A Tradestation Review – Offering advanced features for active traders
In this Tradestation review we’ll take a deep look at the advanced features that have multi-monitor, data-obsessed, active traders singing its praise. The platform is especially useful for equities and options traders, and handles complex multi-rule trade orders and deep dives into live data with ease.
Who should consider using Tradestation?
Very active stock traders. Tradestation commissions are quite expensive for a low number of trades. However, with over 200 trades per month the commissions are very low, so active traders can benefit greatly.
Equities and options traders. Tradestation also handles futures and some other instruments, but equities and options traders will get the most benefit. Most of Tradestations research data is focused on equities and options, as is the educational content they offer.
Professionals and eager amateurs. Offering a functional and powerful trading platform, Tradestation is packed with advanced professional-grade features. These are extremely useful, but perhaps intimidatingly complex to amateurs.
Likes & Dislikes
Likes: Advanced features and customization, fast & reliable order executions, and mobile app & web trading
Dislikes: $99/month platform fee, sub-par customer support, and limited research data
An overview of TradeStation
Tradestation is built with professional traders in mind, although eager amateurs and beginners will also benefit from this immensely functional and feature-rich trading platform.
Being robust and reliable, Tradestation is also highly customizable. Create the perfect workspace using modules from Tradestations very own app store, and create your own advanced apps using EasyLanguage – a programming language designed by Tradestation.
Unfortunately, no Tradestation review would be complete without mentioning the sub-par customer support, and that most research data available is for equities and options. Read the full review below for all the details.
It’s been around for a while…
Founded in 1982, Tradestation consistently performs well in Barron’s annual rankings of online brokers, and most recently placed 5th in the 2016 edition.
It’s a well respected platform among institutional investors, and indeed at one time Tradestation was only available to these investors. But not anymore! Tradestation is a very powerful platform and that power is now available for everyone from solo to institutional investors.
Within this single platform you can have separate accounts for equities, options, and futures.
Tradestation is a powerful, robust, and reliable brokerage
The best way to use Tradestation is with their desktop application. It does a great job of having a simple and intuitive user interface, while also being highly customisable – create and save workspaces, edit menu items, multi monitor functionality, and all the other bells and whistles that you’d expect from a trading platform with institutional roots. There’s also a browser version and a mobile app – but these are not the star attractions. They work, but functionality is limited and they should generally only be used when you don’t have access to the main desktop application.
Tradestation is a direct access broker with quick and reliable executions. The trade window is simple and powerful at the same time. You can do a simple market order with a few simple clicks, or just as easily place a limit order, stop loss order, and other types of more advanced orders. You can set up pretty much any type of order you would ever need – and we would expect nothing less from such a robust platform.
Tradestation Costs & Commissions
The commission structure of TradeStation is very complex, and it’s best to take a look at their pricing page for full details.
Two things make the commision structure so complex. Firstly, the pricing is of course different for the three types of instruments you can trade (equities, futures, and options). Secondly, the commission rates change based on level of trading activity – as your number of trades per month goes up, your costs go down (to a point).
Everyone pays $99 per month for use of the platform. This fee is waived if you made 5,000 trades in the previous month, or if you have an account balance of greater than $100,000
$4.99 – $8.99/trade (depending on the number of monthly trades)
$0.006 – $0.01/share
$4.00 – $8.99/trade + $0.3 – $0.7/contract (depending on number of monthly trades)
$1 per contract
$0.25 – $1.2 per side, per contract (depending on number of monthly contracts)
For futures options: $1.2 per side, per contract
Other instrument fees
OTCBB & pink sheet securities: $4.99/trade
Mutual funds: $14.95/trade
Bonds: $14.95 + $5/bond
A Tradestation Review – Our Take
Function and usability
Tradestation is a very functional and robust platform which is aimed squarely at investors and traders who require deep access to real time data, fast and reliable offer executions, and lots of flexibility and customisation to mold the platform for their specific strategies and needs.
The platform is definitely better suited to active traders rather than passive investors. That is, traders who make fast investments to take advantage of short term market movements, rather than passive investors who prefer to invest for the long term.
A lot of the strong functionality and access to real time data might be appealing to passive investors too – but frankly the fee and commission structure of Tradestation is a big disadvantage for passive investors. The monthly $99 fee and the high commission rates for a low number of trades is a large disadvantage for the passive investor.
Many other Tradestation reviews out there will say that the platform is best suited for advanced traders, but I don’t think this is necessarily true. The advanced functionality is definitely designed for experienced traders who know what they’re doing – but, that’s not to say that an eager beginner can’t benefit from this as well.
For the beginner who wants a nice easy transition into trading, there are better (and cheaper) options to get started. But if you’re planning to start seriously trading and learning Tradestation could be the right platform for you – it’s as good for mastering the basics as it is for implementing more advanced strategies.
Advanced functionality aside, beginners should also consider the commission structure. If you’re a beginner who plans to execute a high number of trades right from the start, Tradestation commissions should be fine for you. But if you won’t be making over 200 or so trades per month, then you might be better to start with a cheaper platform.
Organisation & Customisation
The first thing you should know about Tradestation is that it’s customizable. Very customizable. In fact, just about everything in Tradestation is customizable – at least this is the case within the desktop application. There’s mobile and browser versions also, but we’ll talk about those a bit later in this review.
The whole desktop application is built around “workspaces” – these are basically separate tabs within the application where you can set up different useful data and tools. For example, maybe you have a workspace with real time charts of a few stocks you’re keeping an eye on, another workspace showing some data about your currently open orders, and so on.
Check out the screenshot below to see an example of this – see the little tabs near the bottom of the screen (“untitled workspace: 2” and “untitled workspace: 3”)? You can just click through those to get to your different workspaces, easy peasy.
Also see how there’s a window within the workspace (“TradeStation TradeManager – Orders”)? That is basically how workspaces operate – you can have one or many different windows like this to show different data and tools in each workspace. It’s extremely functional, and highly customizable as you can see.
The App Store (Yep, you read that right)
The trade/order manager window in the above screenshot basically shows all orders and their current status, pretty useful. These windows that you can place within workspaces are called “Apps” – and there’s tons of them to do pretty much anything a trader could ever need.
Simply click on the “TradingApps” button at the top of the screen, then drag and drop whatever you need, as shown below:
This is only a small selection of the available apps, and you can put multiple apps/windows within a single workstation. You can of course also save your workstations, so you only need to set them up once to use them again and again.
On the topic of apps – there are so many that Tradestation actually has it’s own app store of sorts. In fact, Tradestation users can also create and sell their own apps using Tradestation’s own coding language (EasyLanguage). These apps can be for a variety of different uses, including custom trading strategies and indicators. You’ll find everything from free apps, to simple and cheap, right up to very powerful and expensive apps.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get even more customizable – there’s one other really nice touch to mention. Look at the above screenshots again for the menu bar (it’s the one just below the bar that says “file edit view window help”). The items on this menu bar change depending on the app or workspace you currently have open.. And you can edit every item on this bar. Remove the items you don’t use, and replace them with ones you will use frequently.
Tradestation really does let you create the perfect trading environment for your specific needs – everything is as powerful and functional as I just described it to be, and the desktop application overall is just a pleasure to use. It may indeed be overkill for beginners or passive investors – but for serious traders, this level of extreme function and customization will surely add to your competitive advantage.
Next, let’s talk about what it’s like to make an actual trade with Tradestation – you will see the trend of robust customization continues in this department too.
Making A Trade
As mentioned above, placing orders with Tradestation can be as simple or complex as you need it to be – let’s start with the simple side of things.
There’s a number of ways to place orders, but the most basic of these is to simply use the “order bar”, which by default is located at the top of the Tradestation window. It’s shown in the image above, and it’s as simple as it looks.
Let’s say you wanted to buy 100 shares of American Express stock with a market order. Enter the ticker (AXP), the quantity, select “market” in the order type drop down menu, and then click the big blue buy button. You can also specify a route and duration.
As a side note, the “intelligent” routing is quite good and will automatically find the best route for your order. It’s probably best to stick to this unless you know of a reason that using a specific route will have some sort of advantage for your trade.
Limit, stop limit, and stop market orders are all just as easy to make using the order bar. There’s also an advanced button on the right which reveals other useful order options such as a trailing stop or other rules. You can see this in the image below.
Beyond the order bar, there’s also several other ways to make a trade. For example, in the image below you’ll see a sample trade for Disney stock consisting of multiple rules:
It’s also possible to place trade orders using a matrix or a chart. Again, this is all part of advanced functionality most useful to frequent traders rather than passive investors. See a sample of a chart trading workspace below.
As you can see, setting up orders and making trades can be as easy or complex as you need it. The last thing to mention in this section is that you can also add orders to your “staging” – which basically means you save the order for later re-use.
This is useful for complex orders – take the mult-rule trade for Disney stock in one of the previous images above as an example. It’s reasonable to assume you’ll come up with a strategy that requires even more complex trades than this one. Staging lets you save all that complexity so you can instantly re-open it in your order editor at any time. Open it, enter a new ticker, and boom, you’re good to go with the same complex trade setup.
The bottom line here is, once again, that this functionality is probably overkill for beginners and passive investors. But for active traders, boy oh boy, you’re in for a treat. Not only are all these options just so darn useful, but more importantly they allow you to fully develop custom trading strategies which will give you an edge over the competition.
Being a direct access broker, the Tradestation order execution operates exactly as you would expect – it’s fast and it’s reliable.
You can choose from a number of route options for each trade order you make, but the most common and useful option is to simply use the Tradestation “intelligent” routing option. This is set by default and it does a pretty good job of automatically picking the best route for your order.
If there’s a reason that another specific route is beneficial to you, simply select it from the dropdown menu. As with all things Tradestation, it’s as simple or complex as you need it to be to fit your strategy.
The Mobile App
The app for mobile is quite different from the desktop application – but it needs to be, as there’s much less space to work with on a small smartphone screen. There’s an app available in the Google play store and also in the Apple app store.
The real power of Tradestation is in its desktop application, and that’s definitely where serious traders will be spending most of their time. But a mobile version is essential for keeping track of stocks and carrying out simple trades on the go.
Tradestation regularly update the app to add improvements, so it’s always getting better. For tracking price movements and making basic trades, the apps work wonderfully well. Also a recent addition are push notifications to update you about price movements or the status of your orders/trades.
In summary, the mobile app is great for notifications, charting, and simple trades. It’s getting better all the time, but it’s really just a way for you to keep up with the markets on the go. The main power of Tradestation is still through the desktop application.
The Web Browser Version
There is also a version of Tradestation that can be accessed through most web browsers, and similarly to the mobile apps it’s pretty useful for keeping up with the markets and making basic trades when you don’t have access to the main desktop application.
It’s basically a trimmed down version of the desktop application, and while it definitely is quite functional and useful, it simply doesn’t match up to the awesome power of the main desktop application. That’s not because the web browser version is bad.. It’s just because the main desktop application is so powerful and customizable that it’s going to be very difficult for a browser version to match up.
Once again, the web version is great for keeping up with the markets, charting, and basic trading. Do not that some user reviews have expressed annoyance over not having access to all of the advanced features offered by the desktop application – this is understandable, as the web browser version is a definite step down.
If you are planning to frequently trade from a web browser, then this is something to keep in mind before choosing Tradestation. If you don’t need advanced functionality often, then the web browser version might suit you perfectly – just make sure to check that it has all the features you’ll need – here’s a link to the official Tradestation web trading features page.
With Tradestation you can trade equities/stocks, futures, and options. Until recently forex trading was also offered, but that part of their business was sold.
On the upper left side of some images throughout this post you’ll see tabs for equities, options, futures, and forex. Forex is no longer available as mentioned, but the other 3 can be easily traded within the desktop application.
They’re treated as separate accounts, so if you only have an equities account with Tradestation then that’s the only tab you’ll have see in your platform. If you have accounts for each, it’s just a matter of clicking the tabs to swap through them.
All of the instruments can be traded with the same level of reliability and customization that you can expect throughout the Tradestation platform. Pricing differs for each instrument, and you can see full details in our fees and commissions section above.
Also supported are OTCBB and pink sheet securities, mutual funds, and bonds. Again, you can find pricing details above.
One thing to note here is that the offering of mutual funds is quite small, with less than 100. This is a minor drawback, as the traders who can get the most benefit from Tradestations’ amazing functionality are more likely to be interested in equities, options, and futures.
Tradestation has quite a large support department, and you can see all the details on their contact page.
Most of their support departments are available roughly during normal business hours, although the technical support line is open 24/7. The also offer email support and a live web chat – but again, mostly during normal business hours.
Unfortunately, according to user reviews, customer support is one area of Tradestation that is not satisfactory.
A bunch of different support departments seems like a good thing, but it has the downside of some departments pushing off customer issues to other departments. There’s also reports of general disorganisation with Tradestation customer support (documents being misplaced, etc), and a general sense of a bad attitude from support reps.
The Tradestation platform itself is fantastic for serious traders, and it’s unfortunate that poor customer support spoils it a bit. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. The support staff are there, and you will get help.. It just might not be fast or as smooth as with other companies you may have used.
Just something to be aware of – if fantastic customer support is something important to you, then it might be worth considering other options.
You can see poor customer support referenced many times on the Tradestation page at topratedfirms.com.
For stocks/equities the research data available from Tradestation is excellent. Level 1 data comes for free, while level 2 and real time data are available for an extra monthly fee.
The access to historical data is also quite impressive, with up to 90 years of intraday trading data available in some cases.
However, overall, compared to the big boys of research such as Charles Schwab or Fidelity the Tradestation offerings really don’t measure up. In fact, they don’t even come close.
Although the research offerings for equities/stocks are useful, research offerings in all other departments fall short. See this image below from Stockbroker.com:
Not all active traders need or want access to all these types of data, so it may not be a problem for you. Once again, just another point of consideration when choosing the best online brokerage for you.
In the education department, Tradestation does pretty good when it comes to equities and options. They host webinars once or twice per day which cover a variety of different topics; daily briefings, trader interviews, and so on.
All of these webinars are added to an archive for viewing at your leisure, and their YouTube channel is jam packed with hundreds of hours worth of educational content.
The vast majority of this content is focused on equities and options, with little to no material covering ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, and so on.
You might be seeing a trend here – if your trading is focused on equities and options, then you’ll be very happy with the educational content offered by Tradestation.
They also have comprehensive content to explain the ins and outs of their platform. Tradestation is highly functional and customizable, which adds a certain level of complexity. As I keep mentioning, it can be as simple or complex as you need it to be – and for the advanced features and functionality, the instructional content is there to help you get to grips quickly.