Best investment apps for beginners (2020)
The best investment apps for beginners offer low fees and access to the types of accounts and investment products you care about most. The app you choose should suit your investment style and offer the tools you need to achieve your financial goals.
Best overall: SoFi
|Editor’s rating||4.8 out of 5|
|Consider it if…||You want an easy-to-use platform paired with rock-bottom pricing|
Why SoFi made our list:
SoFi is a top pick for beginners thanks to an easy-to-use platform paired with rock-bottom pricing. You can get started at SoFi Invest with just $1, and there are no commissions for trades and no recurring account fees. Even the managed portfolio product, where your investments are all picked and managed for you, is free to use.
The app includes stocks and ETFs listed by category, making it easy to browse potential investment opportunities. The app doesn’t have the most in-depth investment research, but there is enough to get you started and guide your research off the app. You can also access investment education articles from inside the app.
As an added bonus outside of the app, SoFi offers complimentary financial planning sessions for all members, among other benefits. If you are a beginner and want help putting an investment strategy together, SoFi is an ideal place to start.
Best overall runner-up: Ally Invest
|Editor’s rating||4.7 out of 5|
|Account minimum||None for DIY portfolios, $100 for robo-adviser|
|Consider it if…||You want easy-to-use apps paired with excellent checking and savings accounts|
Why Ally Invest made our list:
Beginners often do well with simple and straightforward investment platforms. Ally Invest offers just that through its mobile app. You can trade stocks and ETFs with no commissions; mutual fund trades will incur a $9.95 commission fee. There are no recurring fees or minimum balance requirements to worry about.
The Ally app, which is also used by Ally Bank, is straightforward and easy to navigate. It doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as some active trading platforms, but it has everything a beginner and most passive investors might need.
Best for automated investing: Acorns
|Editor’s rating||4.7 out of 5|
|Fees||$1 to $5 per month|
|Consider it if…||You want a totally hands-off investing experience|
Why Acorns made our list:
Acorns is an investment app for people who know they should be investing but don’t have or want to spend the time to manage it themselves. For $1 per month, Acorns will take care of everything. That includes automatically investing spare change through transaction round-ups, automated transfers, and a fully automated investment plan.
The big upside of Acorns is that it’s so easy to use. The big downside is that there’s a fee no matter what. While $1 per month doesn’t sound like much, when you have a relatively low account balance, that’s a big percentage. If you have a $100 balance, $1 per month is more than 10% per year. For additional accounts and features, including retirement accounts, you’ll have to pay $3 or $5 per month.
Best for active trading: TD Ameritrade
|Editor’s rating||4.8 out of 5|
|Account minimum||None for DIY accounts, $500 for Essential Portfolios|
|Consider it if…||You want multiple apps for different trading experiences and goals|
Why TD Ameritrade made our list:
If you are new to the markets and plan to get into active trading, TD Ameritrade is a good place to start. It charges no commissions for stock or ETF trades and offers multiple account platforms that align with various investment styles and goals.
When you’re starting out, you’ll probably feel most comfortable in the main TD Ameritrade app. As your investment skills grow, you can upgrade to thinkorswim, the premier active trading platform from TD Ameritrade. It has tons of useful features for active traders. Important for beginners, there’s a feature to chat with an expert trader inside of thinkorswim.
Important to note: TD Ameritrade has agreed to an acquisition by Charles Schwab. That means TD Ameritrade accounts will likely turn into Schwab accounts in the future. However, Schwab has announced it plans to keep thinkorswim in its product lineup going forward.
Best for social investing: Public
|Editor’s rating||4.6 out of 5|
|Consider it if…||You want a social component to your investing experience|
Why Public made our list:
When you’re a beginner in the stock market, it can feel intimidating to research and choose stocks and other investments on your own. Public combines features from social networks like Facebook and Twitter with traditional brokerage features. That makes for an investment app ideal for beginners learning their way around the markets.
With fractional shares starting at $5, you can also buy into a huge number of supported companies without putting up enough cash for a full share. While it doesn’t offer every popular type of investment, it covers stocks and ETFs in a way that’s great for newer investors or even experienced investors looking to improve their investment strategy.
Best for no commissions: Robinhood
|Editor’s rating||4.5 out of 5|
|Account minimum||$0 for most investors, $5+ per month for premium accounts|
|Consider it if…||You want to invest in a wide range of stocks and ETFs|
Why Robinhood made our list:
Robinhood is a pioneer in the no-commission brokerage model. It remains a solid choice for beginners, as they can invest in stocks, ETFs, and options with zero commissions. Typical stock and ETF investors will be able to use Robinhood with no costs at all, though premium accounts are available with more features for a monthly fee starting at $5.
Robinhood has been at the center of controversies over downtime and how some users have been able to enter extremely risky trades that they didn’t understand. As with any investment app, it’s important for Robinhood traders to understand the risks of what they’re doing so they can invest in line with their goals and avoid unexpected losses.
Best for kids: Stockpile
|Editor’s rating||4.5 out of 5|
|Fees||99 cents per trade; fees for gift cards|
|Consider it if…||You want to invest with kids or teens|
Why Stockpile made our list:
Unlike the other brokerages on this list, Stockpile does not offer commission-free stock and ETF trades. But it does provide some unique features that could make its modest commission of 99 cents per trade worthwhile.
Stockpile allows fractional share investing and supports the gift of stock through gift cards, which makes it perfect for the youngest investors.
If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or another relative who wants to help a child in your life learn how the stock market works, Stockpile is perfect for your needs. It makes it easy to gift stock and keep tabs on the account of a minor. It also makes it fun to navigate through supported stocks while educating users through “mini-lessons” that teach how to invest.
Other apps we considered
- Webull: Webull is a newer commission-free investment platform. It may be a little more challenging for some newer investors to navigate but offers excellent pricing and investment tools.
- Firstrade: Firstrade’s web and desktop investment apps feel a little lower-tech, but its mobile app is simple and easy to navigate. It offers excellent pricing including commission-free mutual fund trades.
- Stash: Stash is great for newer investors looking to learn how to invest and build the right mindset, but monthly $1 to $9 fees make it less appealing.
Frequently asked questions
How did we choose the best investment apps for beginners?
For beginners, it’s important to choose an investment app that combines low costs with the features you care about most. Whether you’re looking to build a passive portfolio of funds, an active portfolio of stocks, or any other investment strategy, there’s a brokerage and investment app designed to meet your needs.
To make our selections, we focused on costs and fees, app features, types of accounts available, investment products available, and beginner-friendly features to manage your investment account on the go.
What are brokerage accounts?
Brokerage accounts are a type of account where you can store cash and investments — to use an investment app, you’ll fund a brokerage account. With a brokerage, you can fund your account with cash and use that cash to buy and sell stocks, bonds, funds, and other investments supported by your brokerage.
Every brokerage has its own core features and pricing, so there is no perfect brokerage for everyone. However, anyone can find a brokerage that’s a good fit for their needs.
How do brokerage accounts work?
Brokerage accounts work like checking accounts at a traditional bank in many ways. In fact, many brokerages offer checkbooks for brokerage accounts if you want one. You can add and remove funds similar to a bank, though certain types of retirement and other tax-advantaged accounts have rules around withdrawals.
Brokerages in the United States are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Accounts may lose value, but assets are insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) in case your brokerage goes out of business.
Who should use a brokerage account?
Just about every single person in the US could benefit from a brokerage account. As long as you have high-interest debts paid off, putting a portion of your income into investments is a wise long-term decision.
Most brokers on this list have no recurring fees and no minimum balance. You can often get started with as little as $5 to buy your first stock or ETF.
How much should a brokerage account cost?
Brokerage accounts should be free! The best brokerages charge no recurring fees and have no minimum balance or activity requirements to avoid a monthly service fee.
In addition, most brokerages have dropped fees for stock and ETF trades, so you shouldn’t pay any commissions for those types of trades.
How do I choose an online brokerage?
Your choice for online brokerage and investing apps should come down to your investment goals. If you are interested in active investing, you would want a different platform than passive investors. But in any case, it’s important to review fees to make sure you’re not paying for anything you plan to do regularly.
If an app supports the types of accounts you need and the types of investments you want on a platform you enjoy using, you’ve likely found a winner.
Eric Rosenberg has over a decade of experience writing about personal finance topics, including investing. He has an undergraduate degree and MBA in finance and spent time during his MBA program managing a portion of the University of Denver endowment fund. He is an expert in investments, banking, payments, credit cards, insurance, and business finance.