Fidelity vs. TD Ameritrade: Best IRA Companies

By Jordan Wathen Markets Fool.com

Individual retirement accounts can be a great way to save for the future, offering tax efficiency and more choice than employer-sponsored retirement accounts. By opening a self-directed IRA, you'll be able to choose from thousands of mutual funds, ETFs, stocks and other investments for your portfolio. But with so many brokers, getting started can be the hardest part. Let's look at two of the leading IRA brokerages -- TD Ameritrade and Fidelity -- and compare them on commissions, fund choices, research, fees, and more.

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Commission prices by investment

TD Ameritrade and Fidelity are similarly priced, varying by only a few dollars per trade. This table shows commission prices at each brokerage by the type of investment:

Brokerage

Stocks and ETFs

Stock Options

Mutual Funds

TD Ameritrade

$9.99 per trade

$9.99 + $0.75 per contract

$49.99 per purchase

Fidelity

$7.95 per trade

$7.95 + $0.75 per contract

$49.95 per purchase

Data source: company website.

Commission prices always come with caveats, but the fine print is in your favor. Fidelity and TD Ameritrade offer a number of ways to save compared to their standard prices. First, they both offer thousands of funds you can buy or sell without paying a commission. Secondly, special offers create an effective discount, as cash bonuses and free trades reduce your trading costs. See if you qualify for a bonus just for opening a new account.

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Mutual fund selection and commission-free choices

Both Fidelity and TD Ameritrade have some of the largest selections of mutual funds, including fee-free funds. You can skip commissions and fees by investing in their no-load, no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds, a savings of nearly $50 at each broker.

Brokerage

Total Mutual Funds

No-Load, No-Transaction-Fee Funds (NTF)

Commission-Free ETFs

TD Ameritrade

11,800+

3,800+

101 (iShares, Vanguard, VanEck, etc.)

Fidelity

11,500+

3,600+

91 (Fidelity and iShares)

Data source: the companies.

Minimum deposit requirement for IRAs

Neither TD Ameritrade nor Fidelity requires minimum deposits to open an account. Notably, though, some funds have their own minimums. For example, Fidelity's mutual funds carry a $2,500 minimum investment, roughly in line with the industry standard of $1,000 to $3,000.

Investments in individual stocks and ETFs require less capital to make an investment. Popular ETF shares can sell for as little as $40 to $100 each. Most stocks trade for less than $100 per share. Getting started with ETFs and individual stocks can greatly reduce the amount you need to make your first investment.

With no minimum account sizes, you won't have to empty your bank account to open an individual retirement account. Image source: Getty Images.

International stocks and ADR investments

If international stocks are core to your investment strategy, the differences between TD Ameritrade and Fidelity may be more important to you. While both allow you to invest in foreign companies, only Fidelity offers the opportunity to trade directly on foreign stock exchanges.

Type of Investment

TD Ameritrade

Fidelity

American depositary receipts (ADRs)

Yes

Yes

Stocks traded on international stock markets

No

Yes (25 countries)

Mutual funds and ETFs of foreign stocks

Yes

Yes

Data source: the companies.

You'll find that many of the world's largest foreign companies -- think Adidas, for example -- have ADRs, making them available on most online brokerages. However, if you want to invest in individual stocks that are listed on, say, the Singapore exchange, you'll have to use a brokerage like Fidelity to send your trades overseas. Fidelity is one of just a few brokers that offer the ability to trade on international markets.

Mobile app

TD Ameritrade and Fidelity are rated highly by their own users and customers. Here's how their own users rate their apps, as of Jan. 19, 2017.

Brokerage

Apple App Store

Google Play

TD Ameritrade

5.0 stars

3.5 stars

Fidelity

4.5 stars

4.5 stars

Data source: relevant app stores.

IRA fees: maintenance and inactivity charges

Some brokerages charge a fee just for having an IRA, in addition to inactivity fees that result in extra costs for less active retirement investors. Luckily, neither TD Ameritrade nor Fidelity has an inactivity or IRA maintenance fee. Roth or traditional, it doesn't matter. You won't have to worry about maintaining a minimum balance or making a certain number of trades to avoid a recurring charge to your account.

Research tools

Discount brokers are known for cutting corners to cut costs, but the truth is that many low-cost brokers offer impressive research libraries, tools, and calculators.

Clients of both brokerages get access to thousands of reports from third-party research providers, in addition to upgrades and downgrades as they happen. For retirement investors, TD Ameritrade's Portfolio Planner and Fidelity's Planning & Guidance Center offer a way to keep tabs on your portfolio and measure your progress. Both tools also help make projections about the future, so you can see how changes to your portfolio might affect your retirement timeline. Tools like these can be very beneficial for IRA investors, given that most people manage their IRAs without the help of advisors.

Opening an IRA: Fidelity or TD Ameritrade?

Both brokerages score well for retirement investors, as both offer no-fee IRAs, thousands of commission-free mutual funds and ETFs, and no-minimum deposit requirements. The differences are really pretty small, as commissions vary by just a couple bucks, and there are some slight differences in fee-free fund selection. Even the biggest difference -- the availability of foreign stock investments -- may not be all that important for investors who prefer to invest in funds or ADRs.

To be clear, The Motley Fool does not endorse any particular brokerage, but we can help you find one that is a good fit for you. Visit Fool.com's IRA Center to see how several leading brokerages compare on key features all on one page.

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Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends TD Ameritrade. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.