As we enter into a new decade of dividend and index investing, I thought it was time for an update to our Canadian online broker article (whose first version dates back as early as 2006). Use the table of contents below to dig into our criteria and comparisons as we look at the Best Canadian Online Discount Brokerages in 2021.
If you want to trace the unique evolution of Canada’s best discount brokerages over the years, our comment section dates back to when Dani California was a hit new song!
Best Online Brokerage in Canada: Quick Comparison
FREE buying and selling of 100+ ETFs
$8.75 ($6.95 elite accounts)
#1 Rated Broker in Canada
$50-$2,000 Visa Gift Card
Free BUY of ETFs (full trading prices apply to ETF sales)
Lowest Overall Cost
$50 in Free Trades
$9.95 per ETF trade
$9.95 ($7.95 elite accounts)
Best Big Bank Brokerage
Up to $2,000 cash back (use promo code MDJCASH)
$9.95 per ETF trade
$9.95 ($6.95 elite accounts)
Great Mobile + Desktop Platforms
Best 2021 Broker Promo: Qtrade $50 Visa Card
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- Best Online Brokerage in Canada: Quick Comparison
- TL;DR Best Stock Broker for Canadians In 2021 – Why Qtrade?
- Lowest Cost Canadian Discount Brokerage – Questrade
- Most Convenient Big Bank Brokerage – BMO Investorline
- Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
- Top Discount Brokerage Promo Offer Codes for 2021
- Comparing Canadian Stock Broker Trading Fees for ETFs and Stocks
- Ultimate Summary of Canadian Discount Brokerages Fees and DRIP Options
Intro – What is an “Online Discount Brokerage” or “Discount Stock Broker”?
Before we dive into this topic, let me take a minute and explain what an online discount brokerage, or a discount stock broker is. An online discount broker is essentially a way for you to trade stocks, bonds, ETFs, and a few other types of more niche investments, online.
However, there’s no “middle man” like the old movie idea of “stock broker” when you use an online discount brokerage. You don’t get a person or company to do the buying or selling for you. You are the one in charge.
A discount stock brokerage account operates in the same way as traditional brokers do in that these platforms allow investors such as you and me to buy and sell assets such stocks, bonds, mutual funds, GICs, and ETFs. However, as mentioned above, with an online discount brokerage it is you, the investor, calling the shots.
This DIY-type of approach comes with a significantly lower commission cost than what you would pay to a traditional Canadian stockbroker (leaving more money to compound as your investments grow!) making it a very attractive option for those willing to do a very small amount of leg work.
TL;DR Best Stock Broker for Canadians In 2021 – Why Qtrade?
While there are a few discount brokerages worthy of your attention – at the top there can be only one!
Qtrade is simply Canada’s Best Overall Online Brokerage in 2021.
Don’t take our word for it… longtime Canadian personal finance veteran, Rob Carrick of the Globe and Mail says that:
The discount brokerage comparison chart above shows that there are several reasons why Qtrade has consistently been ranked so highly by all of the impartial Canadian personal finance experts over the years.
Their ability to innovate new aspects of their platform, as well as to flawlessly integrate these new ideas – all while keeping their fees amongst the lowest in Canada – mean that Qtrade has shown its best-in-class stripes over the long term.
In past years we have ranked Questrade slightly above Qtrade in our Canadian discount broker rankings, chiefly on the basis on their lower fees – and while Questrade certainly remains an excellent alternative, and a solid #2 overall option – we have decided that Qtrade has overtaken them this year based on the following criteria.
- During the pandemic, our MDJ inbox was filled with a constant flow of messages complaining about Questrade’s customer service standards. Wait times of 4+ hours for both phone and online chat options showed what the price of the lowest fees in Canada are. Qtrade on the other hand has consistently held the highest standards for their customer service according to our readers, the Globe and Mail, and Moneysense Magazine. For many Canadians this commitment to customer service makes a huge difference in their trust of a company.
- Qtrade’s free ETFs represent a nice little upgrade on Questrades “free to buy – but to not sell” ETFs.
- The current Qtrade promotion is simply the best promotion that we’ve ever seen for a discount brokerage. The ability to snag an instant $2,000 visa gift card (although most account openings will be in the $50-$200 range) is a really nice little door prize!
- Finally, we just think that Qtrade’s overall investor education package, combined with the app and desktop platforms they have refined give them a slight edge on what Questrade has put out there.
Qtrade isn’t the unchallenged leader in every single discount broker comparison category – but they have no glaring weaknesses, and absolutely shine when it comes to free ETFs, elite customer service, and unparalleled access to information and education tools. See our in-depth Qtrade Review for more information.
Qtrade isn’t the unchallenged leader in every single category – but they have no glaring weaknesses, and absolutely shine when it comes to free ETFs, elite customer service, and unparalleled access to information and education tools. See our in-depth Qtrade Review for more information.
Lowest Cost Canadian Discount Brokerage – Questrade
While Wealthsimple Trade technically has lower costs than Questrade, that platform has some gaping holes in it – not to mention their buggy mobile app. While they might be worth following in the future, for the time being, if you want to go with Wealthsimple, check out their robo advisor solution at Wealthsimple Invest.
Wealthsimple Trade is simply an unfinished product that isn’t comparable to the rest of this list. You can also check out my article comparing Wealthsimple vs Questrade to understand the differences better.
When it comes to a truly-usable discount brokerage that cuts costs to the bone, look no further than Questrade. Questrade charges a penny-per-share-traded (bought or sold) – but with a minimum of $4.95, and a maximum of $9.95. Personally, I’ve never bought more than 495 shares of a stock or unit of an ETF before – but I’d like to have an account big enough to try it some time!
In any case, when it comes to per-trade costs for the average investor, Questrade can’t be beat.
There are no annual fees (no matter the size of your account, though there is an account minimum of $1,000) and no fees charged when you buy ETFs.
It’s not like the rest of the Questrade package is lacking something major, it’s simply a tribute to how far some of the other brokerages have come, that we no longer rank them #1. The Questrade app and website have seen tremendous upgrades in the last couple of years, and the vast majority of people that we have recommended Questrade to over the years have been quite happy with them.
That said, there is no doubt that customer service emerged as a weak spot for the quickly-growing company during the pandemic. Several of the writers on this website saw wait times of over four hours for both the online chat and call-in options. Emails went over a week between response times at various points.
This customer service element is where Qtrade has really worked to distinguish themselves over the years. They have consistently been ranked at the top in this category by both the Globe and Mail rankings and the Moneysense Magazine rankings.
“We congratulate Qtrade Investor for its convincing win…and for its commitment to innovation and unmatched service levels.” — Glenn LaCoste, President of Surviscor
Of course, if you’re not the “customer service” type, and simply want access to a great platform at the lowest price – then Questrade makes a ton of sense for you. Check out our full Questrade Review for more information.
Most Convenient Big Bank Brokerage – BMO Investorline
Canadians love their big banks. Their names grace our sports stadiums, and many of us opened our very first bank accounts at their in-person locations – and then never looked back.
Here’s the thing – it can just be really really nice to have all your banking and investing in one place.
There is no denying that there is a bit of tradeoff when it comes to price – as BMO’s trading fees are higher than those of Questrade and Qtrade – but for many Canadians, a hundred or two hundred bucks a year in trading fee differences are simply worth it to not have to worry about mixups in transferring money or having paperwork with several different companies.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding to be on one side of that tradeoff or the other!
It’s simply a matter of being an informed consumer so that you can get the most value for your personal needs.
Using one of Canada’s oldest and most trusted big banks can not only make the logistics easier to handle, it might help you negotiate some nice perks on your chequing account, elite credit card fee, or even knock a few hundreds of a percent off your next mortgage rate. Obviously the bigger your investment account, the more leverage you have.
While all of the Big 5 banks have competitive brokerages, we simply find that Investorline has the best user experience, and a slight edge when it comes to investor education materials. Check out our full BMO Investorline Review for more information, or sign up by clicking the button below and using the code MDJCASH to enjoy our exclusive promotion:
Other Canadian Online Brokers
Even though Qtrade and Questrade are practically neck and neck for the title of the best online broker, and BMO represents the best compromise option when it comes to using a discount brokerage that Canadians are familiar with, that doesn’t mean they are the only viable choices. Luckily, we Canucks have plenty of good options available if you want to see if there is a better fit.
Below, I will present those I deem as “the best of the rest” and try to highlight each one’s main advantage, as well as how it stacks up when compared with Qtrade. We also have detailed reviews for all of those companies which will be linked from the relevant part of text – so if you want to learn more about a specific one you can simply click the review link and get all the added info you need.
RBC Direct Investing – 2nd Best Mobile App (After Qtrade)
As mentioned above, all of the big banks trading platforms are quite comparable and could all be classified as ‘elite products’. The biggest upside is of course the fact that if you already bank with them, opening a brokerage account with a specific bank becomes easier and much more convenient. In that regard, RBC is no different.
RBC Direct Investing offers you the same trade-off as other big banks do – you pay higher fees and in return enjoy an excellent platform and a lot of account options to choose from. In RBC’s case, their biggest advantage is their mobile app, which has the best ratings out of all the options listed on this page.
TD Direct Investing – Great platform
If it weren’t for the fact they neither have an ongoing promotion, nor offer free ETF trading, TD Direct might well have been placed higher on our list. With the TD Webbroker, they have arguably the best trading platform in Canada – at least for desktop users. While their mobile app isn’t the best, it is also a very good product and overall user reviews are very positive.
If you already bank with TD, or if you know you are going to make a lot of use of their excellent trading platform, then signing up with TD Direct Investing can’t be a bad decision ever. That said, even though their software might be a little bit better – they simply can’t compete with the value one might get from Qtrade’s low fees or BMO’s excellent promo offer.
Virtual Brokers – Competitive Fees + Extra Consideration for Canadian expats
Virtual Brokers is a very good option for active investors and Canadians who are living overseas. They are one of the bigger and most well known brokers in Canada and have been in business since 2009 and are now backed up by CI Direct Investments, giving them solid stability going forward.
This broker is ideal for Canadians who live overseas but prefer to keep their portfolios back home. Unlike other companies on this list – other than Questrade – Virtual Brokers don’t shy away from expat clients and will assist you with all the necessary paperwork. Not only that, but there will be no added charges for that! The only requirement is a $25,000 account minimum.
VB’s fees are comparable with Questrade as some of the industry’s best. The reason it falls short of a top spot for me is because the platform over there is quite outdated and hard to use – the mobile app in particular is really not polished enough. Add to that the fact they currently have no promo on offer, and they simply fall short of being the best choice for most Canadians.
For Canadian expats, the best option is still using Ci Direct’s robo advisor. You can read our full CI Direct Investing review, or sign up using the button below.
Scotia iTrade – Excellent for Traders Who Like Scotiabank
Like most of the big banks, Scotia’s trading product is an elite one. The platform is modern and integrates very easily with all other Scotia products so you get a very good ‘all in one’ solution for your financial needs.
Scotia iTrade is particularly attractive for those who want to deposit large amounts of money and be very active with their accounts. If you do that, then it somewhat mitigates the higher fees and the overall convenience and ease of use really shines through.
Scotia’s trading fees are higher than the top brokers on this list, but are on par with all the other big banks. The only real major downside is their mobile app – it got abysmal reviews and hasn’t been updated in a long while.
Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
The promise of low investing fees is attractive to everyone, but the concept of doing your own trading can also be quite intimidating.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be!
Part of what makes online trading platforms so enticing is that they really can work for everyone due to the fact that they are so customizable. Online trading platforms can work well for both active and passive investing. For those who are unsure of the difference between the two, active investing is a much more hands-on approach.
An active investor will try to pick and choose which stocks or bonds will perform best and trade accordingly. Passive investing, on the other hand, involving having a little piece of every company or bond in a market, rather than relying on a select few.
Passive investors usually rely on index investing (the couch potato strategy) when it comes to their investments and is seen as an effective long-haul investment strategy. For those interested in active investing, you will essentially have to become your own portfolio manager.
I should take a second to point out that if you really want the ultimate in low-maintenance hands-off investing (like many of my friends do) then the Wealthsimple robo advisor platform has really distinguished itself from the rest of the pack when it comes to instant portfolio solutions. You’ll pay more in fees than you would with a discount brokerage account, but it is still less than 25% of what you’d be paying with a typical Canadian mutual fund. They’ll even give you $50 cash when you open an account!
Becoming a successful active investor requires knowledge and understanding of the stock market. It also involves you needing to do your own research. It will take time and effort; however, if this is the strategy you wish to use and you are confident in your abilities, then using an online trading platform instead of a traditional financial planner can save you a lot of money. That being said, you don’t need to be an active investor to make an online trading platform work for you.
You can also use them for passive and index investing which doesn’t require the same amount of expertise or commitment. If you want to copy the same index investing strategy as a robo advisor, you absolutely can; no one will stop you. That being said, using an online trading platform will require slightly more time and effort than a robo would but, again, you are saving yourself money in terms of the fees so it just might be worth your time.
Using an online trading platform does not necessarily mean you need to be trading on a regular basis; 4 times a year is enough if that’s your preferred strategy. However, you do need to be interested and disciplined enough to keep up with your research, as nobody else will step in to help you if you take this approach.
Are Online Trading Platforms Safe?
When it comes to managing your finances online, there are always questions about safety. Doing anything online comes with some risks, including identity theft, malware or viruses, phishing schemes, and data breaches.
Obviously, all of these risks are quite serious business – especially when it comes to your personal information and money! However, you can rest easy knowing that all of Canada’s online brokers go to great lengths to protect both their websites, as well as their clients.
Common broker security measures include the following:
- SSL encryption
- Ultra-secure servers
- Two-step authentication process when logging in
- Automatic logout
- Regular system monitoring
Of course, it’s not just up to the online broker. You need to be cautious as well. If you are investing online (or sharing any personal information online, really), you should take the following steps to better protect yourself online.
- Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computer
- Use strong passwords that are hard to guess
- Take advantage of two-factor authentication when offered
- Always be mindful of who is around when you are entering your account information. As much as possible, this should be done when you are alone at home. If you need to step away from the computer, make sure to log out first.
At the end of the day, yes, investing online does have risks, it’s not typically seen as a risky activity. As mentioned above, there are plenty of security measures in place and procedures you should be following as well. It’s really just about being smart and cautious with your personal information.
Is Qtrade Safe?
I think most Canadians understand intrinsically that a company like BMO is safe. Afterall, the massive bank has been around for over two hundred years, and is one of the biggest businesses in Canada. People assume that their money will be safe.
Fewer Canadians have heard of our top choice for 2021.
The bottom line is that Qtrade has all of the internet safety measures that are described above, but additionally, they have the same CIPF-insurance backed accounts that BMO and other big banks enjoy.
What is the CIPF you might ask? The Canadian Investor Protection Fund is essentially an insurance coverage that the Canadian government has in place in case a brokerage company goes bankrupt (aka “insolvent”). It covers each Canadian investment account up to $1 Million. That’s per account. So you could have a $1 Million TFSA, $1M RRSP, $1M non-registered, etc.
So even if the company was in trouble (which it isn’t – since it’s owned by Canadian financial conglomerate Avisio Wealth), your personal assets would still be safe – just like BMO, TD, RBC, etc.
Qtrade is in exactly the same boat.
Now, it shouldn’t need stating, but I’m going to say it here anyway: No brokerage account or financial advisor can protect you against basic investment risk!
The Canadian online broker can keep your information safe from being hacked, there are steps that can be taken to minimize vulnerability to fraud, and the CIPF will protect your assets from a company that is in trouble – but there are no guarantees when you invest in stocks, bonds, ETFs, or commodities. Again, this might be obvious to you – but you wouldn’t believe the questions that end up in our inbox sometimes!
Top Discount Brokerage Promo Offer Codes for 2021
Open an account today, invest $25,000 and get a $50 Visa gift card + up to $150 in credit to offset any transfer-out fees charged by your current broker!
Deposit more than $25,000 by March 1st, 2021 and get up to $2,000 on your Visa gift card!
Use our exclusive BMO Investorline promo offer code: MDJCASH to receive cash back offers based on your initial deposit:
For the minimum deposit of $50,000 you will get $100 cash back, with tiered bonuses going all the way to $2000 cash back for deposits of $1M or more.
Sign up with Questrade to get $50 in free trades.
When combined with Questrade’s free purchasing of ETFs (notably not free selling as well) Questrade continues to be the low-cost leader, and one of the best brokers in Canada.
Comparing Canadian Stock Broker Trading Fees for ETFs and Stocks
Everyone is looking for low investing fees in Canada, and there’s no doubt that online discount brokerages offer the best rates relative to mutual funds and even robo advisors. But, just how much better off are you with a discount broker? Let’s take a look.
Fees to Trade ETFs: When it comes to ETFs we need to remember that even though a few of the online brokerages mentioned in this article offer free ETFs to buy, you do need to pay a fee to sell. Here’s a breakdown of ETF fees among our selected discount brokerages.
- Qtrade: $0 – Free to buy or sell the top 100
- Questrade: $0 to buy, $4.95-$9.95 to sell
- BMO InvestorLine: $9.95 to buy and sell
- TD Direct Investing: $9.95 to buy and sell
- RBC Direct Investing: $9.95 to buy and sell
ECN Fees: Another fee that you will want to keep in mind are ECN fees. So, what exactly is an ECN fee? ECN stands for Electronic Communication Network and these fees are essentially service charges that you will pay on your trades, although they can sometimes be avoided. Here’s what you can expect to pay in ECN fees with each respective online broker.
- Qtrade Investor: $0
- Questrade: $0.0008- $0.004 per trade
- BMO InvestorLine: $0
- Wealthsimple Trade: $0
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Canada has some of the highest investment fees in the world. This 2017 global study compared the investment fees and expenses in 25 different countries around the world. So, where did Canada fall on the scale?
At the bottom.
We paid the highest investment fees out of all the other developed countries on this list. When you read or hear stats like that, it’s really no wonder that more and more Canadians are becoming interested in taking the proverbial bull by the horns and getting into trading themselves rather than paying others to do it for them. After all, the end goal is to make money, not flush it away on unnecessary expenses.
Bottom Line: If you’re a passive investor or prefer to diversify through ETFs, you really can’t beat Qtrade’s free ETF policy. If dividend stocks or other individual stocks are more your thing then Questrade wins the cost battle.
Ultimate Summary of Canadian Discount Brokerages Fees and DRIP Options
In addition to trading fees, keep an eye on annual maintenance fees if you are below the minimum balance, and especially foreign exchange fees. Most discount brokers will hide the fee in the exchanged amount.
Some investors also like the simplicity of a Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP), and while it shouldn’t be a primary comparison point, we’ll including that in the feature table below as well (last update Dec. 28, 2020):
|$4.95 for up to 495 shares ($9.95 max) $9.95 per mutual fund trade ETFs are free to buy, reg commission to sell||Yes (for buying)||$0 for balance above $5k $19.95/ quarter if balance < $5k|
|Qtrade||$8.75/ trade or $6.95/ trade if assets > $500k||Yes (both selling and buying)||Both Canadian and U.S. DRIPS are offered free of charge|
|Scotia i-Trade (formally e-trade)||$24.99 or $9.99 /trade with $50k in assets or 30+ trades /quarter, $4.99/trade with 150+ trades /quarter||Yes (select group)||Yes|
|IB||Min $1 /USD trade. Max 0.5% of trade value ($0.005/ share)||No||$10 USD $50/year annual RRSP fee Min $10k to open an account|
|BMO InvestorLine||$9.95/ trade no minimum balance||No||$100/ yr if balance < $25k|
|RBC Direct Investing||$9.95/ trade no minimum balance $6.95/ trade if 150+ trades / quarter||No||$25 / quarter if balance < $25k|
|TD Direct Investing||$9.99/ trade no minimum balance $7/ trade if 150+ trades / quarter||No||$100 / yr if balance < $25k|
|Virtual Brokers||$0.01/share with cap of $9.99 + ECN fees||Yes (for buying)||$50/ yr if balance < $15k, $50/ yr for USD RRSP|
UPDATE: Due to popular demand, below is the foreign exchange fee/spread charged by each of the brokerages to convert your CAD->foreign currency.
|Brokerage||Forex Fee/Spread (each way)|
|i-Trade||1.5% (not confirmed)|
|IB||0.01% + 2.50USD|
|Qtrade||1.75% for < $10k, 1.60% for > $10k but < $25k|
The Best Discount Brokerage Mobile App in Canada
Since discount brokerages are online, it’s important to have a portal that is easy to use, read, and understand. Most (but not all) discount brokerages can be accessed online from your laptop or desktop as well as from an app on your phone. What you prefer to use is a personal choice, but apps help keep everything close and handy. After all, does anyone ever leave home without their phone anymore?
So, what’s the best Canadian online brokerage app? Again, based on my experience, I say Qtrade because it really lets you stay on top of everything all on one platform.
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