The best investing apps for 2020

The best investing apps for 2020

J.D.'s note: This article marks the GRS debut for my business partner, Tom Drake. Tom's primary role is managing the technical and business sides of things, but as a long-time Canadian money blogger, he'll contribute the occasional article here at GRS.

It has never been easier to invest.

In only a few years, the rapid advancement of mobile technology has placed the power to invest at our fingertips and ushered in a wave of fintech startups, armed with new and innovative solutions for investors. Names like Acorns and Stash are now competing head-to-head with traditional brands such as E-Trade, and TD Ameritrade. (Imagine E-Trade being considered a “traditional” brand!)

With so many great options to choose from, it can be downright difficult to decide which investment app is right for you. To take out the guesswork, I’ve compiled a list of the best investment apps for 2020. From beginner investors to advanced traders, there’s something here for everyone.

Before we dive in, I should point out that this list of best apps is not a ranking. Instead, I’ve chosen what I believe are the best apps for a variety of situations – trading stocks, exchange traded funds (ETFs), no-fee, and micro-investing, you name it.

This means that the investment app I chose as best overall for 2020 won’t necessarily be the top pick for every investor. Rather, it’s the one that I feel most clearly meets the needs of its target client. With that in mind, I present to you the Best Investment Apps for 2020.

Best Overall: Acorns

My top choice for investment app is Acorns. Not because it does everything well, but because it does what it’s designed to do, as well or better than the competition. Acorns was made specifically with new investors in mind, and it delivers precisely what so many of them are looking for: simple, automated investing, with very low fees, and no minimum balance requirement.

To achieve this, Acorns uses an innovative feature known as roundup savings. Here’s how it works. Acorns syncs to your debit and/or credit card, and automatically rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar. It then deposits the “spare change” into your investment account. For example, let’s say you buy a cup of coffee for $1.48. Acorns will round up to the nearest dollar, setting aside $.52 into your savings.

Open an Acorns Account Today

From there, the money is invested in one of five professionally managed ETF portfolios, that match your recommended asset allocation. What I love about Acorns is how easy it is to set up an account directly from the app, and get saving. For account balances less than $5000, the fee is $1/month (.25% annually for balances over $5000). For an additional $1/month, you can now open an Acorns checking account, complete with a Visa Debit card, making the process even more seamless.

Features:

  • Ideal for new investors
  • Easy to use app
  • Innovative, roundup savings
  • Syncs to your credit/debit card for automated savings
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Monthly fee: $1 (for portfolios up to $5000, over $5000, .25% annual fee)
  • Available Acorns checking account with free ATM use nationwide
  • Acorns Found Money – earn credit from retail partner stores
  • IRA account available
  • No stock trading functionality

Best for Automated Investing: Acorns, M1 Finance

While the real magic of automated savings comes in the form of roundups, Acorns offers even more layers of automation. For example, with Acorns Found Money, you can earn cash when you spend money at Acorns retail partner stores, a list that includes Sephora, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart. To register, simply download the Acorns Chrome extension, then sit back and watch as retail discounts are returned back to you in the form of credits to your Acorns account when you shop.

M1 Finance also gets a nod here, for their ability to invest preset amounts directly into an ETF investing platform, absolutely free of charge. Unlike Acorns, however, M1 will require a minimum balance of $100, and they lack some of Acorns added features.

Best for Beginning Investors: Acorns, Stash

From the Acorns app, you can access a huge assortment of educational content for beginner investors. Whether you’re learning about the differences between stocks and bonds, or the basics of dollar cost averaging, these articles will give you the confidence you need to start investing. With tools like this, it’s clear that Acorns understands its target market.

For beginning investors, Stash gets an honourable mention (more on them later), due to the creative names they’ve assigned to their various ETF portfolios, making it easy for beginners to visualize the underlying investments. For example, Stash account holders can choose from portfolio selections such as Retail Therapy, Delicious Dividends, or Robots Rising.

Best for Financial Management: Personal Capital

Personal Capital has become known for their cutting edge tools that help people budget and keep track of their net worth. However, they also act as an asset manager, providing customers with a dedicated advisor, and investment portfolios that include individual stocks and low-cost ETFs. On the downside, they are more expensive than other robo-advisors, charging an annual fee of .89% on assets up to $1MM.

If you meet Personal Capital’s asset threshold, and you’re looking for an investment app that will provide you with powerful tools to help you manage your finances, as well as dedicated advice, Personal Capital might be the way to go.

Features:

  • .89% fee up to $1MM
  • $100,000 minimum investment requirement
  • Free tools
  • Dedicated advice
  • App can sync all of your financial information

Best for Stock Trading: TD Ameritrade, E-Trade

TD Ameritrade has long been a leader in the discount brokerage space, with solid pricing (including an introductory offer of 60 free trades), powerful research & data analysis tools, and a very robust trading platform, making them a top choice with stock trading investors. What makes the TD Ameritrade mobile app great, is that it takes a lot of the functionality of the desktop site, and places it right at your fingertips.

Investors can access educational videos right from the app, receive price alerts on stocks they’re tracking, and place trades with ease. In addition to stocks, TD Ameritrade offers over 100 commission-free ETFs, with no account minimum. You can download the TD Ameritrade app for use on any iOS, Android, or Blackberry device.

I’m giving an honourable mention to E-Trade, which, like TD, boasts an easy to use app, loaded with functionality. They do have a $500 account minimum, however, and don’t offer commission-free ETFs.

TD Ameritrade Features:

  • Powerful research/data analysis tools
  • Educational videos available from the mobile app
  • No account minimum
  • $6.95 per trade (standard)
  • Free trades for the first 60 days (with qualifying deposit)
  • Over 100 commission-free ETFs

Best for Free Stock Trades: Robinhood

Robinhood is the investment app that boasts no strings attached, free trades on stocks and ETFs. If low fee investing is what you’re after, Robinhood is pretty hard to beat. In exchange for free trades however, you’ll give up some of the advanced features that come complimentary on competitor apps.

For example, access to research tools costs $5/month, and margin trading can only be done through Robinhood Gold, for which there is a cost. Think of Robinhood as a discount supermarket, offering rock bottom prices, with no frills service. In addition to free trading, there are no account fees, and no minimum balance requirement.

Active traders may be turned off by the reduced functionality, but if you’re ok with doing your own research and don’t require the margin capability, Robinhood may be the right investment app for you.

Features:

  • No frills, no-fee trading of stocks and ETFs
  • No account fees
  • No account minimums
  • Easy to use mobile app
  • Enhanced research costs $5/month
  • Limited functionality, fractional share purchases unavailable

Best for Free ETF Investing: Vanguard

It comes as no surprise that Vanguard’s competitive advantage lies in its pricing. After all, would you expect anything less from one of the industry’s forerunners in low-cost investing? What I wanted to know was how well the Vanguard app measured up, when compared to the competition.

With the Vanguard app, you can place trades on thousands of funds and ETFs free of charge. In addition, there are no account fees, nor is there a minimum balance requirement. Where Vanguard comes up short is in its functionality as a stock trading platform. The app is not as capable as offerings from competitors such as TD Ameritrade, and E-Trade.

Not only that, Vanguard’s fee structure for stock trading is somewhat complicated, in fact, it could be argued that it’s biased against active trading. Here’s an example: If you have less than $50,000 in Vanguard funds, you’ll pay $7/trade. But after 25 trades, the fee increases to $20/trade, which alone is enough to steer active traders elsewhere.

In short, if you’re a buy and hold ETF investor, better yet, a dedicated Vanguard investor, you’ll likely find this to be a perfectly suitable investing app. But if you’re looking for a place to buy and sell stocks on a regular basis, it’s best to look somewhere else.

Features:

  • Well suited for the buy and hold, Vanguard ETF investor
  • No commission fees on thousands of ETFs
  • No account fees, or account minimum
  • Top-notch educational resources available
  • $7 trading fee for stocks, rises to $20 over 25 trades
  • Complex fee structure for stock trading
  • Not suitable for active traders

Best for Socially Responsible Investing: Wealthsimple

Canada’s largest robo-advisor is now making inroads here in the US, with a mobile app that is intuitive, enabling much of the functionality of the desktop site. With Wealthsimple, you can choose from a selection of low-cost ETFs that will fit your investor profile. What I love most about Wealthsimple however, is their focus on Socially Responsible Investing (SRI).

These days, more and more investors are steering clear of companies that may not reflect their values. Wealthsimple makes that easier through their SRI ETFs, which include holdings in the low carbon, cleantech, and affordable housing sectors. In addition, Wealthsimple offers a Halal portfolio, which only includes investments that align with Islamic investing principles.

In other words, any company profiting from the sale of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pork, or weapons, is excluded from the Wealthsimple Halal portfolio. Halal portfolios do not include income investments, such as bonds or CDs, as they are considered debt instruments. Because of this, rather than ETFs, Halal portfolios are made up of 50 carefully selected, individual stocks.

Features:

  • Robo-advisor offering a broad selection of low-cost ETFs
  • .50% annual fee on portfolios up to $100,000, .40% over $100k
  • No minimum investment amount
  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) available
  • Halal portfolio available

Best for Real-Estate Investing: Fundrise

The Fundrise investment app was designed with a very specific customer in mind: the real-estate investor. Advertising themselves as an alternative to the stock market, Fundrise enables investors to select from portfolios comprised of private real-estate investments. Fundrise portfolios are tailored to three specific asset allocation models – income, balanced, and long term growth.

What I love about Fundrise is that they make real-estate investing accessible to almost anyone, with a $500 minimum investment. There is an annual fee of up to 1.00%, which is not far off some of the robo-advisor competition.

I will issue a note of caution relating to the historical returns that are advertised prominently on the Fundrise website. Not only is past performance not an indicator of future returns, but Fundrise portfolios have yet to endure a severe market downturn, having only been around since 2012.

That said, real-estate investing, in general, has proven to be a suitable long term investment for many generations. If you’re looking for a way to add some variety to a standard stock and bond portfolio, Fundrise may be a good alternative.

Features:

  • Customized private real-estate investment portfolios
  • $500 investment minimum
  • Minimum $100 subsequent contributions
  • .85% annual asset management fee
  • .15% annual investment advisory fee
  • IRA accounts available ($75 min. annual fee)

Best for Micro-Investing: Stash

Similar to other micro-investing apps, Stash makes it easy to get started, by saving very small sums of money. What I love about their investment app, is that it allows you to open an account in only a couple of minutes. Not only that, but as soon as you deposit $5, they’ll match it with a $5 contribution of their own.

Investment apps like Stash make micro-investing possible because they have the ability to purchase fractional shares of the underlying investments (stocks and ETFs).

You can actually browse through a large selection of stocks and ETFs on the app, making it easy to choose a portfolio that aligns with your values. As I mentioned earlier, Stash ETF portfolios have some pretty creative names. Who wouldn’t want some Retail Therapy, or Delicious Dividends.

Features:

  • Same pricing as Acorns
  • Ability to invest small amounts with fractional share capability
  • Customized ETF portfolios to align with your values
  • $5 welcome bonus (with a $5 deposit)
  • Ideal for beginner investors
  • $1/monthly fee might not be worth it for everyone

Which Investment App is Right for Me?

To figure out which investment app is right for you, start by deciding which features are the most important.

If simple, automated savings is what you’re after, Acorns is probably your best bet. Serious stock traders will prefer the robust trading platforms and research tools offered by TD Ameritrade or E-Trade, while fans of Vanguard may be satisfied with its offering of thousands of free ETFs.

Either way, once you know what you’re after, the final decision becomes a lot easier.

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h1blife
h1blife
2 years ago

I use Acorns to stash away small amounts from my account. I started it to use it for small purchases which occur in life for which I don’t have to dig into my primary account at Vanguard. But the deposits have grown so much that I kind of hate to withdraw anything from it. I believe Acorns is a good app if you are just getting started and the rounding up feature builds your investment portfolio over time. If you also put a recurring deposit of $10 or $20 week, you will be shocked how fast your account grows.

JoeHx
JoeHx
2 years ago

I only use apps to look at my money – pretty much just Mint. Even then, I don’t have my Mint linked to any of my investment accounts (e.g. Vanguard). Since I don’t intend on taking money out anytime soon and am in it for the long haul, I don’t see the point of watching it go up and down every day.

The Physician Philosopher
The Physician Philosopher
2 years ago

The only apps I use for personal finance are mint and personal capital. I think that managing my own finances is simple enough once you “Get it” and actually encourage people to do DIY finance.

That said, I understand some people still need a little help and am not opposed to them utilizing tools if they feel it will help them!

Rutleyh@yahoo.com
2 years ago

Wealthfront does not have an advisory fee on the first $10,000 in assets. They also offer a bit more diversification than Betterment. WF provides access to real estate and commodities (VNQ and another ETF) while Bet does not. WF also seems to be a bit more tactical although they certainly are not actively trading. The current model has had no exposure to US treasuries. That bet looks fairly good at the moment but you would still be invested in bonds – EM, Corps and Muni’s (for a taxable account). Betterment is fine as well. Both charge less than Vanguard for… Read more »

Karl
Karl
2 years ago

I’m happy with Robinhood. I love the no-fees component, so there’s no “is this transaction big enough to be worth it?” barrier to hitting buy/sell. I do most of my investing in index funds on Vanguard, but for a handful of dividend stocks, side investing for fun, I like Robinhood. I agree, their website is terrible, and it’s annoying to not have the option for a web platform. I also wish they’d re-invest my dividends, but it’s on their list of things to add (it’s been on the list for awhile). But I like that I can easily see my… Read more »

Beth
Beth
2 years ago

Hey Everyone,

Thank you! I’m going to set up Acorn, and then manage my own either via TD Ameritrade, or Ally. Neither of these have minimum balances, which is what I need at the moment. I found them through NerdWallet.

Thanks again.

Peter Payne
Peter Payne
10 months ago

Great post. I’d point out that “for profit” investing platforms (all except Vanguard, which is owned by its customers) play a lot of dishonest games, having certain products available for a “no transaction fee” via an arrangement with those fund providers, but this often pushes you towards crappy funds you should not be buying. ETFs are always cheap, but if you ever want to buy a mutual fund that isn’t covered by the NTF program, you can pay up to $75 (as I would have to at Fidelity, where I have my stocks) to buy or sell, say, Vanguard funds.… Read more »

dh
dh
10 months ago

This list brings out my inner old man, makes me want to quote Quint from the movie Jaws: “Yeah, that’s real fine expensive gear you brought out here, Mr. Hooper. ‘Course I don’t know what that bastard shark’s gonna do with it, might eat it I suppose. Seen one eat a rockin’ chair one time.” Point is, Just pick up the phone and contact Vanguard or Fidelity directly. Tell Vanguard you want to invest in VTSMX every month, and they will hit up your checking/savings account each month. Or tell Fidelity you want to invest each month in their Spartan… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
10 months ago
Reply to  dh

Best to start a business. Don’t focus on investing at all — focus on business ideas. Look at lists of business ideas. Google businesses for sale in your area and look for cheap ones that you can grow. Work for a business and learn the ropes, then start the same kind of business yourself. Business, business, business, business — *not* investing. I hear ya, but what about investing as a business? Worked for Buffett & Munger haaahaahaaha. (Fair enough, Buffett was doing it since he was 6 or 11 or something like that. Not sure about Charlie Munger.) Thoughts? Serious… Read more »

dh
dh
10 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

You’d have to invest in individual stocks, which is super high risk. However, there’s this from James Altucher: “Invest with someone smarter than you: Warren Buffett, for instance, has to file a form every three months called a “13G form,” which lists his holdings. If you study all his 13G forms you can understand roughly what price he bought. I try to buy at a lower price than Buffett did (you may need to wait for a down market for this). This makes Buffett your free employee. This means I don’t have to worry about all the B.S. that everyone… Read more »

dh
dh
10 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

And of course, as JD and MMM have suggested, after one has maxed out their employer or government-sponsored retirement plans, he or she can route like 75% of their income into VTSMX via a *regular* investment account. This would allow a person to get rich w/o having to wait the traditional 40 years. And then for wealth preservation, one could invest in the so-called “dividend aristocrats.”

dh
dh
10 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

And real-estate-wise, if a person had just *one* paid-off rent house that generated $10k in profits a year, he or she could go live like a king from those proceeds in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There *are* ways to check out in this life.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
10 months ago
Reply to  dh

Sure but most people want to stay engaged with their lives, near family, etc.

Take Buffett again: same house always.

Thailand is great but I don’t speak the language, and tourism can be fatiguing.

What I meant to say as a former business owner who’d regularly put in 16 hours a day, is that if you put 16 hours a day into investing you might just get somewhere with it maybe (just like any other business where there’s potential for profit & loss).

dh
dh
10 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

It’s a good point, El Nerdo. I still think starting a regular business is going to be the surest, most controllable path available to profits tho.

Speaking of Buffett again, check this out:

https://medium.com/@jaltucher/how-did-warren-buffett-get-rich-a10b04d459fa

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
10 months ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Awesome link, thanks. Just saved it to my read/review pile.

Nate
Nate
10 months ago

Do you have a list of all of the services that you analyzed? Aka, what didn’t make the cut?

Ryan
Ryan
10 months ago
Reply to  Nate

Yeah, I’m curious about Betterment.

Barry Dehlin
Barry Dehlin
10 months ago

I am shocked that this blog is recommending Personal Capital and a minimum $8,900 fee every year (0.89% of $1MM) for their software and services. This is completely contrary to sound financial advice of “keep fees to a minimum.” How can you justify this? How is what they provide — relative to others that do similar things with lower fees — possibly worth $9K per year (at a MINIMUM)? Maybe there’s some reasonable response to this, but it’s sure not present in the flimsy two paragraphs you spend talking about Personal Capital. Given the huge attention this blog has appropriately… Read more »

Lis
Lis
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom Drake

I’ve been a fan of PC as a free way to view all of your money in one place automatically for a long time. I’m just getting to the asset value where PC thinks I might be a good customer, so I’m getting the emails and the notifications and the calls with the scare tactics. Compared to a traditional financial advisor, 0.89% seems pretty low. That being said, it’s certainly way higher than the target audience here is likely to go for.

Barry Dehlin
Barry Dehlin
10 months ago
Reply to  Barry Dehlin

Thanks for the clarification…my criticism hereby withdrawn.

I do think this detail was more than a bit unclear in the write-up.

Georges
Georges
10 months ago

Nice review. Would be great to add kid friendly services offering custodial accounts. Newest one on the scene is Loved which is positioned as the robin hood for kids.

Wilkop
Wilkop
10 months ago

Have accounts at both TD Ameritrade and Fidelity. Actually prefer the look and feel of the Fidelity site as well as their lower commissions and customer service. Do very little trading in either account, and anymore mostly buy no commission low cost ETF’s. Fidelity is my top choice.

Peter Payne
Peter Payne
10 months ago

Wilkop, my son uses TD Ameritrade and I use Fidelity. Both are excellent and have excellent apps. However, both are extreme a) unfriendly to anyone buying not-on-their-free-list mutual funds (so anything by Vanguard will cost you as much as $75 to buy) which b) is geared to “strategically” push you to their “free” funds that have high fees. As long as you can avoid these by owning only ETFs and direct stocks it’s not a problem, but it sucks for fans of VTSAX or Vanguard’s target date funds.

Lis
Lis
10 months ago

I signed up for Bumped a couple of months ago and have been pleased. In short, you’ll get paid a fraction of a stock of a specific company or in VTI for your regular purchases. In two months my portfolio is up to a whopping $0.92 in Dunkin and Spotify stock, but hey, it’ll add up eventually, and that’s just from a total of four purchases I was going to make anyway. The selection of brands is pretty small, but it does include some favorites (other popular brands include Starbucks, Chipotle, the Outback Steakhouse brand owner). They just added a… Read more »

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