Which ones do it most effectively?


Robinhood has blown up over the past few years as a popular app for new and experienced investors. Founded in 2015, the company has attracted millennials with features like cryptocurrency, fractional shares, $0 minimums, and educational resources. Not to mention their pledge to “democratize investing.”

Recently, however, the company drew attention from the media and some politicians following their late January announcement to limit purchases of certain volatile securities in light of GameStop’s sudden skyrocketing prices. Under immediate fire, Robinhood quickly reversed their decision, but for some, the damage has been done to their “give to the needy” image. And it certainly has not bolstered the trust of current and potential Robinhood users. As one article quoted, many users felt betrayed, some enough to take to the streets and protest the decision. These protesters, like many others, feel as though Robinhood is behaving contrary to their namesake – to steal from the needy and preserve wealth for the rich.

Almost every investing platform today pledges some iteration of the same mission – to democratize investing, remove barriers for the average American, make the stock market more accessible, etc. Which platforms do this most effectively?

For those who are just beginning to invest, recent events highlight the importance of getting to know all your options. For others who are more experienced, perhaps Robinhood’s recent decisions offer pause to reconsider your trading platforms.

Robinhood Overview

Objectively, Robinhood is a good middle-ground platform that offers some guidance for beginners, and flexibility for those who know what they want. Like many platforms, Robinhood offers fractional shares, which allow users the freedom to maximize the utilization of their available money. For those who are investing with little to start, this can make all the difference. It means that you do not need the money to purchase a whole share, and it also means your money is not sitting around while you wait to save as much.

Additional attractive features include $0 account minimums, access to cryptocurrency, and no fees. Let’s see how their basic features compare to the competition.

Traditional Online Brokers

TD Ameritrade

If you have access to the internet or watch television, you have probably heard of TD Ameritrade, TD Bank’s investing platform.  They offer a wide variety of services but function mostly as a self-directed investing platform. With $0 fees for stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), certain options, mutual funds, bonds, and futures, its platform is a great option for an experienced self-directed investor. Under this umbrella, it offers a variety of different web and mobile platforms that all cater to different levels of experience and goals.

If you have more lofty goals or the resources for more guidance, TD Ameritrade also offers a selection of professionally managed portfolios that range in personalization levels. This route does require more resources as its portfolios all have minimums that range from $500 to the tens of thousands.

If you are looking for a well-rounded option, it’s hard not to factor in TD Bank as well. The ability to have all your accounts at the same institution is an attractive feature, especially considering they offer retirement accounts and a Collateral Lending Program, which allows you to leverage an eligible account to get a personal loan for things like short term cash flow or business expenses.

Related: TD Ameritrade Full Review

E*TRADE

Another popular investing platform is E*TRADE, which has been around since the 1980s and is responsible for the first individual electronic trade. Like TD Ameritrade, E*TRADE offers self-directed investing, managed portfolios, retirement accounts, and banking. Using its self-directed platform, you can trade stocks, ETFs, bonds, mutual funds, options, and futures. If you are new to investing, it has a section that will help you find resources to get started, including a four-step process that helps you determine your goals and choose the best investments for you.

Its managed portfolios require larger account minimums, with the lowest core account starting at $500. This is still a good option if you have the resources to take your investing to the next level.

Related: E*TRADE Full Review

Ally Invest

Ally Invest is another broker that brings the best of the digital world to the best of the more traditional investment platforms. It also caters to self-directed investors with low fees and minimums and is widely known for its commitment to the customer (an ally if you will). Part of that commitment comes in the form of resources and tools designed to help you as a self-directed investor. Its managed portfolios strike a mix between robo-advisors and consultants, which means there are no fees and you can open an account with as little as $100. Its portfolios are designed by real people, and it bolsters the robo experience with their 24/7 accessible customer service. You may not get as customized as with TD Ameritrade or E*TRADE, but you will not pay the higher fees either.

Its customer-tailored experience does not fall short with banking. Like other online services, it offers accounts with $0 maintenance fees (as well as other fees like overdraft), and several have features like their savings buckets, which help you visualize and organize your savings goals. Of the fees it does charge, it is upfront about what you will see in your account. Other services it offers include auto financing, home loans, corporate financing for midmarket companies, and loans for healthcare and home improvement.

Read More: Ally Invest Review

Public

Like Robinhood, and many other digital platforms, Public was founded with the mission to make investing more accessible to everyone with low costs, a mobile app, and fractional shares. Public offers “slices” of stock that allow you to invest without the money to buy entire shares. There are no account minimums or commission fees, so you are pretty much free to invest as you please. Like Robinhood, you also get a free slice of stock just for signing up, and one for referring friends.

As far as the educational component, Public is pretty hands-off. Similar to Robinhood, it provides a stock directory, top movers, and categories, or “themes,” plus a library of blog-like posts that require effort on your part to sift through. Its biggest differentiator comes in the form of its social media component, conceived under the philosophy that investing is isolating, and that is one reason why many hesitate to sign up. On its platform, you can follow like-minded investors to up your financial knowledge, and/or share your own insights. If you are someone who is comfortable with networking and sharing your own experiences related to investing, this could be a good platform for you. If you are looking for something more private or more educational in a traditional sense, this may not be the best option.

Read More: Public Review

Acorns

Acorns has been around since the early 2010s and allows users to invest their “spare change” with round-ups. It embraces its namesake by helping you start small and grow your oak. It provides a selection of professionally curated portfolios (it boasts Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Harry Markowitz, in particular) that range from conservative to aggressive and are based on your goals and your comfort level. One of the biggest selling points for a beginner investor is its creative and efficient ways of getting you to invest without thinking about it. Round-ups occur when you spend using a debit or credit card connected to your account. At the time of the transaction, Acorns will round up to the nearest dollar, and invest the change into your account.

Additionally, Acorns has partnered with a good selection of vendors for their Found Money feature, which helps users by investing a certain amount when they spend at specific places (Apple, Walmart, and Walgreens to name a few).

One of the drawbacks is that its basic account will cost you $1/month. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but $12/year is actually a lot to manage a small account. If your account is up to the tens of thousands, then the fee isn’t too bad. Acorns is free for users aged 18 to 22, which makes it a no-brainer for young people and college students to dip their toe into the investing world. Its creative auto-investing options will help you save more without thinking about it. If you are someone who needs a push to start saving or you just want a lower-effort option, Acorns is a good service for you.

Read More: Acorns Review

Betterment

Like Acorns, Betterment is a digital platform offering curated portfolios (which it also boasts are based on Nobel Prize-winning research), matched to you based on your investing goals. Unlike other platforms, it starts with a goal (dream home, college savings, new car, etc.) to get an idea of your risk tolerance and ideal profile. In addition to those portfolios, it offers socially and climate-conscious options, low-risk options, and flexible portfolio options where you can adjust the weight of particular asset classes.

Its platform is clean and simple and guides users and potential users through a series of pointed questions aimed at getting to the bottom of your investing goals. It also offers $0 fee banking services through its app. Its most stand-out features include its Tax Loss Harvesting guidance – automated to sell some of your shares at a loss that will offset your gains and lessen your tax impact – and its automatic rebalancing.

As far as guidance goes, you may have to cough up some more cash. Its robo-advising packages are all offered for fees that range from $150 (getting started) to $400 (retirement). Its free educational resources include write-ups on frequently asked questions and suggested articles.

Read More: Betterment Review

Stash

Stash is a good option for true beginners and another platform utilizing creativity to help users invest. Its Stock Back Rewards Card, for example, allows users to earn stock rewards just like cash back or airline miles. Just like Betterment and Acorns, there is no account minimum, and users are taken through a series of questions to build a curated portfolio. Stash’s recommendations will vary based on your income and how conservative you are. Like Acorns, its services cost small fees that have the potential to add up based on the value of your account. Its beginner account starts at $1/month, growth is $3/month, and Stash+ reaches $9/month. Like the others, it also offers online banking with $0 fees.

As far as its education, Stash offers a good up-front overview of investing and investing terms for true beginners, but only if they are willing to put in the work, as well. The resources are there, but it is not education that will hold your hand throughout. After the initial overview, its resources drop off to function like a series of blog posts rather than a library of information. If you are looking for a good banking service and interested in learning about investing, then Stash is a good option for you.

Read More: Stash Review

M1 Finance

Like all finance apps from the past decade, M1 Finance comes with a belief that the finance industry is dated and inaccessible and strives to drive investing and finance forward through technology. Its platform functions as a good in-between of more traditional and established brokers like TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE and the newer fintech apps. Its self-proclaimed “Super Finance App” divides its services into three categories: invest, borrow, and spend. Its services are tailored toward fairly experienced, self-directed investors for whom the biggest selling point is likely the flexibility and freedom of a more customizable service.

It does offer a number of curated portfolios (it uses the image of a pie), but it also allows customizations so users can select their own “slices.” On top of that, you can utilize both of these features by having part of your portfolio be curated, and the other customized.

In addition to its online banking options, M1 offers low-rate and unique lending options. Because you will use your investment account as collateral (this can only happen after your account reaches a certain value), there are no payment schedules, no credit checks, and no paperwork.

The drawback for some may be the $100 account minimum for its basic account ($500 for retirement). That may be too steep for a beginner who is just learning about investing.

However, if you are thinking long term, M1’s investing, banking, and lending options make it a good platform to consider.

Read More: M1 Finance Review

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, deciding which platform is best for you is a personal decision that requires some effort. That’s a good thing because investing is not something that should be taken casually or lightly. Regardless of the current climate, it is smart to do your research and get to know what’s out there before you invest your money.



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