Personal Finance

Brokerage Accounts: Robinhood vs. TradeKing

Searching for a brokerage account? You've probably discovered there are many options, with varying commission schedules, investment availability, and account minimums. Today, though, we'll simplify the search and help you compare two popular discount brokers, Robinhood and TradeKing, to see if either choice is a good fit for your portfolio.

Trading costs and commissions

Robinhood is an anomaly in the brokerage industry because it doesn't charge commissions, whereas every other broker (including TradeKing) does. But price isn't everything, and you'll see that discount brokerages of all types make investing much more affordable today than it used to be.

Broker Stocks/Options ETFs Mutual Funds
Robinhood Stocks: FreeOptions: Not available Free Not available
TradeKing $4.95 per trade + $0.65 per options contract $4.95 per trade $9.95 per purchase

Data sources: Company websites.

Though the differences may appear stark, they're really quite small in simple terms of dollars and cents. Furthermore, a broker's published commission schedule is usually the highest cost you can expect to pay.

Many brokers offer commission-free trades on select investments. In addition, we'd encourage you to explore special offers for brokerage accounts as well as offers for IRA accounts , which can actually result in a situation where your broker effectively pays you to open an account. These offers are always changing, but it's common to find special offers that can give you hundreds of free trades in addition to cash bonuses of $2,000 or more.

Commission-free ETFs and NTF funds

Brokerages are increasingly using commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds as an incentive to sign up with their service. The value of these perks is not insignificant -- if you like funds, shopping for commission-free and NTF funds could save you thousands of dollars over time.

Here's how Robinhood and TradeKing stack up on fee-free investments.

Broker Commission-Free ETFs NTF Mutual Funds
Robinhood All ETFs Not available
TradeKing None None

Data sources: Company websites.

All trades (stocks and ETFs) are free on Robinhood. TradeKing doesn't currently offer any commission-free ETFs or NTF mutual funds, though it does have a comparatively low commission ($9.95) for mutual fund transactions compared to other brokerages. Depending how important funds are to your portfolio, you could make the case for either brokerage.

Account minimums

Robinhood and TradeKing are no-minimum brokerages, meaning they allow investors to open an account without making a certain minimum deposit. That said, try to start with more than just the bare minimum -- you'll need to deposit enough cash to afford to buy stock, ETFs, or mutual funds to actually make your first investment.

Trading platform

Ever since the dawn of the discount brokerage industry, traders have been arguing about which brokerage has the best trading platform. As long-term investors, we at The Motley Fool prefer annual reports and conference calls to candlestick charts and Bollinger bands, so we tend not to worry too much over trading platforms. We just don't think platforms are that important for long-term investing.

From our perspective, the biggest difference between platforms is that Robinhood is a mobile-only service, whereas TradeKing offers mobile and desktop trading platforms. If a trading platform is of particular importance to you, then it's worth exploring each platform for yourself to see how it works for your needs.

Robinhood Tradeking

If you'd like to invest internationally, the differences between Robinhood and TradeKing may be of particular importance. Image source: Getty Images.

International stocks and ADRs

The majority of online broker s allow you to invest in foreign companies, subject to some limitations. Robinhood and TradeKing both fall in line with the rest of the industry here.

Investments Robinhood TradeKing
American depositary receipts (ADRs) Some Yes
International stock markets No No
ETFs/Mutual funds of foreign stocks ETFs ETFs and mutual funds

Data sources: Company websites.

Let's start first with funds. Both brokerages offer the ability to trade American ETFs that hold foreign stocks, but only TradeKing offers the ability to invest in mutual funds made up of foreign stocks.

As for individual companies, there are some important differences. Robinhood offers its clients the opportunity to trade some ADRs. Its website states that its clients can invest in "companies domiciled in Canada and Israel that trade above $5." TradeKing offers more support for trading in ADRs. However, neither brokerage currently enables their clients to trade directly on foreign exchanges. In fairness, only a few brokerages offer that capability.

Research quality and tools

We tend to think that self-directed investors can benefit from being able to get insights and analysis and consider a wide range of investment opinions.

TradeKing provides some fundamental screening tools, in addition to Breakfast Bell market reports and S&P stock reports. Robinhood doesn't currently offer research access for having a brokerage account, which is a trade-off that investors should balance with the fact that it doesn't charge commissions.

Mobile app

If you have access to the internet on a phone or tablet, you can make a trade with Robinhood or TradeKing. Here's how each broker's users and clients rated their iOS and Android apps (as of Dec. 19, 2016).

Broker Apple App Store Google Play
Robinhood 4.5 stars 4.5 stars
TradeStation 1.0 star 4.0 stars

data sources: Relevant app stores.

The best broker for your needs: Robinhood vs. TradeKing?

Depending on your particular portfolio, you could find either brokerage to be a good fit. Robinhood offers commission-free stock and ETF trades, but doesn't offer the ability to trade options or invest in mutual funds. TradeKing charges commissions, but offers a wider range of investment choices, in addition to free research capabilities just for having an account.

Ultimately, there isn't a single brokerage that is the best broker for every type of investor. What really matters is how any broker fits with the needs of your investment style. To be clear: The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular broker, but we do have some resources that might help you in your hunt. Fool.com's Broker Center makes it easy to compare current special offers and features offered by several leading discount brokerages all on one page. The Fool.com IRA Center is tailored to retirement investors.

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