Investing can be intimidating in the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times.
Of course, you’ve probably heard that the best time to buy is when everybody else is selling. But maybe you’re not sure what to do with that information or feel like you don’t have enough money to get started investing.
That’s where investment apps come in. You can learn the ropes without the trouble of dealing with a financial adviser or the difficulty of finding trustworthy sources on the internet. In 10 minutes, with less than $500, you could be set up in a smartly diversified portfolio with a company that will help you learn as you earn.
Here are some of the best-known apps and “robo-advisers” you could start with, and the strong points for each.
1. M1 Finance: Flexibility without fees
M1 Finance allows you to build a flexible, custom portfolio of individual stocks and funds or choose from dozens of premixed options for free. While it will likely appeal to experienced investors — and has a paid option that lets you pick the time of day to invest, among other things — it’s also suitable for beginners who don’t want a lot of hand-holding.
M1 Finance lets you automate your contributions and supports fractional share investing, which is investing in expensive stocks without buying full shares. It doesn’t charge any commissions or the management fees that are common elsewhere, but the app can charge a $20 inactivity fee after 90 days for low balances. M1 Finance has a minimum account balance of $100, or $500 for retirement accounts.
2. Robinhood: No minimum simplicity
Robinhood is an easy place to get started investing because it has no minimum balance, a simple-to-understand interface, fractional shares and doesn’t charge commissions or fees.
Robinhood allows you to invest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, in addition to individual stocks and ETFs (exchange-traded funds, which are simply diversified portfolios of stocks, bonds or a mix of both).
The company also offers a premium subscription called Robinhood Gold for $5 a month after a 30-day free trial. Gold offers access to investment research and data and margin trading, which involves borrowing (with interest) from Robinhood to invest.
3. Acorns: Beginner automated investing
Acorns charges a flat fee of $1 to $3 per month depending on the features you want. (College students can get the $1 tier for free.) The higher tiers include IRA recommendations, the ability to set up recurring retirement contributions, help with rolling over an IRA or 401(k) and even a checking account with no minimum balance, ATM fees or overdraft fees.
There is no minimum investment.
Acorns is meant specifically for those who want to get started, even though they may not have a lot to invest at first. Its phone app is designed to round up the price of your everyday purchases to the nearest dollar then take that change and automatically invest it in ETFs. It does this automatically after you link it to your credit card or checking account. Example: You buy a bag of groceries for $10.45 and pay for it with your linked credit card. The price charged to the card is rounded up to $11, and then 55 cents is invested for you.
Acorns has “Found Money” partnerships with more than 200 brands that work like cash back on a credit card — except the money is earmarked for investment. There’s a delay of 60 to 120 days in getting the money, which is automatically invested.
4. Axos Invest: Automated investing for getting started
Axos Invest (until recently named WiseBanyan) is an automated investing platform that charges no fee for investment management, trading or rebalancing. There is no required account minimum.
Axos Invest is betting you will like their free services enough that you’ll stick around to buy add-on services and advice. If you’re not sure where to start and are concerned about over committing, this could be the right tool for you.
5. Stash: Education for beginners
Stash lets you invest with as little as $5, and monthly fees from $1 to $9 depending on account type. The beginner account allows you to invest in fractional shares of individual stocks, bonds and ETFs; the $3 per month “growth” account allows for IRAs; and the big “Stash+” offering provides monthly market research and allows for custodial investment accounts for two children.
Its Auto-Stash feature lets you schedule regular investments, and, like Acorns, it allows you to round up purchases and invest the spare change.
Stash recommends investments to you based on the profile you build at sign-up and offers digestible educational content, plus personalized guidance, challenges and quizzes through Stash Coach. It even has a podcast.
6. Betterment: Goal-based investment
Betterment helps plan savings and investment for specific goals such as building a safety net, a child’s education, a retirement nest egg or major purchases like a home or wedding.
Betterment’s basic plan has an annual advisory fee of 0.25%. (It also has a premium plan with a fee of 0.4%, which offers access to professional advice but requires a $100,000 balance.) Betterment says the ETFs it uses have average fees of 0.11%.
It charges no other fees, and there is no minimum balance for an account.
7. Ellevest: Investing for women
Ellevest, as you might guess from the name, emphasizes investing for women and was built around research on female investors. This robo-adviser tries to account for the gender pay gap and the likelihood of women living longer than men in designing portfolios, although male investors can and do use it too.
Ellevest‘s basic plan has an annual fee of 0.25% (and a premium plan with a fee of 0.5% that requires a $50,000 balance). There is no minimum balance for the basic plan. The funds it uses carry fees ranging from 0.06% to 0.2%.