Getting your finances together can be intimidating. It’s something that we all know we should do, but often it just hangs over our heads while we try to figure out the way to start. But if you’ve never invested before, knowing where to start is exactly the problem. There’s a lot of jargon—ETFs, portfolios, market volatility—and so many different options, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just bury your head in the sand.
Luckily, there are lots of apps out there that are designed to deal with exactly this problem—and to make it easier for first-time investors to get started. When choosing an app, it’s important to do your research. And, of course, always remember that there’s risk involved—markets go up, but they also go down.
So what should you look for in an investing app? Well, the first thing you want to think about is your goals. Are you looking for short-term investments or are you thinking about retirement? Or are you doing a little of both? Once you have that in mind, the other thing to look at is fees. You may think that the fees sound small—many of them fall at around .25 percent—but over a lifetime, even a fraction of a percentage point can make a huge difference in your savings. Some apps offer better rates for small investors, some offer better rates for larger accounts. You need to think about where you’re going are and where you’re going to be, to work out what apps are best for you in the long term.
But if you're interested in getting started, here are some of the most popular investing apps for new users. Whether you want a hands-off approach where someone takes care of the nitty-gritty or you want to learn how to trade and handle the stocks yourself, these apps have you covered.
Full disclosure: I’ve been using Acorns for about a year and a half and it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten my savings on track, so I had to start with this app. This simple app lets you set “round-ups,” where they immediately round up every purchase you make to their nearest dollar and invest the extra money—so if you spent $3.40 on a coffee you’ll actually pay $4.00, and 60 cents will be invested. It may not sound like very much, but it adds up. I also use weekly deposits that are automated, so a certain amount is invested each week and I don’t even have to think about it. And, crucially, then I can’t spend it on avocado toast. For me, it works. You also get “Found Money” bonuses when you shop with certain brands they’re partnered with.
With as little as $5 dollars, you can start stashing your money away with this app. Not only is it easy to use and free for the first month, it also arranges funds into different categories, so you can focus on funds you like or companies with values that you share. If you’re ethically-minded or picky about companies, it’s worth checking out.
If you’re an investor with a real interest in the market, Robinhood might be the right option for you. It gives you access to commission-free trades and extended hours so you can always feel in control. And if you want to start playing the market, this is an app that genuinely allows free access to stock trades—though for more advanced investors it may be a bit limited. But it’s great for beginners.
Wealthfront is another good option for investors who want things to be automated, rather than doing the trading themselves. Though it does have a $500 minimum investment, it will talk you through a questionnaire and then pick one of their 20 portfolios to try to find the best match for your needs.
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If you’re looking into the future and starting to think about retirement, Betterment is a long-term, retirement-oriented app that can help you find your path. They give you the tools to take stock of where you are now and where you want to be in the future—and what you need to do to get there.
Finally, if you want to get to know the stock market, something like Stock Wars is a great place to start. Because if you lose money, it doesn’t matter—it’s a simulator. Practice investing, compete against your friends, and just get your feet wet. If you want to get a handle on what it’s like to buy, sell, and understand the stock market, starting with fake money can be a very smart choice.
Learning to invest can be difficult, but using the right app can make it a lot easier. Just remember, no investment strategy is risk-free—your accounts can lose money just as easily as they gain it. But, if you’re interested in starting to invest, these apps can help. Just do your research and make the decision that’s best for your current situation and long-term goals.