The Best Investment Apps if You Only Have a Small Amount of Money
Here's the scenario:
You're excited about the stock market, and want to see how it works. But you don't have much money to use, especially as a beginner investor.
If you want to learn how to turn money into more money with investing, but you're not sure if you can afford it, you're in good company. Lots of curious folks in similar situations have flocked to the stock market recently to explore the explosion of new investment apps — and happily found that many are convenient, easy to use, don't require a lot of money, and are downloadable to both iOS and Android.
But how does it work?
Also known as micro-investing, there are several apps now that let you invest free of charge with no/low minimum deposit. Their greatest advantages appear to be working around the typical brokerage account minimums (which can reach thousands of dollars) while making the save-up toward the average $3,000 mutual fund minimum initial investment unnecessary.
Best of all, they're super easy to use — just download the app, create your profile, spend a few minutes looking at your best investment strategy, and then connect your bank account. Couldn't be simpler! Stay tuned and we'll share our picks of the 7 best stock trading apps for investing little money.
But, can you make any money?
According to Guy Blelloch's explanation in USA Today, today's investment apps can make you some money — but you can just as easily lose it all, too. Having earned 15% off his initial investment of $500 over his very first year of investing, (which is considerably more than he'd have accrued in the average savings account), Blelloch keeps his expectations realistic and focused — and he doesn't invest anything he isn't willing to lose.
Through our research, we've determined these apps to be the best of the following categories:
- Our favorite investment app: M1 Finance
- Best for those who have trouble saving money: Acorns
- Best to start absolutely free: Robinhood
- Best for tracking all accounts and investments in one place: Betterment
- Best totally free robo-advising for stock market beginners: M1 Finance
As a note, some have recommended the strategy of paying for a one-time outside stock brokerage consultation to gain solid advice, then using it build your own portfolios in apps that require basic knowledge. This allows you to bypass the brokerage's annual fees while having a strong starting point for where to invest a small amount of money, and building your own portfolio or "pie."
Charging a commission or requiring a minimum account balance can seem like a drag — but it also helps pay for things like personal attention and assistance for those who may need to consult a broker or stop into a physical location with a question. A lot of them offer very little in the form of service and support, just fyi.
Consider how much help you'll likely need and keep this in mind as you begin exploring. Come check out our guide on the best stock trading apps for a small amount of money:
When you're not sure how to invest $500 (or less) easily and securely, Robinhood may be your best bet. Robinhood is a stock brokerage app that allows users to purchase and sell individual stocks at $0 per trade. Founded in 2013, Robinhood's quest to make the market accessible to all has been wildly successful, with their current 4 million active users standing as pretty sufficient evidence.
Even if you can only purchase one share, you can get into the Robinhood trading app of U.S.-listed stocks and funds, where there's no minimum account requirement, and the app is free to use and download on both iOS and Android.
How it works:
Robinhood is 100% online with no physical locations, lending to its fee-less convenience and making it one of the best investment apps small amount of money.
To get started with Robinhood, you sign up using your email address and some other basic personal info, answer some questions, then link your bank account. You can then begin trading by first depositing from your account and deciding whether you'll just do it once or sign up for recurring deposits weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Regardless of your choice, you're ready to begin trading with Robinhood. Need help? There's a whole Help section with articles on how to invest here.
Types of stocks/ETFs (exchange-traded funds)/portfolios offered: Robinhood allows you to invest in publicly-traded stocks, ETFs, crypto-currency (in certain states), and options.
Trading fees: None.
Special offers on new accounts: You'll get one free share of stock just for starting a new account, or when your referral's account gets approved with Robinhood. You can also find other Robinhood discount codes here.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?:
- Robinhood now allows extended market hours free of charge (starting 30 minutes before the regular market opens, and continuing for 2 hours after it closes); get details here.
- Robinhood also has a new crypto-trading (i.e. bitcoin) service - and over a million people have signed up for early access in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- Simple, easy to understand interface
- 100% free, no barriers for anyone to get started
- Robinhood is now available on PC and Mac as well as mobile devices
- No mutual funds available nor retirement accounts (tax-sheltered) offered
- With no physical locations, there's no way to call anyone for assistance or stop in to speak with a broker. You're on your own
- Some who've explored a bit dislike that Robinhood won't allow the purchase of fractional shares or automatic dividend reinvestment
While excellent for beginners, those with a little more experience will find the platform somewhat limiting. Robinhood essentially only allows buying and selling without many educational, research, or charting opportunities into the available stocks and other options.
Of all the investing apps we've covered, this one offers the best options for the investor. M1 Finance is a blend of stock broker and robo-advisor, offering services 100% free of fees and commission.
With M1 Finance, you can select from the following basic options:
- Create your own plan by picking the ETFs you want and setting up your own allocation percentages
- Invest in a pre-built plan from among those offered by M1 Finance
- You can also select a hybrid of these 2 options put together
How it works:
You select from the above plan options, and the M1 Finance algorithm takes care of the rest. For example, the algorithm sells and buys strategically on your behalf over time as your selected stocks trade differently (i.e. they "buy low and sell high" for you as your stock fluctuates, freeing up your time, via their algorithm).
One strength of M1 Finance is its allowing for the purchase of fractional shares up to one-thousandth of a share (beneficial for those who want a partial share of very expensive stock, such as Amazon or Google).
Types of stocks/ETFs/portfolios offered: Choose from any of the 6,000 stocks or nearly 2,000 ETFs traded on the major exchanges, including the NASDAQ, NYSE, and BATS.
Trading fees: There are absolutely no fees to trade, no commission fees, no yearly management fees, no fees for changing your portfolio. There's also no minimum balance to open an account with M1 Finance, only $100 is required to begin investing, and $500 is required to begin a retirement account.
Special offers on new accounts: Refer a friend and get a $10 referral bonus when they've funded their account for 14 days.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: M1 Borrow lets you borrow up to 35% of your portfolio and pay it back according to your own schedule. You can also find M1 Finance promo codes here.
- 100% free
- Offers fractional stocks as low as 1 ten-thousandth of a share
- Offers thousands of investment options to choose from
- Total flexibility on building your own portfolio and choosing your own investments
- Automatic payments from your bank account
- Not ideal for the newest newbies as there are many choices to make; new investors are encouraged to educate themselves before beginning in this app
- Not equipped for day-trading
- No cash is kept in your M1 Finance account; anything deposited over $10 will be invested across your portfolio
- No mutual funds
M1 Finance is a great option for those with a little background knowledge on stocks who are ready to use a hands-free automated system to optimize their investments. Best choice for robo-advising as it is completely free.
Stash is another of our best investment apps for beginners, also available on both iOS and Android. Since its launch in 2015, Stash has accumulated over 2 million customers and 5 million+ educational subscribers — with at least 40,000 new clients signing up every week.
How it works:
While there's a $1 per month fee for using Stash, you can start with as little as $5 - and you may get the first 1-3 months free if you initially invest less than $5,000.
Types of stocks/ETFs (exchange-traded funds)/portfolios offered: You can select from appx 40 carefully vetted ETFs (such as those from leading fund providers like Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street, etc. but Stash compiles them into a values-based package of various types, such as clean/green companies, defense companies. varied political interests, healthcare, finance and more.) and stocks for the initial minimum $5 deposit.
Trading fees: There are no add-on trading fees or otherwise; just a fee of $1 per month for accounts with under $5000, and 0.25% a year fee for accounts with over $5,000.
Special offers on new accounts: You'll get $5 just for starting an account with Stash. Plus, find more Stash promo codes here.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: Stash has Roth IRA accounts now, which can be started with as little as $15, as well as Stash Coach, which can help you arrange your portfolio optimally.
- Start with only $5, plus they'll give you $5 - and it's only a dollar per month for accounts below $5000
- Build your own portfolio
- Offers a whole section of tips and articles so you can increase your understanding of the stock market and financial world
- Offers fractional shares
- The Stash app doesn’t work when offline
- Expensive fees for larger accounts
Stash is a great option for those who have less to invest, prefer to choose ETFs according to values, and have little experience in the stock market. As those areas change, other apps will likely become more attractive.
When you need help deciding how to invest a small amount of money, Acorns may be for you. Another of the cheaper apps, Acorns allows users to round their credit and debit card purchases up to the nearest dollar, and then auto-invests the rest of your digital change for you.
How it works:
With over 3 million current users, Acorns offers 5 investment risk levels users can choose from to create their portfolio and link their cards and accounts for micro-investing via their purchase tracking system. You can customize the app on how much help it offers and what types of stocks it offers, too.
Types of stocks/ETFs/portfolios offered: Their website explains that Acorns accounts are 'Limited Trading Authority' accounts, meaning customers can choose one of 5 Acorns investment portfolios, but Acorns decides the ETFs that make up those portfolios. Says their Support page, "Each portfolio uses different allocations of the same 6 ETFs, according to its associated level of risk."
These 6 ETFs include: Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB), Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO), Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ), iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY), PIMCO (Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index ETF (CORP).
Trading fees: It costs $1 per month to use Acorns.
Special offers on new accounts: There's an offer starting in October 2018 to earn your share of a $100,000 referral bonus by referring 5 friends to Acorn and start investing this month. You can also check here for Acorns coupon codes.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: 'Found Money' lets retailers you visit invest in your Acorns account whenever you use your Acorns-linked cards at their establishments. Some of these retailers include Apple, Airbnb, Blue Apron, Casper, Expedia, DirecTV, Groupon, Hilton, Lyft, Macy's, Nike, Samsung, Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, and more.
- College students qualify for free management
- Great for beginners
- 'Found Money' gives you money back from purchases
- Automated investing ensures you get it done
- Small investment portfolio
- User has only one choice; their portfolio; and no say in what constitutes the chosen portfolio
Acorns is great for beginners and those without much money to start investing. Good place to learn the ropes and the Found Money feature gets you some money back. Not great for anyone who likes a lot of choices or prefers to direct their own investing.
As our next stop on the tour of apps that help when you need to invest a small amount of money, Clink is primarily designed to simplify investing. Clink keeps it very simple and essentially does everything for you. Available on both iOS via iTunes and Android via Google Play, Clink links to your checking account and allows you to select how much you'd like to invest and how often. (You can change this anytime.)
How it works:
Once you've made your selections mentioned above, Clink does the rest for you and invests a portion of your money (you decide how much) into a diversified portfolio at the intervals you determine, in order to provide a return.
Types of stocks/ETFs/portfolios offered:
Clink uses the “Modern Portfolio Theory" applied to their algorithm to select a low-risk portfolio for you. According to the Clink website, "Modern Portfolio Theory" is "all about diversification, and is the key to maximizing return with minimal risk; it emphasizes that risk is an inherent part of higher reward."
Clink currently uses Vanguard-based ETFs for your portfolio. Specifically, you'll get six of them, and a sample portfolio holds the following ETFs: VOO, VWO, VCIT, VGK, VTIP and BND
Trading fees: There’s no minimum investment with Clink. Up to a $5,000 balance, you'll be charged $1 per month. Over $5,000? A 0.25% fee will be charged annually. If you utilize the Clink scheduler, the least amount you could invest on a continuous basis, is $1 daily. Any returned ACH occurrences will be charged $30.00.
Special offers on new accounts: You can earn $5 for every customer you invite to use the Clink app. This money is received once they've successfully used Clink with a registered account for 30 days. There is no limit to how much you can earn via referrals.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: Link your credit cards to your Clink account and designate a portion of your shopping or dining purchases to be added to your portfolio.
- Extremely easy to save money and invest
- No fees other than the $1 per month (& others explained above)
- No minimum deposit
- Allows custodial accounts (fees on these are $2 per month per child)
- Streamlines your investing so you don't need to think about it
- Currently available on mobile only, not on PC or Mac
- Users can't choose specific stocks, only how aggressive or conservative they'd like their investing to be
- No explanation is given about the ETFs chosen for you and the risks of each one
Clink is probably the easiest of all micro-investment apps you can find. It's also, however, not as forthcoming on the ETFs they select for you and their risks, etc. In any case, it looks good for beginners who want to dabble for the first time and see how it goes - but not for those with experience or a large amount to invest.
Continuing on our journey to find the best investment apps for those working with little money, we're ready to discuss Betterment.
How it works:
Betterment creates your portfolio of 13 ETFs based on your introductory questionnaire and their assessment of your goals and risk tolerance. From there, they use a combination of software and human advisors to implement their portfolio allocation and tax-loss harvesting (a free service which keeps your capital gains low toward year-end while simultaneously maximizing timely tax-friendly investments.)
As you age, Betterment automatically shifts toward less volatile bonds and away from stock-centered ETFs. RetireGuide assists with your retirement goals and SmartDeposit places excess cash directly into your bank account.
Types of stocks/ETFs/portfolios offered: Betterment's portfolio strategy utilizes asset allocation and fund selection processes to determine your ETFs. You can view your Portfolio Analysis by logging in to your account and checking your goals. These are a combination of both stocks and bonds from both domestic and international markets.
Trading fees: The basic fee for digital management of your portfolio is 0.25% of the total portfolio's value, but this fee can be waived your first year if you bring your current investment account over to Betterment. The premium plan is 0.40% per year with a $100,000 min. balance. Securities and transfer funds are free to trade, and the more you deposit, the less you pay.
Special offers on new accounts: Refer 3 friends and get 30 days free for each friend who funds; they get 3 months free. As a bonus, you'll get a free year when your first 3 friends fund. Also, you can check for Betterment promo codes here.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: July added 3 new features to the Betterment plans: The Financial Advice Via App lets users message licensed financial experts their questions. The Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Portfolio Options allow users to invest in globally diversified options of socially responsible companies. The Combining Plus and Premium Plans pertains to unlimited phone calls to certified financial professionals for a .4$ annual fee. Their charitable giving tool also offers a tax-efficient way to donate to charities using the Betterment form.
- No minimum deposit on Digital plans (basic)
- Great for users with low balances
- Betterment offers retirement investors
- Automatic rebalancing
- Tailored to your goals and needs
- Access to in-app messaging with financial advisors
- Sync all accounts and investments so you can monitor it all in once place
- Users can't directly select their investment fund; only stock-bond allocation
Betterment is great for users with low balances who like to use goal-based tech tools. All accounts and investments can be synced with this app for easy monitoring, a handy tool for those with multiple credit cards and other types of accounts to track.
Another option on how to invest a small amount of money is Stockpile. With a mission to create a stock brokerage where people could customarily by fractions of stocks, Stockpile CCO Dan Schatt explained, “Basically, our mission is to make the stock market easy and affordable and accessible. You can’t really do anything with $50 in your wallet at a traditional broker. It would cost you probably a couple of thousand of dollars to get started.”
The app charges no monthly fees, you only need $1 to make a trade, and stock prices begin as low as 99 cents. Users can buy from most of the companies and give stock gift cards to friends for as little as $5.
A fun gift for a young family member or new graduate might be a Stockpile gift card for Disney, Nike, Apple, or others, so by redeeming it, they now own their own first share of a company.
Stockpile lets you buy fractional shares when the full shares are too high for your budget, and reinvest dividends free of charge and watch your shares and balance increase.
How it works:
User sign up and link their bank account to the Stockpile app, then move in some funds to use when they're ready to purchase. Then they can buy and sell stock as they wish for 99 cents per transaction.
Types of stocks/ETFs/portfolios offered: Stockpile has more than more than 1000 stocks, as well as ADRs, and ETFs, including every stock in the Standard & Poor's 500.
Trading fees: 99 cents per buy or sell. $2.99 for user's first gift card stock.
Special offers on new accounts: You should get a free $5 to use when you sign up with a new account on Stockpile.
Any other special features (extended trading hours, etc.)?: They offer gift card options for over 1,000 EFTs and companies in the form of fractional stocks. You can also check for Stockpile discount codes here.
- Allows purchase of fractional stocks
- Users can invest in socially responsible stock options
- Offers custodial accounts
- Gift cards are offered for over 1,000 stocks in fractional shares
- Customer service is available by phone or email
- Some reported being unable to perform live trades, but could only do what appeared to be 'close of day trading' on the site, so whatever the day closes at is what your stock situation will be, regardless of when you did the trade during the day
- Some had trouble accessing what they wanted with the gift cards in a timely fashion; reported the site was "slow"
Stockpile is good for learning the ropes and fun gifts for kids as long as you only invest a small amount of money and keep things reasonable. Note: you may need to help the kids with gift cards get started as some have had trouble using their cards on the site. Probably not great for large stock purchases.