Investing > Firstrade Review

Firstrade Review

Firstrade is a top discount broker. The platform offers $0 commissions on stock, options, and mutual fund trading — so what's the catch?

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Do you love free stuff?

Most people do. When it comes to the financial world, investors are becoming accustomed to free trading.

Firstrade was part of the initial wave of brokers to offer commission-free stock trading. Yet in addition to a great fee structure, Firstrade has continued to improve its platform — most recently through a notable technology upgrade in early 2020.

The discount broker now offers several trading options, including a robust mobile app. It’s a great choice for active traders and options investors who want a simple order entry platform with more option spreads and nearly zero costs.

Is Firstrade a good fit for you? Let’s find out.

Firstrade is a top discount brokerage, offering $0 commissions on stocks and options trading, and robust tools, including a newly designed interface and mobile app.

Fast Facts

  • Account Minimum: $500
  • Fees: $0 on almost all stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and options
  • Best For: Beginners and mutual fund investors
  • Highlight: Low fees

Ratings

  • Commissions & Fees: 7/10
  • Investment Selection: 6.5/10
  • Account Options & Features: 6/10
  • Usability: 7/10
  • Educational Resources: 5/10
  • Customer Service: 9/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Visit Firstrade on Firstrade’s website

Investor Warning: Online trading has inherent risk due to system response and access times that may vary due to market conditions, system performance, and other factors. An investor should understand these and additional risks before trading. All investments involve risk and losses may exceed the principal invested.

What is Firstrade?

Firstrade has very humble beginnings dating back to 1985 in the neighborhood of Flushing, Queens, New York. The local community made up of largely Chinese immigrants was one of the first discount brokers and has remained true to these roots by cutting all of its fees and options contracts costs.

Firstrade Overview and Summary

  1. Firstrade offers zero commission fees on almost all trades, including stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options.
  2. The web trading platform is easy-to-use with a quick interface that allows you to place buy and sell orders fast. In fact, Firstrade guarantees a 0.1 second trade execution time.
  3. The Firstrade mobile app received extensive upgrades in June 2020. It also syncs up with changes you make to your account through the website.
  4. While there are a number of products available like stocks, ETFs, funds, bonds, and options, you cannot trade futures, futures options, cryptocurrency, or Forex.
  5. While there are some research and education tools, you may get the most use from Navigator and Options Wizard. Navigator requires you to set up a Firstrade Premier account, which requires a $10,000 minimum account balance.

One of the main benefits of using Firstrade is its securities lending program. If you want to earn additional income, you can actually lend your stocks to other financial institutions, which could lead to higher profits if you have larger accounts. There are no restrictions on account holders, so you can sell your stocks at any point.

Firstrade Compared

Fees
Commissions

$0

$0

Account minimum

$500

$0

Minimum initial deposit

$0

$0

General
Best for

Beginners and mutual fund investors

DIY stock trading

Highlight

Low fees

Pioneer of commission-free stock trading

Promotion

None

Free stock

Rating
Fees
Commissions

$0

$0

Account minimum

$0

$100

Minimum initial deposit

$0

$100

General
Best for

DIY stock trading

Casual investors

Highlight

Pioneer of commission-free stock trading

Great retirement planning tools

Promotion

Free stock

None

Rating
Fees

Commissions

$0

$0

$0

Account minimum

$500

$0

$100

Minimum initial deposit

$0

$0

$100

General

Best for

Beginners and mutual fund investors

DIY stock trading

Casual investors

Highlight

Low fees

Pioneer of commission-free stock trading

Great retirement planning tools

Promotion

None

Free stock

None

How Does Firstrade Work?

Firstrade has a pretty simple but functional trading platform. You can sign up online via their application. You can set up an individual, joint, or custodial account. However, you’ll have to use a different application set up a partnership, investment club, or trust.

You can set up the account as cash only or as a cash and margin account. Options trading can also be accessed. Live chat is available throughout the process if you need help.

Image of Firstrade Trading Platform
Firstrade’s trading platform is known for its usability — even for beginners.

Investors can take an active or passive approach to trading with Firstrade. However, it’s best for beginner investors and mutual fund investors. If you like free commissions and free options contracts, then it’s also superior to almost every other discount broker. Firstrade is great for a number of trading strategies, as we believe it’s one of the best brokers for short selling.

The platform is made for easy online trading for beginners, so you won’t find some of the more advanced features like automated bidding and trading, you can set up automated alerts with customizable options. For example, you can track stock positions and receive an alert to your email when a price drops or rises.

Investors will get the most use out of their browser-based platform called Firstrade Navigator. However, you’ll need an account balance of $10,000 to use it and set up a Firstrade Premier account. This a pretty big drawback if you were hoping to trade for the first time with much less.

📈 Looking to trade for free? Check out our top discount brokers report.

Firstrade Review: Pros and Cons

In comparison to other virtual brokers, Firstrade has a pretty basic and functional platform. Still, placing orders is pretty intuitive, and there are complex settings for option spreads. However, you’ll have to manually enter spread legs, although there is a smart chain sheet to quickly enter the order.

Firstrade automatically calculates margin as the trade is constructed, but quotes do not always stream in real-time unless you refresh. If you are an active trader looking for automatic trading options, you won’t find them on Firstrade. Only manual ordering is available for products on Firstrade.

Basic Firstrade investors do not have access to the Navigator platform, which requires a Premier account and a $10,000 account minimum. In essence, you can’t access complex order types unless you have Navigator access.

Only the basic functions can be accessed through desktop and mobile apps. However, you can create orders based on information from screening tools, but you can only order trades for stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs.

Firstrade User Dashboard Showing Gains, Losses, Orders, etc
Firstrade offers a number of advanced trading and analysis tools.

While you can view charts and streaming quotes, it’s difficult to make an order straight from these integrations. You will need to navigate back to the order screen to place most trades accurately.

Pros

  • $0 commissions on stock and options trades
  • $0 commissions on ETFs and mutual funds
  • Streamlined trading experience on desktop and mobile, but includes just the basics
  • Automated alerts and streaming real-time quotes available
  • Support for English and Chinese accounts

Cons

  • Simple charting and order entry tools
  • Accessing more tools requires Firstrade Premier accounts, which need $10,000 account minimum
  • Customer support is lacking and may not be accessible via phone or live chat outside of normal business hours

What Can You Trade with Firstrade?

Even though Firstrade only recently added Navigator for more active traders, it still uses single-page layouts with modular interfaces that can be difficult to understand if you are a beginner. You also have to apply for Navigator via email after setting up a Premier account. However, you can instantly gain access to it through the Apple Store or Play store for Android.

Firstrade has the following offerings for trades:

  • Stocks
  • Options
  • Mutual funds
  • Fixed income
  • ETFs

You will not be able to access forex, futures, futures options, or cryptocurrencies on Firstrade. There are also advanced features for options trading allowing for up to four legs per spread.

Unlike many other discount brokers, Firstrade does not currently offer any robo-advisors, but the platform announced that it would be adding this technology soon as of 2019.

🤖 Interested in automated investing? See our best robo-advisors list.

How to Open a Firstrade Account

New investors to Firstrade can open a brokerage account online, but it takes awhile to get setup. In fact, it took 3 days to open an account due to the slow verification process.

There are some restrictions on who can join the brokerage, but all US customers are welcome. You will have to provide verification documents for your residency and citizenship.

Analysis, Charting, and Research Tools

Firstrade has several tools for research, screening, and testing. The best one is probably the stock and mutual fund screening tool, but you can only use it on the web browser edition. If your requirements are not too complex, then entering trades is easy through the screening tool.

Morningstar and Briefing.com offer news and trends from very reliable sources, and you can also check news from trader favorite Benzinga.com. Through OptionPlay on Firstrade, you can look at different ideas for options and analyze trades or spreads in comparison with real-time data. You can find this tool under options chain sheets, which makes it somewhat hidden.

Charting is available on the browser and mobile app edition. The browser screens have basic charting capabilities that you can’t customize. If you sign up for Navigator through Firstrade Premiere, then you can access customizable charting tools using MultiCharts under TradingView.

While there are a few portfolio analysis tools and accounting features included with Firstrade, it’s not as robust as TD Ameritrade or other leading online stock brokers. Investors can monitor their positions and watchlists, and you can download account history and statements in real-time.

However, you’ll need external tools to analyze the reports more precisely. Quicken, custom Excel sheets, and Microsoft Money can provide more functionality, but it’s not included.

This means that beginner investors need to know more about trading analysis to use these reports and access different tools.

Firstrade Fees Explained

One of the things that Firstrade does best is commission-free trading. For traders who want the lowest cost and do not mind the lack of tools or education resources, that’s exactly what Firstrader can help with.

All stock, option, and ETF trades have $0 commission fees. You can also lower the cost of securities trade by lending your shares for daily income through Firstrader’s program.

There is a trade-off for lower cost trades. To use some of the advanced features and take advantage of lower costs, you’ll need a Firstrade Premiere account, which requires that you have $10,000 account minimum. Firstrade also charges higher margin rates than other brokers. There are also fees for different account transactions, such as higher fees for ACAT out transfers and wire transfers.

Firstrade Funding & Withdrawal Fees

You can deposit with an ACD funds transfer, check deposit, or wire transfer. There is no withdrawal fee for ACH transfers, but if you use a wire transfer to withdrawal, you will be charged $30 for domestic and $50 for international.

Investor Education

A number of links and videos can be found within Firstrade’s knowledgebase. These provide trading strategies and a better understanding of available markets.

If you’re new to investing, some of the information will be helpful, but it’s hit or miss. Much of the articles were produced for studying options and pertain to more advanced strategies.

Truthfully, the education section of Firstrade is a bit outdated and includes several dead links. Most of the tutorials and tips do not pertain to the current trends and conditions. You will also not find any new webinars or learning events through social media or the main website.

Most of the content is provided externally through partners, but you will have to look for other sources to get more current tips and information.

Does Firstrade Have a Mobile App?

Firstrade Mobile Platform

Firstrade offers a mobile app that facilitates high speed trades with powerful technology. It offers Face ID recognization for login. Stock watch lists sync with any changes you make on the website, and you can check real-time streaming quotes on the app as well. Originally, the app was only available for iOS, but it’s now available for Android as well.

You can view charts and options chains inside of the app, along with 19 other studies for stock charts. There are not too many alerts you can set up, and stock charts are sometimes hard to read because Firstrade does not support horizontal views on the app. The app was just updated in June of 2020 with notable upgrades — showing the importance of mobile functionality for Firstrade.

While Firstrade’s app is both impressive and has improved drastically in the recent past, you won’t find the app in our list of the best apps for stock trading.

Firstrade Account Minimums

To sign up and use the basic Firstrade account, you don’t need an account minimum. To use Firstrade Premier and the Navigator platform, customers will need to have an account balance of $10,000. You can view your positions and balances in your account through an all-in-one dashboard, which includes customization of news, charts, and tracking.

Advanced Screening Tools

The advanced screener also helps you look for new high-quality stocks, such as large growth stocks or bargain small-cap funds. You can download your investment choices to get more strategies.

The Options Wizard also gives you analysis of your gains and losses for options trading with more than 40 different options strategies.

International Features

Many brokerage firms cater to US clients only, but Firstrade accepts new customers from South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Mexico, and Japan.

It’s also one of the only platforms that support native Chinese speakers. You can see the platform in traditional or simplified Chinese language.

Referral Program

Firstrade offers customers a free stock for themselves and a friend when they refer them to the brokerage. There is a 1 out of 100 chance that it could be a Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft stock, according to Firstrade.

Trading Tools

While Firstrade does not have a downloadable platform, you can use its browser-based platform to make trades. You can use the trading tab to quickly buy and sell most stocks, ETFs, and options. There are some basic functions like bid-ask spread, volume, and last trade price.

Options have more fields to fill out to place a trade. There are a few multi-leg strategies, including straddle, butterfly, and condor. You can use the Options Wizard to search bull and bear options ideas.

🎯 How does Firstrade stack-up against competition? Find out in our Firstrade vs Robinhood comparison.

Security

Firstrade protects investors for $500,000, and it’s also regulated by the SEC and FINRA. However, you will not receive alerts for negative balances, and Firstrade is not listed on the stock exchange. During testing, Firstrade only had one-step login authentication, which means there is a cybersecurity issue since most modern-day platforms use two-step authentication factors.

Customer Support

Firstrade Customer Service Webpage
Firstrade’s telephone service is unavailable during weekends.

Sammi is the new AI chatbot available to Firstrade clients. It can answer some basic questions, but you’ll be linked to different areas of the website for more complicated answers.

There isn’t a 24/7 phone support option either. Customers can access Firstrade customer service Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM, EST. Their support is not available on the weekend.

You can use live chat for other issues, which is available through the website. The representatives are helpful and provide any knowledge you need.

For everything else, you will have to rely on the FAQ section of the website or you can send an email to Firstrade’s support team.

Firstrade Mutual Funds

There is a screener and profile page for mutual funds on Firstrade’s website. Most of the fund’s information comes from Morningstar and places it on the profile page, so they are the same as everything you would find on Morningstar’s website.

You can use the mutual fund screening tool to show you all products available. You can buy and sell mutual funds for free. There is a short-term redemption fee of $19.95 that applies to any mutual fund shares held less than 90 days.

💡 Not exactly sure what a mutual fund is? Learn about the difference between stocks and mutual funds.

Tricks to Using Firstrade Like a Pro

  • Sign up for a basic account through a referral to get one free stock with Firstrade’s promotional offer.
  • Use Options Wizard to get more trading ideas and test up to 40 different ideas.
  • Get trading ideas for stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds through Firstrade’s partner Morningstar.
  • You can use up to 50 technical indicators to customize and edit charts on the website.

Latest News About Firstrade

The recent news about Firstrade includes high ratings from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, which named Firstrade as one of the best online brokers for 2019 for active traders due to their low commission fees.

In addition, Firstrade added NICE Actimize SaaS to secure their platform and protect against money laundering.

What Rocks About Trading with Firstrade

Firstrade is considered the cheapest online brokerage. You can trade stocks, ETFs, options, and most mutual funds for a $0 commission. Their options contracts are also the lowest in the entire industry.

The trade bar on the Firstrade website is easy-to-use and has more functionality than most browser-based platforms.

Traders will love the 0.1 second execution guarantee by Firstrade, but this is only for S&P 500 equity market orders. If an order takes longer, the commission fee is removed.

The mobile app is pretty robust and free for iPhone and Android users. You can sign up and access charting tools, basic trade analysis, and all of your accounts, as well as simple ordering functionality.

What Firstrade Could Do Better

One thing that Firstrade does not make clear is that more advanced options and tools are only available in the Navigator platform, which requires a Firstrade Premier account. This requires a $10,000 account minimum. While there are basic tools available for the free account, you won’t be able to customize or view more complex charting tools with a basic account.

In addition, Firstrade does not have the best customer service options. You can access their customer phone support during business hours only. Other brokerage firms offer 24/7 customer service. There aren’t any physical locations to get help either, except for headquarters in New York.

You won’t have the largest mutual fund selection at Firstrade either. There are far more funds accessible on TD Ameritrade and even WellsTrade.

There are no robo-advisory options either, so if you need help, you’ll have to seek out a third-party advisory tool or take a chance. This doesn’t help much with risk management.

In addition, you cannot trade futures, forex, or options with Firstrade either, but there are a ton of retirement investment options like IRAs.

Want to get started with futures? Review our best platforms for futures trading.

Final Thoughts: Firstrade Review

Firstrade is the most innovative and cheapest when it comes to zero-commission trading. It’s considered the best discount broker of all because it does not even charge for options contracts or mutual funds. If you are an international investor, then you also can find support with Firstrade. However, it’s not as robust as other platforms for trading products like forex or futures.

Overall, investors will like Firstrade if they want zero commissions and have some trading experience. Beginner traders may also find it useful, but they should rely on customer service help and live chat features during business hours to learn more about the platform before digging in.

Firstrade FAQs

How Does Firstrade Make Money?

Firstrade isn’t upfront with this information – neither their website nor their automated chatbot provide a clear and simple answer. As Firstrade isn’t a public company, we can’t say for sure how much of their revenue comes from which source.

However, we do know how zero-fee and $0 commission brokers make money. They utilize idle cash by either investing it in the short term or lending it out to make a profit. They also earn quite a large sum on margin interest rates, and from selling order flow to market makers.

Firstrade, in particular, charges a $19.95 fee for broker-assisted trades and also charges a $40 bond fee, as well as a $30 fee when trading primary market CDs. Outgoing domestic wire transfers will cost clients $30, while outgoing international wire transfers cost $35. Additional fees include a $75 full account transfer fee, a $55 partial account transfer fee, a flat 3% transaction fee for clients outside of the United States, and a $100 inactivity fee that is only applicable after several years. 

That being said, it is unlikely that these fees amount to a large percentage of Firstrade’s revenue. Most of their revenue surely comes from investing idle cash, margin interest, and selling order flow.

So, should you be worried? No – these are industry-standard practices, and nothing that Firstrade does is out of the ordinary. Firstrade is regulated by the SEC and FINRA, meaning that it is subject to strict regulations.

Can You Day Trade on Firstrade?

Yes, and the ability to trade stocks, options, and mutual funds without paying fees allows Firstrade to bring plenty of value to the table for day traders. Keep in mind that day trading rules apply to Firstrade just like any other broker.

Can You Short Stocks on Firstrade?

Yes – in fact, Firstrade’s intuitive design, user-friendly platform, advanced charts, and solid research tools make it a good choice for short selling. In our review of the best brokers for short selling, we chose Firstrade as the best discount broker for short selling.

However, in recent times, Firstrade has struggled to keep up with declining margin interest rates. If you’re interested in short selling, take a look at the aforementioned review – one of our top picks is sure to fit your criteria.

Can You Buy Fractional Shares on Firstrade?

No – unfortunately, buying fractional shares isn’t a supported feature on Firstrade.

Is Firstrade Safe?

Firstrade has a proven track record and has been in business since 1985. The company’s online brokerage was started in 1997, and was among the first online brokerages available to consumers. Today, Firstrade manages about $2.3 billion in assets.

The Better Business Bureau gives Firstrade an A+ rating, and the company is registered with the SEC and FINRA. Firstrade’s clearing firm, Apex Clearing Corporation, was founded in 1979 and is also used by many other brokerages, such as Betterment, Wealthfront, and Wealthsimple.

Firstrade also carries SIPC and excess SIPC insurance. SIPC insurance covers brokerage accounts for up to $500,000, with a maximum of $250,000 in cash. The excess SIPC insurance policy that Firstrade has in place protects each account for up to $37,500,000 in securities, with a $900,000 limit on cash. 

However, there is a catch when it comes to the excess SIPC insurance – a brokerage limit of $150,000,000 is in place, meaning that only a small number of clients would be able to benefit from the excess insurance policy. So, should this worry you? No – SIPC insurance only kicks in if a brokerage fails, and that is unlikely to happen. Their insurance plan is up to par with competitors – quite a few of which don’t even carry excess SIPC insurance.

You can rest easy – Firstrade is a safe, proven company that has stood the test of time.

Firstrade and the Competition

See how Firstrade compares to the top investing platforms by reading one of the reviews below.

All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on tokenist.com. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

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