You've made a budget. You've paid down your debt. Investing for the future is the natural next step in your financial progression. When you're ready to start investing, you'll need to open a brokerage account to make your trades. Fidelity and TradeStation, two well-known brokerage companies, make it easy and inexpensive to make investments. Here's how they stack up for investors who want to invest for the long haul.

Trading costs and commissions

Online discount brokers make buying stocks, funds, and other investments as easy as doing your grocery shopping online. Even better -- they make investing cheaper. Here are the commissions that Fidelity and TradeStation customers pay to complete their trades.

Broker

Stocks/Options

ETFs

Mutual Funds

Fidelity

$7.95 per trade + $0.75 per options contract

$7.95 per trade

$49.95 per purchase

TradeStation

$8.99 per trade + $0.70 per options contract

$8.99 per trade

$14.95 per purchase

Data sources: Company websites.

Importantly, some volume discounts will result in savings for certain investors. TradeStation caters to active traders with lower commissions when you complete more than 50 trades in any given month. Similarly, special offers for IRA accounts can effectively reduce the total transaction costs you pay.

Commission-free ETFs and NTF Funds

Fund investors may find that there is a pretty big difference between the two brokerages. Fidelity has more than 3,000 commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds which customers can buy or sell without paying a transaction fee.

Broker

Commission-Free ETFs

NTF Mutual Funds

Fidelity

91 ETFs (iShares and Fidelity)

3,632

TradeStation

None

None

Data sources: Company websites.

Notably, funds not on a broker's NTF list will incur a fee. For those mutual funds, TradeStation's standard commission of $14.95 is lower than Fidelity's commission rate of $49.95. Thus, the number of NTF funds isn't necessarily as important as which funds are classified as no-transaction-fee at any given broker. Depending on your needs, you can make the case that either broker is a better choice for fund investors.

Account minimums

It takes money to make money, as Fidelity and TradeStation both have minimum deposit requirements for new accounts. Fidelity requires that its clients deposit at least $2,500 to open a brokerage account. TradeStation's minimum account size is higher -- $5,000 for taxable accounts and $5,500 for Individual Retirement Accounts.

Low-volume traders will need to keep a higher balance at TradeStation to avoid minimum monthly fees. TradeStation customers who do not trade at least 10 round-turn futures contracts, 50 options contracts, or 5,000 shares will pay a $99.95 monthly fee if they do not have a balance of at least $100,000.

Trading platform

At The Motley Fool, we believe in long-term, buy-and-hold investing. Therefore, we aren't traders, and we don't think the features of a trading platform are that important. In fact, you're unlikely to find us staring at charts -- we think in terms of years, rather than days or weeks.

Because we trade so infrequently, we find that virtually any trading platform will suit us fine. After all, a fancy trading platform doesn't add much to a strategy that emphasizes doing nothing -- holding stocks -- for years at a time. For this reason, we'll leave the trading platform debate up to you. In either case, Fidelity or TradeStation customers can complete trades with just a few clicks, which should satisfy the requirements of long-term investors.

Fidelity Vs Tradestation

Fidelity and TradeStation users give high ratings to their brokers' mobile apps. Image source: Getty Images.

International stocks and ADRs

Want to take your portfolio international? Fidelity offers its clients the ability to trade American depositary receipts (ADRs) listed in the U.S., in addition to direct access to markets in 25 countries. Note, though, that trades on international stock markets are assessed a higher commission, which varies depending on the market.

TradeStation customers can trade ADRs, but it does not offer access to trade directly on international exchanges. If foreign stocks are a key part of your investing strategy, the differences between TradeStation and Fidelity may be very important to you.

Research quality and tools

Online discount brokers offer a number of research tools to help you learn more about your investments. Fidelity customers can tap into analyst recommendations from more than 100 firms, read third-party research from S&P and Morningstar, and get their news straight from the leading newswires, just to name a few advantages. For its part, TradeStation offers market briefs, screeners, and weekly stocks and ETFs reports to its customers. In addition, both brokers offer online learning resources on their websites as a free resource.

Mobile app

Fidelity and TradeStation customers generally love their mobile apps. Here's how each brokers' users and clients rated their mobile capabilities on iOS and Android (as of Dec. 5, 2016).

Broker

Apple App Store

Android Store

Fidelity

4.0 stars

4.5 stars

TradeStation

4.0 stars

4.5 stars

Data sources: Relevant app stores.

It's all about you

Boiling it all down, Fidelity and TradeStation both offer reasonable commission prices, access to research, and well-reviewed mobile applications for investors who want to trade on the go.

Frequent traders may prefer TradeStation's flexible commission schedule, whereas international investors will find more choices at Fidelity. Ultimately, depending on your needs, either broker could be right for you. To be clear: The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular broker. Visit Fool.com's Broker Center for a comparison of several discount brokers on key criteria including commissions, account minimums, and current special offers for new accounts.

Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.