Review of Online Stock Trading Broker TD Ameritrade

Online broker TD Ameritrade’s ‘StrategyDesk’ stock trading platform is considered to be among the best in its class in terms of pricing, ease of use, functionality, and reliability. Here’s a closer look at what users can expect when using the TD Ameritrade software.

Interface

The StrategyDesk software is a small download, but offers a surprisingly robust – though not intimidating – interface. The software’s main workspace initially opens to the default screen of four sub-windows – a chart, a watchlist, a stock trading (or option trading) window, and a back-testing window… the primary tools any trader would want to work with.

However, there are several workspaces from with to choose: the main ‘Welcome’ page, a customer account page, a scan page, and so on. Each of them can be customized with the addition or subtraction of the various sub-windows available through the platform (and each of which can be resized as needed). Moreover, users can create their own workspaces, and lay them out however works best for them.

In other words, the interface is completely customizable, and each customization can be saved and accessed again by traders.

Tools

TD Ameritrade’s software includes all the tools one would expect from a stock trading platform, and some you wouldn’t …. not from a free platform anyway.

Level I and level II data is available, as is time and sales data, and an ‘active stock’ list. Where the StrategyDesk begins to stand apart is with its back-testing and screener features.

The back-testing parameters are essentially infinite, in that if a particular entry or exit ‘signal’ (based on a small army of technical indicators already included) is not available, new ones can be created either by using formulas for other indicators as a template, or by wiring them from scratch [for the formula-savvy]. Better still, multiple criteria can be simultaneously used for entry and exit signals.

The stock scanning feature is built on the same structure as the back-testing feature, sans the back-testing. Any scenario, condition, or pattern (or multiples of) that a chart could possibly enter can be defined and ‘sought’ by the stock screening tool, with that list being presented to the trader within a matter of seconds.

In simplest terms, these two features are not the kind of tools one would anticipate finding in a retail-investor (non-professional), free charting package. Indeed, some professionals pay more, for less.

Charts

Like the main workspace windows, the StrategyDesk charts that appear inside them can also be customized for color, indicators, timeframe, etc. Intervals ranging from minute-by-minute to month-by-month can be selected for display, and all major (plus almost all minor) technical indicators are available.

Where TD Ameritrade takes amateur stock trading to the professional level is by allowing platform users to overlay their buy and sell signals (based on their specific trading strategies) directly onto the chart.

Pricing

TD Ameritrade’s commission structure has generally been in the middle ground by online stock and option trading standards.  Traders can find cheaper commissions elsewhere, but will be sacrificing a robust platform – and a free platform – in the process; it may not be worth the couple of extra bucks saved if the trader isn’t trading actively on a daily basis. Broker-assisted and automated telephone orders are on the higher end of the discount brokers’ commission range.

As of the time of this writing, TD Ameritrade does not charge maintenance fees for any of its customers.

Pros: A fast and intuitive customizability interface, professional level back-testing and screeners, reasonable online trade commissions

Cons: Unusually high commission on broker-assisted trades, no access to international stock exchanges, limited access to information on a sector-by-sector basis