TradeStation investing review: $0 commissions, futures, and cryptocurrencies for active traders

By Rickie Houston, CEPF

Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

TradeStation is best for experienced active traders looking for fee-free access to a variety of investment choices, account types, and trading tools. The investment app's commission-free choices include stocks, ETFs, options, futures, Micro E-Mini futures, futures options, and more. And on the account side, TradeStation offers individual, joint, and custodial brokerage accounts.

If you're particular about trading tools and platforms, the brokerage also provides an award-winning TradeStation 10 desktop platform for Windows users (Mac OS users can set up the platform through a Windows emulator software). The platform includes advanced portfolio monitoring and automation tools, market scanning features, fully customizable charting, efficient trade execution, and advanced order management.

One thing to look out for is that TradeStation's pricing structure can be convoluted. The brokerage primarily offers its TradeStation Go and TradeStation Select plans, but it also has separate fee schedules for its international plan, per-share commission plan, futures tiered plan, and unbundled stock and equities plan. Another downside is that TradeStation offers no commission-free mutual funds. If you're looking to cut down on mutual fund transaction costs, you'll probably have better luck at E*TRADE and other brokerages with fee-free funds. 

TradeStation also offers trust accounts and IRAs for retail investors, and entity accounts for institutions. The brokerage is available on iOS and Google Play devices.

Self-directed brokerage accounts

TradeStation mainly offers two plans — TradeStation Go and TradeStation Select — that both allow for trading through individual, joint, or custodial brokerage accounts. So you'll not only be able to trade on your own, with another individual, or for a dependent, but you'll also have access to commission-free trading on stocks, ETFs, options, and futures (futures are legal contracts that require investors to buy or sell a security at a specific price and upcoming date).

The difference between the two plans comes down to pricing and account features. For instance, TradeStation Go has no account minimum, but you'll need at least $2,000 for the TradeStation Select membership. In addition, options and futures contracts fees vary between TradeStation Select and TradeStation Go accounts. 

For instance, TradeStation charges $0.60 per options contract for TradeStation Select accounts. For TradeStation Go, options contracts cost $0.50 each. Futures and futures options contracts cost $1.50 each for TradeStation Select. If you invest in futures or futures options contracts with TradeStation Go, you'll pay $0.85 and $1.50, respectively.

Another difference between the two plans is that you'll have to pay extra to use TradeStation's desktop platform if you aren't enrolled in the TradeStation Select plan. Specifically, you'll need $10 for each equities and options trade, plus an additional $1.40 for options contracts.

However, the two plans also share a few similarities, including free access to real-time market data, mobile access, and web access. But fees for TradeStation's other plans — including tiered commission, per-share commission, unbundled equities accounts, and crypto — vary.

For example, per-share commission equities accounts require at least $500 for cash accounts and $2,000 for margin trading. Futures accounts on the tiered commission plan carry a $500 minimum, and crypto accounts have no minimum at all. In addition, per-share commission plans hold a $1 minimum for each trade and cost between $0.006 and $0.01 per trade.

For unbundled accounts, stock and ETF trades cost $0.0002 per share. As for TradeStation Select and TradeStation Go plans, the commission-free rule only applies to your first 10,000 trades. After you exceed that limit, each share will cost $0.005.

Trading features

TradeStation has a long list of advanced trading tools. This includes FuturesPlus, Simulated Trading, and TS Crypto. According to the brokerage's website, FuturesPlus allows for easy investment order entry, efficient execution, and free market data.

The Simulated Trading account feature gives you a risk-free way of testing out trading strategies before you actually use them in real time. This could be good for beginner traders who want to improve their trading game. 

TS Crypto is another TradeStation platform that offers its own set of perks. One is that it allows you to earn up to 6% interest on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. It also offers its own set of crypto analysis tools that let you monitor real-time data and prices, customize your user interface, and instantly execute orders with one click.

TradeStation supports the following cryptocurrencies: bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, litecoin, and US dollar coin. You can learn more about TS crypto here.

Retirement accounts

If you're interested in investing for retirement, TradeStation has multiple options. You'll have access to the following four types of retirement accounts: Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs.

None of these retirement accounts have minimum requirements for TradeStation Go members. But TradeStation Select users will need at least $2,000.

Each standard IRA includes an annual service fee of $35. But there's another type of IRA available: futures IRAs. These accounts simply allow you to invest in futures with your IRA. 

TradeStation has received an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. This is the highest BBB rating a company can receive and generally indicates that it interacts particularly well with its customers. 

However, the BBB also says that its ratings don't guarantee whether a company will perform well or exhibit reliability. For this reason, it's also crucial to do your own research when considering companies like TradeStation.

TradeStation's BBB record shows that it closed 40 complaints in the last three years and 26 complaints in the last 12 months. 

TradeStation is an online brokerage offering self-directed investment accounts, IRAs, and entity accounts. The investment app also supplements its commission-free products with a range of trading tools and platforms, both for web and mobile users.

TradeStation mainly offers retail investors three trading platforms: the TradeStation platform, the web platform, and the mobile platform. In addition, the brokerage is registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).

Based in Plantation, Florida, TradeStation was founded in 1996 by brothers William and Rafael Cruz. Since then the brokerage has amassed several rewards, including being voted "Broker of the Year" in the 2020 TradingView Awards. 

Rickie Houston is a wealth-building reporter at Personal Finance Insider who covers investing, brokerage, and wealth-building products.