Ally Invest vs. Robinhood vs. TD Ameritrade

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You'd be hard-pressed to assemble a group of three online investment brokers that are more different than Ally Invest, Robinhood and TD Ameritrade. Now, there's one thing that all three have in common: They're free of commissions on stock, ETF and option trades. Beyond that, each has its own unique services that will appeal to different investors.

Ally Invest and TD Ameritrade are the most similar. But even they have different services and features that make each unique.

If you're considering one of these brokers as a place to do your investing, which should you choose? That's the question we hope to answer in this analysis.

HighlightsAlly InvestTD AmeritradeRobinhood
Rating9/109/108.5/10
Min. Investment$0$0$0
Stock Trades$0/trade$0/trade$0/trade
Options Trades$0.50/contract$0.65/contract$0
Crypto Trades
Mutual Funds
Virtual Trading

Few words on Each

About Ally Invest

Ally Invest is part of Ally Financial, which is the successor organization to General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). That means the company's roots go all the way back to 1919. It's now a diversified financial organization with more than $170 billion in assets. Ally Invest is the online investment arm of the company. In fact, it has no local branches and functions entirely as an online trading platform.

In October 2019, Ally joined a growing cadre of online stock brokers that have eliminated commission fees on most stock, ETF and options trades. On the platform, you can trade stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), options, bonds, and mutual funds.

But if you're not interested in self-directed trading, Ally Invest also offers its own robo advisor, Ally Invest Cash-Enhanced Robo Portfolios. With no more than $100 — and without incurring advisory fees — you can have your portfolio professionally managed, including periodic rebalancing and dividend reinvestment.

And if you prefer to bank where you invest, you can do it through Ally Bank, which is currently providing some of the highest interest earnings on savings products in the market. And as the successor to GMAC, Ally Bank is also the largest auto lender in the nation. It provides some of the most innovative car loans available.


About Robinhood

Robinhood is a relatively new investment platform, but it's making a name for itself as an industry disruptor. Though it began only in 2013, it's one of the very few trading platforms in the industry offering completely commission-free trading.

There is, of course, a tradeoff for free trades. Robinhood is a relatively limited trading platform. It offers a limited menu of investment options. For example, while you can trade stocks, options and ETFs, the platform currently doesn't make mutual funds, bonds or other investments available.

Customer service is also very limited. The platform is really designed for more advanced traders who aren't likely to need broker assistance. It also lacks many of the investment tools that are routinely available on full-service brokerage platforms like Ally Invest and TD Ameritrade.

Two other missing options with Robinhood are retirement accounts (only taxable brokerage accounts) and a managed portfolio option like a robo advisor. On the other hand, Robinhood does offer the ability to trade cryptocurrencies


About TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade is the investment arm of Toronto Dominion Bank, one of the largest banks in Canada. But it operates in the U.S. as an independent entity headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. It's also closely affiliated with TD Bank, which operates more than 1,300 branches across the Eastern US.

The connection between TD Ameritrade and TD Bank naturally holds the option to invest with the same company where you bank. But the connection is even closer than that. Each bank branch has staff who can help you with your investments. That means each of TD Bank's branches also serves as a branch location for TD Ameritrade.

But even apart from the TD Bank connection, TD Ameritrade also offers 360 dedicated branches around the country. That gives you plenty of choices for face-to-face customer service.

Plus, in October 2019, TD Ameritrade announced that it's eliminating commission fees on all online stock and ETF trades. So now this broker is also free for most trades.

Clearly, Robinhood has made its mark!


How Are They the Same?

Apart from the fact that all three are investment platforms, there are only a few similarities.

  • It's free to place most trades on all three platforms.
  • All three investment platforms provide self-directed investment brokerage services.
  • Ally Invest is an affordable discount broker. But both Robinhood and TD Ameritrade don't charge any commission fees.
  • All three platforms provide investor access online. TD Ameritrade and Ally Invest also offer iOS and Android mobile apps, but Robinhood doesn't.

How Are They Different?

The three services have more differences than anything they might have in common.

Investor Profile All three platforms are designed for self-directed investors.
Investments Offered Ally Invest and TD Ameritrade offer virtually unlimited investments. Robinhood offers only stocks, options, ETFs and cryptocurrencies. (Ally Invest and TD Ameritrade don't offer cryptos.)
Available Accounts TD Ameritrade offers the widest variety of investment accounts, including trusts, 529 college savings plans, Coverdell accounts, annuities, money markets and certificates of deposit (CDs). In addition to taxable accounts and IRAs, Ally offers checking and savings accounts. Robinhood is the most limited when it comes to account options.
Customer Service TD Ameritrade offer 24/7 customer service by phone, live chat and email. Ally Invest offers  customer support 7 days a week from 7 am – 10 pm,  (Eastern Time). Robinhood restricts customer service to email only.
Local Branches TD Ameritrade has 360, plus more than 1,300 TD Bank branches. Neither Ally Invest nor Robinhood has any branches.
Retirement Accounts Ally Invest and TD Ameritrade offer various types of IRAs. Robinhood offers only taxable accounts.

Unique Features

Ally Invest

Ally Invest has one of the most diverse financial offerings in the industry, including:

  • The Ally Invest Cash-Enhanced Robo Portfolio
  • High-interest savings products through Ally Bank
  • Reduced commissions for high-frequency trading

Robinhood

Robinhood's most unique feature is the one it's best known for commission-free trading (even though it had some trust issues lately). That extends to trading stocks, options, and ETFs. Best of all, there are no hidden fees. Commission-free means free in the truest sense.

Robinhood offers something else that the other two platforms don't (in fact, almost no other investment broker does), and that's the ability to trade cryptocurrencies. While this may not attract a large number of investors right now, there's no question interest in cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, is growing. As it does, Robinhood will likely emerge as a go-to platform where you can trade cryptos in addition to other assets.

What also makes Robinhood unique — and not necessarily in a good way — is that it is a limited platform. You won't be able to trade certain common investments, take advantage of a wealth of investment tools or even get broker assistance.

TD Ameritrade

Like Ally Invest, TD Ameritrade is a full-service online broker. It also TD Ameritrade has the advantage of having an extensive network of physical branches across the country.

Plus, all stock, ETF and options trades on the platform are commission-free.

Not only does the company offer 360 TD Ameritrade branches across the country, but you can also handle investment activities at any one of the 1,300 TD Bank branches on the East Coast. That'll be a big advantage if you prefer at least some face-to-face contact with your investment activities.

And much like Ally Invest, TD Ameritrade also offers you the ability to bank where you invest. What's more, TD Bank is well known for having the most extensive banking hours of any bank in the country.


Minimum Investments

Ally Invest has no required minimum initial investment or ongoing balance requirements. However, its robo advisor, Ally Invest Cash-Enhanced Robo Portfolios, does have a minimum initial investment requirement of $100.

Robinhood also has no minimum required investment. Nor does it have any ongoing account balance minimum. But you will need to fund your account to begin trading. And that can be as much or as little as you choose.

Like Ally Invest and Robinhood, TD Ameritrade also has no minimum initial investment requirement, at least not for its self-directed investment accounts.

Winner — A three-way tie. Ally Invest, Robinhood and TD Ameritrade each have no minimum initial investment requirement.

Pricing

  • With Ally Invest, there are no commission fees to trade exchange-listed stocks, ETFs and options. The price of an options contract is 50 cents, among the lowest on the market. The mutual fund trading fee, at $9.95 per trade, is one of the lowest in the industry. For the Ally Invest Cash-Enhanced Robo Portfolio, there are no advisory fees.
  • Robinhood has no commission fees at all and no fees of any kind for that matter.
  • TD Ameritrade now offers commission-free online trading for stocks and ETFs. If you wish to have broker assistance with a trade, the cost is $25.
    Winner — Robinhood wins for having a completely fee-free platform.

Standout Features

Ally Invest

The ability to do your banking through Ally Bank offers you an opportunity to earn some of the highest interest on savings available. And it gives you access to some of the most innovative auto loans in the industry.

Robinhood

Robinhood has two simple standout features: no commissions on trading and the ability to trade cryptocurrencies. Commission-free trades have an obvious advantage. But the ability to also trade cryptocurrencies is a major convenience. In most cases, if you want to trade cryptocurrencies, you'll need to maintain an account at a separate cryptocurrency exchange. Robinhood eliminates the need for dual accounts.

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade's standout feature has to be the TD Bank connection. It's not an investment broker with banking. Nor is it a bank with an investing feature. Instead, it's two completely separate financial operations but closely joined. You can conduct your investment activities in any of TD Bank's local branches. There, you can also take advantage of full-service banking. It's a winning combination that few investment firms can match.

Winner — The nod has to go to Robinhood with its combination of commission-free trades and the ability to invest in cryptocurrencies.

Customer Service

Ally Invest customer support is available seven days per week from 7 am to 10 pm (Eastern Time) by phone, email and live chat.

Robinhood offers very limited customer service availability. The company can be contacted only by email. There is no phone contact capability, which will be a problem for some investors.

TD Ameritrade is available 24/7 by phone, live chat, and email. But you can also get face-to-face customer service at any one of hundreds of TD Ameritrade offices and TD Bank branches.

Winner — TD Ameritrade. Ally Invest has new customer service hours from 7 am - 10 pm, 7 days a week (Eastern Time), but TD Ameritrade wins for its network of hundreds of branch offices.

Security

All three companies come with SIPC coverage protecting investor's funds from broker failure for up to $500,000 in securities in cash, including up to $250,000 in cash.

For direct account security, Ally Invest employs both firewalls and secure socket layering (SSL) technology. Sensitive information is encrypted online to safeguard it during transmission. You'll have a username and password, and access to your account will be blocked after a set number of unsuccessful login attempts.

Robinhood provides the following:

  • Encryption of sensitive information (like your Social Security number) before storage.
  • The mobile and web applications securely communicate with servers using transport layer security (TLS) protocols.
  • No online banking credentials are stored.
  • You can securely access your mobile app using TouchID, FaceID or custom pin code.
  • The platform uses two-factor authentication.

TD Ameritrade uses the following security measures:

  • Advanced firewalls to keep unauthorized parties from accessing your personal information.
  • Anomaly detection and intrusion detection technology to determine unusual behavior.
  • 128-bit encryption for the transmission of all data between the site and your computer.
  • If there is an unauthorized disappearance of cash or securities, TD Ameritrade provides its Asset Protection Guarantee. You'll be reimbursed for any cash or securities lost through unauthorized activity.
Winner — TD Ameritrade. Its Asset Protection Guarantee plan adds a strong additional measure of protection just in case other security measures fail.

Who Are They Best For?

Since each of the three platforms has specializations, each can be the perfect platform based on your own investment preferences.

Ally Invest

Ally Invest offers a full-service investment platform for self-directed investors. It provides all the tools and investment options you'll need. Although the platform can work well for any investor, it may be best for frequent traders who will get the benefit of the discounted trading commissions.

But it's also a good choice for anyone who wants a mix of self-directed investing and a robo portfolio option. You can keep some of your portfolio available for self-directed trading while holding a portion in the Ally Invest Cash-Enhanced Robo Portfolios.

Robinhood

Robinhood is the perfect trading platform for self-directed investors who are looking to completely eliminate fees on the trading of stocks, options, ETFs, and cryptocurrencies. And it is of course mainly a platform for those who don't need broker assistance or the many investment tools offered by full-service investment brokers.

TD Ameritrade

Like Ally Invest, TD Ameritrade is a full-service trading platform. Its lack of commissions on online stock and ETF trades makes it friendly for all investors. It also charges no commissions on mutual funds, which will be of interest to long-term investors. However, TD Ameritrade may not be great for brand-new investors. Its trading platforms can be a bit complicated.


Which Is the Best?

Since each of these three brokers fills a different niche in the investment universe, it will really come down to which features and benefits are most important to you.

For example, if you're a self-directed, self-sufficient investor and your primary interest is in commissions, you'll certainly choose Robinhood. But if you're new investor who wants all the tools, benefits and customer service of a full-service brokerage, Ally Invest will likely be your choice.

On the other hand, if you're an experienced trader who likes face-to-face customer service and you prefer to invest where you bank, TD Ameritrade will be your choice.

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids.

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