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Looking to trade stocks—easily and without fees—straight from your phone?
You’re not alone.
Over the last four years, Robinhood’s user base has grown from 1 million to 10 million. Needless to say, people love an easy-to-use app to trade stocks and options seamlessly. 📈
With the recent GameStop short squeeze debacle, a number of brokers placed trading restrictions on multiple stocks, without warning. Naturally, this caused an uproar among retail investors (us ‘little’ guys).
But most importantly, we all learned a crucial lesson: The broker we choose is the broker we trust—and we must be wary of who we trust.
With the average investor in mind, we’ve dug through the fine print, spent days reading through user agreements, and scoured brokers’ websites for details. We wanted to discover who you can trust.
The following are the results of our research.
Top Apps for Buying and Selling Stocks
We examine apps based on usability, features, fees (or lack thereof), and trading technology:
The Best Stock Trading Apps in 2021
While trading from an app has become easy, choosing the right stock broker hasn’t. Whether your priority is free trades, micro-savings, investor education, or advanced tools, we’ve got you covered.
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.
Our hands-on review of Robinhood’s app shows how the platform offers more than just free stock trading, however. The app — available on both mobile and desktop — offers free ETF trades as well as options trading.
Robinhood received a lot of negative publicity given the stock market’s recent events involving GameStop stock. However, many other brokers also had to halt trading on select securities. In this sense, Robinhood wasn’t alone. Yet they immediately took action, by raising $3.4 billion to rectify the situation.
The scenario that we all experienced certainly wasn’t good. But we at least saw Robinhood taking the necessary steps to prevent such an occurrence from happening again in the future.
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. This means that expensive stocks, such as amazon or apple, can be purchased proportionately.
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. Yet beyond stock trading, we say Robinhood is the best investment app available.
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.
Still, Robinhood makes trading very easy. Its seamless sign-up process is loved by new investors who are eager to start trading on their own, without any hassle — or fees.
Investor Warning: Carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of any investment company before investing. All securities trading, whether in stocks, exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), options, or other investment vehicles, is speculative in nature and involves substantial risk of loss. Robinhood Financial encourages its customers to invest carefully and to use the information available at the websites of the SEC at http://www.sec.gov and FINRA at http://FINRA.org.
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. Learn more about this in our comprehensive Stash review.
4. Webull – Best Alternative to Robinhood
Webull offers an intuitive platform full of powerful research tools and easy-to-use, commission-free trading.
Founded in 2016, Webull launched its app two years later—and it has since managed to acquire a 2-million-strong user base. With a focus on commission-free trading catered toward retail investors, Webull has seen a meteoric rise in popularity—and with good reason.
This SEC and FINRA registered brokerage is quickly making a name for itself in the commission-free trading arena, despite the fact that the competition had a huge head start.
- Commission-free trades on stocks, options, and ETFs
- Intuitive design
- No account minimum
- Powerful charting tools
- Average offering of investment options
- Customer support could stand to improve
Webull’s app is available for both IOS and Android and it offers a great combination of intuitive design, strong research and analysis tools, and a wide range of order types. With a focus on commission-free trading and powerful charting tools, Webull has quite a lot to offer—no matter what type of investor you might be.
The brokerage offers investors the opportunity to trade stocks, options, and ETFs commission-free. While the lack of bonds, mutual funds, and cryptocurrency might be a dealbreaker for some, the tools that are at your disposal to trade the securities that you can are quite powerful.
Webull’s app is intuitive, well-designed, and easy to get used to. In no time, you’ll be able to make full use of the app’s powerful charting, sleek graphs, impressive technical and fundamental analysis tools, and wide variety of order types. The built-in stock screener is a very handy tool, and it’s quite easy to set up price and news alerts.
The app also features a wide range of real-time market data – though the news feed leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, the social newsfeed tool is a great way to keep up with current trends and what other traders are doing.
Webull also offers a paper trading account for those that want to try the app out before committing. Although the platform is lacking in educational resources, the fact that it is commission-free and offers competitive margin rates makes it an enticing choice for beginners as well as seasoned investors.
Webull’s customer support is quick to respond and is even available on weekends. However, the lack of a live chat option is a flaw that must be noted.
Customer support can be reached via the platform itself using the message center or through email and phone—although the customer service via email leaves something to be desired. Be that as it may, the answers that the customer support teams give are relevant and easy to understand—and we’re looking forward to seeing more improvements in this area.
Webull is a promising challenger in a space that is dominated by well-established names. We can’t go over everything that makes this brokerage interesting here – but if you’d like to learn more, we’ve prepared an in-depth overview in our review of Webull.
5. TD Ameritrade Mobile App (Thinkorswim) – Great Overall Stock Trading App
Since eliminating commission fees on trades, the TD Ameritrade mobile app is hard to beat when it comes to stock trading apps and general stock 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.
- Commission-free stock, 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 stock broker for an additional cost
- High short-term fees for ETF trades
- High margin interest rates
While TD Ameritrade mobile does not require a minimum investment to get started, it’s best known for being the first stock brokerage to eliminate all commission fees on stocks and ETF trades in October 2019.
After doing so, most of the other stock 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.
A full review of this stock broker reveals how 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. The TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader app, on the other hand, is for those who want to leverage the powerful ‘thinkorswim’ platform. You can track and plan complex trades, and there’s a ton of functionality for iOS and Android users.
6. E*Trade – Easiest Stock 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 stock trades and ETF trades, E*Trade is the easiest app to view your investments and seamlessly trade stocks on your phone.
- Commission-free ETF and stock trades
- 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. E*Trade has many pros and cons, though most agree that Power E*Trade is one of the former. When it comes to cons, there is a lack of customization options on the mobile app, though 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.
E*Trade’s mobile trading apps are available on both Android (via Google Play) and iOS on the App Store. If you think you’re a good fit for E*Trade, it is recommended to learn more through a full review of the mobile investment app.
How To Use Stock Trading Apps (Without Losing Your Shirt) 📈
Ideally, when you’re looking at a stock trading app, you should gain access to all investment assets available. Afterall, a mobile stock app can serve as a great boost to your personal finance.
However, when it comes to trading stocks with a smartphone, there are specific features you should look 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
- Access to fractional shares
How Much Money Do You Need to Get Started? 💵
Most mobile apps like Acorns, Stash, and Robinhood require very little to get started. In fact, the majority of leading stock brokers don’t charge any commissions at all. You typically have no account minimum to start investing from your smartphone.
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 can even get started with very little money — regardless of the price of one share. Fractional shares allow investors to buy a portion of a share, which means less money required to get started.
You also want to consider the commission costs based on the stock brokerage you choose. If there are trading fees involved, these can accumulate over time if you’re a fairly active trader.
Luckily, today’s best mobile apps no longer charge commissions for stock trades and ETFs, hence commission-free stock trading. Some stock brokers still charge fees however, starting at $5 per trade with an increase in trading fees from there.
You usually won’t have to pay any monthly fees. Again, most of the top mobile apps offer commission-free trades. If any trading fees are involved, they’re usually based on your trading volume, rather than flat monthly fees.
Can I Deposit Money with a Debit Card on my Stock Trading App? 💳
Yes, you can use a debit card to fund virtually all popular stock trading apps. Some will require an ACH deposit directly from a bank account, but most will allow the use of debit cards. Credit cards, however, are normally not an option.
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 mobile apps have a lot of extras for the value.
Others will offer long term investment portfolios as well. Many full service stock brokers will offer various investment accounts — the totality of which can be managed directly through the mobile app.
🇬🇧 Are you located in the United Kingdom? Stock trading varies by jurisdiction. See our report on the best stock trading apps in the UK to get started.
Use an App with Virtual Money First 💡
If you aren’t sure how stock trading or the stock market 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.
While stock trading itself is low cost in today’s technology-driven world, your funds are still at risk. It’s best to use simulators that incorporate 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 conduct stock trades 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 in smartphones that exposed accounts to hackers who could steal money, sell off stocks, and get into personal details of the user’s accounts.
So, even when it comes to the best apps to trade stocks, you can still run into vulnerabilities. New investors need to keep this in mind when shopping for the best app.
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 in the Stock Market 📞
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 stock broker.
Do the Best Investment Apps Offer Watch Lists? 📃👀
Yes, normally the top stock apps will feature watch lists. This will show the current trading price and the recent change in activity (be it up or down).
Most mobile apps will allow you to customize your own watch lists. In this way, you’ll be able to keep track of your favorite stocks — such as amazon or apple — even if you don’t own them.
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 best investing apps available. Breaking into the stock market, regardless of your age, is great for your personal finance, if done right.
Whether you want all of the options available or you want a totally hands-off stock investment experience, new investors need to 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.
A closer runner up who didn’t make our list is Fidelity. If none of the above options suite you, it’s recommended to give Fidelity Investments a look as well.
All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on tokenist.com. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.
About the author
Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim served as a Senior Associate on the investment team at RW Bairds US Private Equity division, and is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital, an investment firms specializing in sensing, protection and control solutions.
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