What are the Best Stock Trading Apps? Reviews and Comparisons
Years ago, investors would need to call a stockbroker over the phone to buy or sell stocks — with costly fees. Luckily, times have changed. You can still buy stocks with a phone, but instead of a call you can place trades yourself through an app. Due to a competitive environment, most fees have been slashed too. In this guide, we go over the best stock trading apps of 2020.
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Whether you decide to play the market as a bull or just want to buy and hold, stock trading apps have made investing extremely popular.
Over the past few years, online brokers have gone through a reboot, and now most of them have stock trading apps that cater to young, tech-savvy investors. There are also some new mobile-first stock trading apps that help you invest passively and set up a nest egg for you.
As more people get into investing online, it’s clear that firms want to be more mobile-friendly and cater to digital investor interests. The best stock trading apps offer easy-to-use features that make it quick and painless to start investing with your phone.
As the reliance on intuitive software and AI becomes more apparent in stock trading, it’s also imperative that traders pick an app that has the latest tools for assessing risk and real-time research data. Larry Hite, who built the first computerized trading system with commodities trader Ed Seykota, once said, “Throughout my financial career, I have continually witnessed examples of other people that I have known being ruined by a failure to respect risk. If you don’t take a hard look at risk, it will take you.”
In increasing numbers, online brokers want to streamline the experience for investors from mobile apps to desktop. Tools typically cater to placing orders, tracking stock trends, stock screeners, and alerts. Now that real-time streaming data has made it to mobile apps, investors also get access to charts and analytical data to make important decisions.
The Best Stock Trading Apps – My Reviews
Our guide walks you through the best stock trading apps based on usability, features, fees (or lack thereof), and trading technology. Here’s an overview:
- Robinhood – Best Free Stock Trading App
- Acorns – Best for Hands-Off Beginner Investors
- Stash – Best for Learning How to Invest
- TD Ameritrade – Most Comprehensive
- E*Trade – Best Large Firm with Simplicity
1. Robinhood – Best Free Stock Trading App
Robinhood launched in 2013, as a true pioneer of commission-free trading. That’s right — you can trade stocks on Robinhood without paying any fees at all.
The platform boasts over 10 million users and is valued at $7.6 billion. It’s known for a very simplified trading experience, without the hassle or the fees. Here are some Robinhood pros and cons:
- Commission-free trades on stocks, options, and ETFs
- No account minimum
- Easy to use interface
- Access to popular cryptocurrencies
- Lack of investment types — no retirement accounts, mutual funds, or bonds
- Limited customer support
To demonstrate how committed Robinhood is to its app, the company actually launched its stock trading app prior to its own website. In becoming one of the first platforms to offer commission-free trading, Robinhood has disrupted the trading industry since it entered the market.
While Robinhood doesn’t offer as many investment types as some of the other apps on our list, it does offer cryptocurrencies. Investors can buy and sell seven major cryptocurrencies — including Bitcoin and Ethereum — and can track price movements of ten others.
Robinhood also facilitates fractional investing, meaning users can purchase a fraction of a share. In the case of a single stock trading at $325 for example, Robinhood investors can get a piece of the action with as little as $1.
The only other downfall with Robinhood is its limited customer support. There are no physical locations, and the primary form of ‘help’ is an automated chat bot. This became a big problem in March of 2020, when Robinhood suffered serious outages and is now facing a class-action lawsuit.
2. Acorns (“Invest Spare Change”): Best for Hands-Off Beginner Investors
Acorns is built for investors who don’t want to get too active and haven’t ever invested before. Together with round-up savings and robo-advisors, Acorns presents a very mobile-friendly option for investing your money into a nest egg that grows gradually.
- Easy-to-use app with very little investment costs
- $0 account minimum
- Robo-advisor model made for beginners with no investment experience
- Automatically invests spare change to grow your savings
- Free management available for college students
- Account fees ranging from $1 to $3 monthly
- Small investment portfolio based on automated mutual funds
If you want hassle-free savings that simply invests your change, then Acorns is the right tool for you. You can easily open an account using your bank account, and Acorns tracks your purchases, investing your spare change every day into a low-risk portfolio.
Acorns charges $1 month for taxable investment accounts and $2 a month to add an IRA. If you get an Acorns checking account or Acorns Spend account, you’ll be charged $3 a month, which also includes an investment and IRA account.
Acorns is a great tool for college students and those who don’t want to actively look at their portfolio and make trades. It’s also a good idea for those who like to save.
One thing to understand is that your accounts are taxable, so if you receive dividends from your portfolio, you could have to pay taxes on your earnings, which isn’t the case if you get a tax exempt investment account. However, the automated approach is quite easy for those who simply want to grow their spare change.
The app – called “Invest Spare Change” – is available on both Android and iOS.
3. Stash – Best for Learning How to Invest
Stash is a great investing app for beginners. There is no account minimum, though monthly fees will range from $1 – $9 depending on the package you select. Here are the primary Stash pros and cons:
- No account minimum
- Fantastic automated guidance and educational offerings
- Fractional shares, round-up investing, automated investing
- Valued-based offerings for socially conscious investors
- Lack of investment management and human guidance
- No tax-loss harvesting
- Fee ratio is relatively high when investing small amounts
The mission of Stash CEO Brandon Krieg was to build an educational investment app which made financial services accessible to all. No financial background or expertise was to be required.
We say they’ve done a pretty good job. Stash helps you understand what you’re investing in and how to implement various investing strategies.
The platform offers 60 different exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The service will prompt you to complete a questionnaire to get an idea of your “investment personality type”. Based on your answers, it will then categorize you as a conservative, moderate, or aggressive investor. You’ll then be able to choose from a number of investments which correspond to your investment personality type.
Through Stash, you can also build a custom portfolio with value-based investment options. For example, if you value renewable energy, you can invest in companies that are leading the developments in that sector. For socially conscious investors, it’s a win-win.
4. TD Ameritrade (thinkorswim) – Great Overall Stock Trading App
Since eliminating commission fees on trades, TD Ameritrade is hard to beat when it comes to stock trading apps and general brokerage features. With a variety of free education tools, options for active and passive traders, and a $0 account minimum, TD Ameritrade is winning over investors one free trade at a time.
- No commissions on stocks, ETFs, and options trades
- Free research and analytics tools
- High-quality trading platform for mobile
- Great customer support
- Access to most investment products
- Pushes you to get a live broker for an additional cost
- High short-term fees for ETFs
- High margin interest rates
While TD Ameritrade does not require a minimum investment to get started, it’s best known for being the first brokerage to eliminate all commission fees on stocks and ETFs in October 2019.
After doing so, most of the other brokerages had to do the same, including E*Trade and Fidelity. TD Ameritrade has built its name on providing market research and analysis tools with lots of advanced investment options for active traders.
With so many mobile apps, you will have to download multiple apps to get the full benefits of being a TD client. There are several mobile apps to choose from, but the standard TD Ameritrade app offers you the ability to conduct research and set up alerts, while the Mobile Trader app is for those who want to the powerful ‘thinkorswim’ platform. You can track and plan complex trades, and there’s a ton of functionality for iOS and Android users.
5. E*Trade – Easiest Broker App to Use for Trading
E*Trade was the first in the online investing platform market. With their roots in Silicon Valley and online exchange technology, the firm made a name for itself by offering online trading when there weren’t any other options.
Now, E*Trade has a mobile trading app and leads the pack in terms of advanced features. Since removing commission fees for stocks and ETFs, E*Trade is the easiest app to view your investments and seamlessly trade stocks on your phone.
- No commissions for stocks and ETFs
- Streaming strategy options chains is a great tool to make smart trades
- For futures traders, E*Trade provides a mobile futures ladder tool
- Assess your risk with performance tools that let you test your portfolio or just a single asset
- Some features are not available in the regular mobile app, such as Power E*Trade app which provides more research tools
- Fees slightly higher with certain investment products, and you have to have a higher trading frequency to qualify for lower commissions
- Higher margin rates
- Does not integrate with your bank
E*Trade has led the charge for faster, online trading tools with a host of educational features, too. The whole point is that it’s easier to use than traditional investment methods.
The truth is that E*Trade does have a pretty streamlined mobile app with most features available. Once logged in on your phone, you can access all of your investments or trade stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options. There are some more complex trade options if you are familiar with placing buy and sell orders yourself.
Most of E*Trade’s tools are easy to use, and you get high execution speeds for greater accuracy. However, price improvement statistics put them below the industry average.
In addition, there are some research tools not available on the regular E*Trade mobile app, so you may have to download their “Power E*Trade” app or the OptionsHouse app. There’s also a lack of customization options on the mobile app, but you can set up your own dashboard on desktop.
You cannot access the forex or international exchanges either, but you can build bond ladders and look for debt issued by a different firm. Options trading is better on Power E*Trade and E*Trade Pro, and there are 4,500 no-fee mutual funds available and 12 ETFs you can trade through the app. Charts and educational tools can be analyzed using TradeLab, which is a visual tool that helps you analyze different stocks.
How To Use Stock Trading Apps (Without Losing Your Shirt)
Ideally, when you’re looking at a stock trading app, you gain access to all investment assets available, but there are other features you should look out for including:
- Access on all iOS and Android devices
- Easy-to-use functionality
- Management of all investments on your mobile phone
- Access to buying and selling orders on your phone
- Investment and banking account management via your phone
- Fast and accurate trade execution
- Mobile accessible research and education tools
How Much Money Do You Need to Get Started?
However, the amount of money generally depends on what investment assets you want to buy. If you plan on trading in mutual funds, for example, you’ll need to have a minimum of $1,000 or more. However, ETFs can be purchased for much less.
You also want to consider the commission costs based on the brokerage firm you choose. While most of the major broker apps no longer charge commissions for stock trading and ETFs, some start at $5 per trade and go up from there.
Choose a Trading App Based on Your Investment Personality
How do you like to invest? If you want to bank and invest all in one, then you can look at apps like Charles Schwab to offer more advantages. However, active traders may be more interested in TradeStation or Interactive Brokers.
E*Trade and TD Ameritrade offer the most educational tools and have access to the most investment asset options. Both of these companies also have robust mobile trading apps and research tools. If you plan to make solid investments and like to follow trends, these apps have a lot of extras for the value.
Use an App with Virtual Money First
If you aren’t sure how stock trading works, you may want to check out TradeHero or Stash to get started. These apps help you learn with a fake portfolio so you aren’t spending money to test out strategies.
These are simulators who use real-time data to show you whether your investments will earn a profit and give you confidence in your investing without spending any money.
Don’t Buy Too Many Shares Your First Time — No Matter What They “Recommend”
It’s best to start slowly and build your risk. If you get too gung-ho when buying stocks, you will likely experience unnecessary losses. Instead, you can trade with a small position and work your way up to buying more shares as your position gets better.
Warren Buffett also said that it was better for individual investors to passively invest through the “buy and hold” strategy instead of trying to trade stocks on their own. It also cuts down on your trading costs.
Security Problems with Stock Trading Apps
A report came out in 2017 that many stock trading apps have security holes. Many vulnerabilities were found that exposed accounts to hackers who could steal money, sell off stocks, and get into personal details of the user’s accounts.
About 19 percent of the stock trading apps also exposed user passwords in clear text. Other apps did not even verify the SSL certificate (the little 🔒lock icon in your browser that tells you a website is safe and secure).. It’s best to check the app’s security beforehand by checking customer reviews, looking at any “data breach” news, and checking if they have two-factor authentication.
Call Customer Service Before Investing
Most mobile applications today have terrible customer service. Yes, things have gotten a lot better since the days of waiting on hold for several hours, but the truth is that we have a long way to go.
And that couldn’t be more true when it comes to customer support people running the show at investing and trading apps.
While reviewing each of the above apps, I asked myself the following questions:
- How easy was it to talk to someone when I had a problem? Some apps do not have phone support, while others have chat support but it’s only available on the desktop application instead.
- When I called the customer service phone support number, were they quick to help me?
- How long does it take to speak to a representative?
Mobile trading apps should make it easy for you to get help with their app, check on your account, and security services even if they do not provide you with a live broker.
Wrapping Up: Which is the Best Stock Trading App For You?
Once you decide what investment style you want to go with, there are a number of stock trading apps on the market.
Whether you want all of the options available or you want a totally hands-off stock investment experience, you should consider costs, fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service before opening a brokerage account via your mobile phone.
For those who want a wide range of options, we like Acorns, Robinhood, and Stash for their ease of use, simplicity, and low or lack of fees. TD Ameritrade and E*Trade are also great options, with a wide range of investment types offered.