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The Best Investment Apps For 2021: For Beginners And Beyond

Molly Grace6-minute read
December 01, 2021

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Ready to invest your dollars in the stock market but nervous that doing so is too complicated? Stop worrying. Today, you just need to download an app to learn how to invest in stocks or mutual funds. 

Here's a look at the best investment and stock trading apps of 2021, so you can quickly and easily start growing your money, at either a minimal cost or no cost at all.

What Is The Best Investment App?

There was a time when you first had to call a stockbroker if you wanted to invest or trade in the stock market. This broker didn't handle your trades for free; brokerages would often charge hefty commissions.

That isn't necessary today. Thanks to the explosion of fintech, especially robo-advisors, investing has become more accessible than ever. If you want to avoid stockbrokers and their fees, you can now use any of a large number of investment apps to instantly make low-cost or even commission-free trades and new investments.

Best Investment Apps For The Year Ahead

So, what is the best investment app? It depends on your needs. Here are some of our favorites.

Best Overall: Betterment

Fees: 0.25% per year for basic account; 0.40% for premium account

Pros: No account minimum for basic account; simple to use; low fees

Cons: Access to financial advisors is pricey for basic accounts

Best for: Long-term investors looking for an easy, guided experience; retirement savers; socially responsible investors

If you want to achieve financial goals through investing, Betterment is a great platform to do it on. You can open a basic account (known as their “Digital” investing account) with no minimum balance and a 0.25% annual fee, which amounts to around $2.50 per year for every $1,000 in your account.

Accountholders with a minimum balance of $100,000 are eligible for Betterment’s Premium account, which charges an annual fee of 0.40% and offers unlimited access to their team of financial advisors for personalized financial advice.

Non-Premium accountholders can also purchase one-time appointments with Betterment’s advisors, with packages starting at $299.

Betterment also offers three socially responsible investing portfolios for those who want to take a more socially conscious approach to their investing strategy. Choose from the Broad Impact Portfolio, which invests in funds with high ESG ratings, the Climate Impact Portfolio, which invests in eco-conscious companies, or the Social Impact Portfolio, which invests in funds that support racial and gender diversity.

Best For No-Fee Investing: SoFi

Fees: None

Pros: No fees or minimums; options for both hands-on investors and those who want an automated experience

Cons: No automated tax loss harvesting

Best for: Beginner investors

SoFi’s investment platform offers two pathways: active investing and automated investing.

With active investing, you’re in the driver’s seat. Active investors can decide each and every stock or exchange-traded fund (ETF) they want in their portfolios, all with commission-free trades. SoFi also allows investors to purchase fractional shares of certain stocks and ETFs, meaning you can invest in a company with as little as $1.

Automated investing takes care of a lot of the nuts and bolts for you, allowing you to let your money sit in ETFs and grow over time without having to think too much about it.  

SoFi also offers the ability to speak with financial advisors for free.

Best For Wannabe Brokers: Robinhood

Fees: None

Pros: No fees; easy to use; good mobile experience

Cons: Limited features; for long-term or serious investors, better options exist

Best for: Beginners who want to try their hand at the market

Robinhood lets you make stock trades and investments at no charge. The app charges no commissions and no fees. Getting started is easy, too. You just download Robinhood and connect to your bank account. Once you fund your Robinhood account, you can start making free trades.

Robinhood is pretty basic: Don't expect an extensive library of tips, videos or slideshows.

You can upgrade to Robinhood Gold to access more features. But if you're looking for a low-cost way to invest and get firsthand experience in the stock market, the basic Robinhood app is a good choice.

Best For Super Easy Investing: Acorns

Fees: $1, $3 or $5 per month

Pros: Invest without having to think about it; “Family” tier allows you to teach your kids about investing

Cons: Flat-fee pricing means investors with low balances pay a disproportionately high amount

Best for: Investors who struggle to save; families

Acorns provides investors with a super easy, no-excuses platform to ensure you’re always maximizing your opportunities to invest and grow your money.

After you download the Acorns app, you can link a debit or credit card to it. The app will then round up your credit or debit transactions to the next highest dollar amount and invest this extra in one of five professionally managed ETF portfolios based on your level of risk tolerance. You can either set the app to automatically invest this "spare change" or you can ask Acorns to ask you after every purchase if you want to make an investment.

You can also set up one-time or recurring deposits into your account if you want to make larger investments.

This system makes it easy to invest without spending too much time on researching stocks and funds. The downside? Investing isn't free. If you sign up for Acorns' most basic investment account, their “Lite” tier, you’ll pay $1 per month. The next tier, “Personal,” is $3 per month and includes a basic investment account as well as a retirement account and a checking account. The “Family” tier is $5 per month and includes all of the accounts in the previous tiers as well as an investment account for kids.

While these are fairly affordable monthly costs, keep in mind that if you have a smaller balance, you’re likely paying more than you would at a brokerage that charges fees based on a percentage of your balance.

Get $5 when you sign up for Acorns today!

Best For Saving For Retirement: Wealthfront

Fees: 0.25% per year

Pros: Diversified portfolios for long-term investors; personalized portfolios based on your needs and goals

Cons: High minimum balance can be cost-prohibitive for some investors

Best for: Investors looking for a secure place to grow their wealth over the long term

With savings goals as important as your retirement, you don’t want to mess around. Wealthfront is a great option for investors looking to grow their retirement savings with a platform whose investment strategies have been crafted by experts.

Wealthfront also has great tools to help you plan for the future. You’ll get an estimate of how much you’ll likely need to retire and what you should be saving now to get where you need to be.

The one downside is that, unlike the other apps on this list, Wealthfront requires a minimum balance of $500, which can make it less attractive for investors who are looking for a smaller startup cost.

Best For Getting Your Kids Into Investing: Stockpile

Fees: $0.99 per trade

Pros: Educational; easy to use

Cons: More fees than other apps; minimal features

Best for: Teaching kids about the stock market

Stockpile allows adults to open custodial investment accounts for the financially savvy kiddos in their lives. The platform also sells gift cards, so you can give your kids the gift of stock.

Stockpile has no account minimum, but charges $0.99 anytime you buy or sell a stock, plus a 3% fee if you pay with a credit or debit card instead of a directly linked bank account. Gift cards come with an additional fee of $2.99 for the first stock and a $0.99 fee for every additional stock you purchase, plus a 3% credit or debit card fee.

With Stockpile, the child on your custodial account will have the ability to log in and track the performance of their portfolio themselves. They can also request trades for you to either approve or deny.

Best From An Established Investment Firm: Charles Schwab

Fees: None

Pros: Nearly limitless research, educational materials and tools to help you plan for your future; great customer support

Cons: Investors looking to keep things simple might find the platform too complex

Best for: Everyone – this platform has offerings for beginners and veterans alike.

Charles Schwab offers users a huge variety of options for their investment dollars. Schwab customers can invest in options, ETFs, stocks, mutual funds and more. The service is affordable, too, charging $0 commissions for stock, options and ETF transactions. Schwab also charges a $0 account minimum.

Like other investment apps, Charles Schwab does charge a contract fee for trading options. This fee stands at $0.65 a contract, which is similar to what other investing apps charge.

If you want help building a portfolio, you can use Schwab’s Personalized Portfolio Builder tool, which helps you create a diversified portfolio based on your risk tolerance, time before retirement and financial goals. As to be expected from such a well-known investment house, Schwab’s app gives users access to extensive financial research, too.

How To Save In Order To Invest Money

If you’re worried you don’t have enough money to start investing, you’re not alone. But fortunately, you don’t actually need a ton of money to get started – with many of the apps on this list, you can start with as little cash as you like and work your way up.

However, when it comes to serious, long-term investing – such as saving for retirement – you’ll probably want to invest more than a few bucks.

Not sure how to start saving to invest? It can be as simple as setting aside $10 a week, just to get into the habit of saving. Better yet, automate your savings so that money is automatically deposited into your investment account every time you get a paycheck.

If you’re investing in your retirement savings, experts often recommend putting around 15% of your income each year into a tax-advantaged investment account such as a 401(k) or an IRA.

The Bottom Line: Invest In A Better Future With The Right App For Your Needs

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to investing platforms. Everyone’s goals are different.

For those who are looking to learn more about the stock market and just want to invest a few bucks to see how it works, a more hands-on app with the ability to buy fractions of individual stocks would likely be a good fit.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re interested in getting serious about your retirement savings or other big goals, you’ll want a platform that provides you with expert insights, proven investment strategies and diversified portfolios.

Whatever your goals, be sure to do your research to find the investing app that works for you.

Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.