Looking for some tips on the best stock trading platform to use? You’re in the right place.
I’ve been trading in the stock market for several years and have tried out a number of different trading platforms. I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve tried a lot!
My assessment of the best stock trading platforms is based on my own personal experience. There are pros and cons to each one, and ultimately each trading platform appeals to different types of traders.
Before I get to the list, I want to point out that most brokerages offer a web-based trading platform, but typically those use delayed market data (which means the price you see on your screen for any given stock is 15 minutes old). Those web-based trading interfaces may work adequately for passive investors, but if you want to trade on any sort of regular basis, you might benefit tremendously from getting the brokerage’s actual downloadable trading software that offers real-time data.
Without further ado, here is my list of the best stock trading platforms:
Thinkorswim is a trading platform offered by TD Ameritrade. It’s a bit confusing because the trading platform has a different name than the brokerage firm, but if you can get past that, then you’ll get to enjoy one sweet trading platform. It’s the one I use today for my personal trading.
As long as you have a brokerage account at TD Ameritrade, the Thinkorswim software is free.
I love how simple it is to place orders. There is this “order ladder” setup that makes it so easy (and fun!) to enter your trade. You just click the position on the price ladder where you want your order to be placed, and your order is set and ready. Super fast and easy, which is great for an active trader.
Another thing I love about the Thinkorswim trading platform is that they allow you to trade stocks, futures, and options all in the same account. I don’t know of any other brokerages out there who allow that, and it’s a major benefit for those who trade multiple asset types because it allows your money to compound faster than if you had your money split into separate accounts for separate asset types.
A challenge with the platform, as with many platforms, is that is has so many features and is so customizable that it can be overwhelming at first. Rather than starting from ground zero and trying to concoct a trading interface for yourself, I’d advise importing someone else’s Thinkorswim trading “setup”. It makes it a lot easier to get started and then it’s also easier to customize from there. This is a good starter setup to use for Thinkorswim.
There are some downsides to Thinkorswim. One is that it jams up pretty regularly. At least once a month, the software kind of freezes on me right at the opening bell. That ain’t fun! Also, if you care about the Level 2 (if you use it for day trading) then Thinkorswim is severely lacking as it’s doesn’t offer real-time fluid Level 2 updates. I mean technically it’s real-time, but there is a one-second lag which is typically not acceptable for serious day traders.
The other issue: the fees stink. They charge high fees, probably because they know the trading platform is so user-friendly and awesome. Sure it’s free to trade stocks with them like just about everyone else these days, but the options and futures prices are not attractive unless you push big volume.
The bottom line: if you are doing day trading, I wouldn’t recommend Thinkorswim. If you are doing swing trading or long-term trading, then I would highly recommend the Thinkorswim trading platform, especially if you like to trade multiple types of products.
You can get a $25 rebate from us at Cash Blog if you email us for a referral link to sign up for a Thinkorswim account.
While Thinkorswim is lacking on the data speed in some ways, Lightspeed is the exact opposite. As the name suggests, this stock trading platform is blazing fast.
Although I did demo the Lightspeed trading platform, I don’t have much experience with it other than that I saw it being regularly used by Wall Street day traders in a training course I took years ago. An entire office of a Wall Street prop firm’s traders were all using Lightspeed.
And they all had to rely on it for instantaneous information. If you are a day trader and timing is everything, Lightspeed might be a perfect solution for you.
The main reason I didn’t end up using them is because I couldn’t trade stocks and futures in the same account, which limited my buying power. But for many people, that’s not a problem.
Lightspeed is more expensive than most trading platforms. You’re paying for speed and the added edge that speed gives you. For people day trading stocks who are looking at the Level 2, it might be worth every penny.
3. Ninja Trader
Ninja Trader is excellent for futures trading, whether you’re doing day trading or swing trading. Their data speeds are also extremely fast, and they too have an order ladder for point-and-click ordering (although to place a stop order you have to push down on the “rollie” thing on your mouse while pointing at your preferred price on the order ladder, which took me a while to adjust to).
One of the best parts about Ninja Trader is their low fees. I haven’t found anyone who offers better fees on futures trading than Ninja Trader. They’re simply the lowest there is, and yet their platform is strong. If your game is just futures, then Ninja might be the perfect solution.
There are some downsides to Ninja Trader. One is that you have to buy the platform up front if you want to do serious trading. That set me back $1,000 roughly.
Another is that they don’t handle stock trading well. You have to go through some hoops to get a data feed in from another brokerage account just to trade stocks in their platform, and then once you do the data is feed is splotchy and freezes up a lot. Stocks are not their forte, and I highly recommend avoiding using Ninja Trader for stock trading.
TradeStation’s claim to fame is that they allow automated trading. They have this proprietary coding language that’s really intuitive and pretty easy to learn in my opinion, and you can use that code write your own algorithms!
That’s right, you can create automated trading strategies on your own and let the computer do your trading for you using the TradeStation trading platform.
Perhaps just as awesome are the research capabilities that TradeStation offers. Since you can write code to create algorithms, you can also use that same code to see how any given trading strategy would have performed historically for any stock or futures product.
If you’re like me, then you have a hard time making trades in the stock market unless you know some history about how well the trade has performed in the past. And the TradeStation platform gives you the ability to do the research and learn how well different trade strategies have performed historically.
You can also trade manually in TradeStation. They have a nice order ladder, and their data is fast. Their fees are average for the industry.
I personally don’t actively trade in TradeStation, but I pay the monthly fee to have access to their software to that I can do ongoing research in it. For me personally, TradeStation changed my life by giving me easy access to historical stock market data.
It takes time to learn the coding language to do the research, but once you do, then your trading approach can be based on bonafide stock market research.
The Robinhood stock trading platform is perhaps the most famous of all. This thing absolutely caught fire over the last few years. Robinhood is probably single-handedly responsible for getting the entire industry to shift to commission-free stock trades.
I haven’t personally traded on Robinhood. But I’ve been around a lot of people who have, and most of them seem to like it quite a bit. Robinhood has great promos for signing up (such as getting free stock if you open an account).
The most appealing thing about the Robinhood trading platform is that the commissions are free and the account size requirements are so low (literally zero as of the time of this writing). The result is that trading is accessible to the masses through Robinhood.
I haven’t used Robinhood personally, so I can’t speak to this from personal experience, but a potential downside is the speed of data coming through the platform. If there is any clunk to the data feed on a free trading platform, then that doesn’t make it a good candidate for day trades for example.
There was recently a news-worthy issue that came up with Robinhood. During the whole Game Stop trading saga, when retail investors were driving the price of an old beleaguered stock up to incredible levels, Robinhood at one point suspended trading on the stock. This left some traders exposed and many became angry and left the platform as a result. It certainly might have been a rare one-time occurrence, but it got the attention of a lot of retail traders.
Webull is another stock trading platform that I haven’t personally used, but that is so widely acclaimed in the retail investing crowd that it makes the list.
I think of Webull as an archrival and direct competitor to Robinhood. They both market themselves on the same premise: cheap trades and low account balance requirements.
Webull is newer than Robinhood, but it’s a favorite among many retail traders. I’ve seen many a chat room where people are happily recommending Webull to everyone and absolutely love the trading experience.
I have the same reservations about Webull as I do with Robinhood: without having direct experience with their software, my concern would be about the speed of the data.
But hey, for trades with no commissions and also free stock shares for account setup, it may be very well worth it! If you’re not day trading, it may not matter too much either way.
To me, those are the 6 best stock trading platforms. Ultimately, the one that’s best for you depends on what types of trades you like to do.
Are you a day trader or swing trader? Are you serious about trading or is it more of a hobby? How much do trade commissions matter to you versus ease of use of the platform? Do you trade stocks or futures or options or all of them?
If you’re a serious day trader of stocks, I’d recommend the Lightspeed trading platform.
If you’re a serious day trader or swing trader and all you trade are futures, then I’d recommend Ninja Trader.
If you’re a serious swing trader and you want to trade multiple instruments, then I’d recommend the Thinkorswim trading platform.
If you’re doing trading as more of a hobby, or if you’re just getting your feet wet and want to try something out first before you invest too much time or resources into it, then I’d recommend either Robinhood or Webull, which are very comparable. Either might prove to be a long-term resource, but if not, at least they’re totally free to try out.
You make the call — the choice is yours.