (fee paid to use the call or put option)
- the Options Assignment Fee (fee paid for option writer to fulfill option contract)
Option Trades are priced the same as stock trades at 8.95 with a small charge for contracts at .75 cents. Option Exercise Fee and Options Assignment Fee are also 8.95 each. These prices demonstrate how Charles Schwab tries not to surprise customers with unexpected extra costs. In comparison, E*Trade, TradeStation, and Scottrade charge more than what’s expected. (See Table 3.)
Table 3. Online Brokers Options Fee Comparisons
|Options Trade plus contract:
|8.95 + .75||9.99 + .75||0 + 1.00||7.00 + 1.25|
|Options Exercise Fee:
|Options Assignment Fee:
Broker Assisted Trades
Broker assisted trades are an extra cost because they compensate the broker’s time and effort. Charles Schwab broker assisted trades are $25.00 in addition to the $8.95 commission fee. This is less than Fidelity and Scottrade, but a little more than TradeStation and Interactive Brokers. (See Table 4.)
Table 4. Online Brokers Broker Assisted Trades Fee Comparison
|Fees||Charles Schwab||Fidelity||Interactive Brokers||Scottrade||TradeStation|
|Broker assisted trades:
|8. 95 + 25.00= 33.95
|7.95 +32.95= 48.85
|7.00 + 32.00= 39.00
|9.99 + 20.00= 29.99|
ETFs are a high point for Charles Schwab. If you’re looking to cut risks and diversify your portfolio with ETFs, Charles Schwab offers over 200 commission-free ETFs when traded through your Schwab account through Schwab ETF Onesource. This is the highest amount of commission-free ETFs offered than any other broker in the industry!
Unfortunately, Charles Schwab is not without a low point. The mutual fund trading fee is $76.00, one of the highest mutual fund trading fees among online brokers. However, while it costs $76 to buy mutual funds, it costs $0 to sell them.
No Fee Requirements
Another high point Charles Schwab has is $0 costs for things other competitors charge for. No fee requirements include:
- No inactivity fees (you are not penalized for being an infrequent investor and can trade at your own pace)
- No account maintenance (no worrying about that little extra cost of maintaining your account)
- No annual fee (you don’t have to worry about paying a fee for your account)
- No platform fees (both platforms have no requirement or fees to use)
- No bond of CD trading fees
These no-fee requirements save you money and let your focus on investing.
However, it is important to note that Charles Schwab has a few extra fees. Miscellaneous fees for Charles Schwab include:
- $0 for treasury
- $5 IVR trade
- $0 IRA annual fee
- $50 IRA closure fee
- $0 Forced margin sellout fee
- $25 dollar returned ACH fee
- $25 returned wire fee
- $500 stock certificate process fee
- $0 stock certificate delivery fee
- $0 paper statement fee
- $0 paper confirmation fee
- $25 domestic wire fee
- $25 international wire fee
Yet, even these fees include $0 fees or lower fees than competitors.
Special Offers and Special Services
While browsing through brokers, you’ll notice that different firms offer different special offers and Charles Schwab is no different. However, this company’s special offer has a high value. For a deposit of $50,000 into your account, you can be enrolled into a special offer of up to 500 commission-free trades and get access to Charles Schwab trading coaches for one year.
500 Commission-Free Trades and Free Trading Coach
While other online brokers, like OptionsHouse (with an offer of 300 commission-free trades), have a special offer for commission-free trades as well, Charles Schwab offers more commission-free trades than anyone in the industry.
They are also the only online brokers to offer a free trading coach. Trading coach services include: “evaluating trade opportunities, reviewing and assessing trade performance, recognizing when to buy and sell stocks,” and more. This is a high-value offer because you’re able to get more specific help and more time with experts than normal, and you don’t have to worry about fees.
Charles Schwab notify their investors of this special offer on their website, but don’t force them to make a decision right away, leaving it up to them to decide when to take the offer, or notifying them when they’ve qualified.
Charles Schwab Global Account
You can also save money with Charles Schwab’s Global Account. The Charles Schwab Global Account is a unique account that only Charles Schwab offers, which lets you make trades internationally (like the brokerage account) using the specific countries currency instead of having to use U.S. dollars. Like the brokerage account, the Global Account has no annual or maintenance fees. In addition, you don’t need an account minimum to get started, so you don’t have to worry about depositing any extra money. To get your brokerage account, you download an application and fill it out. However, to get a Global Account, you must already have an account with a deposited minimum of 1,000 dollars.
Wealth Management Program
Charles Schwab also dedicate themselves to helping their investors with their wealth management program. Charles Schwab link you to available financial consultants in your area to help you get financial advice and guidance about your investments. “You’ll understand where your money is invested and why, how your investments are performing, and how much it’s costing you. Plus, you’ll have access to expertise, specialists, and insights to help you reach your specific goals” (“Wealth Management”).
There are no fees for the initial visit with the consultant. You can meet with a consultant before getting an account to decide if you want to continue using the wealth management program. The fees begin when you start having your account or accounts managed in the program. The fees are generally 1% per year, but verify based on how in-depth you situation is.
Described as a “robo-advisor platform,” by Alice Holbrook, a staff writer covering insurance and investing for NerdWallet, Charles Schwab Intelligent Porfolios build, monitor, and rebalance your investing accounts so you don’t have to (Holbrook, “Intelligent Portfolios Review: Schwab Robo-Advisor Has No Fees, But It Does Have Costs”). To get started, you must deposit a 5,000 dollar minimum and answer a risk assessment questionnaire.
- Portfolios include more handpicked ETFs than other robo-advisor platforms
- There are no advisory, commission, account or maintenance fees (the only costs you have to worry about are how your ETFs are performing)
- Live help is available anytime
- Daily profile monitoring and rebalancing of up to 20 assets is available for accounts that maintain at least a 5,000 dollar balance
- You must have at least 50,000 dollars in the account to get automatic tax-loss harvesting
Rated as #1 in Customer Service and Trade Reliability in 2015, critics and customers alike comment positively on Charles Schwab’s customer service. With over 500 positive reviews, customers comment that Charles Schwab staff are patient, knowledgeable, readily available, and considerate when answering questions or helping them solve issues. Blain Reinkensmeyer, the head of StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews, states that Charles Schwab’s customer service is “a consistent and often memorable experience” with “courteous and knowledgeable representatives” and takes the “#1 ranking in both phone and live chat support” (Reinkensmeyer, “Charles Schwab Review”).
Customer service is available 24/7, 7 days a week, and can be accessed through live chat (on the website), email, phone, Facebook, or Twitter.
Available Trading Products
Charles Schwab offers a wide range of trading products including Bonds, Stocks, ETFs, Mutual Funds, CDs, Options, and Futures. This gives the company a few pros and cons in comparison to its competitors.
- Charles Schwab offers more lower risk products (CDS, Bonds, ETFs, and Mutual Funds) than OptionsHouse, Fidelity, Interactive Brokers, E*TRADE, and Trade Station
- Charles Schwab offers Futures (while some of its competitors do not)
- Most trading products have low ($0) or fair fees ($8.95)
- Charles Schwab has over 16,000 mutual fund and over 4,800 stocks—higher than 6 of its competitors
- Charles Schwab does not offer FOREX trading
Trading Platforms and Trading Tools
As mentioned before, trading platform are free to use for account holders and don’t have any requirements to access. Both trading platforms also have extremely fast execution speeds for buying and selling.
Charles Schwab has two trading platforms: StreetSmart.com and StreetSmart Edge. Both trading platforms include:
- Alerts (you can set up specific alerts)
- Automated trading (you can automate your trading)
- Conditioned orders (you can place orders to immediately trigger or cancel a trade)
- Customization (you can customize the look of your trading platform)
- Level II quotes (you can get access to the buyers and sellers for individual stocks)
- Options tools (you can learn what options are and how to use them)
- Platform Advanced (you can access a more advanced trading platform)
- Daily Reports (you can see updates of your profits and losses each day)
StreetSmart.com is web-based, easy to use, and also includes “real-time streaming watch lists” (Reinkensmeyer, “Charles Schwab Review”).
StreetSmart Edge is desktop-based and requires a “slight learning curve” (Reinkensmeyer, “Charles Schwab Review”). It is a platform more suited for active traders and includes “customizable watch lists,” “markers” that appear to show you when and at what price you purchased a stock, and “notifications on order triggers fulfilled” Reinkensmeyer, “Charles Schwab Review”).
Research and Education
Reinkensmeyer reviews that Charles Schwab “provides the highest quality research” compared to any of the 17 online brokers he’s tested at StockBrokers.com (Reinkensmeyer, “Charles Schwab Review”). While other online brokers provide research on their websites, Charles Schwab’s research is extensive and more in-depth, providing investors with better market research and company analytics to help them make more guided decisions.
Charles Schwab also goes one step further than other online brokers by providing investors with high-quality insights on which stocks will be the most high performing and which stocks will be the most low performing, so that investors know which stocks they should buy and sell to cut risks and make the most profit.
Equity Ratings “are assigned to approximately 3,000” of the largest stocks . . . Stocks are rated using a scale of “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “F.” Schwab’s outlook is that “A” rated stocks, on average, will strongly outperform and “F” rated stocks, on average, will strongly underperform . . . over the next 12 months” (“About Schwab Equity Ratings”). (For more specific information view http://www.schwab.com/public/file/P-4603911/for_schwab.com_SLS30364-05.pdf.)
The Charles Schwab website is a goldmine of information for account holders that want to become better investors. The “Insights” section of their website provides guides, articles, feedback, and videos. You can also get access to classes, webinars, and live seminars. Customers give these classes high ratings for having different levels available (there are classes specifically designed for beginners and advanced investors), being led by knowledgeable staff, and providing useful and applicable information.
Like other online brokers, Charles Schwab offers banking services through their bank; however, they are rated more highly for their bank features and services. Bank features include:
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Debit cards and credit cards
- Mortgage loans
Charles Schwab Bank also includes a one-of-a-kind High Yield Investor Checking Account not offered by any other broker.
High Yield Investor Checking Account
With a High Yield Investor Checking Account you get:
- No minimum deposit
- No maintenance fees
- No ATM withdrawal fees worldwide
- No Schwab Bank Bill Pay fees to pay your bills online or using a mobile device
- Automatic linking to your brokerage account
Anyone who has banked before and dealt with minimum deposits, monthly maintenance fees, and annoying ATM withdrawal fees will see this as a huge benefit and a great way to save money than by linking their own separate bank account to their brokerage account.
Bottom line for Charles Schwab
When it comes down to it, Charles Schwab may not have the lowest trading costs, but it does excel in quality service, multiple options, low extra costs, and reliable customer service. You can put your trust in this company and its staff and gain a lot of benefits by choosing them as your online broker.