Are you looking to up your investing game? Do you want the stock market to make your money work for you? Are you sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines of your financial life and want to take charge? If so, then this post is for you.
Chances are, you've heard of Webull, Robinhood, Acorns, and M1 from your friends. You probably know that each is an investment platform, but how do they differ?
They all sound like they do the same thing: help you manage and invest your money… So which one is better for what you're trying to accomplish? How can you be sure that you've selected the right one to invest your money in?
Here we'll take a deep dive into each platform. We'll give an overview of each one, the pros and cons of each, and what makes them all special. For an in-depth guide highlighting the pros and cons of Acorns vs Robinhood vs Webull vs M1 Finance, read on!
Quick note: I am not a financial professional and you should always do your own research (including meeting with financial advisors) before investing in financial products. This includes mutual funds, retirement accounts, and yes, the new fancy mobile app that aims to manage your finances for you.
Overview of Each Investing App
Before comparing free stock offerings or customer service standards, it's best to know a bit about where each platform came from. This section will shed light on the backstory behind each of these investing platforms and provide a rundown of how each one works and what makes each one unique.
Acorns started as an automated investing app that lets you save and accumulate wealth for just $1/month. Over time it's grown and expanded to support retirement accounts, checking accounts, and even family saving accounts.
The basic premise of Acorns is simple: they want to make investing easy and painless for those who don't have the time to invest. It works by “rounding up” your spending to the nearest dollar and investing the difference.
This way, you won't even notice the money being invested because it's only pennies every time. Over an extended period, though, this spare change really starts to grow! All you need to do is link up a credit card or debit card plus your checking account, and Acorns will do the rest.
The Acorns app is extremely easy to use and primarily targets young tech-savvy millennial investors.
Currently, Acorns can only truly be managed from the smartphone (although a slightly less functional desktop app is out as well), meaning that the entire investing experience will be extremely tech-based.
This app is a good option for anyone who hasn't really invested before, doesn't have an investment strategy, or just needs a little guidance in the investing world.
You might now say, “that's great, but I don't really care to just invest my spare change.” And to that, I'd say, “don't let Acorns' simple starts fool you.” Even though Acorns started as a small change investing app, you can now invest for your retirement, set up a checking account, and even set up a custodial investment account for your children with Acorns!
The story of Robinhood goes something like this: a daring (and quite handsome) young fellow leads a group of men, and they ride around stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
While you probably won't get a chunk of Jeff Bezo's fortune from using the Robinhood app, you WILL gain access to many tools to succeed in the investing world.
Robinhood aims to empower people from every background to get involved with investing, and in this sense, the Robinhood app gives you the keys to it all. You can access individual stocks, cryptocurrencies, ETFs, and even options, all at your fingertips!
Now, this isn't special in and of itself. You can get these features with almost any brokerage account (like TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, etc.) The cool part is that a “low-fee” brokerage firm will usually charge around $5 per trade… Robinhood, on the other hand, charges absolutely $0 in trading fees!
This is awesome for new investors as it allows you to invest smaller amounts of money without losing a big chunk to commissions and fees.
Experts do caution novice investors from using it without much direction as that could lead to lots of money lost in the stock market. That said, Robinhood can be a very functional and enjoyable app if you use it right.
Perhaps you have some prior investing experience and are looking for an investing app that offers all the tools you need. If so, Webull is the app for you.
Webull is an excellent platform if you want everything you'll ever need to actively trade stocks. You'll be able to buy and sell stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrencies and even open a margin account with Webull!
Launched in 2017, it has an elegant interface for desktop and mobile. It also comes with an impressive array of tools for technical analysis and more.
Webull is also quite community-driven. It's easy to connect and follow other users. So when you start investing with Webull, you'll feel your voice is heard and that you're part of a more extensive social network.
However, one thing to note about Webull is that it doesn't help teach you how to use everything on its platform (maybe because it has so many tools). For this reason, it's highly recommended you only use Webull if you're an intermediate or advanced investor. It's not so well-suited for newcomers.
It's also worth noting that, currently, Webull is not available in Canada, Europe, or any country other than the US.
Last but certainly not least, we have M1 Finance. Founded in 2015, M1 Finance offers a unique blend of automated investing with a certain degree of customization.
Today, it manages over $2 billion and has over 500,000 clients. Suffice it to say, M1 Finance is definitely for the more sophisticated investor who is looking to create an investment portfolio tailored to their exact needs.
Also, unlike Robinhood and Webull, M1 doesn't emphasize either passive or active investing, but encourages a bit of both. In fact, the app offers awesome features such as robo advisors to help point you in the right direction and keep you on track.
M1's target customer is someone who ideally has a long-term focus and has lots of experience using brokerages to invest in stocks and ETFs. For these clients, M1 is perfect as it offers the option to buy fractional shares of stocks and also retain a high degree of control over your portfolio.
Active traders, however, should probably steer clear. If you're a day trader or someone who likes to follow the market, you won't like the way that M1 “locks you in” and will be frustrated by the fees. Look at Webull or Robinhood instead.
Pros and Cons of Each Investing App
Before making your final decision on which app to choose, you'll want to know the advantages and disadvantages of each one. In this section, we'll share the pros and cons of each of these investing platforms.
Pros of Acorns: Awesome Way to Start Saving
Acorns is awesome because it's a totally painless way to save money. Since so little goes into your savings each time, you don't even notice the difference from your checking account. Then, after years of accumulation, you'll find that you saved up a pretty sizable chunk of change without really doing anything!
On top of that, you really don't need to understand anything about investing to use Acorns. It truly shields users from all the nitty-gritty complexities of the investing world. You won't need to do any sort of technical analysis or portfolio theory when using Acorns.
There is also no minimum deposit amount to begin using Acorns. You can literally start with as little as $0.
Finally, it's extremely easy to set up a custodial account for your children and start investing for their future. What's more, you can start educating your kids via Acorns by letting them manage their own money and watch it grow over time.
Cons: Not Enough Juice to Change Your Financial Life
The only real negative of Acorns is that due to its conservative approach, you probably aren't going to be beating the general stock market when it comes to returns. As reported by one user, in 2020 while the stock market grew upwards of 10%, their Acorns account only grew by 2%.
Furthermore, Acorns is only really good for “boosting” your savings and won't get you the 10%-20% of income saved that you need to transform your financial future. You're probably not going to save for retirement or for a house with an Acorns account (although every little bit counts at the end of the day).
Finally, it IS possible to lose money with Acorns. It's rare because of the portfolio's conservative nature, but there is a chance you lose some principal when investing with Acorns.
Pros of Robinhood: Commission-Free Trading and Access to Crypto Trading
As the name of the app might imply, the Robinhood app is all about bringing access to the stock trading world to the fingertips of regular investors everywhere.
Generally, when that happens, you can expect to pay some hefty fees. Robinhood takes its namesake one step further by putting a feather in your cap and requiring no commissions on your transactions.
One of the other ways that Robinhood separates itself is by offering crypto trading, something other traditional brokerages typically don't do. The layout is simple and easy to use, not requiring you to have investor experience to start investing.
It also offers a stock for free whenever you’re directed to use the app by a current Robinhood user. This could be anything from stock in Prospect Capital to stock in Apple.
Cons of Robinhood: Lack of Direction
Robinhood is mostly used by beginner investors. These investors (which might include yourself) have very little to no prior investing experience, which can actually make the app somewhat risky to use.
Due to Robinhood’s easy-to-use interface and lack of direction, beginners could get themselves in some harmful situations if they go in with a “shop-and-drop” attitude.
Without understanding how to indicate positive investing trends and how to properly research before making investments, Robinhood does lack something to be desired in that area. Fortunately, with proper financial direction, you could benefit highly from this app!
Pros of Webull: Free Trading and Simulated Trading
While Robinhood caters to newcomers, Webull focuses on seasoned investors.
Like Robinhood, it offers commission-free trading. It’s the only investing platform that offers simulated trading to its users, so you can refine your craft before you start using real dollars.
Many experienced traders prefer using Webull, however, if you’re a beginner then you can still capitalize on the paper trading (simulated trading) tool before you invest real money in other apps.
Cons of Webull: Somewhat Overwhelming Platform
Webull’s platform and overall layout will take some getting used to. Unlike Robinhood, they didn't design their app with beginner, or even intermediate investors in mind.
On the upside, this encourages users of any experience level to simulate their trading. However, it also limits the usability of intermediate users at times.
If you’re willing to commit yourself to the app and all of its features, then you should put in the effort to learn Webull. There are also tutorials you can use if you’re dead-set on using Webull instead of another app.
Pros of M1 Finance: Blend of Investing and Education
M1’s focus is to give you a free trading platform while educating you on which route to take with your investments.
For example, it offers a pie investing tool aimed to help you diversify your investments rather than invest too much stock in one particular company. It likes to point its users to ETFs and Index Funds to help keep things manageable.
However, it certainly doesn’t deter you from active investing. You’ll be able to dive into individual stocks as you so choose, just like you can with Robinhood and Webull.
Cons of M1 Finance: Lack of Robo Advisor Features
The free robo advisor feature of M1 comes at a “price”: the robo advisor doesn’t offer you a quick tax-loss harvesting refresher on the app. Most robo advisors typically offer this feature.
It also limits you to one or two daily trading windows (depending on whether you have M1 plus or not), which is something that most app users will find taxing and annoying. If you're an active trader, it is probably best to stay away from M1 Finance.
Pick Your Tool: Acorns vs Robinhood vs Webull vs M1
In today's day and age, investing is easier than ever. All you need is a bank account, some debit or credit cards, a will to learn, and the determination to keep going!
You don't even need a large chunk of change to start investing because most of these modern investing apps don't require an account minimum or minimum balance.
From automated investing to free stock trading to a guided approach, Acorns, Robinhood, Webull, and M1 offers it all.
So whether you want to constantly buy and sell stocks (like day traders) or hold a long-term investment portfolio or explore the different account types each mobile platform has to offer, you'll probably find something to fit your needs amongst these four best investing apps.
As a quick recap, here are some of the distinguishing features of each app:
- Acorns – If you're someone who's completely new to investing or aren't too interested in it but still want to make your money work for you, Acorns is the right platform to choose.
With Acorns, you can invest your spare change and won't even notice while your wealth accumulates. On top of that, you can also access a whole bunch of their other offerings including savings accounts, retirement accounts, and even custodial investment accounts.
- Robinhood – If you're a new investor who's just getting started in the trading game and want a user-friendly platform that lets you buy and sell stocks with ease, look no further than Robinhood!
Robinhood lets you trade individual stocks, ETFs, options, and even cryptocurrencies at completely no charge. Check them out if you're looking for a brokerage account that will suit your needs.
- Webull – For those who are more well-versed in the investing world, check out Webull. Webull offers anything and everything you could ever need to perform technical analysis on stocks and make the right decision.
If you're looking for a community-based investing app that will bring your investing game to another level, look no further than Webull.
- M1 Finance – Finally, if you're a more sophisticated investor who's looking for a way to take advantage of automated robo-advisor investing (but also still wants to maintain control over their portfolio), check out M1 Finance. With over $2 billion under management, M1 Finance is really for those aiming to let their money work for them.
So there you have it: a clear breakdown of each investing app, its pros and cons, and exactly what makes each one so special.
Now that you have read an in-depth guide on Acorns vs Robinhood vs Webull vs M1, it’s time to pick the one that best fits your needs. They are all essentially free investing apps (or extremely low cost), but each has its own differences.
It's up to you to use this information to choose the better option for your finances. (Remember to consult with a financial advisor and do tons of your own research before allocating any money to any investment).
If you're reading this as an attempt to catch up to your retirement savings contributions, be sure to read this article for eight ways you can do so (hint: not all eight of them revolve around signing up for new, fancy investing apps).
Otherwise, enjoy whichever one of these free investment apps you choose and start making your money work for you. Happy wealth-building!