Finance, like any other industry, has enjoyed an explosion in technological advancements. In many ways the new technology has helped equalize the playing field for investors. You no longer have to hire a broker, or even interact with a human, to buy and sell stocks. Investment and mobile finance apps have flooded the market, allowing anyone to manage their portfolio from the couch.
While there are countless apps available, no two companies offer the same service. Here's a breakdown of some popular investment apps and how you can best use them to your advantage.
This app is geared toward brand new investors who don't have much money to gamble with at first. It takes just $5 to get started, and then you'll have access to dozens of companies and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The ETFs have names that make it easy to understand what their focus is, like "Aggressive Mix," "American Innovators," and "Gamers FTW!" Stash lets users buy fractional stocks, so it's perfect for those who are eager to invest but don't want to put in too much money at first. Instead of having to drop hundreds of dollars to have a stake in Apple, you can throw in just $50, which Stash combines with other users to buy full shares. A standard Stash account will cost you $1 per month. When an account's value hits $5,000, the cost switches to an annual fee of 0.25 percent.
Acorns is similar to Stash in a lot of ways. The target audience is the same – first-time investors who want to dabble in micro investing. The difference is, while Stash lets you invest in specific companies or ETFs, Acorns picks your investments based on your financial status, goals, and risk tolerance. That means you'll get the most out of the app if you carefully consider each of the questions Acorns asks. Like any skill, investing takes time to learn, and there's a lot of trial and error along the way. If you don't have much money to invest you might want to leave it all up to professionals. If you're using Acorns, make sure to link a card so every purchase you make is rounded up to the nearest dollar. Those extra cents will be invested in your portfolio. As with Stash, Acorns' fee is $1 a month. Once your account hits $1 million, it'll switch to an annual fee of 0.25%. However, Acorns is free for college students and people under the age of 24.
Wealthsimple is another hands-off investment app for beginners. This one's based in Canada, which makes it a good option for those who don't want to invest solely in the U.S. market. It also specializes in "socially responsible" and Halal investments. You can support affordable housing and carbon reduction or avoid companies that deal in gambling or firearms. If you're investing with Wealthsimple you should also take advantage of its savings accounts – they're actually low-risk investment accounts, and Wealthsimple says the accounts earn 20 times more than the national average. The investment portfolio charges an annual fee of 0.5 percent, which is divided and applied on a monthly basis. Once you hit $100,000, that fee drops to 0.4 percent.
If you're looking for something more hands on but still entry-level, Robinhood might be the app you're looking for. Robinhood boasts free trading, which is a huge benefit for someone who is still learning the ropes. Take advantage of that by trading often and at any level of spending. If you've got some extra cash at the end of the week, throw it into a stock that catches your curiosity, and see what happens. But remember, you get what you pay for, so don't expect exceptional customer support, research, or selection.
In some ways this one is the exact opposite of Robinhood. Its pricing model doesn't even try to compete with low-budget apps (you can expect to spend at least $5 on most trades). Instead, it focuses on offering stellar support and research. E-Trade lets you cut down on brokerage fees by buying in bulk. For example, you'll get 60 days of commission-free trading when you deposit $10,000 or more. If you're using this app, you should try to invest significant chunks at a time.
TD Ameritrade (Android/iOS)
This is another app that doesn't try to compete with budget apps and instead focuses on superior content. Whether you're completely new to trading or just looking for a new app to add to your financial arsenal, TD Ameritrade has something to teach you. In exchange for pricey trades ($6.95 flat fee for all stock trades), you'll get access to informational videos, articles, seminars – even a trading simulation sandbox to try out moves. Don't use this app unless you're an investor who likes hitting the (digital) books and doing your homework. This app offers nearly unparalleled information, data, and insight, so take advantage of that.
Interactive Brokers (Android/iOS)
Many investment apps cater to beginners and investors who want a hassle-free experience. But if you're an experienced investor and you're simply looking for an app that'll help you do what you do best, Interactive Brokers might be the app for you. The company has been around since the ‘70s, and it's publicly traded, which means it's much more established than many of the investment apps that have cropped up in recent years. If you're using this app make sure you make a lot of trades. Those trading fees are about as low as it gets, and you'll actually be penalized for inactivity. The layout can overwhelm inexperienced investors, so this isn't the app for someone who wants a professional to hold their hand and lead them through the experience.
If you're trying multiple investment apps at once, you should get an app that lets you consolidate all of that financial information into one convenient place, like Ticker. Ticker's great because it not only brings together all your brokerage accounts, it includes all of your investment portfolios as well, like 401(k) plans and IRAs. The point of Ticker is to have all of your information in one place, so if you download it make sure to take the time to link all of your accounts. Once you're all set up, Ticker will keep an all-encompassing eye on your money.
SigFig Wealth Management (Android/iOS)
SigFig Wealth Management is another app that pulls together all of your investment portfolios. This one specializes in analyzing your investments for hidden fees and overexposures. That makes it a great option for people who are still getting the hang of investing and wouldn't mind some guidance. If you download SigFig, take advantage of that feature to give yourself a better idea of all the fees and risks you're facing. If your portfolio is really out of whack and you don't want to rebalance it on your own, SigFig will optimize your returns with automated investing – but that service comes with an added fee.
Yahoo! Finance (Android/iOS)
If you spend a lot of time researching stocks on the internet you've probably come across Yahoo! Finance. The site has carved out a spot for itself among the most reputable sources in breaking news from Wall Street. That makes the Yahoo! Finance App an essential tool for investors that are all about up-to-the-minute news and quotes. You can link your portfolios to get customized news feeds. Don't rely solely on the automated services to determine your news feed, though. Take the time to set up custom alerts for companies and industries you care about. That way when you get a push alert you'll know the story is worth unlocking your phone to read.
Personal Capital Finance (Android/iOS)
Personal Capital Finance offers a lot of great services with their app, including many of those offered by the other financial planners on this list. You can pull your financial accounts together into one place and follow the market's movements. There are two ways this app sets itself apart. For one, its financial advice comes from a mix of robo-investors (which is common for investment apps) and human advisors (not as common – especially when you consider these human advisors come with the free version of this app). Secondly, this app specializes in retirement planning. If you download this app, that's a feature that you absolutely need to take advantage of. Look to the future, and use this app as a guide to help you map out your road to retirement.
The bottom line is: investment apps are relatively new to the investment world, and many of us are still learning the ins and outs. The best way to dive into this digital world of trading is to dip your toe into a couple different pools and see what fits your style best.