Discount Brokers Explained: How They Work, Types, and Examples


Curious about discount brokers and how they differ from full-service brokers? This comprehensive article will provide a detailed explanation of what a discount broker is, their advantages, and when to consider them. We’ll also touch on their presence in various industries. Let’s explore the world of discount brokers.

What is a discount broker?

A discount broker is a stockbroker who carries out buy and sell orders at reduced commission rates compared to a full-service broker. However, a discount broker does not provide investment advice or perform analysis on a client’s behalf, unlike a full-service broker.

The evolution of discount brokers

Before the emergence of better communications technology, only individuals with a far above average annual income could afford a broker and access the stock market. However, the Internet has brought an explosion of discount online brokers that allow individuals with smaller capital to trade for lower fees and with less capital. In terms of the stock market, most discount brokers operate through online platforms. As a result, a discount broker is nearly synonymous with online brokerages.

Understanding discount brokers

Discount brokers carry out orders at less cost, but they typically just execute orders for their clients. These brokers do not offer personal consultations, advice, research, tax planning, and estate planning services for customers. The lack of these services, and because they do not spend money closing deals with high-net-worth individuals, means that discount brokers can offer lower fees. Additionally, most discount brokers operate their businesses online where the overheads are low. So low, in fact, that beginning in 2019, many discount brokers even went so far as to forego commissions altogether for certain types of securities.

Services provided by discount brokers

In the securities industry, discount brokerages provide clients with their own accounts to enter orders for execution. These investors usually do not interact with a live broker. If they do, the communication is minimal and only engaged in trade executions. The services provided by discount brokers are aimed at self-directed traders and investors, and the electronic trading platforms are built in a way that is beneficial for active traders with charting and position monitoring services.

Choosing between full-service and discount brokers

Whether an investor opts for a discount broker or a full-service broker depends on their investing knowledge, market experience, financial goals, and current financial status. Since commissions typically take a healthy chunk out of investment and trading returns, some individuals opt to go for products offered by discount brokers instead.

Who should choose discount brokers?

Discount brokers are particularly useful to investors and traders who actively buy and sell securities on a frequent basis. Investors who frequently trade benefit from the lower commissions discount brokers charge. Investors who don’t need advice, have small portfolios, or just want their trades executed are also usually better off using discount brokers.

Discount brokers in other industries

Discount brokers can also be found in the real estate and other financial services fields. Discount brokers in the real estate industry help individuals buy and sell properties. These discount brokers also have access to the same home listings as full-service real estate agents and help clients to access that directly for a fee, but they do not take the client through the purchase as a traditional realtor would.

Discount brokers may also sell insurance products—although, again, they do not provide professional financial advice. In general, if you know exactly what you need and want, you can probably find a discount broker that will do as you instruct for less money than an advice-oriented broker would charge.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of using a discount broker.

  • Cost-Efficient: Discount brokers offer significantly lower commission fees, saving traders money on each trade.
  • Self-Directed: Ideal for self-directed traders and investors who prefer managing their investments independently.
  • Wide Range of Securities: Discount brokers typically offer access to various securities, including stocks, bonds, ETFs, options, and mutual funds.
  • Online Platforms: Most discount brokers operate online, providing easy access to trading platforms and research tools.
  • Useful for Active Traders: Active traders who frequently buy and sell securities can benefit from the low trading costs.
  • Educational Resources: Many discount brokers offer educational materials to help traders improve their skills.
  • Flexibility: Investors can choose from a variety of discount brokers, allowing them to find the one that best suits their needs.
  • Lack of Personalized Advice: Discount brokers do not provide investment advice or personalized financial services, which may be a drawback for some investors.
  • Minimal Support: Communication with live brokers is limited, primarily focused on trade executions, which may not meet the needs of all investors.
  • Additional Fees: While commission fees are lower, discount brokers may have other fees, such as account maintenance or inactivity fees.
  • No Hand-Holding: If you’re a beginner or require extensive guidance, you might find the DIY approach of discount brokers challenging.
  • Transfer Costs: If you decide to switch from a full-service broker to a discount broker or vice versa, you may incur transfer fees.
  • Account Minimums: Some discount brokers may have minimum deposit requirements, which can be a barrier for those with limited funds.

Frequently asked questions

What is the primary difference between a discount broker and a full-service broker?

The main difference lies in the services offered. Discount brokers focus on executing orders at lower costs and do not provide investment advice or personalized financial services, while full-service brokers offer a wide range of services, including advice and research.

Why are discount brokers popular among active traders?

Active traders prefer discount brokers because of their lower commission fees, making it cost-effective for frequent trading. Additionally, the online platforms provided by discount brokers are tailored to the needs of active traders.

When should I consider using a discount broker?

You should consider a discount broker if you have a good understanding of your investment strategy, do not require extensive advice, and are looking to save on commission costs. They are suitable for self-directed investors with smaller portfolios.

Are discount brokers suitable for long-term investors?

Discount brokers are more commonly associated with active trading, but they can also be a cost-effective choice for long-term investors. If you’re a hands-on, self-directed long-term investor, using a discount broker can help you minimize fees while managing your investments.

What types of securities can I trade with a discount broker?

Most discount brokers offer a wide range of securities for trading, including stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), options, and mutual funds. Make sure to check with your chosen discount broker to confirm the specific securities they support.

How do I open an account with a discount broker?

Opening an account with a discount broker typically involves providing personal information, proof of identity, and financial details. You’ll also need to fund your account. The process may vary slightly between brokers, so it’s advisable to visit their website or contact their customer service for detailed instructions on account setup.

Do discount brokers provide any educational resources for traders?

Many discount brokers offer educational resources, such as webinars, articles, and tutorials, to help traders improve their skills and knowledge. These resources can be especially helpful for beginners and those looking to expand their trading expertise.

Key takeaways

    • Discount brokers execute buy and sell orders at reduced commission rates compared to full-service brokers.
    • They do not provide investment advice or analysis for clients.
    • Discount brokers have become a significant part of the fintech industry, especially in online trading.
    • Investors choose between full-service and discount brokers based on their financial knowledge, goals, and trading frequency.
    • Discount brokers are ideal for active traders who frequently buy and sell securities.
    • Discount brokers are also present in real estate and insurance industries, offering services without extensive financial advice.
View article sources
  1. Steagall at Discount Brokerage Services – University of Michigan Law School
  2. Transforming the Financial Brokerage Industry – Harvard University
  3. 1ST DISCOUNT BROKERAGE, INC. – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  4. Compare Brokerage Accounts – SuperMoney
  5. Brokerage Firms: Everything You Need to Know – SuperMoney