The number of stock trading and robo-advisor options has continued to expand in recent years. While growing competition and innovation is great news for investors, it can be challenging to decide which platform best suits your goals. To help evaluate the best options in the industry, we’ve extensively researched these U.S.-based offerings to determine the top platforms for several categories.
The growth of investment apps has coincided with the evolution of user preferences, with a growing number of people opting to mainly manage their money through tablets or smartphones. Stock trading and robo-advisor platforms have embraced this transition by focusing on improving their mobile app experiences. Brokers’ desktop trading platforms have historically had more features and capabilities than mobile, but the experiences and functionality have increasingly become virtually interchangeable. This improved consistency between mobile and desktop provides investors with a more synchronized experience in terms of alerts, watchlists, and updates, while also improving the ease with which you manage your money and monitor your investment goals.
On Wednesday, January 26, 2022, Wealthfront announced that it has agreed to be acquired by one of the premier brands in wealth management, UBS, in a transaction valued at $1.4 billion.
In a blog post on the company's website, David Fortunato, Wealthfront’s Chief Executive Officer, alleviated an concerns on the part of current and prospective customers by stating, "You will see no change to your experience and can look forward to benefiting from UBS’s breadth of products, services, and intellectual capital. Rest assured that nothing will change with your account or the cost of our service. We will continue delivering great products and features to you, now at a much faster pace. And you’ll get access to even more research and insights that can empower you as an investor."
Best Investing Apps:
- Wealthfront: Best Automated Investing App
- TD Ameritrade: Best Self-Directed Trading App
- TD Ameritrade: 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.
Wealthfront delivers a powerful, digital-only investment experience that gives users access to comprehensive money management features through an elegant, sleek design. You’ll find the financial guidance, account aggregation, goal setting, investing, and banking options to be both user-friendly and seamless to navigate. Wealthfront’s Self-Driving Money allows you to further automate your finances by using a rules based approach to move money between your accounts while optimizing for your goals, putting even control of your financial journey right at your fingertips.
The mobile apps for Android and iOS platforms are both superb and are on par with the desktop experience in terms of features, functionality, and ease of navigation. It's clear the app is thoughtfully designed with the intention to minimize unnecessary data inputs or typing, opting instead to leverage more user-friendly sliders, drop-down menus, and auto-fill functionality. You’ll still have to input user IDs and passwords when linking external accounts, but generally the workflows are intuitive and consistent. Overall, while E*trade’s Core Portfolio robo-advisor offering won our Best for Mobile Experience category, Wealthfront’s platform provides a polished, smart user experience with exposure to a significantly greater range of comprehensive money management tools.
Comprehensive financial planning tools
The digital-only financial guidance through Path is best in class
Thoughtful mobile experience designed to reduce errors and optimize functionality
Self-Driving money provides seamless financial management through your smartphone
External account syncing can be inconsistent
No discounts for larger balances
No human financial advisors
TD Ameritrade: Best Stock Trading App
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions. $0.65 per options contract.
TD Ameritrade stands out for creating a mobile trading experience that can be more intuitive than the desktop version while maintaining a deep feature set. The mobile trading features are neatly organized into easy-to-understand functionalities and menus. This simple design incorporates watchlists, orders, managing positions, options, and chart customization. If you are using the TD Ameritrade app, the workflow is slimmed down to focus on what you need for buying and selling as well as monitoring the overall portfolio. With thinkorswim, however, the workflow mimics the downloadable platform and allows you to customize charts, analyze positions, and much more.
Regardless of which app you use, you’ll find that TD Ameritrade’s mobile experience has all the accessories needed to manage your money on the go. The apps provide a dynamic and powerful alternative to the full desktop versions. While thinkorswim users will still gravitate to the desktop version whenever possible, the TD Ameritrade app can serve its users as the primary trading platform.
Expertly designed mobile apps that are more streamlined than desktop versions
Choice between two apps appeals to users of all backgrounds
Charts, updates, and customizations fluidly sync between mobile and desktop platforms
Extensive investment selections and trading functionality
Drawing on charts is only available through thinkorswim mobile
TD Ameritrade doesn’t offer fractional share trading
Some tools are only available on one platform, creating a challenge for hybrid users
TD Ameritrade: Best App for Beginners
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions. $0.65 per options contract.
TD Ameritrade also wins our best app for beginners category, boasting a clear educational focus that empowers users to better understand the market and investing. TD Ameritrade supports a range of educational offerings that match investors of all backgrounds. That said, accessing TD Ameritrade’s education through the app isn’t as full featured as going through the website. The educational angle has been slimmed down to put more focus on investing on the go rather than learning about investing on the go. Even this slimmed down educational experience is much more comprehensive than the competition, however, as TD Ameritrade is pulling from one of the deepest libraries of content around.
Investors can start with TD Ameritrade without committing to the platform by trading via a paper account, a helpful feature for investors to understand how the market behaves without risking capital. For paper trading on mobile, you have to use the thinkorswim mobile app. This is a great feature for aspiring traders to test out, but it can be intimidating if you are just looking to do basic investing. Overall, however, you will find that the mobile experience gives a comprehensive feel without being overpowering, allowing you to choose features that match your capabilities. This allows for a gentler introduction to investing and makes TD Ameritrade an excellent choice for beginner investors.
Mobile app is designed with ease of use and education in mind
Wide-ranging educational tools to empower investor knowledge
Blend of trading platforms and investment options for variety of users
Extensive learning pathways covering the basics to advanced investing strategies
No fractional share trading
Low interest on uninvested cash
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
While TD Ameritrade has the best app for self-directed trading, Interactive Brokers (IBKR) edges out the competition for our best app for active traders category. Sophisticated traders will find an immediate fit as the mobile experience carries over all the core features from the desktop Traders Workstation (TWS) functionality, which is one of the most comprehensive trading platforms in existence. Users will also have access to every available asset class, including cryptocurrency for direct coin trading, to go alongside unmatched research, analysis, and strategy tools.
The overall mobile experience generally flows smoothly for experienced traders who already know TWS. The mobile app provides synchronized functionality with watchlists created on the app also being visible on the desktop offering. While the core features of the IBKR app maintains nearly all the functionality of the desktop version, there are some reasonable constraints given the depth and breadth of the full TWS platform. The desktop option has a lot more options for analysis and trading strategies. Despite these constraints, the Interactive Brokers app stands above the rest as the top option for active traders because of the range of assets and markets it puts into your hands.
Mobile experience successfully mimics core functionality of the comprehensive desktop version
App stock screeners and option strategies matches web offering
Mobile charts are detailed, intuitive, and provide useful indicators
Outstanding order execution processing
Attractive, low margin interest rates
No fixed income screener on mobile
Expansive platform capabilities may have a learning curve
Real-time data streams on only one platform at a time, limiting investors who use multiple devices simultaneously
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 specializes in options trading with a focus on intuitive tools, education, and seamless design. This relentless focus on options trading—and nothing but—has tastyworks taking our top spot in the best app for options traders category. The workflow is built with seamless options order management in mind, which results in an effective and quick trading experience. The mobile app has order types, asset classes, and quote streaming capabilities that mirror the desktop version.
While tastyworks’ option workflow optimization makes it stand out in this category, there are some notable mobile constraints such as a lack of news, research, and drawing tools. Graphs on mobile devices also cannot be rotated horizontally, which is the biggest drawback of the mobile platform. Simply put, tastyworks is a great broker for options traders and the majority of those traders will be using the desktop whenever possible. That said, the tastyworks mobile app is singularly focused on options trading, whereas other brokerage mobile apps have to balance options features against more heavily used asset classes. This means tastyworks’ mobile app is stripped down by comparison, but still gets the job done for options traders when they are away from the desktop version.
Mobile user flow is optimized for full options trading
Drag and drop feature for options legs
Outstanding blend of tools and pricing compared to competition
Excellent library of educational content and tools
Account opening isn’t supported on mobile devices
Price alerts and order notifications aren’t available
Heavy options traders won’t find the mobile experience a suitable desktop replacement
App isn’t optimized for trading anything outside of options
Compare the Best Investment Apps
|Company||Fees||Account Minimum||Mobile App|
|Wealthfront||0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers.||$500||Android, iOS|
|TD Ameritrade||Free stock, ETF, and per-leg options trading commissions. $0.65 per options contract.||$0||Android, iOS|
|Interactive Brokers||Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform up to 1% of trade value, $0 for IBKR Lite||$0||Android, iOS|
|tastyworks||$0.00 stock trades, starting at $1.00 to open options trades $0.00 to close||$0||Android, iOS|
How to Pick a Broker That's Right for You
The Evolution of Investing Apps
The rapid advancement of technology has benefited investors by providing more market knowledge, transparency, and investment options than ever before. Originally this technological transformation was more keenly felt on desktop trading experiences. However, with more investors opting to use mobile devices, brokers have focused on improving these experiences as well. As a result, many app and desktop experiences are very close to parity in terms of functionality, ease of use, and synchronization. It is fast becoming industry standard to provide the same investment functionalities across all trading platforms.
That said, more sophisticated investors and active market participants like traders will likely never feel completely comfortable moving to mobile only experiences. There are physical limitations to mobile screen size that will frustrate chart enthusiasts and many of the heavier features and tools on trading platforms are still often missing or watered down on the mobile versions. Heavy traders, in particular, tend to prefer the higher level of customization that can really only be done on a desktop platform. For average investors, however, the choice between using mobile or desktop investment platform versions is now mostly a matter of preference. Investors looking to buy-and-hold or trade intermittently throughout the year can now do so entirely on mobile apps without missing much of significance if they never use their broker’s desktop platform. The speed at which the market went from trading by phone to trading by computer to trading by smartphone has been truly remarkable.
Desktop vs. Mobile Experiences
Desktop trading platforms still have a strong customer base because of the superior trading experience they provide. Thanks to the growth of app-only retail investors, however, brokers can’t focus solely on the desktop experience. Mobile-first and mobile-only brokerages already exist, and established brokers are having to simultaneously develop their desktop and mobile platforms to keep up.
To do this, many brokerages have changed their product approach to focus on creating a consistent experience across multiple devices. This means you can usually find similar workflows and key tools regardless of which platform you are on. This comes with a trader-specific caveat, as many desktop platforms intended for active traders have to cut out a lot more when transitioning to mobile when compared to brokerages with platforms aimed at average investors.
The extent of this feature reduction has been lessened as the smartphone technology running these trading apps has improved, however, and more brokers are aligning and synchronizing key features across both the mobile and desktop workflows such as analysis, research, screening tools, money movement, and charting. More recently, complex trading strategies originally reserved for desktop experiences like multi-leg options trades and contingent orders have been enabled on apps as well.
What are the advantages of using an investing app to trade stocks?
The key advantage of using an investing app to trade stocks is accessibility. Investing apps have leveraged rapid mobile technological advancements to make it easier than ever to invest and trade stocks. Like most people now, you probably carry your mobile device with you all the time, allowing you to react to market movements and monitor your investments in places where it just wasn’t practical before. The convenience of mobile trading has also made the market more accessible to users of all backgrounds, interests, and experience levels. You don’t need a trading terminal with four monitors anymore. Increased competition among brokers and innovation in the form of new apps and platforms has reduced barriers to entry such as cost and education. With a supercomputer in your pocket, you have access to the same real-time market data on the go and can trade accordingly.
What are the disadvantages of using an investing app to trade stocks?
While investment apps are moving closer to full feature parity with the desktop versions, there are still some functionality gaps that impact certain types of investors. The gaps vary by investment platform and investor preferences, but generally you can expect there to be some product differences between desktop and mobile trade experiences in terms of the charting and analysis tools. Some investing apps also omit asset types or market exchanges that are available through the desktop version. Another disadvantage to app-based trading is the size limitations on mobile devices compared to full computer monitors. These factors tend to affect active traders the most, but they can be a downside for any investor depending on your preferences and trading strategies.
Another issue that has often been tied back to mobile investing apps is the gamification of finance and overtrading. Having constant access to your portfolio throughout the day, and possibly being nudged to look at it by badges and alerts, can push an investor to pay too much attention to day-to-day market noise. Active traders, of course, live for market fluctuations, but longer-term investors are often hurt when they act on short-term market moves. Gamification is a related issue where some investing apps are designed to nudge users to be active on a daily basis through in app awards and recognition. Again, this is fine if you are looking to be an active investor, but it's a negative if that is not your goal.
Is there any other advice you'd offer someone who is considering using a stock trading app?
App-based trading gives you access to financial markets right at your fingertips, wherever you are located. When considering investing through a mobile app it’s helpful to identify your goals, preferences, and investment strategy. Being aware of your personal investment experience and educational opportunities can also help match you to the right trading platform. It is also important to evaluate the broker as a whole, rather than just by the mobile app. A slick app can’t make up for the impact of higher than average fees and poor execution, for example.
As you decide between different apps, you may find some platforms provide paper based accounts to experiment without risking your personal capital. Testing out more than one app-based investment offering can also give you more insight so as to properly compare and contrast features that match your preferences. All these factors can help determine which app will be the right fit for you.
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.
Wealthfront. "Wealthfront Has Agreed To Be Acquired by UBS."