Investing in the market used to require a dedicated workstation with reports and research piled high, from where you would call in your stock picks like a general ordering an air strike. Today the ubiquity of smartphones has made investing only a little more complicated than ordering a pizza, a level of convenience that makes it easier than ever for Americans to start putting their money to work in the market.
But with investment apps sprouting like mushrooms in the iOS and Android app stores, each claiming to offer the lowest fees and tons of cutting-edge market research, it’s not easy to choose which one is right for you. Finding an investment app you’ll be happy with requires matching your investment strategy and habits with the app that fits best. We’ve done some of the leg work for you by evaluating the most highly-regarded investing apps out there.
Whether or not you’re an active investor has less to do with the volume of trading in which you engage — although that’s a factor — and more with how willing you are to dive into the nitty-gritty of picking specific investments. If you love to make individual stock picks and spend hours poring over news and rumors about where the market may move next, you’re likely an active investor.
|Apps||Fee per trade||Account Minimum|
While lacking the storied history of J.P. Morgan, Robinhood has achieved a great deal of fame in a short amount of time, thanks in part to its zero-fee trades. However, don’t expect this app to hold your hand with research materials and educational tools, as Robinhood is focused on the basics, which means there’s not much to do on the app besides trade.
This app is good for: The biggest selling point of Robinhood is the lack of a fee per trade, meaning it should appeal to either beginning investors looking to get their feet wet or experienced stock traders wanting a handy way to move a large volume of trades on the go.
This app is bad for: Investors hoping for a lot of depth in the securities they can trade or types of accounts available will be disappointed by Robinhood — currently you can only invest in basic securities and taxable accounts (meaning no IRAs). Also if you need any sort of guidance about which stocks to invest in, you won’t receive it from Robinhood.
A broker with more than 70 years of experience, Fidelity offers a mobile app that’s the equivalent of keeping a miniaturized broker in your jeans’ pocket. The app gives account holders access to the day’s news regarding the market, a snapshot of how your investments are performing, the ability to trade at the push of a button and even an option to call a real broker if you need a consultation.
This app is good for: Investors looking for a full-service broker offering a wide variety of securities to trade should take a hard look at Fidelity‘s mobile app. Given the lack of account fees and the reasonable $0.00 per trade, this app will likely hit the sweet spot for investors wanting the full investment experience while on the go.
This app is bad for: Those looking for an ultra cheap fee per trade may be disappointed with Fidelity‘s $0.00 fee.
Stockpile’s unique offering is the ability to buy gift cards of stock for individual companies, allowing you to pass along the cards to a lucky recipient. It’s a clever way for parents to get their children started investing at the next birthday party, but Stockpile also has a mobile app that allows customers to trade stocks and ETFs. Stockpile allows you to invest in fractional shares, but the variety of securities is limited compared to what you can get with other brokers.
This app is good for: True novices who want to begin dabbling with investing or those investors interested in fractional stocks. Investors happy with the stocks and ETFs available from Stockpile and want to engage in lots of trading will also be happy with the $0.99 per trade fee, one of the lowest available.
This app is bad for: Any investor who wants a robust list of securities to choose from.
One of the original discount brokers, Charles Schwab still offers its customers a relatively low fee per trade while still providing plenty of bells and whistles expected of a larger broker. The Schwab Mobile app gives users a live news feed from CNBC, allows the trading of stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options, and lets you transfer funds between Schwab brokerage accounts.
This app is good for: Investors looking to trade with one of the most reputable discount brokers around and who need lots of research and education to help guide their trades.
This app is bad for: People who want to trade more exotic securities over a mobile app, such as foreign currencies.
Many investors aren’t looking to micromanage their investments and prefer a more passive approach. The apps offered by the brokers and robo-advisors below will allow you to select a portfolio or investment strategy for your money, which is managed automatically to help you achieve your goals.
|Robo-Advisors||Management Fee||Account Minimum|
|Acorns||$1 per month||$0|
Wealthfront provides a wide variety of account types, from IRAs to 529 college plans, which means that there is likely something for everyone. The relatively low fees associated with this robo-advisor, plus its ease of use and ability to show you all of your investment accounts (not just the ones you have at Wealthfront) at a glance makes it one of the world’s top robo-advisors.
This app is good for: Investors who don’t mind paying $500 to open an account and want to invest in funds with low expense ratios — Wealthfront promises none of their funds have expense ratios exceeding 0.16%.
This app is bad for: Individuals who do not want to commit to the account minimum. The $500 account minimum isn’t very expensive, but many of Wealthfront‘s competitors in the robo-advisor space have no account minimums. Those looking to get started in investing with the spare change in their pocket should look elsewhere.
The Personal Capital investment app takes the features of an investment advisor and the tracking and monitoring capabilities of a budgeting app, like Mint, to give you a holistic view of your net worth. Investing with Personal Capital means an actual human being will manage your portfolio, but that comes with higher fees than you would get with a robo-advisor.
This app is good for: Wealthy individuals looking for an app that provides the type of personal care and attention they would expect with the considerable size of the investment they are making.
This app is bad for: Obviously anyone who doesn’t have at least $100,000 to invest. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other great options for investors lacking a six-figure savings account.
One of the most alluring features of the M1 Finance robo-advisor is its fee structure — it has virtually no fees. That means you won’t pay an annual management fee or a fee per trade. Coupled with the low $100 minimum needed to start investing with the account, this price structure makes M1 Finance a good choice for those who want to start investing without having a lot of extra money lying around. With M1 Finance, you can either build a custom portfolio of stocks and ETFs, or choose from more than 80 expert portfolios managed by the app. In addition, you can invest in fractional shares.
This app is good for: Those looking for low fees will be happy with M1 Finance’s pricing, especially those who just want to invest in basic securities such as stocks and ETFs.
This app is bad for: Investors wanting to branch out beyond stocks and ETFs will be disappointed, as those are the only securities supported by M1 Finance’s platform. M1 Finance also lacks tax-loss harvesting, a money-saving feature commonly found with other robo-advisors.
The Acorns robo-advisor may be the ultimate “set it and forget it” app, with the idea being that the spare change from your everyday purchases ends up invested in your portfolio instead of gathering dust on your bedside table. Users who sign up for the app sync Acorns with their checking account and credit cards, and their purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar – the “spare change” going into a portfolio that you’ve already selected. If you want to start building retirement savings, Acorns Later is an IRA account that works in sync with the basic account functionality.
This app is good for: People who want to start investing but don’t really want to put any effort into it. Once you set it up, Acorns automatically takes care of investing your spare change so there’s no chance that you’ll forget to put your money to work.
This app is bad for: Those looking for either the cheapest pricing structure or the most control over their investments may not be happy with Acorns. $1 a month for the basic investment account doesn’t sound like a lot (and it’s not), but when represented as a percentage those 12 dollars a year can far exceed the 0.25% annual fee charged by Wealthfront, for example, depending on how much you invest.
Betterment has recently branched out into savings and checking accounts, but still remains focused on robo-advising for interested investors. Investing this way is completely passive — you’re not picking the ETFs in your portfolio, but trusting Betterment and its algorithm to make the right call based on the goals and preferences you share with the company. Investing $100,000 or more gets you access to Betterment’s premium account, which includes in-depth advice on investments outside of Betterment, plus consultations with an investment professional to build a plan for managing 401(k)s, real estate and individual stocks.
This app is good for: Passive investors who may also be interested in the savings and checking accounts Betterment is rolling out.
This app is bad for: Someone looking to fine-tune their investments beyond the options presented by Betterment.
The investing apps for hands-on investors reviewed above give you control over your investments anytime, anywhere. You can trade and sell investments with just a few taps on your phone screen.
Apps for hands-off investors offer low fees and manage your investments for you, removing some of the guesswork and confusion that plague beginning investors. These apps can choose investments that fit your goals, without requiring you to do tons of homework or research.
Micro-investing apps like Acorns and Stockpile lower the barrier to entry. Instead of needing hundreds or thousands of dollars to start investing, you can invest with very small amounts, in fractional shares. You can make small recurring deposits with your spare change, so you can invest without having to remember to set aside money each month.
Robo-advisors are based on algorithms that build and manage investment portfolios for online brokers and investment apps. Robo-advisor accounts may have lower account minimums and low fees, making them a low-cost choice for new investors. These accounts automatically rebalance your investments as needed to take advantage of market changes, helping you build wealth without demanding that you pay attention to markets.
As you decide which investment app to use, keep these factors in mind:
The great thing about some of these investment apps is that you don’t need a lot of money to get started. In fact, apps like Acorns, Stash, and Robinhood allow you to get started with just a few dollars; after that, you simply invest your spare change. Over time, those small amounts will grow, helping you build your savings.
A perk of using investment apps is that they make investing simple. You don’t have to understand market fluctuations or have an in-depth knowledge of past stock performance to get started. Investment apps usually have robo-advisors and carefully picked investments that do all the hard work for you. Just set up your initial investment and recurring deposits, and you can be a mostly hands-off investor without stressing about managing the account yourself.
Please see below for the full list of apps considered for this review. The investment apps were evaluated based on the rating they received from the iOS and Android stores, the fees associated with each app and investment account, and the range and quality of the investment experience.