With so many different types of online stock brokers and robo-advisors available to investors, it can be tough to choose one that works best for you. That’s why we put these U.S.-based firms through a comprehensive review process that included hands-on research to determine the best in the industry.
Over the last few years, brokers and robo-advisors have increasingly adopted the mantra, “mobile-first.” As more investors and traders use tablets or smartphones as their primary platform, these firms have made efforts to improve their mobile apps, which in turn attract more mobile users. The best online investing apps offer a consistent experience between desktop and mobile platforms, including sharing watch lists and alerts as well as tools such as stock screeners and depositing checks into your account. The best robo-advisor apps keep you in touch with your progress towards your investing goals and make managing your cash simple.
Best Investing Apps:
- Wealthfront: Best Automated Investing App
- TD Ameritrade: Best Self-Directed Trading App
- Betterment: Best App for Beginners
- Interactive Brokers: Best App for Active Traders
- tastyworks: Best App for Options Traders
Wealthfront: Best Automated Investing App
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fees: 0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers. 0.42%–0.46% for 529 plans
Wealthfront won our award for the Best Robo-Advisor of 2020 with a full package of goal-setting, planning, banking, and investing delivered in an elegant, user-friendly platform and mobile app. If you are looking for financial guidance and don’t require it to come from a human, Wealthfront offers fully digital investing for a very competitive price. Wealthfront’s goal-setting and planning technology is excellent and should serve as a model for other robo-advisors to emulate. Setting up a Wealthfront account gives you access to Path, the free financial planning tool that integrates your account data and uses third-party data to better project your financial situation.
The mobile apps, native iOS and Android, are designed to be extremely simple to use with minimal typing. Data inputs, such as dates and monthly deposits, are displayed on sliders or drop-down menus to avoid making typos. When linking external accounts, however, you still have to enter your user IDs and passwords. The workflow for a new account is logical and easy to follow.
Wealthfront has taken huge strides towards its corporate goal of offering what it calls Self-Driving Money with the launch of Autopilot, which monitors bank accounts and moves funds above your monthly spending needs into an investment account or Wealthfront's high-yield savings account. Wealthfront's Cash Account is offered in partnership with Green Dot Bank and includes features such as mobile deposit and a network of fee-free ATMs.
Terrific financial planning that helps you see the big picture.
Goal-setting assistance goes in-depth for large goals, such as home purchases and college savings.
If you have multiple goals, Path shows you the trade-offs you’ll face.
Portfolio line of credit and tax-loss harvesting available.
No online chat for customers or prospective customers.
Portfolios under $100,000 are not customizable beyond risk settings.
Larger accounts may contain more expensive mutual funds.
No excess SIPC coverage.
TD Ameritrade: Best Stock Trading App
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions in the U.S., as of October 3rd, 2019. $0.65 per options contract.
TD Ameritrade has the distinction of being our pick for the best overall stock trading app in our 2020 Online Broker Review. In fact, TD Ameritrade has two of the best apps for stock trading as it allows investors to select between the TD Ameritrade Mobile App and thinkorswim Mobile. Either app is excellent for stock trading, but the TD Ameritrade Mobile App is geared towards basic investing with an excellent account summary, price alerts, and a wealth of news and research. Buy and hold investors, in particular, will be able to do their trading through the mobile app, freeing them from having to deal with TD Ameritrade’s more cluttered desktop interface.
For traders and more active investors, the thinkorswim mobile platform is an acceptable substitute for the full desktop trading platform. Generally, we review the trading functions of mobile apps through the lens of position maintenance while away from the full platform, but thinkorswim and a select few other apps have reached the point where a trader can reasonably plan, assess, and open complex trades on the go. The thinkorswim mobile app workflow for options, stocks, and futures is intuitive and powerful. Traders will find lots of bells and whistles that make the mobile app a complete solution for most trading purposes, including streaming real-time data and the ability to trade from charts. Both apps are very similar to the full platform experiences, so transitioning back and forth is very fluid.
TD Ameritrade mobile apps are well-designed and give investors the choice between an investment-focused app and a trading-focused app.
Both apps give customers a simple one-page experience where they can quickly check in on the markets and their account.
Watchlists and customizations sync across all TD Ameritrade platforms, including both mobile apps.
All available asset classes can be traded on the mobile apps.
The tools and features available in the apps differ by design, but hybrid investors (swing traders, for example) may find themselves switching between the two to get access to the tools and analysis they need.
Numerous website and platform outages were reported during August 2020.
Interest on uninvested cash earns a very low rate of interest.
Betterment: Best App for Beginners
- Account Minimum: $10
- Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan
Betterment is our top choice for beginners because its platform is intuitive, user-friendly, and full of educational resources.
Betterment boasts one of the easiest accounts to set up, and the process is optimized for mobile devices. Users enter their age, annual income, and a goal. There are none of the standard risk-related questions. Instead, Betterment presents you with an asset allocation suggestion and its associated risk, which you can change by adjusting the percentage of equity versus fixed income held in the portfolio. Betterment offers five portfolio types and clients can switch strategies after a portfolio is funded. The platform will even tell you if there are any tax implications prior to making a change.
The firm launched its cash management offerings, Betterment Checking and Betterment Cash Reserve, in April 2020. The checking account includes a debit card and reimburses ATM fees and foreign transaction fees. In June 2020, Betterment added mobile deposit capability to its checking account offering. With two-way sweep enabled, cash is swept from the checking account into the reserve account, which pays a higher rate of interest.
Quick and easy account setup, even on a phone.
You can sync external accounts to individual goals.
Add a new goal at any time and track your progress with ease.
Easily change portfolio risk or switch to a different type of portfolio.
Checking and Cash Reserve features offer two-way sweep.
Users of the free planning function are constantly nudged to fund a Betterment account.
The standard plan incurs a charge of $199–$299 to talk to a financial planner.
Socially Responsible portfolios are invested in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) so are less controllable.
There are no borrowing options against your portfolio.
Interactive Brokers: Best App for Active Traders
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform or 1% of trade value, $0 for IBKR Lite
TD Ameritrade has the best apps for stock trading overall, but Interactive Brokers has the edge when it comes to active trading. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Interactive Brokers took nearly every important trading category in our 2020 review with the exception of options trading. Whether you are using the powerful Traders Workstation (TWS) or the mobile app meant to give you the core features on the go, Interactive Brokers is geared for active traders. The Interactive Brokers app has nearly all the functionality of the firm’s web-based platform, but it is understandably limited in comparison to the TWS desktop app. That said, you can queue up trades for all asset classes and data streams in real-time.
Interactive Brokers’ mobile app is one of the very few that make it possible for traders to assess the market and open new positions on the go as opposed to simply monitoring existing trades. While the mobile app has great research, excellent charts, and a wide selection of indicators, the lack of drawing tools and some other limitations will still result in most active traders preferring the full-featured TWS experience when possible. Compared to other mobile apps for active traders, however, Interactive Brokers’ app is a step ahead.
Interactive Brokers’ mobile app comes close to mimicking the website experience with full order ability and the scanners and alerts active traders expect.
An intuitive trading workflow through the app is combined with the ability to set order presets for faster entry.
Mobile charts come with a suite of useful indicators for quick trading decisions.
Data streams in real-time across only one platform at a time. That said, only traders who have a multi-device approach to their workflow will be affected by this limitation.
There are no drawing tools in the mobile app.
tastyworks: Best App for Options Traders
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $0.00 stock trades, $1.00 to open options trades $0.00 to close
Tastyworks does not suffer from a lack of focus. The brokerage is very focused on options traders, and this focus has allowed tastyworks’ mobile app to unseat Interactive Brokers in this area. While Interactive Brokers is still the standard for active traders, traders who are mainly using options strategies will find tastyworks’ app a better fit.
The tastyworks mobile workflow is designed for options order entry, making the process quick and intuitive. Options traders use drag and drop to choose the legs of an options spread, eliminating keyboard entry. Despite this ease of entry, the tastyworks mobile app is better thought of as a short-term substitute for the desktop platform. While you can enter new positions and exit existing ones, the app lacks some of the features available in the desktop platform for researching and analyzing trades. For heavy options trading, it is difficult to match the full feature set and extra visual space that comes with the desktop platforms.
Traders can use a drag and drop selection for options legs in the tastyworks mobile app.
The tastyworks app is streamlined for options trading. There are no unnecessary features and nothing to distract from the core function.
Tastytrade video feed is available through the mobile app.
You can’t open an account through the tastyworks mobile app.
The app won’t replace the desktop for heavy traders, but it can be used to monitor and exit existing positions.
The Evolution of Investing Apps
TD Ameritrade and others have now refined their app experience to a point where a majority of investors can take a mobile-only approach to their portfolio. However, traders and more active investors may never reach this point completely, depending on the strategies they are employing and how complex the trades are. These more desktop-dependent investors still benefit from having the ability to monitor their trades on the go and even open up new positions within reason.
It is worth reflecting back on how far the mobile apps of online brokerages have come. The vast majority of mobile apps are stable platforms with streaming data and functional workflows. This wasn’t the case as recently as five years ago when it was difficult to synchronize watchlists between platforms. As brokers and robo-advisors have embraced cloud processing and data storage, it's become the industry standard to offer the same experience on a mobile device as one might have on a desktop platform or website. That is a significant amount of progress for the investing industry overall. We can still pick at layouts and argue about which functions deserve to be included in the mobile version, but the fact remains that investors are closer than ever before to having the market in their hands.
Desktop vs. Mobile Experiences
Rather than producing different apps for their customers who trade on the road, brokers now strive for a consistent experience between desktop and mobile platforms, including sharing watch lists and alerts as well as tools such as stock screeners, portfolio analysis, and depositing checks into your account. Streaming data has made its way to mobile apps along with advanced charting and educational offerings. We’ve seen complex options analysis and trading enabled as well. With the availability of computers in our pockets, the way people interact with their trading and investment accounts have forced brokers to offer mobile apps along with their traditional desktop platforms.
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on its platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting thousands of data points that we weighed into our star-scoring system.
In addition, every broker we surveyed was required to fill out an extensive survey about all aspects of its platform that we used in our testing. Many of the online brokers we evaluated provided us with in-person demonstrations of its platforms at our offices.
The best stock trading apps offer a consistent experience between desktop and mobile platforms, including sharing watch lists and alerts as well as tools such as stock screeners and depositing checks into your account. Streaming data, advanced charting, complex options analysis, and trading and educational offerings are key features to have to earn a top rating in this category.
Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking online investing platforms for users at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.