Charles Schwab Review – 2020

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Charles Schwab was founded in 1971 as a traditional brick and mortar brokerage. With $3 Trillion in client assets, it’s currently the third-largest asset manager in the US. 

Always towards the forefront of the investment world, they moved into online trading in 1994. In 2005 Schwab eliminated account fees and began offering commission-free funds in 2011.

In late 2019 Schwab announced its acquisition of TD Ameritrade’s online brokerage. The deal is expected to be finalized by the end of 2020. 

Available investments

Charles Schwab offers a great selection of investments, retirement accounts, and IRAs. In addition to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs, Charles Schwab also offers futures. 

All US-Based stocks and ETFs trade commission-free. Options have no base commission and cost $0.65 per contract. Charles Schwab also offers 3,500 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.

Global securities are available for trading in the international markets in local currencies. A different fee schedule, as well as currency conversion charges, apply. 

Customer service

Clients have access to 24/7 support from US-based, licensed investment professionals. Generally, service is fast, friendly, and helpful. There are also over 350 branches where clients can get in-person service. 

In 2020, JD Power also ranked Charles Schwab as the best broker for self-directed investors for the second year in a row. 

Satisfied clients have left great reviews on Trustpilot since Charles Schwab has a 4-star rating out of 13 reviews. Investors called them “excellence personified” and praised the great customer service both in-person and over the phone. There have been several issues raised by customers with poor credit scores who were denied investment accounts. 

Ease of use

Opening an account is quick and easy and can be done online from a computer or mobile device. Their website says accounts can be opened in as little as ten minutes. 

Along with analyst reports from big-name research institutions including Credit Suisse and Morningstar, Charles Schwab also provides its equity ratings. They also offer many options for investor education.

All investors have access to Schwab’s three trading platforms, which have no trade minimums or fees. The web app offers basic trading functions and is great for beginners. The two other platforms, Schwab.com and StreetSmart Edge are more advanced and offer better research and tools.

StreetSmart Edge is available either online or as a downloadable platform. On the platform, investors have access to great charting tools to help them monitor market exposure and a live-stream of CNBC. Also, the Balances Bar helps clients keep a great overview of their accounts.

In addition to being fairly easy to learn, StreetSmart Edge is also powerful enough for day traders or options traders. The tools and layouts are customizable, allowing users to define what is visible each time the platform is opened.

There is a fourth platform, StreetSmart Central, which offers a great web-based solution for futures trading. Unfortunately, futures can only be traded through this platform, the functionality is not available on StreetSmart Edge.

Although the mobile platform gives investors access to most functionality, alerts and real-time stock quotes aren’t available. This could be a hindrance for very active traders looking to trade on the go. But the app is robust enough for most investing activities.

Clients with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant can also use voice commands to get market updates, stock quotes, or create watch lists.

Key differentiators

The educational experience offered by the Schwab Learning Center is great. The platform covers all topics which could interest a rookie or intermediate investor, including stock trading and retirement. They publish roughly 50 free webinars per month, which are archived for on-demand viewing. 

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to track progress or to document which training has already been completed. Additionally, the training lacks interactivity or a quiz to check an investor’s knowledge.

For ETF investors, Charles Schwab has efficient screeners to help clients find the perfect ETFs to match their needs. Investors can select based on asset categories, from prescreened lists, and compare mutual funds or ETFs side-by-side. 

ETF investors requiring more assistance can use Schwab’s solid ETF Portfolio Builder. The tool helps investors create a well-diversified portfolio, matched to their risk tolerance, preferences, and invested amount. 

Charles Schwab is a very innovative company and likes to incorporate fintech like Robo advisors into its business. Its Robo advisor is called intelligent portfolios, which lets investors automate portfolio management. The minimum balance is $5,000 and this is higher than comparable Robo advisor platforms. But, investors can have unlimited consultations with a CFP professional.

Besides offering brokerage services, Charles Schwab also has a full-service banking arm. Customers can get credit cards, debit cards, and mortgage loans. The bank charges no fees and the company refunds all ATM fees worldwide, making it great for international travel.

Pros

  • Customer support is available 24/7 from licensed investment professionals.
  • All US stocks and ETFs trade with no commission.
  • Investor clients have access to live daily broadcasts of in-house market commentary on the Schwab Insights portal.
  • For accounts with more than $25,000, investors have access to one-on-one portfolio consultations.
  • Charles Schwab has top-notch Robo advisor portfolios that come with access to a CFP.

Cons

  • Broker assisted trades aren’t free and cost $25 each. 
  • Schwab’s mobile trading app doesn’t offer real-time streaming quotes or allow investors to set alerts.
  • Sweep-cash (uninvested cash in investment accounts) earns less than 0.5%, well below the market average. Uninvested cash can be moved manually to the money market fund, where it would earn more interest. However, it needs to be moved back to trade.
  • Transaction fee mutual funds cost $49.95 when buying, although there is no fee to sell.
  • Charles Schwab, unfortunately, offers no virtual trading – or paper-trading – accounts. Rookie investors or clients looking to try out new strategies need to play with their own money or go elsewhere.

Bottom line

Charles Schwab is a popular trading platform with a long history of satisfied clients. The platforms are intricate enough for day trading and options trading. However, they also offer great support from live brokers and a useful educational platform to help new and intermediate investors succeed.

See our full roundup of Best Stock Brokers for Beginners

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