Technology has revolutionized stock trading, and nowhere is that more evident than in the rise of trading apps. Nowadays, investors and traders alike can buy or sell shares anytime the market is open right from the palm of their hands. Most trading apps offer a wide range of educational resources on top of commission-free trading, bringing Wall Street much closer to Main Street for little-to-no cost.
The potential downside of this accessibility is that it encourages beginners to become stock traders rather than investors, and that can be a financially dangerous game. After all, when you can buy or sell stocks every minute of every day for no commission, it makes “investing” seem more like a video game than an important financial cornerstone. Nevertheless, for those who can maintain their discipline, stock trading apps can prove both educational and profitable. Here’s a look at some of the best.
Robinhood was the first popular trading app to unveil zero-commission trading, and it remains among the industry leaders. Many of Robinhood’s features have now been copied by other apps, but it continues to innovate with a focus on making its service user-friendly and easy to use. Robinhood does allow fractional share trading, which not all zero-commission apps do. In addition to free stock and ETF trading, Robinhood also offers commission-free cryptocurrency trading.
Robinhood’s interface is also helpful for investors as it allows them to customize their news feeds and alerts. For example, you can elect to receive push notifications if one of your stocks moves by 5% or 10%, or if a stock you are watching hits a predesignated target price.
M1 Finance is a zero-commission investment app and website that offers a bit of a unique experience for investors. One of the huge benefits of using M1, in addition to the zero-commission structure, is that you can buy fractional shares at the firm. Thus, even a $100 investment can be allocated across 10, 20 or even 50 different stocks, regardless of their share price.
To accomplish this, M1 Finance has each investor create a “pie,” with each investment comprising a slice of that pie. Individual slices can be weighted anywhere from 1% to 100% of a particular pie and can be changed at any time, with M1 Finance automatically rebalancing the account after any changes.
One of the few drawbacks of using M1 is that there is only one trading window per day, or two for paying “M1 Plus” members. Thus, this platform is not great for traders who need to get in and out of their positions rapidly. Of course, the flip side of this is that it prevents over-trading and encourages long-term investment.
SoFi, formerly known as Social Finance, was originally a student loan provider. Now, the app- and web-based fintech offers a wide range of products, from home mortgages and personal loans to savings accounts, credit cards, crypto trading and a no-commission investment platform for stocks and ETFs. This can make SoFi an interesting option for investors looking for a mobile-based one-stop shop.
One drawback of SoFi is that although it does offer fractional share trading, its pool of available stocks is limited. Although you can trade nearly any stock you want for no commission, if you’re looking to purchase fractional shares, you can only buy the specific stocks and ETFs included in the firm’s “Stock Bits” program. Many of the most popular stocks and ETFs are included in Stock Bits, such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Tesla, but not all companies are available for fractional-share purchasing.
If you’re looking for an “old-school” discount broker that also has modern research and trading capabilities to go along with zero commissions on stock and ETF trades, Charles Schwab might suit your needs. Schwab was one of the first discount brokers, dropping per-trade commission costs from the hundreds or even thousands of dollars charged by full-service firms to just a few dollars. In October 2019, Schwab dropped its standard commission rate from $4.95 per trade to zero, making it the first major firm to move to zero commissions.
In addition to zero commissions, Schwab offers a complimentary, no-fee High-Yield Checking account that comes with a debit card that rebates ATM fees anywhere in the world. This can be a huge advantage for traders who travel a lot. Schwab also offers fractional-share trading through its Schwab Slices program, although trades are limited to S&P 500 stocks.
TD Ameritrade is another “old-school” discount brokerage house that has modernized and now offers zero commissions on most stock and ETF trades. TD Ameritrade regularly receives awards for its trading platforms and tools, in addition to its educational offerings. One of the advantages of TD Ameritrade is that in addition to being simple to use for beginning investors, it also has advanced trading platforms like its trademarked thinkorswim platform. These advanced trading tools offer benefits like third-party research, elite-level analysis and testing strategies and idea generation tools. TD Ameritrade offers additional assistance for traders, ranging from in-app live chat to economic indicators straight from the Fed.
If you’re an active stock trader, Webull may be of interest to you. Unlike many of the other apps on this list, Webull is dedicated solely toward active traders, with no other financial products offered. Webull doesn’t offer fractional share trading, nor does it offer mutual funds. However, it does offer cryptocurrency trading and a host of advanced trading tools, including real-time quotes, detailed charting tools and Level 2 Nasdaq quotes, all with no account minimums or trading commissions. Webull also offers IRAs and full extended-hours trading.
Stash isn’t technically a commission-free trading app, but account holders do have access to zero-commission trading after they sign up for a monthly fee account. For $3/month, investors get access to automated investing and all of the basic Stash features, while the $9/month version offers additional Stock-Back rewards, custodial accounts and other benefits.
Stash is clearly designed for beginning investors to educate them on the markets and get them involved with trading. The app offers fractional shares and access to thousands of stocks and ETFs. Actual trading within the app is free, although there’s no avoiding the monthly account fee, which can prove expensive depending on how much value you get out of the app. When you sign up for Stash, you’ll be asked some questions about your investment preferences and needs, at which point you’ll be presented with a selection of recommended investments. Specific investment choices are up to each individual investor, however.
Acorns is another investment app designed to appeal to beginning investors. Acorns accounts carry a monthly fee of either $3 or $5. As with some other investment apps, Acorns creates a suggested portfolio of exchange-traded funds for you to invest on based on your self-reported investment objectives and risk tolerance. What is unique about Acorns, however, is that your account contributions primarily come from your spare change. Whenever you make a purchase, your total is rounded up to the next dollar, with the additional amount being automatically invested into your chosen portfolio. For example, if you pay $2.52 for a cup of coffee, the Acorns app will automatically round up that purchase to $3 and invest the extra 48 cents into your portfolio. You are, of course, free to contribute additional money at any time.
Betterment isn’t a zero-commission trading app in the vein of Robinhood or some other popular apps. Rather, it’s a so-called robo-advisor, allocating funds to various exchange-traded funds according to customers’ self-reported investment horizons, objectives and risk tolerance. The app also provides access to CFP investment professionals for an added cost. Fees at Betterment run 0.25% of assets annually for the standard robo-advisory service, or 0.40% for premium investors.
For those looking for more of a “hands-off” approach to investing, a quality robo-advisor like Betterment can be a good choice, as it provides professionally managed portfolios that match investor needs for a low price. However, Betterment isn’t a true “trading app,” as investors cannot trade in and out of individual stocks whenever they choose. Betterment’s annual fee, while quite low, is higher than the zero commissions charged by other investment apps for stock and ETF trades. However, some investors may prefer paying that nominal fee for an automated service rather than picking their own investments.
Wealthfront is a robo-advisor in the vein of Betterment, charging 0.25% per year to construct and maintain a portfolio of exchange-traded funds matching an investor’s objectives and ability to handle risk. Like Betterment, Wealthfront does not allow the commission-free trading of individual securities. However, it does aim to create long-term wealth via its risk-adjusted portfolios. It also offers a host of educational information to help beginners learn about investing.
On the financial planning front, Wealthfront takes a unique tack by using real-world data to provide personalized advice. For example, if you’re looking to save for a home, Wealthfront uses your actual financial data and integrates real-world housing information from Redfin to provide more relevant planning solutions.
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