Charles Schwab Review - Reliable Online Discount Broker
Among the full-service online brokerages, Charles Schwab continues to receive positive marks for their many investment offerings, competitive trade fees, and 24/7 customer support.
You will like Charles Schwab if you want to trade stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds for a low fee whether you are a novice or advanced trader.
In this Charles Schwab review, we will cover the reasons why Schwab is a great brokerage choice and how they can improve.
Brief Overview of Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab was originally formed in 1971 and currently hold approximately $2.61 trillion in investments from over 9 million customers as they have become one of the largest and most reputable brokers. They also have over 300 branch locations located across the United States.
Schwab has gained a reputation for being a low-cost online broker and they recently reduced their trade commission to $4.95 per trade in the latest round of the price war between the various online brokers. And, they also offer many mutual funds and ETFs with expense ratios below 0.15%.
As their customer base has increased, Charles Schwab also acquired optionsXpress in 2011 to expand their investment offerings and improve the functionality of their own tools and platforms.
Who Should Consider Charles Schwab
Almost anybody will feel comfortable investing with Charles Schwab, depending on your investing experience here is why you might like Schwab.
Likes & Dislikes
- Video walkthroughs of trading platforms
- Incredible Research Tools
- High-quality educational support
- After-hours trading
- 200+ commission-free ETFs
- Zero account fees or inactivity fees
- Low account minimum deposit of $1,000
- Late 1099s as earliest tax forms are released on February 15th
- High commissions when buying transaction-fee mutual funds
- High margin rates
You can trade just about anything at Schwab.
The one downside is mutual funds as you will need to pay the steep $76 transaction fee to buy a Fidelity or Vanguard fund (and other fund families) as they are not part of the 3,000+ no-transaction fee offerings.
On the bright side, Schwab provides many of their own mutual funds with similar investing strategies, low expense ratios, and initial minimum investments of only $100.
Many Schwab ETFs and mutual funds have expense ratios of 0.15% or less. Plus, they have one of largest catalogs of commission-free ETFs (200+) among the brokerages.
Finally, you only need $1,000 to open a taxable brokerage or IRA. If you want to enroll in their Schwab Intelligent Portfolios automated robo-advisor service, you will need to meet a $5,000 minimum with an average expense ratio of 0.23%.
Any investor will be happy with the available investment offerings because Schwab is a full-service brokerage.
Regarding the fee-free mutual funds and ETFs, many of these offerings are Schwab funds that have the same or lower fees than their Vanguard competition (often regarded as the lowest-cost fund family).
If you trade ETFs or mutual funds and like Schwab’s own funds, you will be well pleased with their offerings.
Charles Schwab does sometimes get a bad reputation for not being the most affordable online brokerage. Dropping their online equity trade fee to $4.95 per trade has made them only slightly more expensive than the “discount” brokers that active traders prefer.
Although, you will pay handsomely for a mutual fund isn’t part of their 3,000+ OneSource no-transaction-fee mutual funds.
Also the Intelligent Portfolios robo-advisor ETF portfolios, currently have an average expense ratio of 0.23%, that’s 0.06% less expensive than the industry average and no additional account fees are charged for this service.
Schwab’s fees for stocks & ETFs is very impressive at $4.95 per trade considering all the additional amenities they provide. Plus, the ability to trade 200+ ETFs commission-free is a huge bonus as well.
Their $76 fee to buy certain mutual funds is high and almost forces you to buy a Schwab mutual fund, although there are 3,000 mutual funds total from many fund families without the fee if you are cost-conscious.
Active traders can still find cheaper trading platforms, but, for the casual investor, the fees won’t deter you from joining Schwab unless you are loyal to a particular mutual fund family that is charged $76 to buy.
Charles Schwab has two different platforms, Trade Source is the everyday platform and StreetSmart Edge is for active traders that need advanced research tools.
Trade Source® is the default online platform for active traders and easy for beginners. It is rather easy to navigate. The platform does make it extremely easy to research a prospective investment and monitor market data.
The All-in-One Trade Ticket automatically populates the symbol and current market information allowing you to execute a trade within seconds & is one feature brought in from the OptionsXpress platform.
Another nice feature is the Gain/Loss Analyzer that will show various performance metrics from your recent stock and ETF trades including total gains, total losses, net gain, gain/loss ratio, average gain, average loss, profitable trades, unprofitable trades, and profitability rate.
StreetSmart Edge is the desktop software platform from Schwab and takes active trading and research to the next level.
In fact, this is one of the best active trading platforms currently available.
Due to the advanced capabilities, there is a small learning curve to using this platform. Thankfully, there are videos and guides to help.
To get started, simply click the “Launch Tools” button to navigate the various platform features with ease. You can initiate a trade by clicking on the chart data and customize your platform to display the features you use the most.
The desktop version is designed for Windows users, but, a cloud-based version is also available for Mac users.
Active traders might decide to go with Schwab because of the Trade Source and StreetSmart Edge platforms that offer some of the best research tools and the ability to execute a trade in seconds at a relatively low price.
Basic traders also will not feel intimidated by the default platform layout as they will easily be able to navigate between the account summary, trade, and research tabs.
The default Schwab platform is visually appealing and easy to navigate. After logging in, you will see the current market performance of your accounts and can navigate the browser from a series of drop-down menus at the top of the screen.
StreetSmart Edge does have a more “traditional” look that resembles the other Schwab platforms, except with more features.
Thankfully, the Launch Tools button makes it very easy to navigate the different features as its appearance resembles the various app icons on your smartphone’s home screen.
You can also customize the colors on StreetSmart Edge to change it from the default brownish backdrop and account information in a blue-light blue color scheme if you desire. The charts can also have different background colors as well.
Schwab’s design is rather simple but is easy on the eye and just as simple to navigate. They have done a good job of making the complex tools easy to find and use.
Customization is only realistic on the StreetSmart Edge, although you really don’t need to do anything on Trade Source since it already has a clean design.
With StreetSmart Edge you can display information on two different screens, making it easy to compare stocks and options if you wanted to.
You can also rearrange the layout of the platform to display charts, research reports, and live streaming financial news in addition to the colors.
Another nice addition is a feature called Tool Linking that will update the information where applicable on your platform so that you don’t have to refresh each window individually.
You are only able to customize StreetSmart Edge allowing you to get the most value from that platform. There is very little customization available on Trade Source, although it is very functional already.
Charles Schwab also has a mobile app that allows you to trade from any Android or iOS device including the Apple watch.
With this app, you can trade stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options.
It is pretty easy to use and also allows you to see real-time market and security quotes, including market summaries, indices data, and most actives equities.
You can also view your personal watchlist or watch CNBC live.
Overall, Schwab’s mobile app is above average and will allow you to accomplish the primary purpose, trade. It might not be the most sophisticated app out there, but it can definitely do the job.
To make a trade in Schwab, you will first need to access the Trade tab and enter the ticker symbol into the box and the number of shares. The box is really straightforward and you can add multiple orders if desired.
After all the information has been entered, you can click the “Review Order” tab. You can then confirm the order and your entry point will be clearly displayed on the chart.
Trading on any Schwab platform is easy to accomplish. If you have multiple accounts, you should spend an extra moment ensuring the trade is being executed with the proper account by looking at the drop-down menu tab located above the trade window.
Active traders will like Charles Schwab’s trade execution quality as it is quicker than the industry average.
Regarding orders executed in multiple transactions, Schwab measures their fill time for the entire order (“full full”) and not just the first partial execution (“first fill”).
For example, in the 4th Quarter 2016, their Effective/Quoted Ratio was 13.77% versus the industry average of 36.19%. This is very good!
Options traders will like the all-in-one trade ticket that makes trading quick and easy.
When looking for the best price, the walk limit function will try to get the best price within the National Best Bid or Offer (NBBO) and you can also analyze theoretical positions with the Trade & Probability Calculator.
You can also make complex orders such as up to three conditional orders using the same criteria or 3-leg and 4-leg options strategies.
Finally, if you need to change an order, all you need to do is review your pending orders and modify it with a few mouse clicks.
As trading gets more complex, Schwab has done a good job of making it easy for you to set the conditions for your trades and ensure they are executed quicker than the competition as well.
With the Schwab online platform, you can make charts with 34 different indicators including long historical data.
To help streamline the process for future charts, they will save your settings and apply those to all future charges. The average investor will have more than enough to keep them happy.
When charting on the StreetSmart Edge platform, the customization increases even more as you can also add drawings to help fine-tune your research.
The capabilities are still not as advanced as some TD Ameritrade’s tools, but, they are still very advanced.
Beginner and advanced investors will both be pleased with Schwab’s charting capabilities on either platform. Charting in StreetSmart Edge will maximize your research capabilities.
Charles Schwab has one of the most thorough research platforms. They provide third-party reports from an impressive 9 providers and they also provide their own “in house” ratings for equities.
Very few brokerages provide so much information, let alone their own opinions.
They also have a section where market professionals provide their own commentaries and advice in the Market Insights tab that provide timeless investing advice or opinions focused on real-time events like the most recent interest rate increase.
If you are following a particular trading strategy or still developing one, Schwab’s Strategy Screener helps you find your ideal strategy by visually displaying the sectors that are performing best.
When using the StreetSmart Edge desktop version, you also have the “Screener Plus” option that allows you to add custom screens like the “Top 10 Gainers” or other performance data focuses.
All platforms will have a rolling ticker with the most recent market news. You can customize this feature to only display news from certain sources or pertain to specific stocks. You can also view stock-specific news by clicking on the symbol of a particular stock as well.
Schwab provides all the research tools you need. Many low-cost brokerages might only include Morningstar and Market Edge reports, but, you can quickly find the market consensus of every major expert, including Schwab, to make your investing decisions.
Schwab has a good learning center that helps you understand the basics of investing and using their platform. Some brokerages have better resources in this area, but, Schwab is pretty good when it comes to active trading.
The real wealth of Schwab’s educational resources are the regular live video seminars and in-person workshops they offer each week that cover a variety of investing topics for all levels of experience.
A feature that active traders will like is the online Trading Community that allows you to swap advice and tips with other Schwab traders.
Regardless of your investing experience, you won’t feel too confused with Schwab as they have plenty of online resources to help you understand investing and navigate their platform.
In general, Charles Schwab has superb, award-winning phone & chat support. They have quick response times and friendly agents. They are also available on a 24/7 basis.
They also have an in-depth support center to help you troubleshoot any issue you might have as well.
If you like to communicate by e-mail, you may want to look elsewhere as Schwab for several years has been reported to be slow and inconsistent at times and is an obvious weakness.
As part of being a Schwab member, they also provide one-on-one consultations to help you pick potential investments for your account as a way to provide a personalized experience.
Also, if you have more than $20,000 in your account, you can receive a complimentary portfolio analysis.
Charles Schwab is great if you want to receive help over the telephone or live chat as the agents are very courteous and attentive. Their e-mail support is mentioned by some clients to be lacking sometimes, but, that weakness alone doesn’t reflect the quality of the entire brokerage.
Charles Schwab Review Recap
Charles Schwab is a great option due to their low trade costs and stellar research and advanced trading platforms. Novice and experienced traders will have little to dislike about Schwab as their platform is feature-packed and easy to navigate.
Possibly the biggest hesitation will be for investors that want to trade mutual funds that are assessed the $76 transaction fee or active traders that still feel the $4.95 equity trade fees are still too high.
All in all, if you are looking a reputable trustworthy online brokerage, then Charles Schwab is one of the best options out there.