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The Complete Guide to Choosing an Online Stock Broker
Fees, platform features and security are some key considerations
Profitable investing requires you use a brokerage service that aligns with your investing goals, educational needs and learning style. Especially for new investors, selecting the best online stock broker that fits your needs can mean the difference between an exciting new income stream and frustrating disappointment.
While there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee investment returns, there is a way to set yourself up for success by selecting the online brokerage that best suits your needs. In this guide, we’ll break down everything you should look for in your ideal brokerage, from the obvious (like whether or not the platform allows you to trade the securities you’re interested in) to the not-so-obvious (like how easy it is to get support from an actual human when you need it).
- Access to the financial markets is easy and inexpensive thanks to a variety of discount brokers that operate through online platforms.
- Different online brokers are optimized for a different type of client—from long-term buy-and-hold novices to active and sophisticated day traders.
- Choosing the right online broker requires some due diligence to get the most for your money. Follow the steps and advice in this article to choose right.
Step 1: Know Your Needs
Before you start clicking on brokerage ads, take a moment to hone in on what’s most important to you in a trading platform. The answer will be slightly different depending on your investment goals and where you are in the investment learning curve.
If you’re just starting out, you may prioritize features like basic educational resources, comprehensive glossaries, easy access to support staff, and the ability to place practice trades before you start playing with real money.
If you have some investment experience already under your belt, but you’re looking to get serious, you may want more high-level education and opinion-based resources authored by professional investors and analysts, as well as a good selection of fundamental and technical data.
A truly experienced investor, perhaps someone that’s executed hundreds of trades already but is looking for a new brokerage, is going to prioritize advanced charting capabilities, conditional order options and the ability to trade derivatives, mutual funds, commodities, and fixed-income securities, as well as stocks.
Be honest with yourself about where you are right now in your investing journey and where you want to go. Are you looking to establish a retirement fund and focus on passive investments that will generate tax-free income in an IRA or 401(k)? Do you want to try your hand at day-trading but don’t know where to start? Do you like the idea of tweaking and tailoring your own portfolio, or are you willing to pay a professional to ensure it’s done right?
Depending on which path you want to follow, there may be many more questions you’ll need to answer along the way as you gain experience and refine your goals. For now, however, start with these four crucial considerations to help you determine which of the brokerage features we discuss below will be most important to you. To help get those analytical juices flowing, we’ve included several sample questions under each broader topic:
- Generally speaking, are you an active or passive investor? Do you want to be super hands-on and execute day- or swing-trades? Do you see yourself eventually leaving the 9-to-5 grind and becoming a full-time investor? Or, instead, do you want to find a few solid investments to hold for the long haul with little or no day-to-day interaction?
- How much do you already know? What kind of trades will you want to execute? Are you going to be the type of investor that knows what they want to do and just needs a platform that makes it easy and quick to execute trades, or do you want a broker with a broader range of resources to help you identify opportunities? What kind of securities are you focused on? Stocks, mutual funds, ETFs? If you are more advanced, do you also want to trade options, futures, and fixed-income securities? What about margin trading? Do you need access to conditional orders, extended-hours trading, and automated trading options?
- Do you want help? What kind? Do you want to go the DIY route, learn how to interpret charts and financial data to find and execute your own trades, or would you prefer to hire a pro? If you want to do it yourself, where are you on the learning curve? What sort of resources will you need to further your knowledge? Will you need easy access to support personnel, or are you able to learn what you need to know through online educational resources? Are you happy to execute trades online, or will you want to call in to have a broker assist you with the process?
- What are your goals? What are you investing for? Why are you choosing to invest? Are you trying to supplement your regular income to improve your current standard of living? Is there a specific event or expense you want to fund? Do you intend for this to eventually become your primary income source? Are you trying to build up retirement savings and, if so, do you already have a retirement account or will you want to open a new one with your chosen brokerage?
There are no wrong answers to these questions. Be honest with yourself about how much time, energy and effort you’re willing and able to put into your investments. Your answers may change over time, and that’s ok. Don’t try to anticipate all your needs and goals for the rest of your life. Just start with where you are right now.
Step 2: Narrow the Field
Now that you have a clear idea of what your investment goals are and what basic services you’ll look for in your ideal brokerage, it’s time to whittle down your options a bit. While there are certain brokerage features that will be more important for some investors than for others, there are a few things any reputable online brokerage should have. With such a wide range of available options, checking on these basic necessities is a great way to narrow the field quickly.
Stock Broker Regulation and Trust
Is the brokerage a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC)? There will typically be some kind of notation or disclaimer at the bottom of the home page. You can quickly look up the brokerage on the SIPC website.
Is the brokerage a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)? This should also be very clearly noted in an easy-to-find location. You can look up brokerages on FINRA’s BrokerCheck website.
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If the brokerage offers checking or savings accounts, or any other deposit products, are they covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)? Investment products – such as brokerage or retirement accounts that invest in stocks, bonds, options, and annuities – are not FDIC insured, because the value of investments cannot be guaranteed. If the brokerage offers CDs, Money Market Deposit Accounts (MMDAs), checking, or savings accounts, however, they should be fully backed by the FDIC.
What kind of insurance do they provide to protect you in case the company fails? As a member of the SIPC, the company should have insurance with a per-customer limit of at least $500,000, with $250,000 available for cash claims. If the company adheres to the Customer Protection Rule, it should also provide additional coverage above and beyond the basic requirements of the SIPC.
Is there any kind of guarantee of protection against fraud? Will the company reimburse you for losses resulting from fraud? Make sure you double check what the brokerage requires of you in order for you to be reimbursed. Find out if you have to provide any documentation or take specific precautions to protect yourself.
What are current customers saying? Try searching online for consumer reviews of the brokerage, using keywords like “insurance claim,” “fraud protection” and “customer service.” Of course, online reviews should typically be taken with a grain of salt – some people just like to complain. However, if there are several users from different sites all lodging the same complaint then you may want to investigate further.
Online Security and Account Protection
It’s important to know how well a brokerage helps you protect your information.
Does the brokerage website offer two-factor authentication? Do you have the option of activating a security feature in addition to your password? Common options can include answering security questions, receiving unique, time-sensitive codes via text or email, or using a physical security key that slots into your USB port.
What kind of technology does the broker use to keep your account safe? Find out if the broker uses encryption or “cookies,” and if it clearly explains how it uses them to protect your account information and how they work.
Does the company ever sell customer information to third-parties, like advertisers? The answer should definitely be no.
Brokerage Account Offerings
Since the types of tools you need will depend on your goals, you should also do a quick check for the following items to weed out brokerages that simply won’t meet your needs.
What kinds of accounts does the broker offer besides standard (taxable) investment accounts? For example, if you have dependents, find out if you can open an Education Savings Account (ESA) or a custodial account for your child or other dependents.
Can you open a retirement account? Look into whether the broker offers Roth or traditional retirement accounts and if you can roll over an existing 401K or IRA.
Are there different products for different investing goals? For example, find out if the broker offers managed accounts. Also, find out if there investment minimums for different types of accounts.
Can you manage retirement accounts for employees through the brokerage? This may apply if you’re a small business owner. These types of accounts include SIMPLE or SEP IRAs.
Does the brokerage offer Self-Directed IRAs or Solo 401K options? This applies if the only employee in your small business is you.
Step 3: Figure Out the Fees
While there may be other things that matter more to you than fees, you should start out with a pretty clear idea of how much you’ll pay to use any particular brokerage.
For some, a small premium may be justifiable if the platform offers features that its cheaper competitors lack. In general, however, you want to lose as little of your investment returns as possible to accounting fees and trading commissions.
By starting with the bottom line, you can easily determine which stock brokers are too pricey to consider and which simply aren’t compatible with the type of investment activity you’re focused on.
Broker Account Fees
Does the broker charge a fee for opening an account?
Is there a deposit minimum? Bear in mind that mutual funds often have investment minimums of $1,000 or more, but that’s not the same as a brokerage requiring that you deposit a minimum amount of cash just to open an account.
Are there any annual or monthly account maintenance fees? If so, are they waived for larger accounts or is there an easy way to avoid them even if your account balance is small? For example, Vanguard waives its annual fee if account holders agree to receive documents electronically.
Does the broker offer access to a trading platform as part of their free membership? If you’re just starting out, the free platform may suit your needs perfectly.
Is there a Pro or Advanced trading platform that is pay-to-play? If you’re a more advanced investor, it’s important to know whether or not you’ll need to pay to upgrade your account to access tools and resources that are up to your speed. Some advanced platforms are free for customers who agree to place a minimum number of trades per year or invest a minimum amount.
What are the margin rates? Margin trading is only for very experienced investors who understand the risks involved. If you’re a new investor, this point won’t apply to you.
What’s the minimum loan amount and account balance? Most brokerages will offer lower interest rates for larger amounts, but don’t let that be the reason you borrow more than you should.
Do trading commissions depend on how much you have invested through the brokerage or how often you trade? For example, Vanguard’s trading commissions vary depending on account size, while E*TRADE offers a reduced commission to customers who trade more than 30 times per quarter.
Commissions at Charles Schwab are lower than competitors, but you must deposit at least $1,000 to open an account. Make sure you look at the prices that will most likely apply to you based on your anticipated account balance and trading activity.
Phone or Online
Phone or Online
Are there different commission rates for different securities? If you plan on trading more than stocks, make sure you know what the fees are to trade options, bonds, futures, or other securities.
If you’re interested in mutual funds or ETFs, are there fee-free options? What is the minimum investment? Make sure that mutual funds that allow you to buy and sell for free (often called No Transaction Fee, or NTF, funds) don’t charge other types of fees instead. Mutual funds often come with a number of different kinds of expenses, some of which can sneak up on you. Make sure you review the prospectus of any fund you’re considering to ensure you understand all the costs involved.
Does the brokerage offer any free or reduced-price trades? The number of ‘bonus’ trades you receive may depend on your account balance, so make sure you check on what’s offered for the account level that would apply to you. Also be sure to check on what kinds of trades qualify for the discount—if it’s just for stocks and if ETFs, options, or fixed-income securities count.
Is the commission schedule conducive to the kind of trading you’d be doing? Are you rewarded or penalized for more active trading? For example, Vanguard’s commission rates increases after the first 25 trades for Standard and Flagship customers, or after the first 100 trades for Flagship Select customers, as you can see in the chart above. This means that customers that focus on passive, buy-and-hold investing reap the most benefit.
Conversely, E*TRADE offers reduced commissions after the first 30 trades in any given quarter, so active traders are rewarded for using the platform more often.
If the broker offers advisory services, how much do they cost? Is there a minimum account balance required to qualify for those services? If you’re not looking to manage your own portfolio for whatever reason, make sure you pay attention to advisor fees very closely.
Step 4: Test the Broker’s Platform
While any brokerage should have a pretty decent description of what kinds of tools and resources their trading platform offers, sometimes the best way to assess platform quality is to give it a test drive. For brokers that allow you to open an account for free, it may even be worth the effort to go through the signup process just to access the trading platform if that’s what’s necessary.
Whether the brokerage has a web-based platform that anyone can access or a free downloadable platform that requires no-strings signup, do what you can to access the tools you’d actually use for free.
Even if you’re a more advanced trader, and there’s no free way to play around with “Pro” tools, you can get a good idea of the quality of a brokerage’s offerings just by looking at its basic suite. If there’s nothing in the standard platform that seems promising, it’s unlikely the advanced platform will be worth your time either.
On the other hand, some companies offer a huge array of tools and resources with their free products, so don’t write off brokerages with only one platform just yet.
We’ve already spent a good amount of time narrowing down your choices based on price and basic account offerings. Now that we’ve finally gotten to the fun stuff, make sure you spend time looking at the features available in multiple areas.
Go through the motions of placing a trade to see how smoothly the process operates. Pull up multiple quotes for stocks and other securities, and click on every tab to see what kind of data the platform provides. You should also check out any available screeners or other tools provided to help you find investments that meet specific criteria.
Questions to Answer While Testing Platforms
What types of securities can you trade on the platform? You should already have ruled out any platforms that don’t allow you to trade the securities you’re interested in. Make sure this platform automatically allow you to trade preferred shares, IPOs, options, futures, or fixed-income securities. If you don’t see particular security on the platform, but you know that the brokerage supports it, try looking in your account settings, or doing a quick search, to see how you can activate those features and learn about permission requirements.
Are quotes in real-time? Are they streaming? There will be multiple ways you can pull up a price quote for a given security, but not all of them will provide the most up-to-date data. Make sure you are aware of where you can find real-time streaming information to ensure your trades are well-timed. Vanguard’s web-based platform, for example, provides real-time data in its Ticker Profile pages, but it requires manual refreshing. Simple quote-level data is delayed by 20 minutes or more. Schwab’s online quotes also require manual refreshing, but the downloadable StreetSmart Edge platform and its cloud-based counterpart both offer real-time streaming data.
Can you set up customized watchlists and alerts? If you’re going to be a more active trader, you’ll likely want to be able to receive alert notifications via text, in addition to email, and set up multiple watchlists based on different criteria.
Does the platform provide screeners that you can customize to find stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, or other securities that meet your specific criteria? Even if you’re brand new and have no idea what any of the options actually mean, play around with the various parameters to get an idea of how easy the tools are to use. A good platform will be intuitively organized and easy to operate.
What kinds of orders can you place? Go through the motions of placing a trade and take a look at what types of orders are offered. A basic platform should offer at least market, limit, stop, and stop limit. A better platform will also allow you to place trailing stop orders, or market-on-close orders (which execute at the price the security reaches at market closing).
If you’re looking to make relatively few trades, and you’re not interested in day- or swing-trading, a basic selection of order types should be fine. If you’re looking to get into the nitty-gritty of stock trading, however, you should look for a wider selection. If you’re more advanced, you should look for the ability to place conditional orders that allow you to set up multiple trades with specific triggers that will execute automatically when your specified conditions are met.
Do you have control over order timing and execution of trades? A basic platform should at least allow you to place trades that are good-for-day (meaning they can be executed at any time during trading hours) or good-until-canceled (which keeps the order for up to 60 days until it is executed or you cancel it).
A more advanced platform will allow you to place limit orders with some more variability, such as fill-or-kill (which automatically cancels the order if it is not entirely filled immediately) or Immediate or cancel (which automatically cancels the order if it isn’t at least partially filled right away).
Can you trade in Extended Hours? Stock and ETF trades take place outside of normal market hours of 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. EST, the in pre-market and after-hours periods. Each brokerage has its own definition of the specific time periods these Extended Hours sessions occupy. For example, Schwab has Pre-Market trading beginning at 8 a.m., while E*TRADE’s Pre-Market session begins at 7 a.m.
Not all platforms allow you to trade during extended hours, and some only allow trading during after hours, but not during pre-market hours. You may be charged a fee for extended hours trading, so make sure you review the terms of those trades to make sure you aren’t caught unawares.
Again, for new investors, this feature may not be too important. For more advanced traders or those who are looking to be very active, however, reviewing a brokerage’s extended hours trading policy is crucial.
Now that you’ve played around with the platform a bit, take a look at the charting capabilities to explore the tools at your disposal. Pay attention to what kinds of data you can plot, how easy it is to switch between charting technical studies and reviewing fundamental or market data, and what you can customize and save for later reference.
What technical indicators are available on the chart? In general, the more the better. At the very least, you should be able to plot basic indicators like volume, RSI, simple moving averages, Bollinger bands, MACD, and stochastics. If any of these basic indicators are missing, it’s time to move on. You should also be able to plot at least a few company events, like earnings reports, stock splits, and dividend payments.
What follows is examples of two different technical menus. This one is a less-than-ideal option. Notice there is no way to plot volume:
This one has an amazing technical selection, which includes multiple options for each indicator type. It also allows you to plot fundamental data and has a search function:
Can you compare different stocks and indices on the same chart?
Can you draw on the chart to create trend lines, free-form diagrams, Fibonacci circles, and arcs, or other mark-ups?
Does the platform have a trading journal or other means of saving your work? Whether you’re learning how to read charts or are a professional trader who takes notes to keep yourself on track, having a way to customize and store your charts is a hugely useful tool. Related questions include:
- In addition to creating trend lines, are you able to draw on the chart simply to highlight important events so you can remember what to review later?
- Can you save your charts after you’ve customized them?
- Can you make notes for later reference?
- Can those notes be placed on the chart to make sure you know what they apply to when you look at it later?
Remember that some of these options may only be available on a Pro or Advanced platform. If you’re an advanced active trader, you’ll likely want a broker that offers all of these options. If you’re a more passive trader, or you’re just not looking to pay a premium for bells and whistles you’re not ready for, sticking to a free basic platform is just fine.
- Can you automate trades through customized rules or imported algorithms?
- Can the platform be customized to recognize specific chart patterns for prices, indicators, and oscillators?
- Can you set up alerts to notify you when the platform finds a matching pattern?
Does the website or platform allow paper trading? Paper trading is a way for investors to practice placing and executing trades without actually using money. It’s a great way for aspiring active investors to practice and for investors of all experience levels to test out new strategies and hone their skills without risking losses.
Does the platform allow backtesting? Another way to test out strategies and get comfortable with the process before putting cash on the line, backtesting allows you to simulate a trade based on the historical performance of your chosen security. It’s a way of placing a hypothetical, retroactive trade and then seeing what would have happened had you executed it in real life.
Step 5: How Well Does the Stock Broker Educate Its Clients?
While a useful and useable trading platform is crucial, you should also take the time to peruse the brokerage’s educational offerings and try out the search function.
If you’re a new investor, you need to be able to search for terms you don’t know or find advice on how to interpret data. If there’s a topic you’ve been wondering about or a metric you don’t completely understand, do a trial run using the search function and see if you can find the information you need quickly and efficiently.
Remember, what’s intuitive and user-friendly for one investor may be a nightmarish maze of fruitless search queries for another, so it’s important to find a platform that you can work with.
Once you’ve spent 20 minutes or so cruising a platform, you should be able to answer the following questions pretty easily. If you can’t, and a quick search of the site for specific answers doesn’t yield the necessary information, it’s likely a sign that the brokerage’s platform is not for you.
Stock Broker’s Quality and Usability
All the educational resources in the world are useless if you can’t access them easily. A good platform or website should provide a wide range of educational offerings, in multiple mediums, to make sure customers are able to quickly and easily find the information they need in a format that works for their learning style. Before we dive into the specific types of educational resources you should expect from a good brokerage, let’s first make sure those resources are user-friendly.
What types of educational offerings does the broker provide? Whether it offers videos, podcasts, user forums, or written articles, the format needs to work for you.
Where does the information come from? If the broker syndicates work from other sites, make sure those sites are reputable. If the site has a blog or other contributor content, then make sure the contributing authors have experience and authority you can trust.
How easy and intuitive is the site or platform to navigate? Make sure getting from a research page to the trading screen is a simple process. You don’t want to feel like you’re clicking in circles. Make sure different topics are easy to locate on the site.
Does the broker offer resources for beginners? These can include glossaries or how-to articles, fundamental analysis, portfolio diversification, how to interpret technical studies, and other beginner topics.
How effective is the platform’s search function? You can figure this out by typing in a common investing term or searching for topics you have questions about. How quickly was the search function able to retrieve the information you needed? Was this information immediately visible, or did you have to click through a few pages to get to it?
Here’s an example of a search function that’s not user-friendly:
While Vanguard does allow you to plot the relative strength index (RSI) with its charting tool, its search tool doesn’t seem to recognize the term.
Is there ample analysis for each security? This should include analyst ratings from multiple sources, real-time news items, and applicable market and sector data.
Is there sufficient fundamental data available? Stock profiles, for example, should include historical data for the issuing company, like earnings reports, financial statements (like cash flow, income statements, and balance sheets), dividend payments, stock splits or buybacks, and SEC filings. There should also be information about any insider trading activity.
Is there market data for the U.S. and foreign markets? What about industry and sector data? How deeply are you able to dive into the big-picture conditions surrounding market performance?
Step 6: Ease of Depositing and Withdrawing Funds
Especially if you’re investing to supplement your regular income, it’s important to know how easy it is to move money in and out of your brokerage account. If you’re looking to employ a more set-it-and-forget-it strategy, being able to withdraw funds may not be as big of a concern. Still, life often throws us things we don’t expect, so it’s prudent to review the deposit, withdrawal, and funds settlement terms of any brokerage you consider.
How can you deposit money into your brokerage account? Find out if you can deposit funds via check, ACH transfer, wire or credit card (this isn’t necessarily recommended, but it may still be an option).
Make sure you verify whether or not there are any fees associated with these options – though most brokerages don’t charge for deposits.
How long does it take for deposited funds to settle? If you’ve spotted an amazing trade entry but you don’t have enough cash in your account to execute it, settling times will suddenly become very important. Verify how many days it takes for deposited funds to be available for investment.
Settlement times may vary depending on the source of the deposit. Note that you may see longer settlement times if you maintain a low balance or don’t trade very often.
Does the brokerage offer regular checking or savings accounts that can facilitate swifter transfers? Are they free? Are they FDIC insured? If so, it might be easier to leave funds in a linked banking account so that they can be moved more quickly to your brokerage account if and when you need to bulk up your investment account.
How long does it take funds from the sale of your investments to settle? Make sure you check on settlement times for the different types of securities you will be trading.
What about dividend or interest distributions? How quickly are those funds available for investment? For withdrawal?
How easy is it to withdraw funds from your brokerage account? Find out if you can withdraw via ACH transfer, wire or check and how long it will take for those funds to reach your bank account. Also, check to find out if there’s a fee for withdrawal.
Does the brokerage offer the option of a debit or ATM card attached to your account? Sometimes this is offered for a brokerage account, and other times you need to open a linked checking or savings account to access this option. If you do have the option of a card, find out which ATMs can you use and if there are any fees associated with card use.
Step 7: Customer Service
By now, you’ve likely narrowed your options to one or two brokerages that really blow you away in terms of resources, features, and usability. Whether you’ve found your perfect platform or you’re still on the fence, take just a few more minutes to peruse the Help section of the brokerages you’re considering.
If you’re a new investor and you’re feeling overwhelmed, make sure you can get in touch with service staff quickly and easily. If you’re technically challenged, make sure the tech support team is easy to contact and available round the clock.
While these items won’t make or break your brokerage decision, it’s still important to ensure you understand how to get help when and if you need it.
- Is there a dedicated number you can call to speak a human for trade assistance?
- Make sure you are aware of any additional fees for call-assisted trades.
- Is there an automated number you can call for basic queries?
- What about general help? What are the call-in hours for representative assistance?
- What are the hours of operation for phone lines? Can you call 24/7, or are the phones only staffed during normal business hours?
- For those who are interaction averse, is there an email address you can use to receive prompt assistance?
- Does the brokerage use a secure internal messaging system for important documents and account queries?
- Does the website have an online chat option for immediate assistance?
- What if you have a basic question but don’t want to bug a representative? Is there a searchable FAQ section that answers a wide range of questions?
- What about tech support? Are there dedicated phone lines, email addresses, or chat systems for accessing technical assistance?
Step 8: Get Going and Next Steps
We know it can be tempting to just sign up for whichever brokerage has the most aggressive ad campaign, but successful investing requires attention to detail long before you place your first trade.
If you’re looking to make trading a long-term hobby, a future career, or just a means of bulking up your retirement fund, then it’s important that you use the tools and resources that will set you up for a successful and enjoyable experience.
By following this in-depth guide, you’ve hopefully found the platform that will best serve your needs, whatever they might be. You can find help sorting through the different brokers on our stock broker reviews page.
Once you’ve singled out your best brokerage, it’s time to get started. Don’t just set up an account and move on to the next thing. Really dive in. Use the educational and research resources available to you, start outlining your investment strategy, and make the most of all the tools at your disposal. You’ve spent valuable time identifying which features matter most to you—now it’s time to put them to work.
Important Things to Look Out for when Choosing a Binary Options Broker
The first thing you need to ensure is that the binary options brokerage is regulated. It is very important to choose a regulated broker as this means there is some government oversight looking out for the investor, even if the regulatory authority is not within your local jurisdiction.
Many regulated binary options brokers today are under the supervision of Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission or CySEC. This commission is part of the MiFID provisions, which is the law governing harmonized regulation between all members of the European Union, giving CySEC regulated brokers immediate access to every market that complies with MiFID.
CySEC is very active when it comes to protecting the European public from financial scams. If the broker is not abiding by the rules and regulations of its license or if it is falsely posing as a CySEC regulated broker, the regulator will use all the tools at its disposal to deal with the unlicensed entity.
Speed of Execution / Ease of Use
Some binary option brokers have better user interfaces than others. Others may have faster execution times. The better brokers usually offers mobile trading as well and even let you try out their trading platforms without the need to sign up with them first.
Asset Classes & Payout
Not all brokers offer the same set of tradable assets. Don’t assume that just because Broker A offers binary options for Facebook stock means Broker B will offer that as well. Even if Broker B does offer Facebook stock to trade, the payout may also be different.
Demo / Trial Account Availability
Do not use a binary options broker that does not provide a demo trading account which lets you try out your strategies using virtual money. Also, make sure the demo account is using real live market data and not pre-recorded data streams.
Beginners are highly advised to practice trading using the demo account until they can place winning trades consistently before they dive in with real money.
Ease of Withdrawals
Some brokerages are notoriously slow when it comes to paying their client back their money. Even if you like everything else about the broker, always make small test withdrawals before depositing more money in the account. It shouldn’t take longer than 3 to 5 days for any broker to transfer money to your account.
What are the Main Types of Binary Options?
Learn how the One-Touch, No-Touch and Range/Boundary binary options differ from the common high-low viety and how to trade them. [Read on. ]
What Assets can be Traded using Binary Options?
Many of the most popular financial instruments such as currency pairs, equities and commodities are available to trade using binary options. . [Read on. ]
Binary Options: Trading or Gambling?
Is binary option a legitimate financial instrument or just another form of gambling. [Read on. ]
Binary Options & Trading Robots: A Perfect Match?
Unlike humans, robots have no emotion and do not need to rest, so they can make a lot more trades than humanly possible, combined with perfect consistency. [Read on. ]
Is Binary Options Trading a Scam?
Learn how you can get scammed when trading binary options if you are not careful. [Read on. ]
How to Select a Binary Options Broker?
With so many scam brokers out there, before you learn how to trade, one must know how to separate the wheat from the chaff and find a trustworthy binary options brokerage. [Read on. ]
Binary Options: Calculating Breakeven Win-Rate for a Given Payout
How often does my trades need to be successful in order to be consistently profitable in the long run when trading binary options. [Read on. ]
TV buying guide: 9 things you need to know
Use this TV buying guide to get the right TV for your expectations and budget.
This TV buying guide breaks down the difference between smart TV, LED, OLED, 4K, and HDR. The world of TVs is looking better every day, but also more confusing.
Today, there’s a ridiculously wide array of high-definition (HD) and 4K Ultra HD sets in stores, from bargain big screens to the high-end displays that distinguish the best TVs available. We’re here with our TV buying guide to help you decide.
- Skip the rest: Get the best TVs we’ve reviewed
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If you need more help, we also have a guide to choosing a TV brand, to help narrow down your options. And get an early look at the new TVs coming this year with our guide to all the new models announced for 2020. We’ve got guides for every major make and model, so check out what’s coming soon from LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio, Philips and Hisense.
TV buying guide quick tips
If you’re in a hurry, here are the most important things to consider before you buy a television. We explain each of these points in greater detail in our TV buying guide below:
- Don’t buy a TV with less than4K resolution. Avoid full HD or 1080p sets.
- You canskip 8K TVs(for now). 8K TVs are super expensive, and 8K movies and shows aren’t available yet.
- Expect to pay about $500 for a good 55-inch 4K TV. And at least $900 for a 65-inch model.
- Don’t buy a TV with less than a 120 Hz refresh rate. This is important for smooth motion.
- Look for anHDR-compatible set: This offers more realistic colors and better contrast.
- OLED TVs look much betterthan most LCD sets: But QLED TVs from Samsung, Vizio and TCL are an affordable middle ground.
- Look for at least four HDMI ports. And opt for the newer HDMI 2.1 format if you can.
- Plan to buy asoundbar. TV speakers are worse nowadays because the screens are thinner.
- Avoid extended warranties. Your credit card company may already provide purchase protection
Screen size: Finding the sweet spot
Whether you’re looking for a basic or high-performance TV, the biggest factor in your decision will probably be screen size. Consider how many people in your family typically watch at once and where you’re going to put your new set. Then pick the largest screen size that will fit comfortably into that space — and your budget. The sweet spot today, considering price, performance and the typical living room, is between 55 and 65 inches.
Screen size also depends on how close you sit to the TV. Basically, if you can see the individual pixels of the screen, you’re too close. A good rule of thumb is that you should sit at a distance from the TV that is three times more than the height of the screen for HD and just 1.5 times the screen height for 4K Ultra HD. In other words, you can sit twice as close to a 4K UHD TV.
Here’s a more in-depth guide to calculating the proper TV screen size based on the dimensions of your room, as well as the resolution of the TV.
No TV buying guide, no matter how detailed, can replace your own experience and judgement. If you have the opportunity, go to a store (and maybe bring your family) and look at the TVs. Even though 4K content is less common than 1080p, you may want that higher-resolution technology if you plan to sit close to a very large screen.
Bottom Line: Choose a screen size and resolution appropriate for the distance you will sit from the screen. We’d start at 55 inches, unless you’re in a small apartment or dorm.
Screen resolution: 8K, 4K or HD?
Resolution describes the number of pixels that make up the picture on a display, described in terms of horizontal rows and vertical columns. More pixels translate into sharper picture and finer details, so higher resolution is (almost always) better.
No TV buying guide would be complete without a discussion of resolution. For many years, the 1920 x 1080 resolution, also called full HD, has been the standard, and is still the most common resolution in TVs across globe. However, TV manufacturers are rapidly shifting to Ultra HD sets (also called 4K). These 4K models have four times the number of pixels as current HDTV screens. We’re talking 2,160 horizontal lines, or 3840 x 2160 pixels.
The biggest benefit of 4K TVs is that small objects on the screen have more detail, including sharper text. Overall, images appear richer and more life-like than on an HDTV, but the benefits can be subtle. The sharper picture also has the added benefit of letting you comfortably view the screen from a shorter distance, making larger TVs more comfortable to view in a regular-sized home.
Ultra HD video looks great, and it’s getting easier to find. Several streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Video and even YouTube have started offering 4K content, making smart TVs and streaming sticks your best bet for easily finding 4K movies and shows. While ultra HD Blu-ray discs are becoming more common, they’re still less common than standard 1080p. Live TV hasn’t fully embraced 4K yet, but DirectTV, Dish Network and Comcast Xfinity have all started offering 4K movies. Although Ultra HD sets can upscale existing HD content, the results can be mixed and do not look as sharp as original 4K programming.
You might start getting 4K TV over the air in 2020. The new ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard (also called NextGen TV) will be rolling out to several cities across the United States in the next 12 months, bringing the potential for better signal, better picture, and smarter features with Internet connectivity.
The first wave of 8K TVs has come to market, with Samsung’s Q900 8K TV arriving first, and now LG’s 88-inch Z9 OLED. And you can expect several more 8K TVs in 2020. These displays quadruple the resolution seen on 4K sets, offering a giant leap forward in picture quality, but finding content to full take advantage of that higher resolution is extremely limited. It’ll be at least a year or two before 8K sets are recommended for anyone but the earliest of adopters, so we recommend sticking to 4K.
Bottom Line: Ultra HD resolution, also called 4K, is increasingly becoming the standard, and it’s a better choice if you want to future-proof your investment. You can already buy higher resolution 8K TVs, but we suggest holding off.
HDR: Get it if you want the most colors
HDR is a new feature of 4K Ultra HD sets and it stands for high dynamic range, a reference to its ability to deliver more colors, more contrast levels and increased brightness. HDR is essentially an upgrade of the 4K, or Ultra HD, format (it is not applicable to 1080p HD sets). For this new feature, TV makers are christening new monikers for the sets to distinguish them from standard 4K Ultra HD TVs.
The basic standard for high-dynamic range content is called HDR10, as set forth by the UHD Alliance, an industry trade group. Dozens of companies are supporting this basic minimum specification for HDR compatibility, so you will see “HDR10” or “Ultra HD Premium” on a growing number of sets this year.
Dolby Vision is a more demanding version of HDR, created and licensed by the folks that brought us Dolby noise reduction and surround sound. In theory, a Dolby Vision set has to meet a stricter set of criteria to display HDR content, and our testing seems to bear this out. So far, Dolby Vision has led the industry in terms of proprietary HDR formats.
There continues to be some HDR confusion. Every HDR-enabled set on the market is currently HDR10-compatible, but Dolby Vision is only found on sets that both meet Dolby’s technical standards and pay licensing fees for the standard. Nonetheless, Dolby Vision has quickly become the industry standard for HDR content, and can be found on premium models from most brands (including LG, Sony, TCL and Vizio).
Samsung has introduced it’s own premium HDR format, called HDR10+, for all of its smart TVs. (Yes, Samsung’s naming makes things very confusing.) While the HDR10+ format offers a great viewing experience, it’s far less common than Dolby Vision, with HDR10+ content offered on Amazon Prime Video and a handful of UHD Blu-rays. Even more troublesome, many UHD Blu-ray players don’t support HDR10+ at all, so your options are even more limited if you want to go all in on Samsung’s proprietary HDR format. You’ll still be able to enjoy the more basic HDR10 format through any HDR-capable player or TV, but HDR10+
Both Technicolor and IMAX have also brought their own proprietary standards to the market, called Technicolor Advanced HDR and IMAX Enhanced, respectively. It’s still far too soon to know if either of these newer formats will have much impact on the market.
There’s not much HDR programming available, but it’s starting to look a bit better. There are a few dozen movies in the new 4K Blu-ray disc format, with a growing number of HDR shows available via streaming services, like Amazon Prime and Netflix. Some new 4K Blu-ray players also promise to be upgradable to handle the new HDR discs, but check before you buy. Finally, cable and satellite have their own form of HDR, called Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG), so you should start seeing HDR pop up now and then for movies and even live TV.
Bottom Line: Don’t choose a set just for its HDR support because the standard has not yet been settled. However, if you want the best, buy an HDR set that is compatible with Dolby Vision, as that format seems to be gaining momentum.
Refresh rate: Faster is better
The refresh rate, expressed in Hertz (Hz) describes how many times per second a picture is refreshed on the screen. The standard refresh rate is 60 times per second, or 60 Hz. However, in scenes with rapidly moving objects, a 60 Hz refresh rate can make things look blurry or jittery, particularly on LCD HDTVs. So, to create a more solid picture, manufacturers doubled the refresh rate to 120 Hz (and in some cases up to 240 Hz).
Since there aren’t that many per-second images in original video content, TVs handle the faster refresh rates in different ways. One method is to simply insert black images between the original pictures, tricking the viewer’s eyes into seeing a less blurry, more solid picture. Another technique is to generate and insert new images — showing a state of movement in between the two adjacent pictures — to display more realistic-looking motion. However, depending on how the video-processing is done, it can make a movie or sitcom look flat, or as if it were a poorly lit, old-time soap opera.
Some new models are boasting High-Frame Rate (HFR) support, which means that they have both a higher refresh rate and added support for content with higher than 60 Hz frame rates. With HFR content set to come from both movies and live broadcats, and HFR will be especially good for live sports, so it’s definitely a feature to watch out for.
Gamers will be especially keen to get higher refresh rates, but if you’re using a gaming console, 60 Hz is the sweet spot. Most gaming consoles top out at 60 frames per second, and even the best 4K gaming TVs offer the best performance well below the 120 Hz we suggest for other content.
A word of caution: beware of terms like “effective refresh rate,” which means the actual frame rate is half the stated rate (e.g., a “120 Hz effective refresh rate” is actually a 60 Hz refresh rate).
Bottom line: Gamers will get a lot from a 60Hz TV, but most TV shoppers shouldn’t buy a TV with less than a 120 Hz refresh rate.
HDMI and connections: Go for more
It may seem like an afterthought, but pay attention to the number of HDMI inputs a set has. Manufacturers looking to shave costs may offer fewer HDMI plugs on the back. These ports can get used up quickly: Add a sound bar, a Roku or Chromecast and a game console, and you’ve used three ports already.
If you have decided to take the plunge and get a 4K Ultra HD, make sure the set’s ports support HDMI 2.0 to accommodate future Ultra HD sources. Many TVs on the market have only one port that supports the 4K copy-protection scheme known as HDCP 2.2 (high-bandwidth digital content protection).
The newer HDMI 2.1 format has started cropping up on TVs in recent months, and while the biggest benefits of the new standard will be seen in delivering 8K content, there are still plenty of goodies coming to 4K sets. The biggest improvement is variable refresh rate (VRR) support, which introduces the same sort of frame rate matching seen in Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync technologies. By matching the TV refresh rate to the frame rates of you content source – in this case the graphics card inside your game console or PC – you’ll get smoother action and zero screen tearing. It also adds higher frame rates for 4K video and richer HDR data that will allow adjustments at the scene level for more-precise backlighting control.
As of now, we’ve seen HDMI 2.1 capability popping up on a few models, such as the LG C9 OLED, which uses the faster standard for all four of its HDMI ports. And HDMI 2.1 will be appearing on more TVs this year as the new 2020 models come out this spring. Check out what’s coming soon from LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio, Philips and Hisense. Keep an eye on this TV buying guide to understand how HDMI 2.1 can benefit you and whether it’s worth holding out for in the coming year.
Bottom Line: Look for at least four HDMI ports; and opt for the newer HDMI 2.1 format if you can.
TV types and jargon explained: LCD, LED LCD, OLED
Aside from projection sets, there are basically only two types of TVs on the market: LCD and OLED. Unless you have a lot of disposable income, you’ll probably be buying an LCD TV.
LED and LCD Sets
The lion’s share of televisions today are LED LCD. These HD and Ultra HD sets use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the LCD screen and can be extremely thin. Many of these TVs can dynamically light up specific portions of the screen and dim other parts to better represent a mix of light and dark areas in a scene — a feature known as active dimming or local dimming. No-frills LED LCD sets can be had for as little as $200 for a 32-inch screen, while a top-of-the-line 90-inch model can go for $8,000.
Most LCD sets use LEDs on the edge of the screen. The better of these models support active dimming, but it takes some digital sorcery to do this by merely manipulating lights along the edge.
Full-array LED sets have light-emitting diodes directly behind the screen, in a grid of “zones” that can be lit up or darkened individually. Such an arrangement makes the backlight more precise and allows a more-detailed picture regarding contrast. Full-array backlighting was once reserved for top-tier models, but with more Ultra HD sets appearing at lower prices, this feature is becoming more common on modestly priced sets.
Another LCD technology, called quantum dots, is becoming more common, spurred on by the requirements of HDR to produce a wider array of colors and more brightness. An LCD that uses quantum dots basically has another layer, or added “rail,” of different size nanocrystal dots that light up when the LED backlight hits them. The result is a wider color spectrum and increased brightness.
Be aware that some brands offer confusing labels. The biggest offender is the name “QLED”, featured prominently on Samsung’s premium sets and other manufacturers are jumping on the QLED bandwagon. These are quantum-dot LCD TVs with LED backlighting — not to be mistaken for OLED. And while quantum dot displays still can’t match the true black levels of OLED, the gap is narrowing as manufacturers work to improve the technology. For an affordable middle ground between basic LCD and pricey OLED displays, quantum-dot enhancement is a smart way to go.
Pros: Wide array of prices, sizes and features; Some affordable Ultra HD 4K models; Bright screens visible even in a sunny room; Image quality steadily improving with full-array backlighting and quantum-dot technology.
Cons: Exhibits imperfections when displaying rapid motion, as in sports; Loses some shadow detail because pixels can’t go completely black (even with full-array backlighting); Images fade when viewing from the side (off-axis).
OLED TVs go one better than full-array LED-LCDs with a few dozen lighting zones. In place of a backlight, OLEDs use a layer of organic LEDs, controlled at the pixel level, to achieve absolute black and stunning levels of contrast. (Footage of fireworks against a black sky is a favorite demonstration of OLED technology.)
LG isn’t the only company actively pursuing OLED technology in large screen sizes, however. Sony has been offering OLED models for several years, and we expect to see new OLED offerings from both Vizio and Philips later this year.
The best-in-class display technology is seen exclusively on 4K sets (and higher, with the introduction of LG’s Z9 8K OLED), and range in size from 55 inches on up to 75 inches or larger. But OLED has also gotten much more affordable, with 55-inch models selling for less than $2,000, and 65-inch models selling in the $2,000-3,000 range. We might even see the first sub-$1,000 OLED displays later this year as new companies compete and smaller OLED panels come to market.
Pros: Best TV picture, bar none; Colors truly pop, deeper blacks and better contrast and shadow detail than LCD TVs achieve; Retains image quality when viewed from the side.
Cons: Premium prices; lower peak brightness than some LCD sets, uncertainty about how screens will fare over time, including whether they will retain “ghost” images (also known as burn-in) from displaying a static picture for too long.
8K resolution: Hold off
If you thought the jump to 4K resolution was amazing, you’ll be floored by 8K, which ratchets up the detail even further with 7680 x 4320 pixels. It’s amazing to see, and it’s the next big thing in consumer TVs. But any worthwhile TV buying guide should be telling that it’s not worth spending your money on just yet.
TV manufacturers are betting big on 8K displays, and there’s no doubt that it’s the next big thing in TVs. But all that eye-popping detail is still missing an essential element: Content. There are no 8K movies available for purchase, and streaming in 4K is already more taxing than many people’s internet connection can handle.
So far, companies are hoping that fancy AI-powered upscaling will make everything look good enough to justify prices that far outstrip the cost of premium 4K sets. The 8K models on the market are several thousand dollars more than the top 4K models, like Samsung’s 85-inch Q900R QLED 8K TV, which has a MSRP of $14,999(US)/£14,999(UK), or LG’s 88-inch Z9 8K OLED, which sells for $29,999(US)/£29,999(UK).
Bottom Line: You can leave the pricey 8K TVs to the early adopters. Until content is available, you’ll just wind up paying a lot of money for upscaled 4K video.
Smart TVs: Most already are
An increasing number of sets come with built-in Wi-Fi for connecting Internet-based services like Netflix for streaming videos or to run apps for watching special-interest programs, downloading on-demand movies, playing games or even posting to Facebook. The latest models can even search for content across streaming services and live programming on cable and satellite.
The interfaces are generally getting better. Vizio, LG and now Samsung use a handy bar of icons at the bottom of the screen. Roku offers its famously intuitive interface in budget TVs from Hisense, TCL and other inexpensive brands. Google provides its Android TV platform to companies such as Sony and Westinghouse, and Amazon has jumped into the mix with Amazon Fire Edition TVs from Toshiba and Insignia (Best Buy’s brand). While most smart TVs include the major services, such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix, check to make sure the TV you buy has the options you want. Our guides to common questions about smart TVs and comparison of smart TV platforms are good places to start.
Streaming apps available on smart TVs are also one of the best ways to find and enjoy 4K and HDR content. With movies and shows offered by services from Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube, it’s quick and easy to find both 4K resolution and HDR-enabled content – easier than finding Blu-rays with the desired formats. The only concern is whether your internet connection can provide enough bandwidth.
But not all smart TVs are created equal. Many budget-friendly brands will offer smart TV functionality without naming the actual platform that they use. In these cases, expect to run into limitations. Off-brand smart platforms frequently suffer from severely limited app selection, sub-par performance and gaping security holes.
In the past, you could have bought a less expensive “dumb” TV and made it smart with a streaming device like the $50 Roku Streaming Stick. But nowadays, it’s hard to get a TV that isn’t smart, even if you’re going for a small bargain model. Find out more about the functions and features in our guide to smart TVs.
Bottom line: Smart capability is now a standard feature in TVs, so it’s less and less of a factor in your buying decision.
Contrast ratio: Unreliable numbers
The contrast ratio describes the range of brightness levels a set can display. Better contrast ratios display more subtle shadows and hues, and thus better detail. However, the way manufacturers measure such ratios varies widely. Indeed, the specification has been so thoroughly discredited that if a salesperson uses it as a selling point, you should shop somewhere else.
We use the same method for examining contrast ratios in all the TVs we test, so we can say roughly how well they compare to each other. Nevertheless, it’s still best to see for yourself how a TV displays shadow detail by finding a movie with dark scenes and seeing how well it reveals detail in the shadows of, say, a Harry Potter movie. Experiment with the TV’s brightness, sharpness and other picture settings before making a final judgment. (Hint: select “movie” or “cinema” mode on the TV.)
The best TVs will have deep, dark black levels while less expensive displays glow with a dark gray, even when they should be showing black. These grays are called “elevated black levels” and are a common problem on less premium LCD TVs.
Bottom line: You can ignore manufacturers’ contrast-ratio specs, since they are not comparable across brands. Instead, look for deep black levels and minimal haloing around high contrast objects.
Audio: Get a soundbar
Even the finest, most expensive HDTVs have an Achilles’ heel: poor sound. It’s a consequence of the svelte design of flat panels — there’s not enough room for large speakers that produce full, rich sound. So, you have three choices: Use headphones (which can make you seem antisocial), buy a surround-sound system (which can be a hassle to set up and produces clutter), or get a soundbar.
Soundbars are popular because, for $300 or less, they can significantly improve the cinematic experience and yet be installed in minutes. The best soundbars are thin enough to fit under a TV stand without blocking the bottom of the picture. Most can also mount under a wall-hanging TV. Several companies also offer sound boxes or stands that can slide under a set.
Some TVs and soundbars also support Dolby Atmos, a newer audio standard from Dolby that includes overhead sound for a fuller listening experience. While you can get the Atmos effect using in-ceiling speakers, many soundbars have Atmos audio processing and upward firing speakers built-in to create more realistic sounding audio that doesn’t require the multiple speaker placement that you’d have with 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound.
And don’t stress about additional cable clutter. Nearly all current TVs feature at least one HDMI port with Audio Return Channel (ARC) capability. This standard HDMI feature provides lets you use HDMI as both an input and an audio output, letting you not only send audio to the TV from your external media devices, but also out to your soundbar. That ARC connection means that you get great sound for all your devices, with no special receiver needed.
Bottom Line: Movies and sports benefit from the addition of a soundbar.
Extended warranties: Save your money
One of the biggest revenue generators for big-box electronics stores is the extended warranty. Why? Because they are so rarely needed, especially for a flat-panel LCD set. Most of the components in an HDTV are remarkably resilient; even the LEDs used to light the picture are virtually shockproof.
So, if you do get a lemon, it’s likely to be apparent immediately or at least within the first 30 days of ownership — a time period usually covered by a regular store-return policy. Beyond that, most manufacturers offer a one-year warranty. Credit card companies may offer additional automatic coverage on purchases, so check with your provider.
Bottom Line: Save your money and contact your credit card company to see if it has a price protection policy.
Pay the right price: Bargains are out there
While you’ll always get the latest features and best capabilities by paying full price, a lot of shoppers are holding off because they think current TVs are too expensive. The reality is that TVs have not only never been better, they’ve also never been this affordable. While premium models can easily run upwards of $2,000, there are plenty of great TVs – complete with all of the 4K resolution, HDR support and smart features we recommend – for much less. You can still get a solid bargain on a 50- to 55-inch TV for under $500, and 65-inch models can be found for under $1,000.
Even better, there’s almost always a great sale coming up, and if you’re willing to make some small concessions, you can save thousands of dollars when you buy your next TV. We not only share how to find the best bargain, we find the best cheap TV deals to help you save.
Bottom Line: You can get a top-rated TV for less if you’re willing to look for a bargain.
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