If you currently invest and pay expensive account management fees or don’t invest because you think fee-heavy brokerages are your only option, it’s time to consider these investing apps. You won’t pay any annual account fees that eat into your investment returns.
For “hands-off” investors that don’t want to handle the daily investing decisions and portfolio rebalancing, some of these apps will even manage your entire account at no additional cost. If the only reason you still pay a fee to have a traditional broker, like Edward Jones, keep on reading to see how you can save some serious moolah without compromising portfolio performance!
Regardless of your investment background and strategy, these apps can help you maximize your returns at the lowest possible cost. You still may have to pay trading commissions ($4.95 or less usually), but you can still save hundreds of dollars a year by avoiding brokerage fees and investing in funds with very low expense ratios.
What to Expect from Free Investing Apps
Since you invest to boost your income, the notion of free investing apps boils down to more money in your wallet every month!
Your largest hesitation might be what you must sacrifice to enjoy a free app. After all, you usually get what you pay for.
A phenomenon of the internet age is how the cost of almost everything has dropped compared to the pre-Internet days; investing is no exception. In a single generation, the cost to buy or sell a stock has dropped from $45 per trade to $4.95– even $0 with some brokerages– as anybody can literally execute a trade in seconds through a smartphone app.
These free investing apps let you trade almost anything. Some apps specialize in ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), others might only trade stocks, and some are a full-service brokerage offering stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, and forex.
In addition to the different investment options, you will need to pay attention to the research and charting capabilities. Some are very primitive while others will let you run more than 100 different charts on your phone or tablet.
Whether you are a novice investor or have been investing for 30 years, you can choose a fully automated app and others are entirely self-directed.
When choosing an investing app keep these three criteria in mind:
- Investment options
- Research capabilities
- Is the app self-directed (DIY) or automated?
Automated Investing Apps
If you’re a “hands off” investor that doesn’t have the time to research potential investments or know the difference between a stock or bond, these apps do all the hard work for you like portfolio rebalancing and executing trades. These automated apps will be a natural step if you currently invest with a human financial advisor, except your fees will be significantly lower.
All you have to do is fund the account, decide how much you want to contribute each month, and let the app know your investment goals.
1. Personal Capital
Personal Capital is a two-fold financial platform. Many people use Personal Capital’s free budgeting app to track their spending and create financial goals. They even have a free investment fee analyzer that will looks at your current investments and makes recommendations to find similar low-fee funds.
If you have at least $100,000 to invest, you can invest with Personal Capital and have free access to a financial advisor. Even if you don’t have this much capital to invest (yet), you can still track your current investments for free regardless of which brokerage you use. If you use more than one broker, this can be the easiest way to see all your money in one place.
WiseBanyan is one of the few investing apps that’s 100% free since there are no trading fees or account management fees. In fact, they bill themselves as the “world’s first fee-free financial advisor.” All it takes is $1 to start investing with WiseBanyan who will invest your money ETFs with fractional shares.
Of all the robo-advisers, WiseBanyan is the most basic, which is how the creators can keep the app completely free. If you want more advanced features like retirement calculators and access to a human advisor, you will need to choose a different app. Despite being a barebones app, your investment performance should be very similar to the other platforms, except you won’t pay any account management fees unless you opt-in for a premium feature.
If you want some additional perks, you can enroll in tax-optimized investing and account overdraft protection for a tiny monthly fee.
Wealthsimple is a well-established robo-advisor in Canada that recently arrived in the United States. They let you invest in socially responsible ETFs that invest in companies with specific environmental and social values including:
- Low Carbon
- Gender Diversity
- Local Initiatives
- Affordable Housing
There is no account minimum, trading fees, or rebalancing fees. Your first $5,000 is managed for free and the management fee is 0.5% afterwards.
Another popular “hands off” investing app is Wealthfront that invests your money in a basket of ETFs to instantly diversify your portfolio with 11 different U.S. and international asset classes. Your first $10,000 is managed free and the management fee is 0.25% for your remaining balance above $10,000.
You will need at least $500 to open an account. Unlike some of the other investing apps that will buy fractional shares of ETFs, you may have some cash sitting on the sideline if you contribute $100 but the shares cost $98 to buy. In that instance, you will have $2 that will be applied to the next investment.
Betterment is one of the most popular “robo-advisors” because of their low fees, ease-of-use, and automatic portfolio rebalancing. They also include tax-loss harvesting for free as well which means Betterment will try to make tax-friendly investments whenever possible to keep your year-end capital gains as low as possible.
To get started investing with Betterment, you only need $1. After filling out the initial questionnaire where Betterment determines your investment goals and risk tolerance, they will invest in an ETF portfolio of stocks and bonds. As you grow older, Betterment will automatically shift your portfolio allocation from stock-centric ETFs to more bonds that are less volatile as you age and near retirement.
The basic management fee is 0.25% on your total portfolio value, but you can have the management fees waived for one year when you transfer your existing investment account to Betterment.
Acorns a micro-investing app you link to your credit card or debit card. The app rounds up each purchase and invests the difference in an ETF portfolio. While this shouldn’t be your primary investing platform, it can be an excellent side hustle that helps you build a small nest egg without realizing money is being taken out of your checking account.
It does cost $1 a month to use Acorns so this app isn’t free to use, but if Acorns can turn your spare change into profit, the dividends can offset the monthly fee.
DIY Investing Apps
If you still want to be in control of your investments, these apps can help you trade stocks and ETFs at minimal cost.
Do you want an app that lets you trade stocks and options for free?
Robinhood is a mobile-only investing app–meaning you can’t execute any trades from their website. While this app doesn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor like its namesake, you will pay $0 per trade making this the cheapest way to buy and sell stock shares–not ETFs or mutual funds.
If you still rely on research reports and advanced charting before you trade as Robinhood only has very basic charting capabilities. This is how Robinhood can offer unlimited $0 trades.
You can only buy entire shares of stock with Robinhood. If you have $200 to invest and a share costs $198, the remaining $2 will be saved for your next stock purchase.
8. Ally Invest
If you complete more than 30 trades per quarter, Ally Invest lowers your trade fee to $3.95 from $4.95. Those fees are waived for the first 90 days when you transfer a balance of at least $10,000. Even if you aren’t a frequent trader, Ally Invest still has rock-bottom trade fees.
Another reason to consider Ally Invest is that they require $0 to open an account and award-winning customer service.
Read our Ally Invest review to learn more.
9. M1 Finance
M1 Finance is another free app that lets you invest is pre-made ETF portfolios like the other robo-advisors offer, or you can build your own “custom pie” that can consist of both stocks and ETFs. You can even buy fractional shares with M1 Finance.
The initial account minimum is $100 for brokerage accounts and $500 for retirement accounts before you can make your first trade. You won’t pay fees for account management, portfolio rebalancing, or tax minimization.
Maybe Fidelity manages your 401k account. If so, you can have all your money in one place when you open a personal IRA ($0 account minimum) or taxable brokerage account. Fidelity offers 91 commission-free ETFs, including 70 from iShares, and all remaining trades are $4.95 each.
While you can trade online, the Fidelity app is also easy to use. You can even get your retirement score in 60 seconds to see if you’re on track to retire on-time.
If you prefer automated investing from a brokerage with a household name, you can also enroll in Fidelity Go with an initial balance of $5,000. If this price tag is too steep, consider Betterment or Wealthfront as they will make your first trade for only $1.
While Robinhood lets you trade stock for free, Stockpile lets you buy fractional (partial) shares of your favorite stocks and ETFs. Let’s assume you can only invest $100, but you want to invest in Amazon when a single share costs $1,100. With any of the other recommendations, you must either pony up the entire $1,000+ to buy a share or buy an ETF that owns a small sliver of Amazon (which it can sell at any time without your approval).
Even though your $100 investment only buys 1/10 of an Amazon share, Stockpile lets you say you are an actual Amazon shareholder (or any other publicly traded company). You can vote your shares at the annual shareholder meetings.
What makes Stockpile even more appealing is that it only costs 99 cents per trade and you only need $1 to make a trade. When many other discount brokerages charge $4.95 per stock, the savings add up quickly. And, you can reinvest the dividends for free to watch your share size and account balance grow.
Because of Stockpile’s extremely low trading fees and fractional investing, many parents use Stockpile to teach children and teens to invest. You can give your child, niece, nephew, cousin a Stockpile gift card for their favorite company like Amazon, Disney, Nike, or Apple as a gift. By redeeming the gift card on Stockpile, they are now own an actual piece of a company and they begin their investing journey.
12. TD Ameritrade
With no account minimum requirement, TD Ameritrade is another favorite brokerage for beginner investors and advanced investors because of their extensive research tools and customer service. TD Ameritrade offers more than 250+ commission-free ETFs from fund families including:
All other trades cost $6.95 for stocks and other ETFs. You can also qualify for free trades when you open a new account.
One of the online investing pioneers still in business is E*TRADE. They offer more than 100 commission-free ETFs and fee-free mutual funds. While you can trade stocks on E*TRADE, you will pay $6.95 per trade ($4.95 if you make 30+ quarterly trades) which can eat into your bottom line if you plan on trading stocks on a regular basis.
E*TRADE offers brokerage and retirement accounts. There are no account minimums or annual fees with either account.
14. Charles Schwab
If you relish the idea of commission-free ETFs, Charles Schwab has one of the largest selections with more than 200 commission-free ETFs from 13 different fund families for domestic equities, international equities, and commodities. Their other trades are only $4.95 for stocks and non-OneSource ETFs.
They also have several index mutual funds with expense ratios as low as ETFs (0.03%) and an initial investment minimum of only $100 ($1 minimum subsequent investment); most brokerages require a minimum initial investment of at least $2,500 to open a mutual fund position.
Although you can open an account for $0 with Schwab, you will need to contribute at least $1,000 for your brokerage or retirement account within the first year.
When you have at least $5,000 in assets, you can opt for a Schwab Managed Portfolio robo-advisory service that automatically invests your money in a basket of Schwab ETFs–similar to Betterment and Wealthfront.
Unless you are brand-new to the investing world, you have most likely heard about Vanguard who deserves a large share of the credit for making investing affordable for the average investor so we can all enjoy free investing apps today. Because they pioneered the low-cost movement, Vanguard has one of the most loyal customer bases in the world.
Vanguard doesn’t charge any annual account fees when you sign up for paperless account statements. Otherwise, the annual account fee is $20. You will pay $7 per trade for stocks and non-Vanguard ETFs.
Trading fees are also free when you buy or sell Vanguard ETFs and mutual funds. The most cost-effective investing option is trading Vanguard ETFs because the investment minimum is the cost of a single share. You can initiate trades and research funds online or through the Vanguard app.
The best way to describe eToro is it’s a social network for investors. eToro lets you trade company stock, but it’s unique appeal is it’s social trading portfolios that are created by other eToro members. You can even use eToro to gain new investment ideas as well.
Instead of investing in a traditional ETF from iShares, Vanguard, or Schwab, you invest in user-created portfolios with a click of a button. Just as you “follow” your friends and favorite celebrities on Facebook and Twitter, eToro offers a CopyTrader function that lets your investment mimic the action of your favorite traders.
If you don’t have the time or expertise to become a professional investor, this can be a unique way to actively invest and try to beat the market. Beginner investors with minimal investing (even experienced investors) experience should tread lightly with eToro. The only way to outperform the market is to invest in riskier-than-normal assets, which can depreciate in value just as quickly as they appreciate.
eToro can be a good choice if you want to try and earn outsized returns with a small portion of your portfolio; money you can afford to lose if you CopyTrade a risky trader.
If you thought investing in real estate was only for the rich, think again. Fundrise lets you invest in actual commercial real estate projects. All you need to do is invest at least $500 to get started with their Income eREIT investments.
The only fee you pay for eREITs is an annual fee of 1% of your total portfolio value; a fee you will pay with your ETFs and mutual funds because it still costs money to run an investment fund even if the app is free.
You might consider investing in real estate to diversify your portfolio so you’re not completely dependent on the stock market to earn passive income. From 2014-2016, the average Fundrise investor earned the following returns after accounting for fees:
- 2014: 12.25%
- 2015: 12.42%
- 2016: 8.76%
- 2017 (Q1-Q3): 10.37%
During the same three-year period (2014-2016), the S&P 500 only returned 6.73% on average. While real estate won’t always outperform the stock market or have positive gains, people always need a place to sleep and work which means there will always be demand for real estate.
Another advantage of investing in eREITs is that you also don’t have to be the landlord that is responsible for fixing water leaks in 3 am or finding tenants to fill an unoccupied space. Those responsibilities are left to the professionals, you simply finance their efforts and earn interest from their success.
Because online brokerages continue to slash fees to make investing more affordable than ever, we get to enjoy the benefits. Money that used to pay brokerage fees can now be invested instead and immediately begin earning compound interest. Investing has never been more affordable than it is right now!
Which investment do you prefer? Stocks, ETFs, Real Estate, Both?
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