Questrade review: The best Canadian online brokerage

In 2019, there are no fewer than a dozen discount brokerages vying for the attention of Canadian investors; proof that online, do-it-yourself investing is alive and well. The field has become so competitive, in fact, that companies are constantly looking for ways to increase value to the client, through new products and services. One example is the addition of robo-advisor platforms, complete with fully managed, low fee investment portfolios. But therein lies the problem. With so many choices, how does one decide which online broker is best suited for them?

Here at RetireHappy, our top pick continues to be Questrade. As Canada’s largest independent online broker, their combination of low fees, a robust trading platform, and excellent customer service is pretty tough to beat. In fact, if you sign up with Questrade using our exclusive link, you’ll also receive $50 in free trades. While we always recommend that you do your own research, this Questrade review should cover most of what you need to know about Canada’s fast-growing online broker.

An overview of Questrade fees

Questrade’s top-selling feature has to be its low fees. For starters, you won’t pay an annual fee for any Questrade account, registered and non-registered . On the flip side, a number of big online brokers, including RBC and TD, charge as much as $100 for registered accounts, unless you meet their minimum household account balance. This can eat into your returns over the long run.

When it comes to commission fees on trades, Questrade has some of the lowest in the industry. Stock trades start as low as $4.95, plus $.01 per share (max $9.95), and there are no fees to buy exchange traded funds. This is a huge win for fee conscious ETF investors. For both stocks and ETFs, many of the big online brokers charge $9.95 per trade, placing Questrade well ahead of its competition.

Get Started with Questrade Today

You may notice that Questrade charges a quarterly inactivity fee of $24.95. No need to worry, as this can be easily avoided by making just one trade or $150 deposit per quarter. If your account balance exceeds $5,000, or you are 25 years of age or younger, the fee will also be waived.

Key Questrade benefits

  • $50 in free trades when you open a new account
  • Low minimum balance requirement of $1,000
  • No annual fee for both registered and non-registered accounts
  • No fees to buy ETFs
  • Stock trades starting as low as $4.95
  • Robust active trading platform, with preferred pricing
  • Managed ETF portfolios available through Questwealth
  • Socially Responsible Investing
  • Comprehensive trading platform, with IQ Web, and IQ Edge
  • Intuitive mobile app

Active trading with Questrade

For active traders, Questrade has plenty to offer. For starters, you can opt for one of two market data plans for a fee. These come with enhanced features, as well as fee rebates for investors whose commissions exceed a specific dollar amount per month. The advanced market data plan comes with preferred pricing on trades, as well as an option to choose fixed or variable pricing depending on your trading habits. While the basic trading features will be sufficient for most Questrade investors, it’s nice to know that they can accommodate more sophisticated, active traders.

Questrade market data plans

Let’s take a closer look at the market data plans previously mentioned. Set at two separate price points, it makes for a 3-tier platform. Here’s a breakdown of the three levels, along with what you can expect to get with each one.

Basic trading (free)

Most investors will be happy with basic trading on Questrade. Accounts are free, and you get the standard low fees, including stock trades as low as $4.95 and free ETF and mutual fund purchases. Questrade’s trading platform is very comprehensive, and they provide excellent customer support through an online live chat feature, that can be accessed from 8 AM – 8 PM, Monday to Friday. As well, all customers also have access to the Questrade mobile app, which is available for download on all iPhone and Android devices.

Tier 2 – Enhanced Market Data Plan ($19.95/month)

For a monthly fee of $19.95, the enhanced market data plan gives you everything that’s included with the basic tier, as well as more data add-ons, and live streaming features. Also, if you spend at least $48.95 in commissions in a given month, the $19.95 will be rebated back to you.

Tier 3 – Advanced Market Data Plan ($89.95/month)

The advanced tier is ideal for traders who are spending more than $100 on commissions every month. At this level, traders become eligible for Questrade’s active trader pricing, as well as multiple level live streaming data. As with the enhanced plan, you’ll receive a $19.95 rebate if you spend more than $48.95/month on commissions, and your entire monthly fee will be waived if commissions exceed $399.95

Questrade active trader pricing

Investors who have registered for the Advanced Market Data Plan have the choice of 2 active pricing options, Fixed, and Variable. Which one you choose will depend on the type of trading you do. With fixed pricing, stock trades are a flat $4.95/trade, regardless of the number of shares purchased. Options are priced at $4.95 + $.75 per options contract. As for ETFs, well, those are free to buy, and you can sell for only $4.95 per trade. Fixed pricing is geared to active traders who are frequently buying large volumes of shares.

If your investing strategy involves buying fewer shares of expensive stocks ie. certain hi-tech companies, then variable pricing may be your best bet. With variable, you pay $.01/share up to a maximum of $6.95. If you were only buying 100 shares of a company, for example, you would only pay $1.00 for the trade. This is where variable pricing can be advantageous, for smaller blocks of shares. Options are $6.95 + $.75 per contract. ETFs are still free to buy, but you can sell them for as little as $.01/share, up to a maximum of $6.95. As with stocks, if you sell ETFs in smaller volumes, the fees will be negligible if you choose variable pricing.

Questwealth portfolios

If DIY investing isn’t your thing, Questrade offers customized ETF portfolios through their robo-advising arm, Questwealth. They have a portfolio to fit whichever asset allocation is right for you – conservative, income, balanced, growth, or aggressive growth. Because your funds are invested in ETFs, Questwealth is able to keep the costs to a minimum, with MERs as low as .16%. Not only that, but all Questwealth portfolios are professionally managed and rebalanced where required, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

The fee structure is simple. You pay 0.25% per year on balances from $1,000-$99,999. On account balances of $100,000 and over, the fee drops to 0.20%. When compared with many active mutual fund portfolios charging MERs of more than 2%, it makes for huge cost savings.

Socially responsible investing with Questwealth

In addition to the five ETF portfolios I’ve mentioned above, Questwealth has a portfolio offering specifically for the socially conscious investor. These days, more and more Canadians want to hold investments that align with their values.

This has given rise to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), also referred to as sustainable or ethical investing.

In a nutshell, SRI portfolios focus on companies that are making a positive contribution towards social causes or the environment, while steering clear of stocks from sectors such as alcohol and tobacco, gambling, pornography, or weapons manufacturing. The MERs for Questwealth SRI portfolios are slightly higher than the regular ETFs (.21%-.35%), but are still very low when compared to actively managed mutual funds.

For more information on Socially Responsible Investing, check out this podcast episode with Tim Nash.

Questrade trading platforms

Questrade offers two trading platforms, one being web-based (IQ Web), the other a desktop version (IQ Edge). While IQ Web will be sufficient for most investors, IQ Edge comes with additional tools and functionality that active traders will appreciate.

Questrade IQ Web

With IQ Web, investors can customize watch lists and stock charts, and links to news and updates, making it easy to access market research information. For most traders, especially buy and hold ETF investors, it provides more than enough functionality to get the job done.

Questrade IQ Edge

IQ Edge will appeal more to active traders, with added customization, and features such as a dedicated options trading layout. It allows traders to place advanced orders, including various options strategies. There are more options when it comes to screen settings, which can make for a more user-friendly trading experience.

Questrade mobile app

In addition to IQ Web and IQ Edge, clients have the option of trading right from their smartphone via the Questrade Mobile App. The app is available on both IOS and Android devices. At one time, it was considered a bit clunky when compared to competitor offerings, but it’s undergone a number of changes in the past couple of years, and now runs quite smoothly. I use the mobile app to check the balances of my holdings, and sometimes to place trades.

Who is Questrade best suited for?

Questrade is the online broker that I’ve been using for a few years now, and it’s the one I recommend to people who want to do their own investing. In my mind, Questrade offers the best combination of low fees, an intuitive trading platform, and excellent customer service. Opening an account is a breeze, and help never far when you need it.

Open A Questrade Account

I think Questrade will appeal to anyone interested in low fee investing, specifically ETF investors. The fact that no other Canadian discount broker offers the same access to no-fee ETFs can’t be ignored. No annual fees on Questrade registered accounts such as RRSPs and TFSAs is another big bonus. There’s no need to worry about achieving and maintaining a high balance to save on fees. Overall, Questrade has an offering that’s pretty tough to beat.

Comments

  1. Deesha Chandan

    Hi Tom, thank you for your review on Questrade. I have been reading a lot about DIY investing and I wish to learn more so I can do it myself than paying an adviser. Would you have some tips for an amateur investor like me? I am based out of Alberta, Canada. I have been investing with WealthSimple (which I believe is in direct competition with Questrade). I am also contemplating to move to Questrade from WS. Would that be a sound financial decision? Any inputs form you are welcome and thank you for your time 🙂

    • Tom Drake

      Hi Deesha, while I recommend Questrade right now, WealthSimple has a very promising WealthSimple Trade platform that you might want to look into. I haven’t dived into it yet, as they just recently opened up options for investing within a TFSA and RRSP.

  2. Russell Lathwell

    I have accounts with both Quest trade and TD Waterhouse…the lower fees with Q obviously helps but….the inability or difficulty in contacting Q employees is worrisome. I had a security concern on a weekend earlier this year and attempted to make contact…he message I got was to email or call back during normal business hours. Hackers run 24/7.
    The TD Waterhouse call line is 24/7 and my on hold time is virtually nil. Because of this I advise my kids to go TDW its worth the slightly higher fees.

    • Tom Drake

      I’ve been lucky to not have any issues personally, but it certainly makes sense that the trade-off in price could be found in customer service. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Beverly Dahl

    I too have invested with WealthSimple, very recently, but am wondering if Questrade might be a better option for me.

    • Tom Drake

      I also really like Wealthsimple, it comes down to how hands-on you want to be with your investing. Wealthsimple will charge you 0.5% but you don’t have to worry about constructing an ETF portfolio or rebalancing it.

  4. vicky minich

    I have an account with QTrade. Is there a big difference between the two? I am an amateur. Tx

    Vicky

  5. Mike Martin

    I competency agree with your assessment of Questrade as I have been using them since 2009. IQEdge more than satisfies my needs as I only use a fraction of its capabilities. Since about 75% (a guess) of my trades are for options, I easily get the Enhanced Market Data Plan for free – still have to pay taxes on a “free” service though.

  6. Kul

    It may be best for just TFSA investment but not good for active traders ..IQ edge platform is not efficient as thinkorswim..I wouldn’t not recommend for option traders .. option trades are expensive then other broker. I am not sure when Canadian brokers would allow zero commission as US did.

  7. Mark

    What are the fees to switch from an RBC account?

    • Tom Drake

      I’m not sure what RBC charges, but if you’re transferring at least $25,000, Questrade will rebate up to $150 of the fee.

  8. Chris

    Obviously a paid advertisement. I’m not sure how anyone can compare Questrade to IB. IB fees are lower on every category you just mentioned. IB is by far the superiour trading platform, No ridiculous FX fees and the list goes on. And Questtrade does charge for inactive registered accounts.

    • Tom Drake

      Chris, I’ve used Questrade personally for a decade now and recommend them to others. I pointed out the inactivity fee and how to avoid it in the article.

  9. David

    What are the requirements for trading naked options?

  10. Robert Donley

    Hi Tom,
    I’ve been investing with Questrade for a few years now and am more than satisfied with all of the investing options and fees as you have pointed out. The one you did leave out are the Mutual Fund options. This was the reason that I consolidated all of my accts there. You can purchase virtually any Mutual Fund available in the F series, which is 1% lower that what any financial planner will charge you. You can also purchase low fee funds not available at bank brokerages such as Mawer and Steadyhand. The fees charged by Questrade are $9.95 per purchase irreguardless of the amount of units purchased. While I know the Robo Advisors and ETFs are all the rage these days, low fee mutual funds are a great option as well.
    Thanks Rob

    • Tom Drake

      Hi Robert, my blind spot as I’ve never purchased mutual funds through a broker. I’ll look into this and will include it in a future update!

  11. David Scott

    Tom,

    One fee you didn’t mention is that of ECN fees which often occur on any Questrade order, whether stocks, or free ETF buys. These fees can be avoided if you know and follow the rules, but understanding when they will or will not be charged can be difficult for inexperienced DIY’ers.

    • Tom Drake

      Great point, I’ll look to add it. What tips do you have for avoiding ECN fees?

  12. Rick Raynsford

    One thing to keep in mind with Questrade is that if you are buying stocks (U.S. ones for example) you are actually buying them on margin and will be charged interest. So it is best that you don’t keep foreign stocks for long. This is something that happened to me and I was unaware of it.

  13. Gary B

    Questrade fees are lower than some of the banks but nothing compares to Interactive Brokers (IB) in terms of low commissions. Also USD to CDN currency conversion is an issue — a direct conversion with QT costs ~ 2%…..I can do the same thing using the IB platform for $2 at the current bid/ask. I also don’t like the inactivity fees on small balances. I set up a TFSA for my daughter with < $10K with the idea that she would buy a long term ETF and just hold on to it. To avoid the inactivity fee she has to do a token trade every quarter so she doesn't get hit with a $25 fee. They should offer a starter account for this type of thing. That being said the IQEdge software works fine and allows me to do pretty much everything I need.

    • Tom Drake

      Hi Gary, The currency conversion is an issue but can be danced around with the complicate Norbert’s Gambit.

      Your daughter’s TFSA shouldn’t receive an inactivity fee if there’s at least $5000 in her account, or she’s under 26.

  14. Rhea Rose

    How does Quest trade compare to Scotiabank’s itrade?

    • Tom Drake

      iTrade does offer some commission-free ETFs, but if you’re looking to buy stocks, then it’s $9.99 per trade.

  15. Bruce

    I have been a satisfied Questrade customer since 2004.
    Family members now have accounts there too.
    Margin (CDN and US) TFSAs, RESPs.
    We have ditched all our other (non Questrade) trading accounts and all advisors except one.
    Do a couple dozen trades each year and have watched everything grow.
    Questrade provides excellent service and does not hassle you.
    None of us have any relation with Questrade other than busines.

  16. Henry

    I have experience with RBC, TDW, iTrade and Questrade. The Questrade website is by far the least intuitive to use of the bunch. Also, their monthly reports (online versions not paper) take 18-21 days after the end of the month to be available. Compare that with 4-7 days for the other three brokerages. That’s an insane amount of time in the age of computers. They also have limited hours of support so getting help may take more time. One other point to note is that they do not pay any interest on cash in the account (same as RBC and iTrade) and using any high interest savings account will ding you with more fees that any interest you will earn (that’s how I get around this with RBC, TDW and iTrade since all mutual funds are free to buy and sell).

  17. Bruce G

    I agree with Chris. The moment I saw the ‘save $50 by signing up now’ it was clear this was an advertisement. The repetition of the fee structure was over-played and clearly a marketing move. Normally I enjoy these articles but Jim, you sold out by publishing this author’s article in my opinion.

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