NerdWallet's ratings for brokers and robo-advisors are weighted averages of several categories, including investment selection, customer support, account fees, account minimum, trading costs and more. Our survey of brokers and robo-advisors includes the largest U.S. providers by assets under management, plus notable and/or emerging players in the industry. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include advisory fees, branch access, user-facing technology, customer service and mobile features. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.
There are two types of brokers: full-service and discount. Full-service brokers tailor recommendations and charge higher fees, service charges, and commissions. Most investors are willing to pay these higher fees because of the research and resources these companies provide. With a discount broker, the majority of research falls on the investor; they just provide a platform to perform trades and customer support when needed. Newer investors can benefit from the resources provided by full-service brokers, while frequent traders and experienced investors who perform their own research may lean towards platforms with no commission fee.

Finally, keep in mind that if trading on margin—which means you're borrowing your investment funds from a brokerage firm (and bear in mind that margin requirements for day trading are high)—you're far more vulnerable to sharp price movements. Margin helps to amplify the trading results not just of profits, but of losses as well if a trade goes against you. Therefore, using stop losses is crucial when day trading on margin.
The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
Since the underlying businesses operate in differing markets, sectors and countries, their quoted prices move independently as supply and demand in them rises and falls and new information is released to the public about the current business situation. It is the changing of prices that offer investors the opportunity to make a capital gain (or loss) via ownership.
Trading successfully is a lot easier when investors have great tools at their disposal. A top stock broker should offer access to a wide variety of trade tools to help make the most of each and every trade. From real-time streaming quotes to last sale tickers, quality stock scanners, mobile trading apps, and level II quotes to name a few. Strong tools are essential for active investors.
Understand that for both beginning investors and seasoned stock market pros, it's impossible to always buy and sell the best stocks at exactly the right time. But also understand that you don't have to be right every time to make money. You just need to learn some basic rules for how to identify the best stocks to watch, the ideal time to buy them, and when to sell stocks to lock in your profits or quickly cut any losses.
Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
You’ll come across an overwhelming amount of information as you screen potential business partners. But it’s easier to home in on the right stuff when wearing a “business buyer” hat. You want to know how this company operates, its place in the overall industry, its competitors, its long-term prospects and whether it brings something new to the portfolio of businesses you already own.