TradeStation vs TD Ameritrade 2020: Does One Brokerage Outshine the Other?

TradeStation vs TD Ameritrade

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TradeStation is one of the top picks for its high-powered trading platform that active traders love, and you can trade in cryptocurrencies. Can TD Ameritrade compete with that?

For the longest time, TradeStation was the active trader’s platform. Advanced, experienced investors used it for frequent trading and cryptocurrencies, but now the platform has lowered its fees to $0 like all the other brokerages, including TD Ameritrade. The result is that more casual investors are now trying to use the TradeStation platform.

Even with its advanced tools and extensive research options, TradeStation may not be able to beat out TD Ameritrade, which has a vast reach over the brokerage industry. There are some areas where it simply can’t compete with the brokerage giant, such as with mutual funds and retirement planning. However, cryptocurrency traders will love everything else about TradeStation.

TradeStation vs. TD Ameritrade – Quick Comparison 

TradeStation is one of the top picks for its high-powered trading platform that active traders love, and you can trade in cryptocurrencies. Can TD Ameritrade compete with that? Here are some highlights from our comparison and review:

What to Expect from TradeStation: 

  •  Active traders utilize TradeStation’s downloadable platform for its customization, automated ordering, and trade confirmation bypasses for faster orders
  •  $0 commissions on stocks, ETFs, and options with $0.50 per contract
  •  TS Go and TS Select account types, but TS Select requires a $2,000 minimum deposit
  •  No NTF mutual funds but offers cryptocurrency trades

Join TradeStation here.

What to Expect from TD Ameritrade:

  •  Robust platform with multiple mobile apps and desktop platforms
  •  Access the award-winning thinkorswim platform for more capabilities and extensive research
  •  $0 commission fees on stocks, ETFs, and options with $0.65 per contract
  •  Over 4,400 NTF mutual funds, $49.95 for all others
  •  Virtual trading simulator included with TD Mobile Trader app

Fees and Commissions

The two brokerages are pretty similar on fees, except for two areas. With TD Ameritrade and TradeStation, you’ll pay $0 for stocks, ETFs, and options. However, you still have to $0.65 on options contracts in comparison to $0.50 per contract with TradeStation.

In addition, no-load mutual funds have a higher cost with TD Ameritrade, which charges $49.99. Mutual funds work a bit differently with TradeStation, which does not have any NTF mutual funds. Instead, you’ll pay a flat rate of $14.99 for mutual funds.

TD Ameritrade mutual funds fees

Broker-assisted trades have higher fees with TradeStation as well, which charges $50 in comparison to TDA’s $44.99.

Margin rates are also lower with TradeStation, which goes down to 5.50% for high account balances over $500,000. However, even for accounts under $25,000, you’ll save with lower margin rates than TD Ameritrade.

TradeStation is not exactly friendly for retirement investors, you’ll pay a $35 annual IRA fee, $50 IRA closure fee, and fees for paper statements and paper confirmations. There is also a stock certificate processing fee of $150 for TradeStation. TDA does not have one of those.

Winner: Overall, it depends on how you like to invest whether one is more costly than the other. We think that TD Ameritrade just barely beats out TradeStation due to the mutual fund costs.

Investment Selection

TradeStation aims to be just as big as any large brokerage like TD Ameritrade, so how do the two stack up?

TD Ameritrade offers almost 12,000 mutual funds in comparison to TradeStation’s meager 4,357. In addition, TradeStation does not offer forex trading, but it does offer cryptocurrency trading.

In total, TD Ameritrade’s investment options include:

  •  Stocks
  •  OTCBB/Pink sheets
  •  Options
  •  Futures
  •  Forex
  •  ETFs
  •  Mutual funds
  •  Bonds

TradeStation offers the following:

  •  Stocks
  •  OTCBB/Pink sheets
  •  Options
  •  Futures
  •  Interest sharing
  •  ETFs
  •  Mutual funds
  •  Bonds
  •  Cryptocurrency

TradeStation is one of the few brokerages that offers cryptocurrency trading as of November 2019. Users can now trade in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, Ripple, and Ethereum. Pricing is a little difference for cryptocurrency. For example, TradeStation charges 1% per trade for accounts with balances of up to $100,000.

Winner: Again, it depends on what kind of investor you want to be. Passive retirement investors will choose TD Ameritrade, but active investors or cryptocurrency traders will like TradeStation.

Trade Experience

Trading with TradeStation

TradeStation offers a different approach to platforms than most other brokerages. You can choose to go with different plans, either TS Go or TS Select. With TS Go, you get free trades when on TradeStation’s mobile or web-based platform.

TradeStation TSGoHowever, it changes with TS Select, which is the premium account and includes access to the desktop platform. However, it also requires a $2,000 minimum account balance.

Most active traders utilize TradeStation because of its desktop platform, which is only available to TS Select clients. You can access direct-market platforms, automatic trad execution, and other tools that let investors design, test, monitor, and quickly automate any strategies for options, stocks, and futures.

You can also customize your desktop completely with different colors and streaming data widgets. If you want to look at new strategies in real time, you can use the TradeStation Simulator.

For options traders, TradeStation also has a proprietary tool called OptionStation Pro. This utilizes a preview mode within the mobile app so that you can create and view charts, trends, and watch lists without even opening an account.

Trade execution quality is considerably high with TradeStation because they use an order routing engine that bases its decisions on market depth or the price and size of the order. Their orders are also routed to capture as much price improvement as possible.

Trading with TD Ameritrade

In comparison to TradeStation, TD Ameritrade competes with the thinkorswim platform, which is just as utilized by active traders as TS’s desktop platform. You can customize everything in the platform, including layouts, trading defaults, and colors. TDA has also streamlined the platform in the past year, making it easier to use and more customizable.

Screenshot of TD Ameritrade ThinkorSwim DayTrading Platoform

There are a variety of modules available, including videos, Twitter feeds, streaming quotes, streaming watchlists, account holdings, and much more. Your platform also syncs up no matter what device or browser you use.

With the virtual trading simulator, you can enter just about any trade and use fake money to test your strategies with thinkorswim. It’s also available in a mobile app.

Currently TD Ameritrade is a leader in trade execution quality with reports showing that the broker has a 98.2% price improvement rate.

Winner: These two brokerages are pretty even when it comes to trading platforms and trade execution.

Education, Research, and Robo-Advisors

Education and Research with TradeStation

TradeStation has been upgrading its research and charting tools, including 22 new chart studies over the past year. These were also added to the mobile app, which include Ichimoku cloud-based charts.

OptionStation Pro is available with the downloadable desktop platform, which allows investors to analyze strategies and place orders as they are testing. The visual display delivers an amazing picture that shows all potential profits and risks with any strategy. You can also adjust this with the trade ticket located at the bottom of your screen.

TradeStation OptionStation Pro

RadarScreen is the flexible stock scanner available with TradeStation, which lets investors screen stocks based on fundamental or technical research. We found that TradeStation’s historical data was truly impressive and probably the best in the industry, offering over 50 years of daily historical findings and 27 years of minute history. There are also 6 months of tick by tick history available.

We did notice that one feature was missing that is included for most large brokerages. TradeStation does not have analyst reporting options. You can access TradeStation Market Insights, which is available in the desktop platform, and it’s updated about 5 to 10 times per day.

Does TradeStatin Have a Robo-Advisor?

Currently TradeStation does not have a robo-advisor tool. If you’re looking for these features please refer to our breakdown of the best robo advisors.

Education and Research with TD Ameritrade

With the thinkorswim platform, you can research and screen just about any fund, stock, option, bond, or futures trade. It uses real-time data for all options and equities. While the website has a few select screeners not available with thinkorswim, such as the bond screener tool, you’ll find that the platform is extremely customizable and flexible.

You can set up a dashboard with all of your holdings, watchlists by sector, charts, news, videos, and so much more. The charting on thinkorswim is also very customizable with hundreds of technical studies and analysis tools.

When you want to get a quick look at your portfolio performance, TD Ameritrade offers portfolio performance reports that you can download right from the web or the thinkorswim platform. You can also organize your portfolio by whatever the underlying asset is if you trade mostly on options. This allows you to see the potential or risk of any trade to your portfolio.

Does TD Ameritrade’s Robo-Advisor Save You Money?

Thanks to tax-loss harvesting with TDA’s Essential Portfolios robo-advisor, you can save on capital gains taxes and re-invest into your tax advantage accounts. The robo-advisor does come with a steep minimum investment of $5,000, and you’ll be charged a 0.30% management fee.

Winner: We think of TradeStation had any plans for a robo-advisor, they could compete evenly with TD Ameritrade’s tools and research, but TD Ameritrade wins this category with its robust thinkorswim platform and the TD Essentials Portfolio robo-advisor.

Mobile and New Trade Tech

TradeStation Mobile AppTradeStation offers a mobile app for iOS and Android customers. You can access everything from the desktop platform on the mobile app. However, it does have a bit of learning curve and may not be as straightforward as other mobile trading apps.

For one, there are multiple toolbars at the top and right of your phone screen. While these stay the same, it tends to slow down the app’s tools, such as the simulator.

You can set up your watchlists on TradeStation and access your quotes. Everything syncs up with the desktop platform.

One of the best features about TradeStation’s apps that you can bypass the trade confirmation to quickly enter trades on the go. The mobile app also includes customizable charting. You can also place trades through Facebook Messenger.

TD Ameritrade offers two mobile apps, and you can access the trading platform through the mobile browser as well. TD Mobile Trader app syncs up with thinkorswim platform, allowing you to customize your home screen, access all research tools, and place complex trades. You can also access the Virtual Trading Simulator on TD Mobile Trader.

In addition, TDA has made it possible to place trades via Facebook Messenger, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Twitter.

Winner: TD Ameritrade offers more mobile trading tools, but TradeStation’s platform is quite robust for charting and fast trade orders that active traders will like. See related – best mobile trading apps.

Frequently Asked Questions: TradeStation and TD Ameritrade

Is TradeStation or TD Ameritrade best for retirement?

TD Ameritrade is much better for retirement due to their NTF mutual funds, retirement calculators, and overall fees regarding IRA accounts. TradeStation actually punishes customers a bit for opening an IRA with a fee of $35. In addition, TradeStation is designed for active traders mostly.

What brokerage offers better customer support: TradeStation or TD Ameritrade 

TD Ameritrade is better in this category as it offers 24/7 customer support via live chat, phone, and email. You can only access customer support for TradeStation via business hours Monday through Friday. However, there is live chat and email customer service.

TradeStation Customer Support

During our testing, we found that TradeStation may not offer the best support or live chat as they claim. The morning hours between 5:00 AM and 7:00 AM can be important before the market opens, and yet the chat was offline when we checked it. All phone support was prompt and provided excellent links to detailed answers.

TD Ameritrade Customer Support

Over the past year, TD Ameritrade has been improving its platform,but it has yet to offer a true, direct live chat tool on the website. Instead, the brokerage promises that you can connect on Facebook and Twitter instead. However, our question was not answered as promptly as when we called TD Ameritrade’s phone support.

We receive an answer to our question that was detailed and offered the solution we were looking for. In addition, we received a follow-up email letting us know further details.

Verdict: Which Broker is Right for You?

While both of these brokerages are extremely robust and offer extensive research, they cater to two different types of investors. TradeStation is the best option for active traders who want to automate their investing on their own and like to order in high volume. Options and cryptocurrency traders will get the most out of this platform.

TD Ameritrade tries to be an active investor platform, but it also tries to cater to every investor type, which is why there aren’t as many active trading capabilities, such as true automated ordering and bypasses for trade confirmation. However, you get more retirement options and better mutual funds with TDA.

About Author

Tim Fries Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital (