Top 5 Cheap or Free Investing Tools

I would like to review some of my favorite investing tools that I’ve used over the years and that anyone who can operate a smartphone can use regardless of their investment knowledge. You don’t have to be an investment professional to start learning about investing your own money. There are enough resources available to the everyday investor to learn how to appropriately invest their money.

  1. Robinhood:  A relative newcomer to the investment brokerage industry, Robinhood has made a name for itself with its disruptive business model. Robinhood is a mobile trading app with an eye-popping price tag for trades; FREE. That’s right, Robinhood allows its users to trade shares of stocks and stock funds with zero commissions. As if that weren’t good enough, they also allow account holders to place after hours market trades, which is a neat level of sophistication for the price. The first question I always here when I tell people about Robinhood is “How do they make their money?” While Robinhood does not charge for most trades you are likely to make on their platform, they do earn revenue through their margin lending service, Robinhood Gold, interest on uninvested cash in your brokerage account, and rebates from market makers. Their collection of rebates from market makers have raised questions of fairness and the concerns that some market makers may be using the order flow from Robinhood users to front run trades and sell securities back to users at less than optimal prices. Robinhood, of course, denies this and it’s still a developing story so stay tuned. Robinhood is ideal for younger investors and speculators. While their account tools are limited compared to larger more traditional brokerages, the price per trade is unbeatable. Robinhood does not currently offer retirement accounts or trust accounts, so it is not ideal for retirement savers. But if you just want to learn how to trade stocks or think you have a hunch, check out Robinhood.
  2. M1: M1 is even newer than Robinhood and comes with the same price tag. Free. The difference with M1 is that it is more geared towards those who would like to have a portfolio similar to professional investment giants, such as Warren Buffet or George Soros, but don’t have the time or resources to do the requisite research. M1 does this by creating model portfolios that investors can invest their money in. The cool thing about M1 is that they allow for fractional share transactions, meaning that even if you only had $5 to invest at any certain time, it can be split up proportionally among the holdings of your model portfolio. The models are constructed by M1 using the K13 filings that professional investment institutions are required to file when there is an update to their holdings. Like Robinhood, M1 makes their revenue through the use of margin, interest on cash, distribution fees for certain funds, transaction fees from certain exchanges.
  3. Acorns: This is one of my favorites and one that I use nearly every day. Unlike the previously mentioned Acorns is NOT free. In fact, some have argued in the past that from a percentage of assets standpoint, Acorns can be quite pricey (it’s $1 a month for balances less than $5000). However, the value they deliver is more than worth the cost in my opinion, because they have a nifty feature called “round-up.” Rounding-up allows investors to link their bank card to Acorns. Whenever the investor uses the bank card to make a purchase, Acorns rounds the purchase up to the nearest dollar and save the change for you. It would be like having the paper cash to make a purchase, and instead of giving that annoying change back to you, the cashier just invested it on your behalf. Once $5 worth of round-ups have accumulated in your account, Acorns sweeps that cash into your Acorns account and invests it in whichever of their 5 models you pick. The models are based on your risk tolerance and use Vanguard and iShares funds, which is another plus because they are so affordable to own. That’s not all acorns offers. They also have a whole host of features that are continually being updated as well as an awesome education suite where investors can learn more about prudent investing. The cognitive ease with which Acorns users can save is unparalleled, meaning no more excuses! You are saving all the time and you hardly notice! No more excuses!
  4. When it comes to checking out the investment landscape it’s hard to beat is free like most of the tools in this article. I mostly use it for their economic calendar which tells you when certain events, announcements, reports, etc. that will move markets are due to be released and what their likely impact on markets is going to be. No matter what asset class you’re interested in will likely contain analysis covering the asset. If you’re looking for education, and you’re not sure where to start, may as well be your first stop.
  5. Seeking Alpha: Seeking Alpha is community of investment analysts who write on particular stocks or industries. The reason I recommend Seeking Alpha is the level of analysis that is available to the average investor. Articles will often go into surprising depth with their analysis making for a great learning experience. If you want to learn how to analyze stocks like a pro, then Seeking Alpha will certainly at least show you what that analysis should look like. There is a free version and a pro version for $30/month.

Used responsibly, these tools can open the world of stock market investing to the beginning investor. Indeed, that is exactly how I got my start as a young investor despite never having owned a single share of any company or before ever having attended a single college lecture on the topic.

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