Interactive Brokers

Detailed Interactive Brokers Review

Founded nearly 40 years ago, Interactive Brokers (IBKR) is known for its industry-leading commissions schedule, margin rates, and support for international trading.

By presenting one universal portal through which clients can trade on more than 100 market centers in 24 different countries, and deal in stocks, options, ETFs, futures, forex, bonds, and CFDs, Interactive Brokers has something to offer any seasoned trader who has at least $10,000 ($100,000 for margin accounts).

Commissions & Fees

With its core clientele being professional traders and institutions, providing the lowest commissions schedule available is critical for Interactive Brokers. In our rigorous assessment, they deliver without question.

First, it is important to note that Interactive Brokers does not accept payment for order flow, a key element in providing quality order execution. In our assessment of order execution for the 2017 Review, the broker came second behind Fidelity. For more, see our .

Overall, Interactive Brokers unquestionably reigns supreme in the category of commissions and fees.

Interactive Brokers also leads the industry with the lowest margin rates, which vary from 1.91% down to a staggering 1.41% for clients who hold more than $1 million with the brokerage.

Speaking of equity trades, rates start at $.005 per share with the fixed-rate structure ($1 minimum). Alternatively, the tiered-rate structure, which starts at $.0035 per share, can be used, but routing is factored in, which can add or reduce the cost, depending on whether the client is removing or adding liquidity. Some math will reveal that for small order sizes, i.e., several hundred shares, Interactive Brokers is a fantastic deal. Trade several thousand shares or more though, and Interactive Brokers quickly becomes pricey.

Interactive Brokers Lightspeed Trading TradeStation OptionsHouse SogoTrade
Stock Trade Fee (flat) N/A $4.50 $5.00 $4.95 $4.88
Stock Trade Fee (per share) $0.005 $0.006 $0.01 N/A N/A
Options Base Fee $0.00 $0.00 $5.00 $4.95 $4.88
Options Per Contract Fee $0.70 $0.60 $0.50 $0.50 $0.50
Commissions & Fees 4.5 Stars 4 Stars 3.5 Stars 4.5 Stars 4.5 Stars

Options are $.70 per contract with no minimums, and active options traders will enjoy the fact that exercise and assignments are practically free. Like tiered equity trades, per contract fees tier down as total shares traded increases.

New and casual investors should be aware of the miscellaneous fees and minimums charged by Interactive Brokers. Put simply, spend at least $30 in commissions each month and you are in the clear; otherwise, charges for inactivity can reach up to $20 per month. While far lower than the minimum spend required at say Lightspeed, it is still something to keep in mind. A full breakdown can be found on the Commissions & Fees notes further down the page.

Overall, Interactive Brokers unquestionably reigns supreme in the category of commissions and fees.

Platforms & Tools

The flagship platform Interactive Brokers offers is its Trader Workstation (TWS). The platform is set up to trade everything under the sun, including global assets, and is designed to be used by traders with ample market experience. The default experience is called Mosaic, while clients also have access to view what is called Classic TWS (the original version of the platform).

Because Interactive Brokers supports so many asset classes, it had to rethink its position and watch list management. What they came up with, which takes some getting used to, is extremely efficient. Type in any stock symbol and you will see a summary of available securities. Watch lists can include anything from equities to individual options contracts, futures, forex, warrants, you name it. I preferred the Mosaic view, although I know many long-term clients prefer the Classic view.

Watch lists can have up to 338 different columns, and to say they are fully customizable is truly an understatement. No broker offers an experience like TWS. Beyond learning how to effectively build watch lists, I found only one usability disadvantage that comes from supporting so many investment types, and that is pulling up quotes or trading securities. Even typing in AAPL for Apple yields a slew of possible matches, which can be overwhelming for non-professionals.

Interactive Brokers Lightspeed Trading TradeStation TD Ameritrade E*TRADE
Desktop Platform (Windows) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Charting - Indicators / Studies 121 20 274 397 118
Charting - Drawing Tools 9 5 23 22 31
Option Chains - Total Columns 37 35 32 33 30
Watch Lists - Total Fields 453 141 329 514 112

Turning to charting, technical traders will find nearly everything they need. One hundred and twenty four different studies are available to be added to any chart, and customizations cover every possible option. Note though, while 124 option indicators are impressive, TWS still trails the 270 and 370 offered by  and , respectively. Out of all the tools on TWS, I found the charts to have the most user-friendly interface.

Considering the depth of functionality, I was surprised to find only eight tools for mark ups. While the basics are present – trendlines, notes, zooming, Fibonacci, etc. – important tools such as support and resistance lines, channels, and the like are missing. Pickiness aside, the charts on TWS have all the core functionality required to succeed: viewing historical trades, alerts, trading off charts, comparisons, and index overlays, to name several.

There is no question TWS is built for professional trading as there are, for example, a staggering 63 different order types available for clients to use, by far the most in the industry.

Alongside charts, TWS is also home to a variety of other tools not covered in this review. Algo trading, Options Strategy Lab, Volatility Lab, Risk Navigator, Market Scanner, Strategy Builder, and Portfolio Builder, to name a few, are all available within TWS. There is no question TWS is built for professional trading as there are, for example, a staggering 63 different order types available for clients to use, by far the most in the industry.

After assessing TWS across 58 individual variables, the platform easily ranked among the best in the industry. Certain tools, such as charting, lack depth compared to those the top-ranked platforms use; however, overall, TWS delivers.

Lastly, for clients traveling without access to their desktops, or for clients looking to simply monitor their portfolio, place trades, and view watch lists, IB WebTrader is a good solution. After loading WebTrader, I found a detailed summary of my portfolio balances and margin requirements alongside a full spectrum order ticket.  When I say full spectrum, I mean trading for all asset classes is supported. The only limitations are algo orders and other advanced order types.

Pulling quotes will provide only a basic high-level summary, an extremely rudimentary chart I recommend be avoided altogether, and an option chain. Basic stock screening is also present alongside a high-level international market summary tab, Market Pulse. Customizations are essentially non-existent throughout, although streaming real-time quotes are found throughout, which is essential.

Bottom line, the focus of WebTrader is to monitor portfolios and manage orders; it is not designed to be used as a standalone. It accomplishes these functions well.

Research

Being a professional trader-focused brokerage, Interactive Brokers is not known for its research offering. Bundled with the platform clients will find what they need to conduct mostly thorough research for stocks, decent research for ETFs, and little to no research for Mutual Funds.

That said, Interactive Brokers does offer a variety of third-party provider feeds a la carte, including Morningstar, which are available for a monthly fee.

Interactive Brokers Lightspeed Trading TradeStation TD Ameritrade E*TRADE
Equity Research - Reports 1 0 0 7 4
Equity Research - Metric Comparisons Yes No No Yes No
ETF Research - Reports Yes No No Yes Yes
Mutual Fund Research - Reports No No No Yes Yes
Equity Research - SEC Filings Yes No No Yes Yes

Mobile Trading

Mobile trading with Interactive Brokers is mostly an enjoyable experience. All devices are supported including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Android smartphone, and Android tablets.

When testing the iPhone app, I found the app had everything I needed to trade effectively.

When testing the iPhone app, I found the app had everything I needed to trade effectively. From lightning quick streaming data to full-featured order entry and portfolio management, all the main criteria were quickly checked off.

The drawbacks with the experience center around usability. For example, the charts have 68 different optional studies, which is great, but the charts are not flexible. If you set the settings to view a daily chart of the past six months, that’s the only view you will get until you adjust the settings; there is no panning. Also, two-factor login with Touch ID is supported, but you have-to use a secondary IB Key app instead of simply Touch ID logging into the actual app as you load it.

Other drawbacks include a lack of stock and/or index comparisons in charting, no customizable home screen, no streaming live TV or videos on demand, no Level II quotes, and only being able to set basic stock alerts without push notifications support. You also cannot perform ACH account transfers within the app.

Cons aside, I found the app had a handful of nice features not often found across the industry, including custom screening /scanning and after-hours charting.

As stated previously, mobile trading with Interactive Brokers is well supported across all devices and has the core functionality required by traders to go about their business and trade effectively.

Interactive Brokers Lightspeed Trading TradeStation TD Ameritrade E*TRADE
Watch List Syncing Yes No No Yes Yes
Charting - Technical Studies 68 0 20 397 11
Stock Alerts - Basic Fields Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Customizable Homescreen No No No No Yes
Touch ID Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Stream Live TV No No No Yes Yes

Other Notes

One notable weak spot in Interactive Brokers’ offering is its customer service. During testing for our 2017 Review, we found support to be consistently poor regardless of the channel being used: phone, email, live chat. The broker placed 15th out of 16 brokers we tested.

While Interactive Brokers does not cover advisor services and institutional asset management, the company is unique in that it offers what it calls the Investor’s Marketplace. The tagline of the service is to “Find the right service provider for your trading needs.” For example, I presented myself as “an individual investor seeking an advisor” and a list of several hundred advisors popped up. Hedge funds, research and technology providers, administrative service providers, and the like are all included.

Final Thoughts

With industry-leading commission rates, more than 50 different order types, staggering low margin rates, support for every investment imaginable, trading in more than 100 international markets, and a robust trade platform suitable for any professional, Interactive Brokers is a great choice for investors who fit into its target mold.