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Best Online Brokers, 2018

Illustration by Julia Allum

As the world of online brokers continues to evolve, it has become increasingly difficult for firms to stand apart from one another. In this year's ranking, TD Ameritrade beat Charles Schwab by less than a nose, with Fidelity and then E*Trade close behind. But zoom in, and you’ll find that each firm, along with the four others we surveyed, has something different to offer—a niche that lets it shine in one way or another.

With commissions about $7 or less at most firms, we gave that category less weight this year. But because the firms we surveyed told us that investors increasingly interact with them on smartphones or tablets, we gave more importance to mobile apps. The biggest, best-known firms, you’ll notice, score better overall in our survey. But almost all of the firms let you trade stocks, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds and individual bonds online, as well as offer some online advisory services.

Read on to find out how each of these eight firms scored—and which would be best match for you.

SEE ALSO: The Most-Overlooked Broker Perks

With additional reporting by Kyle Woodley

Category weighting for overall score: commissions and fees, 10%; investment choices, 20%, mobile app, 20%; user experience, 20%; ease of use, 15%; mobile, 10%; advisory services, 15%; and tools, research and advisory services, roughly 12% each.

Since our story went to press, Firstrade announced it would offer free online trading for stocks, ETFs, options and mutual funds (down from $2.95 per trade). Also, Ally Invest announced it would offer more than 100 exchange-traded funds commission-free (in other words, there is no sales charge to buy or sell shares) to customers on its online trading platform. (Previously, all ETFs purchased on the Ally Invest platform incurred a $4.95 commission; $3.95 for active traders or customers with high balance.)

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