Published May 17, 2019|7 min read
Updated Jan. 1, 2021: Investing can be confusing and intimidating for beginners, not to mention time-consuming. But thanks to technology, it’s never been easier. Whether you’re just starting out or are an investment expert, there’s an app for you.
Robo-advisers like Betterment or Wealthfront are designed to provide personalized investing advice, using artificial intelligence in place of human advisers. Online brokers like Robinhood and Stash allow you to trade and manage stocks on your own. And spare change apps like Acorns invest automatically, so you can grow your money without thinking about it.
But which popular investing app is best for you? Here’s a breakdown.
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About: A popular spare-change investing app Cost: $1 per month (Lite), $3 per month (Personal), $5 per month (Family)Account minimum: $0 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: The hands-off millennial investor
This millennial-driven investing app monitors your bank accounts and automatically invests the spare change from your daily purchases. For example, if you buy lunch for $9.50, Acorns will round up the purchase to $10 and invest the remaining 50 cents. You can invest in one of five portfolios, ranging from conservative to aggressive, depending on the amount of risk. (Portfolios are a collection of investments held by an individual, and risk is determined by the amount of potential financial loss—or gain—from an investment.)
Acorns has two other membership tiers, Personal and Family, that include access to retirement and savings accounts.
You can check out our review of Acorns to learn more.
Want to take your investing a step further? Acorns offers Acorns Later, its version of an individual retirement account. For an additional monthly cost you can open one of three IRAs: traditional, Roth or SEP. You can also roll over an existing IRA or 401(k) into Acorns.
About: A low-cost robo-advising app Extra costs: 0.25% of your portfolio per year for a digital account or 0.40% of your balance per year for a premium account Account minimum: $0 (Digital) & $100,000 (Premium) Availability: iOS, Android Good for: The risk-averse investor
This robo-adviser automatically manages your investment portfolio using AI. Betterment offers the tools to invest in exchange-traded funds, which are groups of stocks, commodities or bonds traded on the stock exchange. These funds are typically less risky than buying individual stocks because the risk is spread out among multiple investments. So if one stock falls, it may be offset by other stocks in the fund.
You can also use Betterment to invest in traditional and Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs and non-retirement accounts, including trusts. Advanced features include tax-loss harvesting and rebalancing, which ensures you’ll pay low taxes on your investment and your portfolio will be automatically adjusted if the market changes.
Though Betterment isn’t free, it offers lower rates than a real financial adviser, thanks to AI. You can adjust your portfolio at any point based on your risk tolerance, or your willingness to lose money to potentially get better results.
Betterment is one of the few investing apps offering a socially responsible investing portfolio option. Learn more about socially responsible investing here. If you want a professionally managed portfolio for a fraction of the cost of a human adviser, Betterment may be worthwhile.
About: A free trading app Cost: $0 Account minimum: $0 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: Savvy millennials who aren’t looking to spend extra
Robinhood is an online stock trading app with no commission and no account minimum. You can invest as much or as little as you want without incurring a fee. You also can buy and sell individual stocks, which isn’t available on apps like Betterment and Wealthfront.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not, but while the app is easy to navigate and offers real-time market data, Robinhood’s extended capabilities are limited. You can’t invest in mutual funds or open retirement accounts. There’s also not much in the way of market research or guidance. So while Robinhood could be a great way to get into individual stock trading, it shouldn’t take the place of a comprehensive investment plan.
If you’re already well-versed in investing, this app may be a great option as it’s completely free. Learn more about Robinhood here.
About: An online broker for stock trading Cost: $1 per month for Stash Beginner, $3 per month for Stash Growth, $9 per month for Stash+ Account minimum: $5 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: First-timers who want to invest in everything
Stash is an online broker app perfect for investors looking to play the stock market, giving you the option to buy and trade fractional shares. For example, you could buy 0.005% of a $100 stock, if you really wanted to. Buying and trading fractional shares lets you experiment with different stocks you may otherwise be unable to afford.
If you aren’t into individual stocks, Stash renames existing ETFs to fit categories for you to invest in. Examples include “Uncle Sam,” made up of U.S. Treasury bonds, and “Doctor, Doctor!” which contains health care stocks. Not only does Stash make browsing through stock options enjoyable, it encourages investment in something you’re passionate about. The app makes it clear what you’re investing in and provides educational content to help you make your decision.
This app is best for those who have the capital to make a myriad of investments, but who need a little guidance.
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About: A trading app selling fractional shares Cost: 99 cents per trade Account minimum: $0 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: Parents who want to teach their kids about investing
This stock-trading app works similar to other online trading platforms. Like Stash, Stockpile also lets you buy parts of shares.
But what makes Stockpile different is the ability to buy gift cards for specific stocks on the app, making it easy for parents to gift stocks to their kids. Stockpile also offers custodial accounts for parents to create on behalf of their children.
With Stockpile, parents can be involved with the stock-buying process without giving up too much control. Gift cards allow kids to buy stock while limiting their risk, making the app a great way for parents to get their kids interested in the stock market and knowledgeable about money.
About: A mainstream, no-frills stock trading app Cost: $0 Account minimum: $0 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: The investor who wants a personal touch
TD Ameritrade is one of the traditional, old-school trading companies, similar to E-Trade. But unlike the others, TD Ameritrade has no account minimum, meaning you can invest as much or as little as you want. The app is comprehensive, with customer support and educational tools you don’t get from other services. But the high quality service is a trade-off for the higher-than-average costs for some trades outside of its "no-fee" list, making TD Ameritrade an app suited for seasoned investors or those with more capital on hand.
About: A robo-adviser geared toward families Cost: 0.25% of your balance per year Account minimum: $500 Availability: iOS, Android Good for: Parents looking to invest in their child’s future
Wealthfront has very similar investment offerings to Betterment, including ETFs and retirement saving accounts. But what sets Wealthfront apart is the option to invest in 529 plans to save for education costs.
The app also offers tax-loss harvesting and rebalancing, like Betterment, which can protect your money if your financial goals change. For example, as you get closer to retirement, Wealthfront will automatically shift your investments to bonds, which carry less risk.
About: A human-backed robo-adviser Cost: 0.5% of your portfolio for Basic account & 0.4% of your portfolio for Black account Account minimum: $0 for Basic & $100,000 for Black Availability: iOS, Android Good for: Investors who don’t like robots
Like other robo-advisers, Wealthsimple is an automated investing service using AI to automatically invest your money into a portfolio of ETFs. It also offers socially responsible investing portfolios. But if you’re looking for a more personal touch, Wealthsimple provides access to licensed financial experts, no matter how much money you have invested.
While Wealthsimple isn’t the cheapest investment app, having access to a licensed financial planner may make the fees worthwhile. If you’re robot-averse or are looking for investments that reflect your values, Wealthsimple is for you.
Want to learn more? Check out our beginner's guide on putting your money to work. Or, read our guide on how to pick stocks.
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Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
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