Interactive Brokers Review for 2021

By Baptiste Wicht | Updated: | Investing

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

Update July 2021: No more inactivity fees!

Interactive Brokers (IB) is an excellent broker. I have been using their services for about two years now. It is time to give my honest review of Interactive Brokers.

In this review, you will find all you need to know about Interactive Brokers, what you can do with IB, how much IB will cost you, and much more!

By the end of this review, you will know whether IB is a good broker for you or not!

What is Interactive Brokers?

My top pick
Interactive Brokers
5.0
No custody fees

Everything you need to buy stocks and ETFs, reliably and at extremely affordable prices. Trade U.S. stocks for as little as 0.5 USD!

Pros:
  • Extremely affordable
  • Wide range of investing instruments

Interactive Brokers (IB) is a well-established brokerage firm (a broker) from the United States. IB was founded in 1978 already.

Today, Interactive Brokers is a huge brokerage company. They are the largest trading platform in the United States. IB is also a profitable company with more than one billion US dollars in yearly revenue. IB is employing more than 1500 employees worldwide.

IB offers access to stocks, bonds, options, futures, and other financial instruments in the leading stock exchange of the world. You will have access to all the investing instruments you will ever need.

So, let’s see precisely what IB has to offer as a broker.

Interactive Brokers Account Types

Interactive Brokers offers two types of accounts.

The default account type is the Cash account. With this account, you can only trade with the money you have on the account. It is the account type I am using and the one that is good for most people.

The other account type is the Margin account. With this account, you can trade on margin. It means that you can buy stocks with money you do not have. So, IB will lend you money to trade on the stock market. And you will pay interest on the money loaned to you. Generally, with margin, you have a certain level of margin. For instance, if you 10K cash and a 4:1 margin, you will have 40K available.

For most people, a Cash account will be the best choice. If you do not know what margin is, do not think of getting a Margin account. If you do not know what you are doing, you could lose a lot of money. On the other hand, if you know what you are doing and want to use leverage, you can choose a Margin account.

Interactive Brokers Fees

In the long term, you need to reduce your fees. Investing fees are extremely important.

Interactive Brokers has two fee systems:

  • Fixed Fee System
  • Tiered Fee System

The fixed fee system is straightforward. You will pay a fixed fee for each exchange. For instance, you will pay 0.10% on transactions on the Swiss Stock Exchange (with a minimum of 10 CHF).

The tiered fee system is much more complicated. You will pay all the individual fees, such as clearing fees, trade reporting fees, and transaction fees. And the rules are different for each stock exchange.

A lot of people are turned away by the complexity of the tiered fee system. But for simple investors, the tiered system is often significantly cheaper. In all the calculations I did, the tiered fee system was always less expensive than the fixed system. So, if you want the lowest fees possible, you should opt for the tiered system.

I will not go into details about all the fees of Interactive Brokers because they are complex. But overall, the fees of IB are really low. For instance, here is a comparison I did for the best brokers in Switzerland:

Interactive Brokers is significantly cheaper than other brokers
Interactive Brokers is significantly cheaper than other brokers

When you compare with other brokers available in Switzerland, we can see that the fees of Interactive Brokers are excellent. If you trade a few times per month, your fees will be really low!

Custody / Inactivity Fee

Fortunately, there are no custody fees or inactivity fees at IB!

This is a great advantage of IB compared to most other brokers. Not only, they have great fees, but having no custody fees is awesome!

Negative Interest Rates

If you have more than 100’000 CHF in cash (not invested), you will pay negative interest rates on the sum higher than this amount. At the time of this writing, the negative interest rate is -1.06%.

You can get the current interest rate on this page.

Many people are worried when they start investing because IB shows a warning about CHF carrying a negative balance. But currently, this only applies to balances higher than 100K CHF, so no worries to be had.

Opening an account with Interactive Brokers

Opening an account with Interactive Brokers is not complicated, but it will take some time. The procedure asks many questions and has many steps.

First, they will ask for general information about you (name, address, and such). You will also need to select the type of account you want. This choice is essential. This step is also where you will choose the base currency of your account.

The second step of the procedure is to give financial information. IB will ask you how much money you have and how much experience you have with IB. And you will have to choose which instruments you want to invest in. Do not worry too much since you will be able to register new instruments later.

The next step is about accepting the terms and conditions of Interactive Brokers. I would recommend at least skimming through them. After this, they will ask for some proof of your identity and some extra information related to taxes.

Finally, you only need to fund your account for it to be complete. While this is not the most straightforward procedure out there, I do not think this is too complicated.

If you want more information on the process, I have a guide on how to create an Interactive Brokers account.

Using IB to trade

Interestingly, IB has many user interfaces:

  • The standard web application
  • The mobile application (IBKR Mobile)
  • The WebTrader web interface
  • The Trading Workstation (TWS) desktop application

So, there should be an interface for everybody!

You can do most things from all interfaces. For instance, you can trade stocks from each of these interfaces. The problem with IB is that many people have been talking bout the TWS interface. So, many beginners believe they should use it. But the TWS interface is the most complicated of these interfaces, by far.

I have never used the TWS application for trading. It is just too complicated for most investors. If you are a simple investor and invests in ETFs, you only need the Account Management interface. If you prefer phones, you can also use the IBKR Mobile application to trade as well.

Interactive Brokers - Trade from account management
Interactive Brokers – Trade from account management

From account management, you can trade everything you want. And you can also transfer money to and from your account. All these operations are relatively simple.

You can fund your account for free with a bank transfer. First, you will have to declare your bank account in IB, and then you can make a deposit. Withdrawals are working in the same way. You can only send money to accounts in your name. I never had any issues with either deposits or withdrawals.

If you want more information, I have a guide on how to fund your IB account and trade an ETF.

Is it safe?

You want your broker to be safe if you are going to invest a significant account of money. So, let’s look at the safety and security of IB.

Regulations

First, we can take a look at regulations. Depending on the country of the customers, Interactive Brokers has seven different legal entities. For instance, Interactive Brokers LLC works in the US while Interactive Brokers (U.K.) Limited works for European clients.

Each of these entities is regulated. For instance, the US Entity is regulated by the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), and the UK entity is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). So, overall, IB is extremely well-regulated.

Protections

On top of that, protection in case of bankruptcy is also critical. Again, your protection with IB will depend on where you are domiciled. The SIPC will protect US Investors. SIPC protects your assets up to 500K USD. On the other hand, SIPC will only protect your cash up to 250K USD.

For European investors, it is a bit more complicated than that.  Your protection will depend on what you are trading. With forex, CFDs, and non-US options and futures, you are protected by the FCA, up to 85K GBP. For stocks, bonds, funds, and US options, you are protected by the SIPC, up to 500K USD (cash is only protected with 250K USD).

Again, you have good protection against bankruptcy with Interactive Brokers.

If you want to learn more, I have an entire article about broker bankruptcy.

Technical security

Finally, technical security is also essential.

With Interactive Brokers, you will have strong technical security. All the communications with the server are encrypted. But all honest brokers are using encrypted traffic.

Most importantly, you can use Two-Factor Authentication for your account. For that, you will be able to use the IBKR Mobile Application. Every time you log in from the web interface, you will have to confirm the login and enter one more code on your phone. This second factor adds a great layer of security to your account.

So, Interactive Brokers has excellent security!

My Experience with IB

I started investing with Interactive Brokers when DEGIRO suddenly blocked access to US ETFs to Swiss Investors. Since then, I have been extremely happy with Interactive Brokers.

My entire stock portfolio is in my IB account. I am buying new shares of ETFs every month from the default web interface. I have tried other interfaces as well. The IBKR Mobile application is very well done. But I generally prefer using my desktop computer rather than my phone.

Interactive Brokers Account Management Interface
Interactive Brokers Account Management Interface

I am doing everything from the Account Management interface. This interface suits all my needs. With time, I have learned to ignore most of the features of the tool. I only need a few features for my trading. And IB fits my needs perfectly well.

Since I sometimes get paid in USD, I can wire them directly to my Interactive Brokers account. That way, I do not have to pay any currency exchange fees. And that way, I can directly invest the money.

Since I have reached the 100K threshold on my account, I have paid minimal fees. I wish I had started to use Interactive Brokers directly. For serious people, it does not make sense to worry about 10$ per month in custody fees. This fee will be insignificant in the long term.

Overall, I am happy with my experience with IB. I never had an issue with the broker. All my transfers reached IB very quickly. When I need to withdraw money for my downpayment, I did not get any issues either. And all my trades have been perfectly executed. The reporting on the web interface is also exactly what I need. I can only recommend IB!

IB Reputation

It is essential to look at a broker’s reputation before using it to invest in the stock market.

As a source of review, I always use TrustPilot. So, let’s look at the reviews of IB on TrustPilot. On average, users are rating IB at 3.3 stars. Before looking at this, I was expecting a higher score. So, let’s look at what people are complaining about.

First of all, let’s look at what people do not like with IB. we can categorize most of the negative reviews into two categories:

  • Poor user interfaces. It takes a while to get used to the user interfaces of IB. But after some time, it is straightforward to use.
  • Poor customer service. It seems that many people have issues getting help from customer service. I cannot comment on that since I have never used their customer service. But I know people in Switzerland that did and never had issues with them.

Overall, I am not too worried about these negative comments. A lot of them do not seem serious. And many of them seem like people pissed off at making mistakes with the platform. But of course, it would be better if they are fewer negative reviews.

One good thing is that the majority of the reviews (39%) are rated at five stars. So, let’s look at what positive reviews are saying:

  • Excellent customer service. It is interesting to note that there are both negative and positive reviews on IB’s customer service.
  • Excellent fee system
  • Excellent order execution
  • Good platforms

So, we can see that overall the reviews are mixed for IB. I think it comes from the fact that it takes a while to get used to it. Once you get used to it and you focus only on the things you need, IB is quite simple to use.

Interactive Brokers Pros

Let’s summarize the main advantages of Interactive Brokers:

  • A vast range of investments
  • Very low fees
  • No custody or inactivity fees
  • Very professional service
  • Offers US ETFs to Swiss Investors
  • Good overall reputation
  • Long experience
  • Excellent security

Interactive Brokers Cons

Let’s summarize the main disadvantages of Interactive Brokers:

  • It can be intimidating at first
  • Too many user interfaces
  • Customer service has a bad reputation

Interactive Brokers vs DEGIRO

For European investors, DEGIRO is another interesting alternative. So, it is interesting to compare these two brokers.

The first main difference between the two brokers is that only Interactive Brokers offers access to US ETFs to Swiss investors. It means that if you invest with DEGIRO, you will have to invest in inferior European funds. It will make a  significant difference in the performance of your portfolio. This single difference makes IB a much better choice than DEGIRO for Swiss investors.

But we can also look at the fees of both brokers. There are a few differences between DEGIRO and IB:

  • IB is much cheaper for the American Stock Market
  • DEGIRO is very slightly cheaper for the European Stock Market
  • IB is much cheaper for Foreign Exchange (FOREX)

For the features part, there are a few differences as well. IB is also a FOREX broker so that you can hold many currencies in your account. And foreign currency exchanges are cheap. On the other hand, DEGIRO offers automatic currency exchanges when you buy and sell, but it is significantly more expensive than IB (unless you do tiny conversions).

For the user interface, DEGIRO is slightly easier to use than IB. On the other hand, IB has many more features. But, likely, simple investors will not need many of these features.

Also, there is another difference in share lending. By default, DEGIRO will lend your shares to other investors. If you do not want that, you will have to opt for the Custody account, but you will then pay a fee on dividends. On the other hand, IB will not lend your shares by default. But with IB, you can choose to do that, and then IB will give you some share of the profits. I believe IB’s approach is much superior by not lending your shares by default.

Finally, IB was established in 1978, while DEGIRO only started offering brokerage accounts to retail investors in 2013. So, IB has more extensive experience.

So, overall, Interactive Brokers is a much better broker than DEGIRO. You will be able to access US ETF if you are Swiss. And you will be able to get excellent service at very low prices.

If you want more details, I have two comparison articles for you:

Conclusion

My top pick
Interactive Brokers
5.0
No custody fees

Everything you need to buy stocks and ETFs, reliably and at extremely affordable prices. Trade U.S. stocks for as little as 0.5 USD!

Pros:
  • Extremely affordable
  • Wide range of investing instruments

Overall, Interactive Brokers is an excellent broker. Their fees are incredible, and their service is top-notch. If you want a professional broker at a very fair price, Interactive Brokers should be your choice.

Since they are still offering US ETFs to Swiss investors, Interactive Brokers is currently the best broker for Swiss investors. If you want to optimize your portfolio, no other broker even comes close.

I have been using Interactive Brokers for more than two years now. I am pleased about IB, and I plan to continue using it for a long time. IB is the broker I am currently recommending to Swiss investors. And it is also an excellent choice for European investors.

If you are interested in IB, I have a guide on how to open an IB account.

What about you? What do you think of Interactive Brokers?

Baptiste Wicht is the author behind thepoorswiss.com. In 2017, he realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut on his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

124 thoughts on “Interactive Brokers Review for 2021”

  1. Poor Swiss,
    I’ve read several of your posts regarding investing and interactive brokers. As an American what stocks, etfs, and mutual funds can I purchase on the Swiss exchange while residing in the U.S? What does the Swiss government expect in Taxes? My experience so far is etfs, mutual funds all not available for purchase though interactive brokers.
    Thank you,
    Poor American

    1. Hi,

      Normally, you should be able to access all stocks and ETFs from the Swiss Stock Exchange even as an American. As for mutual funds, I would not be surprised if they are indeed restricted.
      As for taxes, I am no expert, but I would say that you would not have to pay taxes in Switzerland if you invest in Swiss shares from abroad. But if you want to be sure, you will need to consult a tax advisor or lawyer.

  2. Dear all

    I just opened an IB account and intend to buy a US ETF on a two monthly basis for 500 CHF.
    Basis currency is CHF and of course then I need USD to buy the VTI.
    Tiered pricing is then only 0.35 cents times 6 = USD 2.10 for the whole year.

    HOWEVER, each time I need to exchange USD, I always heard that the exchange fee is super low at IB. In my case at the moment it will each time deduct me USD2 only for exchanging CHF500 into USD. Is that right? Do I do something wrong or how can I optimise that? Its good to have low 0.35 cents, however plus the 2 USD which then equals to 2.35 usd, cost is 0.47% otherwise would be 0.07% (only the 0.35).

    Investing CHF500 is the max at the moment.

    1. Hi Tom,

      Even 0.40% is a great fee for Switzerland. The best broker in Switzerland has a 0.5% fee and the average is 1%.
      But it’s true that a flat fee means that the lower amounts are more expensive. On the other hand, the fee is 0.2% only on 1000 CHF and 0.02% on 10K CHF, which is nothing.
      If you want to save money, you will have to invest less often but I would not recommend it.

  3. Thanks for this nice content, Mr. ThePoorSwiss

    I have a question regarding the currency to buy a VWRL (Vanguar FTSE All-World):

    My base currency on IB is CHF as I’m a swiss resident. I wouldn’t buy the VWRL in CHF because of the low trading volume. So the question is whether i should buy in EUR or USD.

    I believe that it would make more sense to buy in USD as the companys in the ETF invests in USD and the divends are payed out in USD anyway. If I would buy in EUR there would be 2 currency conversions: CHF->EUR (made by myself) and EUR->USD (ETF) so I would have more currency risks because of the EUR conversion.

    As I don’t know whether I will live in Switzerland or Germany in 5-10 years, it’s maybe better to buy the ETF in USD?

    Thanks for your advice
    Toni

    1. Hi Toni,

      Actually, if you are Swiss and using IB, you should try to buy VT rather than VWRL because it’s more tax-efficient.
      In your case, I would buy in USD because it’s the fund currency. But it makes very little difference. I would not buy it in CHF.
      You would be exposed to EUR if you buy it in EUR, so this is not useful if you are not intending to use the EUR.

  4. Hi there, could you please give us an advise on how to buy each time the etfs, like vt at a low price? My problem is every time I see it gets down, I would like to buy, but, I have my chf and have to exchange currencies, so this 2 usd fee is killing me alive. How often do you buy and fund in ibk? have you develop an strategy to try to buy the ETFs when at lowest price without having to pay for many fees and without having to compromise your cash (hedge) quantity?
    Also, is there a way to have your chf not in the form of stock, fluctuating with the currency exchange? I see my chf currencies are losing value every time the chf gets down against usd…
    thanks

    1. Hi Cris,

      My strategy is extremely easy: I buy stocks the day after my salary when my transfer arrives from my salary to my broker. That’s it. There is no point trying to time the market if you have a long-term horizon.

      I don’t understand your second question. Your CHF should not fluctuate with currency exchange if your base currency is CHF.

  5. Dear Poor Swiss,

    Thanks for your review on Interactive Brokers, I am about to open an account, main purpose is to buy ETFs from UK so that I pay less tax on annual dividends, only 15% vs 30% if buy ETFs from USA. Do you have such issues?

    If I opened an account, say, in Singapore, can I buy/sell ETFs at any exchanges? Any limitations?

    Thanks

    David

  6. I have recently opened IB account and was informed that Swiss retail investors cannot trade US ETFs unless one is classified as a professional investor. However, I am reading that people are still trading US ETFs. I have actually opened IB account to be able to trade US ETFs. Any help?

    1. Hi Kani,

      That’s not correct, Swiss investors do not need to be professional investor at this time to trade U.S. ETFs. This may come in the future, but it’s not yet in action.
      Do you have a IB UK account?

      1. Yes. And this is what I received from IB customer service.
        Account Settings > MiFID Client Category. >

        To my further message that I am a Swiss resident, they replied

      2. Yes, I recently opened it.
        This is a part of the reply I got from IB customer service. They also provided the criteria to be classified as a professional investor.

  7. Hi TPS!

    Thank you for this great article, and your whole blog in general! I find it very informative and is always a stop when looking for information in CH.

    I am an EU citizen living in CH (so my reference currency are more EUR and CHF) interested in investing in ETFs, mostly if not all American-originated ETFs (but with denominations also in EUR).

    In your article it seems you refer to the US-based branch of IB. However, I have seen IB has branches in EU countries as well.

    My question is: is there any reason to prefer the US-based branch versus any of the EU-based?

    E.g. I have seen than in the US-based branch stocks, bonds, funds, and US options are protected by the SIPC up to 500K USDs. This would be a good reason to go for the US-based.

    Are there other reasons in terms on fees, costs, etc. to choose one or another?
    Do you know if the SIPC covers ETFs too? I guess so.

    Kind regards

    1. Hi Epoxy,

      Thanks :)

      I am actually referring to the UK version, not the U.S. version. You can’t open an account with the U.S. version if you are in Europe.
      * The SIPC protection also applies to the U.K. version and they do cover ETFs

      The U.K. version has two advantages over the other European versions: access to U.S. ETFs and better protection in case of bankruptcy.

  8. Nice to see that they removed the monthly inactivity fees. It makes IBKR much easier to recommend to people that want to invest below 100k.

  9. Dear Poor Swiss,

    IKBR introduced a zero custody fee. That makes in my opinion the best broker. Thanks for the content and all the valuable info you provide here on the website!!!

    Stay the course and invest :-)

    All the best,

    Szymon

  10. First time I am annoyed by your recommendation, poor Swiss.
    Interactive Brokers turned out to be a nightmare for me.
    Lessons learnt:
    1) Don’t start with a Family (F) Account: You cannot even use their Client Portal and need to settle with the WebTrade platform – Java-based (outdated version) and slow.
    2) Don’t fund your Family (F) Account: You cannot use that money for actual transfers.
    3) Don’t rely on the support advice by the offshore Live Chat team: They had me convert in the wrong currency and I got interest charged for two months – in the F account!
    4) You need to buy and sell FX manually – and not all currency pairs are available to you (like CHF.CAD for example). A huge waste of money to triangulate and then to learn that…
    5) You can no longer (!) buy EFTs on NOAM stock exchanges as of this writing. So, they included in Swiss customers in MiFiD now.

    Especially with the last drawback, IBKR is no longer worth the pain. It’s outdated, it’s shit – unless you like linking your portfolio to Seeking Alpha and pay another USD 15 there for the same Dividend King subscriptions day in day out.

    Long story short: IBKR turned out to be a nightmare. Stick to Degiro. If you want to buy NOAM EFTs, buy the puts on the EFT and then cash in.

    Did I mention that they charged me interest after instructing a transfer in the wrong currency?
    Right, I did, well, IBKR is shit.

    1. Hi Gene,

      Sorry to hear about your experience.

      1) 2) I never used family accounts, but it sounds really bad indeed. I will have to research that more.
      4) While it is still manual, there is a feature to convert any currency directly without having to look for CHF.CAD directly. This is much simpler and works well.
      5) What’s NOAM? North America? I bought some shares of VT today, so it’s definitely still possible to buy shares of U.S. ETFs.

      I never had an issue with IB so far.

      1. My two cents:
        4.) That’s the only broker I know that offers manual FX conversion. All the others do it for you… for a 0.25%-1.00% fee. IB charges about $2.5 flat. I prefer the fees over minor convenience.
        5.) Apart from “what’s NOAM?” I’d also ask “What are EFTs?”.

    2. An F-account is not a family account, these are two distinct things.

      The F-Account is an account you automatically have when opening an account at IBKR UK for trading metals and CFDs (see here: https://www.interactivebrokers.com/en/software/am/am/manageaccount/tradingukcfdsandmetals.htm ).

      Family accounts work like having several individual accounts where one account is like the adminstrator and can trade, transfer funds etc. and the other(s) can only view their account. This is not an F-account but you should just have several regular account numbers, but I wouldn’t know for sure.

      Currency transfer is manual but can be easily done in the web app or mobile app, the Java-tool is much more complicated and feels really outdated. All currencies are available, if you can’t find a pair you can invert it (so CHF.CAD instead of CAD.CHF sometimes the search only works one way) and instead of buying you would then sell the currency (or vice-versa). The flat 2$ fee is so much cheaper than any (hidden) fee anywhere else that it is worth the hassle and once done for the first time really easy to continue.

      I can still buy VT and other US-stocks on a US exchange. Maybe they have changed this for new members only or maybe you are with IBKR Luxemburg instead of UK. You can check in your account summary (html or pdf). Or maybe only new customers are affected by this. There was – I believe it was the Mustachian forum – some rumors that by 2022/2023 IBKR UK must not allow Swiss residents to buy US-ETFs nevertheless but I am not sure if that is more than a rumor.

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