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Interactive Brokers Review: Great for Large Balances, Low Margin Rates

Review Updated
Brittney Myers
Robin Hartill, CFP
By: Brittney Myers and Robin Hartill, CFP

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Ashley Maready
Check IconFact Checked Ashley Maready
Many or all of the products here are from our partners that compensate us. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

Interactive Brokers stands out in offering some of the lowest commissions and margin rates we've seen, which makes it a solid option to consider for stock trading. In this Interactive Brokers review, we'll explain how the online stock broker compares on key factors we think are most important to consider before opening an account. Find out more about the pros and cons below.

Interactive Brokers
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Ratings Methodology
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Our Rating:

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4.5/5 Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
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Bottom Line

A great low-cost option for small trade volume. While the interface isn't as clean or modern as other brokers, it gets the job done. Interactive Brokers is also a great choice for options investors, traders, and those trading on margin.

Fees:

As low as $0 stock trades

Account Minimum:

$0

Open Account for Interactive Brokers

On Interactive Brokers' Secure Website.

Full Interactive Brokers review

This stock broker is a good fit for: Some investors, and more frequently traders, trading on margin. Interactive Brokers' margin rates easily trounce much of the competition.

Pros

  • Low margin rates
  • Robust trading platform
  • Commission-free trading
  • No-transaction-fee mutual funds

Cons

  • Complicated pricing structure
  • Some research tools incur a fee
  • Can be intimidating for beginner investors

Top perks

Interactive Brokers is one of our favorite brokerages. It ranks among the best brokers we've seen in these categories:

Designed for active traders and sophisticated investors, Interactive Brokers may not be the best online stock broker for everyone. However, it does have some killer features that make it stand out from the pack.

LEARN MORE: Sometimes, Interactive Brokers offers specials deals and promotions, like a referral bonus. Check our Interactive Brokers promotions page for the details.

Low commissions

The IBKR Lite platform offers zero-commission stock and ETF trades. Higher-volume traders on the IBKR Pro plan can enjoy a standard commission rate of $0.005 per share ($1.00 minimum per trade), or a tiered commission plan starting at just $0.0035 per share ($0.35 minimum per order). Interactive Brokers offers pricing designed for investors and traders who want to minimize the cost of trading.

Low margin rates

Interactive Brokers' margin rates are substantially lower than most of the competitors we've reviewed. While many brokers price the first dollar of margin at an interest rate in excess of 10%, margin loans from Interactive Brokers cost half as much. According to its website, IBKR's margin rates are up to 49% lower than the industry. The difference really adds up, particularly for investors who carry large margin balances for long periods of time.

International trading

While virtually all brokers enable you to buy foreign stocks that have a listing on a U.S. exchange, few enable customers to trade directly on markets outside the United States. Interactive Brokers' Trader Workstation offers access to more than 150 markets around the globe, several times more markets than any other discount brokerage firm. Investors can also trade assets in 27 different currencies.

Powerful platform

IBKR offers multiple robust trading platforms based on trading experience.

Trader Workstation is a powerful desktop trading platform, especially when you consider that it is free. It truly has something for everyone, whether you trade stocks, ETFs, options, futures, or currencies.

IBKR offers a web-based client portal as well as APIs for different programs and applications. There are also two mobile options, depending on your needs.

The flagship IBKR Mobile app is feature-rich and full of data, giving you much of the same functionality as the desktop TWS platform. The streamlined IBKR GlobalTrader mobile app offers a clean interface for simple stock and crypto trades on the go without the clutter.

No-transaction-fee mutual funds

IBKR offers thousands of U.S. mutual funds that have no transaction fees, meaning you can buy and sell without worrying about unnecessary fees. For funds that do carry fees, the cost is either $14.95 per transaction or 3% of the trade, whichever is lower. It's important to note that there is a minimum order requirement of $3,000 for the initial purchase, although subsequent orders can be as low as $100.

Competitive rate on uninvested cash

If you're like most investors, you know that having cash on the sidelines is a necessary part of any investment strategy. So it is important to have an account that is earning a competitive rate. This can ensure that your cash is working for you even when you're not actively investing. Uninvested cash balances can earn a fairly competitive rate not just for brokerage accounts, but also compared to the best high-yield savings accounts.

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What could be improved

Complicated pricing structure

Interactive Brokers transparently outlines its fees for its IBKR Pro and IBKR Lite offerings, yet they are more complicated to understand than other stock brokers, regardless of trading frequency and account size. Our commission overviews below will help you decipher the fees you may encounter.

Free research

IBKR offers access to dozens of free market research and news providers. But if you want more in-depth research, you will need to purchase premium market research, which can set you back hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars a month.

Can be intimidating for beginner investors

For new investors, navigating the world of trading platforms can be daunting, especially when it comes to choosing an online broker. IBKR can be particularly intimidating for beginners, as it comes with advanced technology and a wide range of investing tools. Its website also isn't as user-friendly as others

Alternatives to Consider

We recommend comparing brokerage options to ensure the account you're selecting is the best fit for you. To make your search easier, here's a short list of our best trading platforms of 2024.

Account Fees Account Minimum
Logo for Robinhood
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$0 for stocks, ETFs, and options; $5 monthly for Robinhood Gold $0
Logo for SoFi Active Investing
Rating image, 4.5 out of 5 stars.
4.5/5 Circle with letter I in it. Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor. We want your money to work harder for you. Which is why our ratings are biased toward offers that deliver versatility while cutting out-of-pocket costs.
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$0 for stocks, $0 for options contracts $0
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$0 commission for online U.S. stock and ETF trades; trade fractional shares for as little as $1 $0

Commission prices

Before we get into a discussion of Interactive Brokers' pricing, it's important to mention that there are two pricing plans from which customers can choose.

IBKR Lite: The IBKR Lite plan has commission-free trading, but is lighter on features and has higher interest rates for margin loans. For options trading, the IBKR Lite plan offers a flat commission rate of $0.65 per contract and $0.85 per futures contract. The IBKR Lite plan is sufficient to meet the needs of most U.S. investors.

IBKR Pro: The IBKR Pro plan is intended for frequent and professional traders and charges significantly lower rates on margin loans. It offers more features while also offering higher interest rates on uninvested cash. IBKR Pro users can use the fixed or tiered commission plan.

Stocks and ETFs

IBKR Lite IBKR Pro (Fixed)
$0, no minimum $0.005 per share, $1 minimum
Data source: Interactive Brokers.

For the tiered plan, commissions start at $0.0035 per share with a $0.35 minimum per order for those with a monthly trade volume of 300,000 shares or less. The pricing varies based on demand, with it as low as $0.0005 per trade for monthly volume of shares exceeding 100 million.

Users with higher monthly volumes receive reduced commission rates. Only shares that are traded while under the tiered plan will count towards the monthly share volume.

It's also worth noting that both the fixed and tiered IBKR Pro plans offer access to the company's SmartRouting order system. IBKR's "SmartRouting" algorithm searches for the best stock, option, and combination prices available at the time and immediately executes the order at the best available price.

Mutual fund commissions

NO TRANSACTION FEE FUNDS IBKR TRANSACTION FEE
Over 19,000 mutual funds can be purchased with no transaction fee Other mutual funds are charged the lesser of $14.95 or 3% of trade value
Data source: Interactive Brokers.

IBKR offers investors worldwide access to over 48,000 mutual funds. Over 19,000 of those funds have no transaction fee. For mutual funds with a fee, the commission is either $14.95 or 3% of the trade value, whichever is less.

IBKR also offers a no transaction fee (NTF) program for over 150 exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As part of this "fee waived" program, IBKR Pro clients are reimbursed for commissions paid on ETF shares held for at least 30 days. IBKR Lite clients pay no fees at all for ETFs.

Options commissions

IBKR Lite users pay a flat $0.65 fee per contract with a $1 per-order minimum.

IBKR Pro users have a variable pricing structure based on monthly contract volume. IBKR Pro users who have a monthly volume of over 100,000 contracts will pay fees as low as $0.15. The following table shows commissions based on monthly volume of 10,000 or less.

Options price Commission
$0.10 or more $0 per trade, $0.65 per contract
$0.05 to $0.09 $0 per trade, $0.50 per contract
$0.05 or less $0 per trade, $0.25 per contract
Data source: Interactive Brokers. All trades have a $1 minimum per contract charge

Cryptocurrency commissions

Monthly trade value Commission
≤ $100,000 0.18%
$100,001.01 to $1,000,000 0.15%
>$1,000,000 0.12%
Data source: Interactive Brokers. Minimum $1.75 commission per order, but no more than 1% of trade value

Cryptocurrency trades are provided by Paxos Trust Company or Zero Hash on IBKR's platform. You can trade a variety of currencies, including Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), and Bitcoin Cash (BCH). Users can trade crypto 24/7, hold both cash (in USD) and crypto, and access additional order types. Commission fees operate on a tiered scale based on your monthly trade value.

While Paxos or Zero Hash operates as the crypto exchange, customers can access their crypto and make trades from within their Interactive Brokers trading platform of choice. This includes Interactive Brokers' mobile apps. You can also choose to trade through the Paxos or Zero Hash web application.

Paxos and Zero Hash charge a commission on every trade of 18 basis points of trade value, subject to a $1.75 minimum commission on any order. IBKR receives a portion of that commission as a referral fee. These rates are fairly competitive with most other crypto exchanges, especially in the high value tiers. Investors who trade crypto at lower volumes, however, may end up paying more with Paxos or Zero Hash on Interactive Brokers due to the minimum $1.75 commission per order.

While there is a minimum per order fee, there is also a maximum per order fee of 1%. Should you be charged a commission exceeding 1% of the trade value, you'll receive a rebate from Interactive Brokers to reduce your effective commission rate to the lesser of the rate in the table or 1% of the trade value.

Fees you should know about

Because Interactive Brokers is designed for active traders and sophisticated investors, it has a few quirks in its list of fees that warrant additional discussion.

Options exercise and assignment fees: The best options trading brokers should help active traders cut costs. Interactive Brokers delivers on this front and doesn't charge an extra fee to exercise an option you own, nor does it charge a fee if an option you sold is assigned. Many brokers charge for options exercise and assignment. Interactive Brokers options fees are among the best for people who expect to exercise options, or have them assigned.

Research fees: We'll address this later in more detail, but for now, we should note that Interactive Brokers has a la carte and bundled pricing for many popular research and news tools. Though some are offered for free, many more come with a monthly subscription fee.

Trading platform

Interactive Brokers offers a range of trading platforms tailored to meet the requirements of active traders and long-term investors. Its platform receives high acclaim from active traders who value the comprehensive features available on the desktop trading platform.

Here are the platforms Interactive Brokers has to offer:

IB Trader Workstation (TWS): TWS is a fully featured desktop trading platform that offers all the functionality (and more!) that investors have come to expect from desktop solutions. Fully customizable, you can design your screen how you want to. Its watch list feature can include an extraordinary amount of information on every stock, from its P/E ratio to how many days it takes the company to sell its inventory, on average. TWS is chock full of screeners, stock option analysis tools, and backtesting options.

IBKR Desktop: The newest addition to Interactive Brokers' platforms, IBKR Desktop offers the same tools as TWS, as well as extra features suggested by clients. Interactive Brokers says this platform is more beginner-friendly than TWS, promising "it's just as easy to create a complex multi-leg option strategy as it is to buy a single stock."

Mobile platforms: Interactive Brokers also offers IBKR Mobile, a powerful mobile application for iOS and Android devices. The app offers streaming data, charting tools, and the ability to place even the most complex trades from a mobile device. With access to over 150 worldwide markets, mobile users will find that there are no limitations on their ability to trade from the palm of their hand.

For a more streamlined mobile experience, the newer IBKR GlobalTrader app provides a clean interface with minimal data overload. Users can access more than 90 worldwide stock exchanges, as well as trade options in more than 30 market centers. There's also the ability to trade cryptocurrencies -- including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin -- from anywhere, 24/7.

New investors seeking a good stock broker for beginners may be put off by all the moving parts of its desktop platform. Even the basics can be overwhelming since the platform is built to offer access to so many different markets. For example, after entering a ticker symbol for a popular ETF, the platform prompted us to select whether we wanted a quote for the stock, options, or futures contracts based on its value. It's simple to navigate, but new investors may be lost in the shuffle.

With so many features, tools, and options available, things can easily get overwhelming. This is where the simplified GlobalTrader app comes in handy. It offers a straightforward and easy-to-use interface that is a good complement to IBKR's other platforms.

Interactive Brokers margin rates

Interactive Brokers' margin rates are some of the lowest we've come across. Here's a rundown of its effective margin rates by margin balance. Note that "BM" stands for "benchmark rate."

MARGIN BALANCE IBKR PRO ACCOUNTS IBKR LITE ACCOUNTS
$0 - $100,000 6.83% (BM + 1.5%) 7.83% (BM + 2.5%)
$100,000 - $1,000,000 6.33% (BM + 1%) 7.83% (BM + 2.5%)
$1,000,000 to $50,000,000 6.08% (BM + 0.75%) 7.83% (BM + 2.5%)
$50,000,000 to $200,000,000 5.83% (BM + 0.5%) 7.83% (BM + 2.5%)
$200,000,000+ 5.83% (BM + 0.5%) 7.83% (BM + 2.5%)
Data source: Interactive Brokers

Margin lending is one of the key features that sets Interactive Brokers apart from its competitors. With low interest rates that are two to three times less than other discount brokers, it's safe to say that margin lending is Interactive Brokers' special sauce. For those who rely on margin as a central element of their trading or investing strategy, Interactive Brokers is definitely worth considering.

The cost savings on margin loans alone may be a compelling reason to add it to your short list of brokers. This feature, combined with its reputation for reliability and its robust platform, make IBKR a top choice for traders and investors looking to maximize their profits and minimize their costs.

With IBKR Pro, margin rates decrease as you borrow more, and IBKR Pro customers receive lower margin rates than IBKR Lite customers do at all balance levels.

Interactive Brokers clearly sets itself apart from the competition with its focus on high value accounts, financial professionals, and active traders. It's no wonder that few brokers publish margin rates for loans in excess of $2 million to $5 million, but Interactive Brokers is not afraid to do so. This speaks volumes about the level of service that clients can expect from the platform.

Interactive Brokers also deserves some praise for using a clear and easy-to-understand method for calculating its margin interest rates. The brokerage uses the Federal Funds Effective Overnight Rate as its benchmark rate before adding a marginal spread. In comparison, many other brokers substitute their own proprietary benchmark to calculate interest charged to customers who have a debit balance.

By going the extra mile and providing transparent, competitive rates for these types of loans, the brokerage demonstrates its commitment to serving the needs of its most discerning clients. Whether you're an experienced investor looking to grow your portfolio, or a financial professional seeking a reliable platform for your clients, Interactive Brokers is definitely a name to keep in mind.

Customer service and support

Primarily an online brokerage, Interactive Brokers doesn't have a large branch footprint like many of the largest retail discount broker firms. That said, it offers support 24 hours a day by phone, chat, or a secure message through its account center.

Research and screeners

This brokerage offers a wealth of research, with a catch: Not all of it is free, as certain research providers charge a flat-rate monthly subscription fee for access. We'll explain in more detail. For now, we'll focus on what is free:

  • News: Interactive Brokers offers news and reports from 24/7 Wall Street, a daily brief from Dow Jones, and reports from Market Realist, just to name a few news and research providers. It also offers Social Sentiment data from MediaSentiment, showing you whether investors are bullish or bearish about particular stocks or events on social media platforms. You can even get real-time updated crypto news from The Tie, Coin Metrics, and Benzinga.
  • Mutual fund/ETF replicator: This tool is really valuable for fund investors. It enables you to enter a ticker symbol to find mutual funds and ETFs that offer a similar performance profile. For example, I typed in a ticker symbol for an actively managed mutual fund, and it suggested an index fund with similar performance at a lower expense ratio.
  • Market scanner: This tool is excellent for finding investments based on fundamental and technical parameters. If you want to find stocks that pay a dividend of more than 2%, have a P/E ratio under 20, and are based in Angola, you can do it with a few clicks. The depth of its screening tools is really remarkable.

We haven't even scratched the surface of what Interactive Brokers has to offer in free news and screeners -- going through every tool would take hours, if not days -- but it's certain that it ranks among the top of the list as far as its screening tools go.

Of course, there's a downside: Research you might expect to receive for free at other brokers isn't free at Interactive Brokers. For example, many brokers offer Morningstar equity research reports for free, but Interactive Brokers' non-professional customers pay per month for the service. That said, a la carte research and news options are plentiful, and many offer a free trial so you can see what you'll get before you commit to a monthly charge for access.

IBKR does offer The Research Data Bundle for each region. It includes the following: Region Specific Dow Jones Trader News, Briefing.com, MT Newswires, The Fly, and Trading Central.

This brokerage account is right for you if:

If the following statements apply to you, Interactive Brokers should make your short list of places to open a brokerage account.

  • You want to keep expenses low. Low commissions make IBKR Pro a compelling value for people who make frequent stock and options trades and want premium pro-oriented features. And the no-commission IBKR Lite plan is a great fit for less-active investors as well.
  • You use margin. Low margin rates are one of Interactive Brokers' biggest strengths. It's no surprise that Interactive Brokers has the largest number of margin loans outstanding of any discount broker we've seen -- the savings are simply too big to ignore.
  • You want strong investment tools and a robust trading platform. IBKR is known for its advanced platform for experienced traders. IBKR also has a wide range of tradable assets, including international stocks, currencies, and foreign markets.
  • You don't need hand holding or vast (and free) research. Interactive Brokers is unapologetic about catering to active traders, financial professionals, and sophisticated individual investors, which is reflected in its a la carte options for paid research. That its average client trades more than 300 times per year says a lot about the kinds of traders and investors who tend to gravitate toward Interactive Brokers.

Compare Interactive Brokers to other brokerages

Wondering how Interactive Brokers stacks up to the competition? Check out our reviews:

Our brokerage rating methodology

At The Motley Fool Ascent, brokerages are rated on a scale of one to five stars. We primarily focus on fees, available assets, and account types; however, we also take into account features like research, education, tax-loss harvesting, and highly rated mobile apps. Our highest-rated brokerages generally include low fees, a diverse range of assets and account types, and useful platform features.

See our full methodology here: Ratings Methodology

FAQs

  • Opening a cash account at Interactive Brokers does not require a minimum deposit, although it is important to note that specific account types may have minimum deposit requirements.

  • IBKR is a top-rated broker. There are numerous advantages to opening an account with IBKR, such as its cutting-edge trading technology, low costs, global accessibility, and robust financial security.

  • Interactive Brokers (IBKR) does not have a minimum deposit requirement for opening an account. However, a minimum deposit of $100 is necessary to start trading. If you wish to engage in margin trading (i.e., utilizing leverage), a minimum deposit of $2,000 is required.

  • For IBKR Lite customers, there is no commission for trading stocks or ETFs. Pro members have the option to choose between Fixed Rate Pricing and Tiered Pricing.

    Under the Fixed Rate schedule, there is a fixed rate commission per share or as a percentage of the trade value. With a few exceptions, such as U.S. stock transaction fees, the Fixed Rate pricing schedule covers all external costs.

    The Tiered Pricing structure offers clients a lower commission rate that decreases as the monthly trading volume increases. With the Tiered Pricing structure, external costs are passed on to customers.

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