6 Best Stock Trading & Investment Apps in 2021

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The best stock trading apps allow you to buy and sell a variety of investments for free right from your phone or laptop.

In this article, I’ll explain whether a self-directed trading app is the best choice for you. I’ll also help you navigate the overwhelming number of choices by identifying the best brokerage companies.


Best Stock Trading & Investment Apps in 2021

Not long ago, self-directed investment involved paying a discount broker like Schwab, Fidelity or TD Ameritrade to execute your buy and sell orders.

Then Robinhood launched with free trades. Soon after, competitive pressure caused many of the discount brokers to become free brokers. As such, in compiling the best stock trading apps, I made $0 trades a requirement. If you’re a self-directed investor, you can make free stock, ETF and options trades with plenty of reputable brokers in 2021.

The biggest differences in today’s stock trading and investment apps relate to minimum deposit requirements, ease of use, research, tools and access. The product offerings among the best free stock trading apps can vary wildly.

Originally, the term “discount broker” was associated with companies that disrupted the industry leaders. The Schwabs of the world made it possible for the average retail investor to access the stock market without paying exorbitant fees or commissions and without having to maintain high minimum balances.

More recently, fintech companies have been disrupting those original disruptors. While discount brokers still exist, the best discount brokers are now free.

There’s been almost constant change in the industry in last few years, so it’s a good idea to make sure you get the most up-to-date information about the stock trading app you’re interested in using.


Table of Contents


Best Stock Trading & Investment Apps

CompanyBest ForWhy It Makes Our List
FidelityOverallTremendous overall cost structure, strong tools, good research data
Interactive BrokersInternational marketsBest selection of international investment options
RobinhoodBeginnersSimplest, fastest app, low costs, fractional shares
SchwabETFsGreat screening tools and low costs especially for ETFs
TD AmeritradeTools and researchEducational content, research, tools and platform among the best
VanguardPassive InvestorsLow-cost mutual funds and ETFs

Fidelity: Best Overall

Fidelity is one of the best stock trading apps for self-directed investors.

Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs, options

$0

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual funds, CDs, Metals

Taxable, Retirement, HSA, Trust

Yes

4.6

4.8

The Details: Fidelity offers an exceedingly rare combination of low costs and strong features that makes it ideal for any level of investor.

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It’s easy to look at how many of the best stock trading apps offer $0 commissions and assume they’re all equal on price. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a self-directed investment platform with better overall rates than Fidelity.

Fidelity says it doesn’t profit by selling your buy or sell orders to third party companies. As such, customers get the best prices on order execution. Fidelity offers lots of zero expense ratio mutual funds, and more than 3,400 of them carry no transaction fees.

Despite those rock-bottom prices, Fidelity provides what is perhaps the best research information of any stock trading and investment app. On its site, you can find reports on stocks from 20 different third-party research firms. The company’s in-house market analysis, Fidelity Viewpoints, also draws rave reviews. Add to that an easy-to-use, detailed stock screener with options galore.

But wait. There’s more: Fidelity offers educational opportunities via free in-person help and investor seminars as well as a robust online learning center.

Interactive Brokers: Best for International Markets

Interactive Brokers is an excellent app to invest in international stocks in multiple markets.

Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs

$0

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual funds, Bonds, Metals, Futures

Taxable, Retirement, Trust

Yes

3.5

3.4

The Details: If you want to trade around the world and around the clock, Interactive Brokers may be the best stock trading app for you that’s based in the United States.

With access to 125 international markets in more than 30 countries using 22 currencies, including stocks, options, futures and bonds, Interactive Brokers offers what is probably the biggest selection of international investment opportunities. You can also invest in more than 8,300 mutual funds without paying any transaction fees. If you’re researching mutual funds, the company will recommend similar ETFs, which cost less.

Interactive Brokers also is one of the best platforms in the industry in terms of order execution, actively helping you secure the best possible price on your trades.

The company’s entry-level investment plan, “IBKR Lite,” offers free trades on domestic stocks and ETFs. It also allows you to trade fractional shares and carries a $0 account minimum. So Interactive Brokers is competitive with the other companies on this list based on price.

If you’re using it just to make free trades on U.S.-based stocks, there are probably platforms that offer you better features. But if you’d like to sprinkle in exposure to a wide variety of international markets at an inexpensive cost — and then hold those stocks for a long time — it’s a good option.

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That said, Interactive Brokers seems targeted to professional investors. Its IBKR Pro plan is set up for professionals who want to trade on the international market. Whether you are a Lite or Pro customer, you’ll pay $0.005 per share on international trades (minimum of $1 per trade). Rates can go even lower for high-volume traders.

The pricing structure for the Pro plan is complex, although for individuals making these sorts of international trades, it’s well-respected and considered a great value.

Robinhood: Best for Beginners

Robinhood's frictionless approach to investing makes it a great app for beginners to manage their portfolios.

Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs, options

$0

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Crypto, Metals

Taxable

Yes

4.4

4.8

The Details: Robinhood’s app is the simplest, fastest and easiest to use of any investment platform I’ve reviewed. It doesn’t include much in the way of charts and research. But if you’re a new investor, you may not be looking for that kind of information anyway. Robinhood gives you enough information to learn the basics of investing and then execute trades easily — without getting bogged down by data you may not understand.

Thoughtful Robinhood users will find outside sources for research and analysis and use the app mainly to track their portfolios and execute free trades.

Robinhood is at least indirectly responsible for each of the investment apps that offers $0 commissions on stocks and ETFs. The company has followed the “move fast and break things” ethos of Silicon Valley, disrupting the discount brokerage industry and drawing headlines for a mix of innovation and controversy.

Robinhood lets you trade fractional shares, so even if you don’t have much capital, you can develop a well-diversified portfolio. It supports cryptocurrency trading too. So if you want to, you can dip your toe into the crypto-trading world by buying as little as $1 in Bitcoin.

Robinhood makes everything as easy and fast as possible. For example, when you sign up with Robinhood, up to $1,000 of your deposits are instantly available for trading, even before the transfer is finalized.

Robinhood also offers a cash management account. It earns 0.30% APY as of January 2021.

Schwab: Best for ETFs

Clark Howard is a big fan of Charles Schwab and their selection of low-cost ETFs.

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Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs, options

$0

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual funds, Bonds, CDs, Metals, Futures

Taxable, Retirement, HSA Trust

Yes

3.9

4.8

The Details: Although its website (and recent industry media coverage) may lead you to believe Schwab is pushing you toward its full service or robo-advisor, self-directed investors still have a place at this legacy brokerage.

The company has undergone major changes in the last two years, slashing fees and acquiring TD Ameritrade in a merger that should be complete within the next three years.

Especially if you download its proprietary StreetSmart Edge software, Schwab may be the best place to invest in ETFs, which is a popular low-expense, well-diversified long-term strategy. StreetSmart Edge offers more than 150 screening options for ETFs. It’s a sophisticated tool that’s available to you even if you aren’t a Schwab customer. Schwab also lets you research stocks, ETFs and mutual funds simultaneously. Overall, Schwab’s research and investment tools are some of the best in the industry.

The company gives customers access to its own proprietary index funds and ETFs and offers more than 500 funds with an expense ratio of 0.50% or less.

Schwab also offers fractional shares, but they’re somewhat limited. Called Schwab Stock Slices, the minimum investment is $5, you can buy no more than 10 slices at a time and the offerings are limited to the S&P 500.

You’ll make just 0.01% APY on your uninvested cash at Schwab, which is low. Still, one reason Schwab was able to move to $0 commissions is that it makes a large percentage of its revenue on uninvested cash from its customers.

TD Ameritrade: Best for Tools & Research

TD Ameritrade, which recently got purchased by Schwab, is one of the best stock trading apps.

Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs, options

$100

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual funds, CDs, Bonds, Metals, Futures

Taxable, Retirement, HSA Trust

No

3.6

4.7

The Details: Schwab has acquired TD Ameritrade and will reportedly integrate TD Ameritrade into its operations by the end of 2023. It’s still somewhat unclear exactly what impact that will have on those who invest through TD Ameritrade, so keep that in mind. But there’s an argument to be made that, in its present form, TD Ameritrade is the best stock trading app in 2021.

TD Ameritrade doesn’t offer fractional shares, which is one of its few negatives. Its website is the opposite of the Robinhood experience, which contains scant information but is easy to navigate. TD Ameritrade gives customers such a burst of educational content (including its own media network), research and investment tools that it can be challenging to wade through the forest of features to find what you want.

The platform is well-rounded enough to deliver a good product for day traders, futures traders and options traders. But it doesn’t specialize. As long as you stick to basic investing strategies, TD Ameritrade should be able to meet your needs.

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Its desktop platform, called “thinkorswim,” is among the best you’ll find for charts and real-time data. It’s as customizable and feature-rich as any investment platform that offers $0 trades. There’s a thinkorswim app as well. But TD Ameritrade Mobile, the app designed for more casual investors, has plenty of good features.

It’s rare for a brokerage to charge zero commissions on stocks, ETFs and options and still offer such quality research, education and tools. TD Ameritrade also offers trading of more than 4,000 mutual funds with zero transaction fees and more than 700 with expense ratios of 0.50% or less.

Vanguard: Best for Passive Investors

Vanguard is the leader in low-cost, self-directed investing for ETFs and mutual funds.

Fees

Minimum
Deposit

Tradable
Assets

Account
Types

Fractional
Shares

Android
App
Rating

iOS
App
Rating

$0 for stocks, ETFs, options

$0

Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual funds, CDs, Bonds, Metals

Taxable, Retirement, Trust

No

2.6

4.7

The Details: Vanguard has become synonymous with low-cost, buy-and-hold investing — and for good reason. It offers a large number of proprietary, low-cost mutual funds and ETFs. That’s in addition to more than 3,100 mutual funds that carry no transaction fees.

According to a June 2020 Morningstar study, the average expense ratio for mutual funds and ETFs is 0.45%. Vanguard’s average is 0.10%. And it also slashed commissions down to $0 at the beginning of last year, a significant move for a company that was managing $6.2 trillion in global assets at the time.

Vanguard founder Jack Bogle invented index funds. Many of the best robo-advisors follow a strategy that resembles what Vanguard has offered to self-directed investors for a long time.

If your goal is to follow the type of long-term investment strategy that money expert Clark Howard recommends, Vanguard is set up to cater to you. One of the downsides is that Vanguard’s tools and data are not nearly as robust as a few other names on this list. But you don’t really need those types of tools if you’re looking to buy and hold mutual funds, index funds and ETFs.

Note that, if you’re an everyday investor, you may find the minimum investment requirements too high. Vanguard’s robo-advisor option requires a $50,000 investment. Many of its proprietary funds carry minimum investments between $1,000 and $3,000.


Other Stock Trading and Investment App Options

Here are some other companies that I seriously considered including in our list of the best stock trading apps in 2021. They didn’t make the list for reasons I’d consider to be minor, so these companies may be worth considering for your personal situation.

For example, Clark doesn’t recommend options trading, which is risky and more akin to betting than long-term investing. But some people do trade options, and there’s one platform that stands out for its ability to serve those people.

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All of the options below offer $0 commissions for stocks and ETFs.

CompanyWhy It Stands OutAccount Features
E*TRADEStrong mobile experience• Mobile app considered one of the best in the industry.
• Requires $1,000 minimum balance to trade via mobile.
• App includes access to Bloomberg TV, charts, third-party research and screeners.
tastyworksBest for options traders• Intended for frequent options traders.
• Charts focus on the probability of turning a profit on your options trade ideas.
• Its tools evaluate common options trades such as iron condors and butterflies.
TradeStationBest for active traders• Confusing but flexible price structure could benefit active traders.
• Charting and tools are among the best in the industry.
• Excellent for experienced traders who use custom strategies.

How Should You Choose a Stock Trading & Investment App?

Do not pass “Go” and do not collect $200 until you check the costs. Clark says that applies any time you plan to spend money, but it’s especially important with investing.

In most cases, there’s little reason in 2021 for you to pay a commission to buy and sell things like stock, ETFs and even cryptocurrency.

It’s important to understand the asset classes that each company offers. Some free investing apps don’t allow you to invest in mutual funds while others give you access to thousands of them.

When you’re looking for the best stock trading apps, another thing to consider is how easy it is to use. Is the app or website intuitive and fast? Are you able to get help from customer service? Also make sure to consider account minimums, research capabilities and investment tools.


What Are the Advantages of a Self-Directed Investment App?

Free stock trading apps:

  • Lower your investment costs. Full-service brokers and robo-advisors typically charge annual fees to manage your portfolio. They usually charge to execute trades as well. The basic versions of the best stock trading apps will let you buy and sell equities for free. Paying $0 in commission fees is especially good for active traders. The best stock trading apps also don’t charge annual management fees.
  • Are accessible to everyone. Most self-directed investment apps include low or zero account minimums, and they offer easy-to-use platforms to monitor your portfolio and execute trades. Investing used to be just for the rich. But the best stock trading apps have democratized investing.
  • Give you control. If you prefer making your own investment decisions and you’re good at learning how to use tools and resources, self-directed apps are great solutions.
  • Are continually improving. The pressures of the competition raging between self-directed investment apps in 2021 are great for customers. Do-it-yourself investment platforms are continually lowering prices, expanding features and innovating in order to stand out to you, the investor.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Self-Directed Investment App?

There are some downsides to free, self-directed investment apps. They:

  • Don’t offer human advice. Free investment apps usually don’t let you communicate with a human being for investment guidance. If you’re intimidated by the entire idea of investing, self-directed apps may not be for you.
  • Require knowledge, discipline and skills. Much like being unleashed in a casino with a pocket full of cash and no supervision, it can be easy to lose money — or at least fail to maximize your returns — if you aren’t sure where to put that cash. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to successfully invest your own money in 2021, but you do need some common sense, dedication and self-control.
  • Won’t handle every financial need you have. Full-service advisors can handle all your finances, offering tax advice, estate planning, investing, retirement planning and more. Free investment apps won’t do that. Then again, YouTube videos and articles from good sources are usually free and can teach you all of those things.
  • Make it daunting to select one. There’s an ever-increasing number of choices. Picking between the best stock trading apps can be stressful. That’s why I’ve written this article to help!

Frequently Asked Questions About Stock Trading & Investment Apps

What’s a Full-Service Financial Advisor?

A full-service broker or financial advisor is a licensed professional who offers you personalized advice on your investments, taxes, retirement, estate planning and more. Put into simpler terms, a full-service advisor is an expert you pay to take care of all your financial needs.

This is the most expensive way to invest your money, as full-service advisors tend to charge the highest commissions and fees.

Most people don’t need that level of service. The fees will make a big difference in your long-term ROI, so consider using one of the stock trading apps in this post or a robo-advisor instead.

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What Are Robo-Advisors?

A robo-advisor is a digital platform that automatically invests your money into one of several diversified portfolios based on your age, risk tolerance and financial goals.

They’re significantly cheaper than full-service financial advisors but more expensive than self-directed investment apps like the ones in this story. Robo-advisors are helpful if you’re not interested in handling your own investments.

I also wrote about the best robo-advisors if you’re interested in learning more.

What Are Fractional Shares and Who Offers Them?

Not too long ago, if you wanted to invest in a publicly-traded company, your minimum investment was equal to the price of one stock. But that can cost hundreds of dollars (or more). At the time of this writing, a single share of Amazon stock (AMZN) cost more than $3,100.

Fractional shares let you decide how much money you want to invest in a company. Whether you want to buy $5 or $5,000 of Amazon stock, fractional shares unlock that ability.

Fractional shares are a great tool that allows you to diversify your investment portfolio even with a small amount of money. They can help you buy stock in a company you couldn’t otherwise afford. Buying fractional shares also finds a place for your leftover uninvested cash when you’re finished making your big buys.

Robinhood, SoFi, Schwab, Cash App, Fidelity and Interactive Brokers are just a few of the companies that offer fractional share trading.

Are These Stock Trading Apps Really Free?

You really can buy and sell stocks for free in 2021. However, that doesn’t mean that the company you use to execute those trades is a charity.

Robinhood, which pioneered free trading, makes absurd sums of money through something called payment for order flow (PFOF). Companies that offer free trades often make a lot of their revenue from PFOF by farming out the execution of the trade to third parties. At the very least, PFOF can cause small delays in order execution, and that can negatively impact your trade.

Most of the apps with free trades offer additional features for a price. Some of them are attached to larger companies that offer other services like banking. Some stock trading apps earn interest on things like uninvested cash.

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And every stock trading app charges fees for certain transactions. For example, you’ll usually have to pay a fee to transfer your portfolio to another brokerage.

Are Investing Apps Safe?

Yes, in the sense that any worthwhile investment app is SIPC-insured. The SIPC offers protection of up to $500,000 on your individual brokerage account if the company runs into financial trouble. So you won’t lose your money just because the platform you use goes out of business.

The companies behind these apps also are regulated by FINRA and the SEC.

However, you can still lose every dollar you invest in these apps. It’s possible to make risky trades that completely wipe out your investment portfolio. So it’s important to use long-term, well-diversified investment strategies. The stock market is not a casino and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Can I Invest in Anything on an App?

The best stock trading apps allow you to invest in a variety of vehicles, including domestic and international stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, index funds, cryptocurrency, bonds, commodities, stock options, real estate and more.

It’s rare that a single investment platform will provide access to every possible investment type. One platform may offer you access to thousands of foreign stocks and another may offer only a few dozen.

So it’s important to understand what a stock trading app allows you to buy and sell, especially if you think you’ll ever invest in something other than domestic stocks.


Final Thoughts

I understand why robo-advisors are attractive. They’re reliable, inexpensive, hands-off investment companies.

I also understand the advantages of a full-service brokerage, especially for someone with a lot more money and complications than I have.

But as someone who doesn’t mind rolling up my sleeves and doing the research, you can’t beat the price of self-directed apps: free.

I don’t want to give away any of my profits to a company. And in 2021, there are good free options in every possible flavor. It’s easier than ever to find a self-directed trading and investing app that fits your personal goals and preferences.


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