Once upon a time, you had to have a stockbroker if you wanted to buy or sell stocks.
During the 1990s, this shifted, and you could create an online brokerage account as long as you had a reliable Internet connection at home. In the past decade, those requirements shifted again. You can now make trades from your phone any time day or night.
This power comes with additional responsibility, along with several advantages.
The Pros & Cons of Trading Apps
Trading apps offer a variety of benefits. Among the most common and appreciated are:
- More fine-tuned control over your portfolio
- Real-time statistics and metrics to inform your decisions
- Lower fees than with a traditional brokerage or financial advisor
- Intuitive user interfaces that can also teach the basics of trading
They also come with a handful of drawbacks, including:
- The usual security vulnerabilities when on a Wi-Fi network
- Lack of professional guidance and advice while making financial decisions
- Screen addiction and video game addiction can interact problematically with these apps
One final factor is both a pro and a con, as well as one of the core features of phone-based trading apps: rapid response. You can buy or sell a stock in seconds, responding to news the moment you hear about it. That means you can react to a tip or a pending problem quickly enough to avert a personal financial disaster. However, it can lead to overreacting, overthinking, and generally add stress, fees, and small losses that would have been avoided if you’d just waited a few hours or days to see how things worked out.
10 Trading Apps
Here is the list of our 10 favorite trading apps that we’ve compiled from a number of sources.
A full-featured app with options for stocks, crypto assets, ETFs, and more than 2,000 other financial instruments, eToro, is a regular top performer in the Finance category for Google Play and the App Store.
- “CopyTrader,” which lets you replicate the position of traders you specify
- A virtual $100,000 demonstration account for you to practice with both the app and the market
- One-click trading
- Offline trading options for some orders
- In-suite news feed
- Stop-loss option for bearish days
Best For: Intermediate-level traders looking to diversify holdings.
Worst For: Beginners. The “training wheels” features can give a false sense of security, leading to real losses.
Price: Free to install.
See here for detailed description of trading fee structure.
E*Trade has been a market disruptor since the 1990s, when the firm was among the first to apply the Internet to personal finances, offering broker-free, low-fee online trading. They’ve continued to lead the changes in financial services and were also in the initial pack of app-based trading.
- Voice recognition system for security and voice command for trading
- Strong margin analysis tools
- High-end customer service
- In-suite news feed
- Barcode scanner
- Excellent comparative analysis features
Best For: People with an existing E*Trade account.
Worst For: Budget traders. E*Trade’s fees are high.
Price: Requires a $500 deposit. $6.95 fee for buying stocks, which decreases to $4.95 with more than 30 trades per quarter.
Fidelity is a low-commission app that’s deeply customizable, allowing you to set its appearance and functions to suit your skill level and needs. A registration questionnaire sets you up for success by giving you enough options and information to make meaningful decisions without being overwhelmed.
- Personalized feed and function access
- Customizable alerts
- Can be linked with bills, taxes, and IRAs
- Can be paired with Amazon Echo for real-time stock change news
- Training modules for beginners
Best For: Beginners. It starts simple and can expand as your knowledge and experience grow.
Worst For: Veteran traders, who may find its features limiting.
Price: $4.95 registration fee. Between 0.1% and 0.5% fees for each trade or purchase.
Plus500 is a proprietary platform designed to deliver a lot of information, quickly and in real time, to the user. It’s visually rich and supports those visuals with charts, multitasking, and side-by-side analysis to inform every trade with as much data as possible.
- Email alerts
- Mobile alerts
- Demo account
- Stop-loss with guarantee
Best For: Experienced, savvy traders who can make use of the myriad data points the app delivers all at once.
Worst For: Casual traders of any experience level. The app serves fully engaged buyers best.
Price: $100. $500 minimum deposit for trading/bank. $10 inactivity fee. Variable fees for different trades, derived from a percentage of the purchase.
Robinhood is a scaled-down, simplified trading app for beginners and casual traders, with options for expansion so it grows as the user’s skills and knowledge improve.
- Scheduled deposits
- Stock/company watch list
- Real-time tracking
Best For: Beginners wanting to try their luck with stock trading.
Worst For: Intermediate and advanced users. The functions they need aren’t part of the free option.
Price: Free to use. Free to register. No commissions. Advanced version Robinhood Gold does cost.
6. Schwab Mobile
In the 2000s, Schwab pioneered online banking with high-yield interest checking and some of the most robust Web options on the market. Their entry into the trading app market, Schwab Mobile, continues their innovative tradition with a one-size-fits-all offering.
- Customizable interface
- Real-time quotes
- Connectable to Apple Pay
- In-suite news
- Watch list
Best For: “Techie” investors. It’s a solid app that, if you have the interest and expertise, can be fine-tuned for almost any need.
Worst For: Investors with specialized interests or needs. This app is designed to be one-size-fits-all, which means outliers aren’t as well served as they might be by other apps.
Price: No service fee with a $1,000 minimum balance. No fees or commissions on listed options (over 4,000 as of this writing), with fees from $4.95 to $76 for off-list purchases.
Stash lets you have both a standard investment account and a retirement account on the same app, and to move between them with ease. It keeps the interface undemanding while maintaining a wide range of options for investment. It doesn’t make purchases directly, but rather helps organize and unify your finances in a single app.
- Integrated financial coaching
- Automated savings options
- Access to real estate investing
- Linkable with other financial services
Best For: Absolute beginners. It’s designed to simplify finances and introduce users to trading.
Worst For: Intermediate and above traders. It’s designed to simplify finances and introduce users to trading.
Price: Registration is free. $1 monthly fee for up to a $5,000 balance. 0.25% annual fee above that.
The SigFig platform accesses accounts the user has registered at Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade to help organize assets and simplify a unified approach to diversified portfolios.
- Synchronization with third-party accounts
- Unified portfolio tracking
- Automatic dividend reinvestment
- Many free financial transfers
Best For: Experienced traders with multiple positions in multiple markets.
Worst For: Intermediate and below traders. The high account minimum and advanced feature set make it hard to learn while simultaneously putting a lot at risk.
Price: $2,000 account minimum. The first $10,000 in assets carries no fee. Above $10,000, annual fee of 0.25%.
Acorns is an automatic investment program that rounds up purchases made with your debit and credit cards to the nearest dollar, then buys a small stock position every time those purchases reach a total value of $5. It’s built to run largely automatically, though you can change priorities and purchase options as things progress.
- No minimum investment
- Quick deposit options for profits
Best For: People who want to save and/or invest but not think about it.
Worst For: Investors who want to carefully choose their options.
Price: $1 per month with a balance below $5,000. 0.25% above that.
10.TD Ameritrade Mobile
TD Ameritrade Mobile is an advanced app that allows users to select between retirement, education, specialty, managed, and margin trading accounts. It links easily with external banks and provides strong market analysis.
- No account minimum
- In-depth account monitoring
- Price alerts
- Annotated charts
- Customizable screens and lists
- Earning calendars
- Linkable to Apple Watch without a smartphone
Best For: Advanced, savvy traders with experience and a diversified portfolio.
Worst For: Anybody who had to look up any of the specialized terms in this entry.
Price: Based on TD bank account fees linked with this account. Highly variable.
Unlike many other apps for your phone, more is not better when it comes to stock trading apps. You’ll get the best results and most mileage out of choosing one and mastering its particulars, rather than trying to use one for parts of your portfolio and one for others. We can’t say for sure which one will be the best choice for you. But hopefully, the information we’ve given here can help you make the best choice for yourself.
This piece was contributed by Thomas Jones.
Thomas Jones worked in financial services on Wall Street for two decades. He now serves as a financial consultant and provides insight for financial firms upgrading their technology.