Interactive Brokers Review 2020

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Interactive Brokers Review 2020: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Interactive Brokers attracts active traders with low per-share pricing, an advanced trading platform, a large selection of tradable securities — including foreign stocks — and ridiculously low margin rates. Its new offering, IBKR Lite, offers commission-free trades of stocks and ETFs.

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Our Take

The bottom line: Active and casual traders alike will benefit from Interactive Brokers’ advanced execution, strong trading platforms and rock-bottom pricing.

Best Broker for Low-Cost Investing, Best Broker for Stock Trading Platform and Research

on Interactive Brokers’s website

Interactive Brokers IBKR Lite

on Interactive Brokers’s website

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Pros & Cons

Large investment selection.

Strong research and tools.

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Over 4,300 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

NerdWallet users who sign up for IBKR Pro get a 0.25 percentage point discount on margin rates.

Website is difficult to navigate.

Inactivity fees on IBKR Pro.

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Best Online Brokers

Full Review

Interactive Brokers has long been a popular broker for advanced traders, but in 2020 the company launched a second tier of service — IBKR Lite — for more casual investors.

With IBKR Lite, you get unlimited free trades of stocks and exchange-traded funds that are listed on U.S. exchanges. If you’re interested in trading other investments, including options, futures, mutual funds, fixed income and more, you can do that on 125 markets in 31 countries with a Lite account, but the trading costs will be the same as what IBKR Pro investors pay.

As the name implies, IBKR Pro is geared toward advanced traders. If that’s you, you’ll probably like the broker’s per-share pricing of $0.005 per share (the minimum is $1), advanced trading platform, unmatched range of tradable securities — including foreign stocks — and ridiculously low margin rates.

Both tiers of service have a $0 account minimum and offer fractional shares of stock. IBKR Lite has no account maintenance or inactivity fees. IBKR Pro charges an inactivity fee, though it’s possible to skirt that if you trade relatively frequently.

Interactive Brokers is best for:

Casual and advanced traders.

Research and data.

Interactive Brokers at a glance

Stock trading costs

• IBKR Lite: Unlimited free trades on U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs.

• IBKR Pro: $0.005 per share; minimum $1 and maximum 1% of trade value; volume discount available.

IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro: No base commission; 65 cents per contract with $1 minimum. Volume discount available.

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)

• IBKR Pro: $10/month commission minimum for accounts with $100,000 or less, and a $20/month commission minimum for accounts with $2,000 or less.

Number of commission-free ETFs

• IBKR Lite: Unlimited commission-free trades on all available ETFs.

• IBKR Pro: 98 commission-free ETFs.

Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds

Over 4,300 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

• Stocks. • Bonds. • Mutual funds. • ETFs. • Options. • Futures. • Forex. • Metals.

IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro customers get access to Client Portal trading platform and powerful Trader Workstation platform.

Advanced features mimic the desktop app.

Research and data

Extensive research offerings, both free and subscription-based.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

24-hour phone, email and chat support, available six days a week.

NerdWallet users who sign up for IBKR Pro get a 0.25 percentage point discount on margin rates.

$1,000 worth of commission credits for 1 million new customers who participate in IBKR’s simulated sports betting exchange.

Where Interactive Brokers shines

Low commissions: If you’re a casual investor, it’s hard to beat the free trades you’ll enjoy with IBKR Lite. But even advanced traders who opt for IBKR Pro will like the low stock and ETF commission structure at Interactive Brokers, which favors frequent, high-volume traders at just $0.005 per share. There’s a $1 minimum trade commission and a maximum of 1% of the total trade value, and exchange and regulatory fees are included. The broker also offers tiered pricing to lower rates even more: Investors who trade more than 300,000 shares a month can pay $0.002 or less per share, depending on trade volume, although exchange and regulatory fees are extra on this plan. Rates can go even lower for truly high-volume traders.

Options trading , too, is offered at competitive pricing, for both Pro and Lite customers, with a 65 cent charge per contract and no base, plus discounts for larger volumes. The minimum options trade commission is $1 per order.

Margin rates: Margin traders will also benefit from the low rates at Interactive Brokers. For IBKR Pro customers, the maximum margin rate is the benchmark rate plus 1.5% — and NerdWallet users get an extra 0.25 percentage point discount. For IBKR Lite, it’s the benchmark rate plus 2.5%. Those rates apply on balances up to $100,000; the rates drop at higher balances. The broker charges a blended rate based on the size of the margin loan, and has a calculator on its website to help investors quickly do the math based on their balance.

Interactive Brokers also offers an integrated cash management feature, which allows investors to borrow against their accounts with a debit Mastercard, also at low interest rates.

Fractional shares: The ability to purchase a portion of a company’s stock, rather than a full-priced share, makes it easier to invest in companies that have lofty share prices. That, in turn, makes it easier to maintain a diversified portfolio, especially for investors with smaller accounts. For example, rather than paying more than $260 for one share of Apple, you can divvy up that money among different companies.

Trading platform: The casual traders who find IBKR Lite appealing will find the Client Portal platform adequate for their trading needs. But both IBKR Lite and IBKR Pro traders seeking something more powerful can now enjoy access to Interactive Brokers’ Desktop Trader Workstation, which is considered one of the best trading platforms available for advanced traders. (Until recently, only IBKR Pro traders had access to the advanced platform.)

The platform is fast and includes standard features such as real-time monitoring, alerts, watchlists and a customizable account dashboard. An options strategy lab lets you create and submit both simple and complex multileg options orders and compare up to five options strategies at one time.

Other tools include a volatility lab, advanced charting, heat maps of sector and stock symbol performance, paper trading and a mutual fund replicator, which helps users identify ETFs that replicate the performance of a selected mutual fund but offer lower fees. InteractiveBroker’s For You notifications offer customized alerts about events that could affect a trader’s investments.

Worth noting: Another broker we review, Zacks Trade , offers its customers access to white-labeled versions of Trader Workstation. Zacks Trade charges higher trade commissions, but offers clients free calls with support reps, who are licensed brokers. It’s an option worth considering for traders who want the power of Interactive Brokers’ trading platforms alongside a bit more personal support.

Mobile app: The IBKR mobile app, available to both Lite and Pro customers, is Trader Workstation on the go, with advanced trading shortcuts, over 50 data columns, option exercise and spread templates, news, research, charting and scanners. Users can create order presets, which prefill order tickets for fast entry. Presets set up on Trader Workstation are also available from the mobile app.

Research: Interactive Brokers provides access to a huge selection of research providers and news services, many for free, including Fundamentals Explorer, which offers fundamentals data from Thomson Reuters on over 30,000 companies, plus more than 5,500 analyst ratings, and reports and newswires from 82 companies. Other research providers available to all clients include Zacks Investment Research, Morningstar Equity Ownership, Market Realist, 24/7 Wall Street and Seeking Alpha. Over 100 additional providers are also available by subscription.

Investment selection: Interactive Brokers offers something for everyone here: Advanced traders will love the huge selection of products, from standard offerings of stocks, options and ETFs to precious metals, forex, warrants and futures. The retirement-investor set will be happy with the broker’s impressive list of no-transaction-fee mutual funds — over 4,300 in all — and respectable selection of 98 commission-free ETFs (and Lite customers get to trade all U.S.-listed ETFs commission-free).

Interactive Brokers also has a robo-advisor offering, which charges management fees ranging from 0.08% to 1.5%. The service offers about 70 portfolio options, and 41 of those portfolios require just $1,000 to get started. (The management fees and account minimums vary by portfolio.)

Where Interactive Brokers falls short

Interactive Brokers’ shortcomings are primarily due to the company’s focus on advanced traders:

Inactivity fees: Interactive Brokers caters to active traders, and that focus shows up in its inactivity fees for IBKR Pro customers. Accounts with balances of $100,000 or less must meet a minimum of $10 a month in trade commissions, or Interactive Brokers will charge the difference as a monthly fee. Accounts with an equity balance of $2,000 or less must meet minimum trade commissions of $20. IBKR Lite doesn’t charge inactivity fees.

There is a break here for clients 25 or younger, who have a minimum monthly trade commission of just $3.

» Don’t trade that much? View our best online brokers roundup

Website ease-of-use. Interactive Brokers provides a great deal of information on its website, but finding and interpreting the information you want isn’t always easy. For IBKR Pro customers, the various commission and fee structures can make it hard to quickly identify what your costs will be. Portions of the website are dedicated to institutional, broker and proprietary trading accounts, and that can be confusing.

Is Interactive Brokers right for you?

Interactive Brokers has always been a great choice for active traders, especially those who can move into the broker’s cheaper volume-pricing setup. Now, with the availability of free trades with IBKR Lite, even casual traders might find Interactive Brokers a strong contender. But beginner investors might prefer a broker that offers a bit more hand-holding and educational resources.

Interactive Brokers Review

A winning combination of tools, asset classes, and low costs

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  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform or 1% of trade value, $0 for IBKR Lite

Interactive Brokers (IBKR) ranks very close to the top in our 2020 review due to its wealth of tools for sophisticated investors who are interested in tracking global investing trends. The firm makes a point of connecting to any electronic exchange globally, so you can trade equities, options, and futures around the world and around the clock.

Interactive Brokers introduced a Lite pricing plan in fall 2020, which offers no-commission equity trades on most of the available platforms. Interactive Brokers still charges a small fee for its IBKR Pro customers. We’ll look at how Interactive Brokers stacks up in terms of features, costs, and resources to help you decide if it is the right fit for your investing needs. Aside from this Interactive Brokers review, we’ve also reviewed the Interactive Advisors robo-advisor service.

Key Takeaways

  • Rated our best broker for international trading, best for day trading, and best for low margin rates.
  • Wide array of asset classes (including stocks, options, futures, and bonds) in 125 markets in 31 countries, using 22 currencies.
  • Has offered fractional share trading for several years.
  • Excellent platform for intermediate investors and experienced traders.

Who Interactive Brokers Is For

Interactive Brokers primarily serves institutional investors and sophisticated, active traders around the globe. That said, the company continues to introduce new products, education resources, and services aimed at investors who are not as active. Making the experience less intimidating for newer or less active investors is still a work in progress for the firm. In terms of serving its core market of active investors and experienced traders, however, Interactive Brokers is incredibly competitive. In addition to unparalleled market access, IBKR has layered on a staggering array of tools that can meet almost every conceivable trading need.

Extremely smart order router

Wide range of offerings around the world and across asset classes

Mutual Fund Replicator finds less expensive ETFs

Streaming data runs on a single device at a time

IBKR Lite customers cannot use the smart order router

Small or inactive accounts generate substantial fees

Pros Explained

  • Interactive Brokers’ order execution engine has what could be the smartest order router in the business. It stays on top of changes in market conditions to re-route all or parts of your order to achieve optimal execution, attain price improvement, and maximize any possible rebate.
  • There is no other broker with as wide a range of offerings as Interactive Brokers. Besides the direct access to global exchanges, IBKR has added a huge inventory of fixed income products, including many European corporate bonds and Euro-denominated government bonds.
  • Interactive Brokers’ mutual fund replicator helps you find lower-cost exchange-traded funds that are essentially identical to more expensive mutual funds. But if you prefer mutual funds, IBKR has nearly 12,500 mutual funds on offer.

Cons Explained

  • You can only have streaming data on one device at a time. If you log into your mobile app while still logged onto the TWS, you’ll be prompted to turn off streaming data on one of the devices.
  • The IBKR Lite order router prioritizes payment for order flow, which is not shared with the customer. IBKR Lite clients cannot use the Mobile Web platform or use any of the APIs that connect to Interactive Brokers’ trading engine.
  • Small or inactive IBKR Pro accounts may be subject to maintenance fees or data charges, and interest is not paid on cash unless you have a substantial balance.

Usability

Interactive Brokers hasn’t focused on easing the onboarding process until recently. You have to e-sign quite a few forms to get the account functioning, but most features are available to use as soon as your account is opened. You can open an account without making a deposit, but it will be closed if you don’t fund it within 90 days of opening.

Once you are set up, the Client Portal is a great step forward in making IBKR’s tools more accessible and easier to find. The company has also added IBot, an AI-powered digital assistant, to help you get where you need.

Everything about Interactive Brokers centers around Traders Workstation (TWS). TWS is a powerful and extensively customizable downloadable platform, and it is gradually gaining some creature comforts, such as a list titled “For You” that maintains links to your most frequently-used tools. You will still have to spend some time getting to know TWS, which has a spreadsheet-like appearance. The Mosaic interface built into TWS is much more aesthetically pleasing and it lets you arrange the tools like building blocks to form a workspace. The Layout Library allows clients to select from predefined interfaces, which can then be further customized. You can also create your own Mosaic layouts and save them for future use. In short, you will need to put time in to get the exact experience you are looking for, but the design tools that you’ll need are all there.

Interactive Brokers’ mobile app has almost all of the functionality of the web platform, though it is not nearly as extensive as TWS desktop platform. All the available asset classes can be traded on the mobile app. Any mobile watchlists you create are shared with the web and desktop platforms, and data streams in real-time. Streaming news on mobile includes Bloomberg TV, Real Vision, and IBKR Traders Insight. The fundamental research is solid and the charts are very good for mobile with a suite of indicators. It is worth noting that there are no drawing tools on the mobile app.

Interactive Brokers Review

While Interactive Brokers is not well known for its casual investor offering, it leads the industry with low-cost trading for professionals. Through the Trader Workstation (TWS) platform, Interactive Brokers offers excellent tools and an extensive selection of tradeable securities.

Top Takeaways for 2020

After spending five months testing 15 of the best online brokers for our 10th Annual Review, here are our top findings on Interactive Brokers:

  • Interactive Brokers (IBKR) is best known for offering traders access to global markets (125 market centers in 31 countries). Additionally, professionals can take advantage of industry-leading commissions, which includes the lowest margin rates across all balance tiers.
  • As far as Day Trading, Mobile Trading, Options Trading, Futures Trading, and Professional Trading go, Interactive Brokers is a winner. For example, Interactive Brokers offers a staggering 65 different order types.
  • Despite clear progress made in simplifying its website for casual investors, including more robust fundamental research and education, Interactive Brokers underperforms the best brokers for beginners.

Exclusive Offer:

  • New clients that open an account today receive a special margin rate Open Account

Overall Summary

Feature Interactive Brokers
Overall 4.5 Stars
Commissions & Fees 5 Stars
Offering of Investments 4.5 Stars
Platforms & Tools 4.5 Stars
Research 4 Stars
Education 4 Stars
Mobile Trading 4.5 Stars
Customer Service 4 Stars
Ease of Use 3 Stars

Commissions & Fees

Interactive Brokers offers two primary pricing plans: IBKR Pro (professionals) and IBKR Lite (casual investors). Because Interactive Brokers’ core clientele are professional traders and institutional investors (e.g., hedge funds), it is crucial to provide the lowest commissions schedule available. In our rigorous assessment, there is no question Interactive Brokers delivers.

IBKR Pro Stock trades: Standard fixed pricing US stock trades run $.005 per share with a minimum of $1.00 and a maximum of 0.5% of trade value. For small order sizes, i.e., several hundred shares, Interactive Brokers is a fantastic deal. However, trade several thousand shares or more, and Interactive Brokers quickly becomes pricey. For example, IBKR Pro is not a good choice for trading penny stocks.

IBKR Pro Options trades: Contract price less greater than $.10 = $.65 per contract with a $1.00 minimum and no maximum. Contract price less than $.10 but greater than $.05 = $.50 per contract with a $1.00 minimum and no maximum. Contract price less than $.05 = $.25 per contract with a $1.00 minimum and no maximum.

IBKR Pro Other benefits: Interactive Brokers does not accept payment for order flow, a key element in providing quality order execution. Also, Interactive Brokers leads the industry with the lowest margin rates, which vary from 3.05% down to a staggering 2.05% for clients who hold more than $1 million with the brokerage.

IBKR Pro Misc Fees: New and casual investors should be aware of the miscellaneous fees and minimums charged by Interactive Brokers. Put simply, maintain a $100,000 balance or spend at least $30 in commissions each month, and you will be in the clear; otherwise, charges for inactivity can reach up to $20 per month. For everyday investors, we recommend IBKR Lite or exploring our list of the discount brokers.

IBKR Lite: With IBKR Lite, there are no inactivity fees or data fees. All US stock and ETF trades are $0, while options trades follow the same IBKR Pro pricing. The main caveat to IBKR Lite is the lower quality order executions. Like other $0 brokers, under IBKR Lite, Interactive Brokers makes money off its order flow. Overall, IBKR Pro is designed for professionals, while IBKR Lite is designed for casual investors.

For a full pricing breakdown, see our detailed commissions notes.

Interactive Brokers pricing summary:

Feature Interactive Brokers
Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trade Fee (per trade) N/A
ETF Trade Fee $0.005
Options Base Fee $0.00
Options Per Contract Fee $0.65
Mutual Fund Trade Fee $14.95
Broker Assisted Trades Fee $30.00
Commission-Free ETFs 96

Platforms & Tools

The flagship platform Interactive Brokers offers is desktop-based Trader Workstation (TWS), which supports trading everything under the sun, including global assets. While TWS is not designed for new investors, it easily ranks among the best trading platforms in the industry.

Professional tools galore: Trading tools within TWS designed for seasoned traders are widespread: Algo trading, Options Strategy Lab, Volatility Lab, Risk Navigator, Market Scanner, Strategy Builder, and Portfolio Builder, to name a few. Watch lists can include anything from equities to individual options contracts, futures, forex, warrants – you name it. A staggering 494 data points are available for column customization.

IBot: IBot, also available in TWS mobile, uses a foundation of artificial intelligence to quickly service customer requests via chat (or voice in the iPhone app). Portfolio information, orders, quotes, and more are all supported. Think, “What’s the last price of GOOG?” or, “Chart AAPL vs. MSFT” or, “Buy 100 shares of FB.” Only TD Ameritrade can go toe-to-toe with IBot.

TWS drawbacks: Tasks such as pulling up a stock to trade are tricky due to the vast array of securities available to trade. For example, typing in “AAPL” for Apple yields a slew of possible matches, which can be overwhelming for non-professionals. Also, automated technical analysis tools (e.g., Recognia) are available only as a paid subscription add-on.

Client Portal: For less experienced traders, Interactive Brokers offers the Portal platform through its website. In summary, Portal includes all the core features necessary to trade and manage a basic portfolio. Portal is the primary trading experience for IBKR Lite customers, which means it is far less robust, but also far easier to use. In my testing, I found it to be good, but not great. It’s new as of late 2020, so it is safe to assume that improvements will be observed over time.

Research

Conducting research using the Trader Workstation (TWS) platform is no easy task. That said, for traders that commit and learn the platform, TWS includes advanced research tools seasoned traders desire, such as scanning and back-testing.

Good stuff: Research highlights include numerous screeners, extensive back-testing functionality, and portfolio analysis tools, which are all excellent. For traders looking to conduct specific research, Interactive Brokers offers dozens of third-party provider feeds a la carte, including Morningstar, which are available for a monthly fee. Any provider package purchased integrates straight into TWS.

Bad stuff: Performing even basic research on stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds is nothing like a traditional full-service brokerage experience one might find at TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, or Fidelity. You have to learn how to navigate TWS to find the information you want; there are no streamlined views. Bottom line, while TWS checks off quite a few boxes for research, the user experience is poor.

Fundamentals Explorer: In late 2020, Interactive Brokers rolled out Fundamentals Explorer as a new tool within Client Portal, built for everyday investors to perform traditional fundamental research on stocks. It’s light years ahead of anything Interactive Brokers had prior (the data is also incorporated into the mobile app under quotes). Fundamentals Explorer will eventually make its way into TWS, and the foundation has been laid for adding ETFs alongside Mutual Funds research. Overall, customers should expect to see improvements throughout 2020.

PortfolioAnalyst: Stepping away from traditional research, PortfolioAnalyst provides traders hedge fund-level reporting on their portfolio’s performance and makeup. Interactive Brokers also offers a free version for non-clients where you can link all your individual accounts and run reporting. It isn’t as insightful and easy to use as, say, Personal Capital. Still, it’s a compelling tool for traders with assets spread across numerous institutions.

Customer Service

To score Customer Service, StockBrokers.com partners with customer experience research group Confero to conduct phone tests from locations throughout the United States. For our 2020 Broker Review, 280 customer service tests were conducted over ten weeks.

Results

  • Average Connection Time: 1 – 2 minutes
  • Average Net Promoter Score: 8.1 / 10
  • Average Professionalism Score: 7.2 / 10
  • Overall Score: 7.87 / 10
  • Ranking: 10 th (14 brokers)

Mobile Trading

Mobile trading with Interactive Brokers is well supported across all devices. From lightning-quick streaming data to full-featured order entry and portfolio management, Interactive Brokers includes everything professionals require to go trade on the go.

Charting: Charting is robust, including 70 optional indicators and easy customizations; however, panning isn’t as smooth as newer HTML5 charting applications. Additionally, some features one would expect are not included, such as stock and/or index comparisons.

Considerations: One notable drawback to the app is that stock alerts cannot be delivered via push notification. Instead, alerts are delivered via email, which is baffling considering how sophisticated Interactive Brokers technology is otherwise.

Offering of Investments

Interactive Brokers provides the most diverse offering in the industry and leads by a wide margin in multiple areas, including international trading. Globally, customers can trade across more than 125 international markets in 31 countries.

Cash management: Any portfolio cash sitting idle beyond $10,000 will earn interest. The rate varies depending on the account balance; the higher your account balance, the more interest it accrues. For clients with high cash balances, cash management with Interactive Brokers is a great perk.

Forex: Retail forex trading is not offered in the United States unless you are designated as an “Eligible Contract Participant” by Interactive Brokers. More specifically, this means being an individual or organization with assets of over $10 million.

Final Thoughts

With industry-leading commission rates for professional traders, more than 60 optional order types, trading in more than 125 international markets, and a robust trade platform suitable for any professional, Interactive Brokers is an excellent choice for investors who fit into its target mold.

About Interactive Brokers

Headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, Interactive Brokers was founded in 1977 by Thomas Peterffy, who is respected as, “an early innovator in computer-assisted trading” (1). Interactive Brokers is most widely recognized for its extensive international reach, servicing over 125 market destinations worldwide (2). As of May 2020, each day the market is open, Interactive Brokers clients placed 894,000 trades, on average (3).

2020 Review Methodology

For the StockBrokers.com tenth annual best online brokers review published in January 2020, a total of 3,540 data points were collected over six months and used to score brokers. This makes StockBrokers.com home to the largest independent database on the web covering the online broker industry.

Participation is required to be included. Each broker completed an in-depth data profile and provided executive time (live in person or over the web) for an annual update meeting. Our rigorous data validation process yields an error rate of less than .001% each year, providing site visitors quality data they can trust. Learn more about how we test.

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