The Best Free Stock Trading Apps for College Students

Investing is vital for long-term financial success. Whether you want to save for retirement, save up for a down payment on a house or car, or just set money aside for a financial buffer, investing is your ticket to success.

But traditional investing has a problem, and it’s a big one: Fees can really eat into your savings.

This is particularly true for college students who may not be able to invest large amounts of money.

Money in college

A $7 or $10 fee for each trade may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re only investing $100 at a time, that’s up to 10% of your money eaten up by fees.

Fees can have a huge impact on your long-term investment returns. Ultimately, the less you pay in fees, the more successful your investing journey will be.

Fortunately, free stock apps have made it much easier — and cheaper — for college students to start investing.

This guide will explore some of the best commission-free stock trading apps on the market today.

10 best free stock apps

There are basically three types of free investing apps:

Three main types of investing app
  1. Full-service stock brokers that offer free trades on stocks and mutual funds. Examples include Fidelity and Charles Schwab. These brokers are much larger and more established, and offer a wide range of investment services and account types.

  2. Trading apps with free trades. Examples include Robinhood and WeBull. These apps are simple to use but generally offer a narrower selection of services and account types.

  3. Robo-advisors that use technology to help you build an investment portfolio, rebalance your assets, optimize taxes, and diversify your money. Examples include M1 Finance and Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. These apps may be free to use, but they sometimes charge a small fee based on a percentage of your assets.

Any type can help you save money and get started on your investing journey.

The list below covers the top ten best free investing apps available today — with a focus on features most relevant to college students and beginner investors.

Fidelity

Best for those seeking a full-service broker (with commission-free trading)

Fidelity Investments

Fidelity is a traditional broker and has been in business since 1946. It’s also one of the largest brokers in the U.S.

Fidelity is a full-service broker, which means they do just about everything when it comes to investing. While their fee structure is very beginner-friendly, the advantage of Fidelity is that it’s a broker that you can use forever.

Many of these newer free investment apps are attractive to brand-new investors, but they may not offer all the services you might need or want in the future.

Fidelity should be a top consideration if you want an all-in-one investing platform that you can use for years to come.

Pros:

  • $0 commission on U.S. stock and ETF trades
  • A huge variety of low-cost index funds and investment products
  • Offers select index funds with no transaction fees and no management fees (such as FZROX)
  • Wide variety of account types (taxable brokerage account, Roth IRA, 401(k), and many more)
  • Quality customer service
  • Investment advisory services and other financial services are available
  • Supports fractional shares for select stocks (so you can buy $50 worth of a stock, even if that stock trades at $600 per share)
  • Great educational resources for beginners and experts alike
  • Excellent mobile app

Cons:

  • No crypto support at this time
  • Not as user-friendly as some of the newer investing apps

WeBull

Best for active traders looking for a user-friendly app

WeBull investing app

WeBull is an online brokerage that’s a great option for college students, and for both beginner and intermediate investors. It’s got $0 commissions on equities, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and options trading. This is a feature-rich app that makes it easy to learn trading.

WeBull also now supports crypto trading, with several of the top cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more). In total, there are more than 25 tokens available to trade on WeBull — and more are being added frequently.

For more advanced investors, WeBull also has advanced market data, charting tools, and in-depth analysis tools to help you research and strategize trades.

And despite the advanced features available, most of the WeBull platform is intuitive and user-friendly.

Pros:

  • $0 commissions on stock, ETF, and option trades
  • No account minimums
  • Supports fractional stock trading
  • Supports extended hours trading (pre-market and post-market)
  • Crypto trading with 25+ tokens to trade (BTC, ETH, ADA, SOL, and more)
  • Frequently offers free stocks as a signup bonus for new users
  • Supports taxable brokerage accounts and retirement accounts

Cons:

  • Many of the advanced features require a paid subscription
  • Doesn’t support mutual funds

M1 Finance

Best for building a set-it-and-forget-it portfolio

M1 Finance investing app

M1 Finance is a unique investment platform that lets you build diversified portfolios of ETFs, mutual funds, stock index funds, and individual stocks.

It’s NOT built for active trading. You can only trade on the platform once per day. If you place an order, it will be fulfilled the following morning.

So, what’s the point?

M1 Finance is all about building an optimized portfolio and regularly contributing to it. It’s built for the buy-and-hold strategy, a common recommendation among financial professionals.

The way it works is unique. When you sign up for a new account, you’ll build your desired portfolio using what M1 calls “investment pies.” You can mix and match any investments, all of which will add up to 100% of your “pie.”

For instance, you could choose to invest 50% of your money in the U.S. total stock market, 20% in the total international stock market, 20% in the total U.S. bond market, and 1% each in ten of your favorite individual stocks. This would add up to 100%, making your “pie” complete.

Then, M1 will automatically buy all those assets in the predetermined percentage whenever you transfer money in. So even if you transfer in a small amount, like $50, M1 will buy very small slices of all your desired investments at once.

M1 also aims to keep your allocated percentages the same over time. This means that if your 20% allocation to international stocks goes down to 19% of your portfolio, M1 will add more from your next deposit to get it back to 20%. This is referred to as rebalancing, and M1 does it automatically.

Pros:

  • Makes it easy to automate investing
  • Build a custom “pie” with all your desired investments
  • Add money to all your investments at once with each contribution
  • Supports taxable brokerage accounts and IRAs
  • No management fees or trading fees
  • Perfect for a passive investing portfolio

Cons:

  • Not designed for active trading
  • No options for crypto trading

eToro

Best for cryptocurrency trading and “social investing”

eToro social investing app

eToro is another popular trading platform and app that gives investors a unique way to trade — by following other investors. Its unique “Copy Trading” feature lets you sign up to “copy” other traders.

For instance, you could assign $500 of your portfolio to copy the trades of a specific experienced crypto trader. Whenever they buy an asset, you will automatically buy it too — and you’ll sell at the same time, as well. It’s an interesting and hands-off way to trade crypto.

There’s also a “demo account,” which you can use to test out your trading strategy using fake money.

eToro currently focuses on cryptocurrency trading and supports 27+ coins. While you can get access to a wider variety on some cryptocurrency exchanges, eToro has one of the widest selections for a platform that also offers stocks.

Interestingly, stocks are definitely not the focus for eToro. The stock trading features are currently in beta, which for now means that only some stocks are available, and ETFs are only available to select customers. But eToro is expanding stock trading, so expect new features coming soon.

Pros:

  • Offers a demo account to practice crypto trading
  • Supports 27+ cryptocurrencies
  • Also supports (some) stock and ETF trading
  • “Social trading” feature lets you copy other successful investors
  • Commission-free trades on stocks

Cons:

  • Limited options for stock trading and ETF investing
  • Designed primarily for crypto trading — other asset classes are lacking
  • Spreads (fees) on crypto assets are higher than some competitors

Ally Invest

Best for investing and banking under one roof

Ally Invest app

Ally is a unique financial services company that offers bank accounts, investments, loans, and more. This is one of those companies where you can handle almost all your financial affairs in one place.

And even if you don’t have a checking account with Ally, you can sign up for Ally Invest to take advantage of its investing functionality.

Ally offers no-commission trading on stocks and many ETFs. Oddly, they do charge a trading commission on low-priced stocks that trade for under $2 per share. All other available stocks are commission-free.

Pros:

  • Wide variety of financial services under one roof
  • Banking, investing, loans, and more
  • No fees to buy stocks and select ETFs
  • Hands-off “robo-investing” is also offered
  • Offers taxable and retirement investment accounts
  • Feature-packed app for mobile
  • Also offers forex trading (foreign currencies)

Cons:

  • Robo-investing portfolio includes a 30% allocation to a cash “buffer,” which isn’t ideal for long-term returns
  • No support for cryptocurrency investing
  • There are trading fees for penny stocks (priced under $2 per share), bonds, and mutual funds

SoFi Invest

Best for all-in-one personal finance and investing

SoFi Invest app

SoFi is a financial technology (fintech) company that offers a wide range of financial services. It can help you consolidate student loan debt, manage banking, and get into investing — all on one platform.

SoFi offers mobile trading of stocks, ETFs, and even cryptocurrencies. There are some advanced trading tools, including exclusive access to initial public offerings (IPOs) before the shares trade on public markets.

SoFi has two different styles of investing accounts:

  • Active Investing, designed for active traders and standard investing
  • Automated Investing, a robo-adviser feature that helps you automate your investment strategy

And remember, SoFi also offers banking, loans, loan consolidation, and much more.

Pros:

  • Dozens of personal finance services under one umbrella
  • Commission-free trading on stocks
  • Choose from active investing or an automated robo-advisor
  • Exclusive access to IPOs before they launch
  • Fractional shares
  • Supports cryptocurrency trading
  • Offers traditional and Roth IRAs

Cons:

  • Fees on crypto trading are high
  • Robo advisor doesn’t use tax loss harvesting
  • Doesn’t support options or mutual funds

Charles Schwab

Best for full-service investing and robo-investing

Charles Schwab Investments

Charles Schwab is another of America’s largest stock brokerage firms. In many ways, it’s similar to Fidelity. Schwab offers commission-free investing for stocks and ETFs. It also gives you access to a wide variety of investment options.

As a full-service broker, you can open up just about any type of account with Schwab. And just recently, Schwab has introduced a robo-investing service called Schwab Intelligent Portfolios.

This robo-investing feature essentially helps you automate your investing strategy. You answer a questionnaire to determine your risk tolerance and goals, then Schwab recommends a portfolio using a mix of ETFs, bonds, and cash.

The portfolio is automatically rebalanced as needed. It’s also tax-efficient, as the algorithm will conduct trades to structure “tax loss harvesting” to potentially save you money on your tax bill.

Plus, if you open a checking account with Schwab, you can get a debit card that refunds all ATM fees worldwide, which is very useful for travelers.

Pros:

  • A full-service broker with low costs
  • All account types are supported
  • No-commission trading on stocks, ETFs, and more
  • Also offers banking services
  • Optional robo-advisor service for automated investing and rebalancing
  • Optional premium service gives you access to a certified financial planner (fees apply)

Cons:

  • Robo-investing service requires a $5,000 minimum balance
  • No crypto support

Public.com

Best for social investing and theme-based investing

Public.com investing app

Public.com is one of the best stock trading apps for new investors who want to follow other investors and invest “socially.” The platform makes it easy to set up “sharing” on your account, making a record of what you bought and sold available to the public. Likewise, you can follow along with the trades of other investors, including your friends and even professional investors.

Public offers commission-free trading on stocks and ETFs. It even offers many “themes,” which are categories of investments based on a certain theme. For instance, a “Women In Charge” theme lists public companies with female CEOs.

Public.com also has an interesting revenue model. It accepts tips when you make a trade. Instead of selling your data or profiting from payment for order flow (as many other free brokers do), Public has a more transparent business model.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t use payment for order flow to make money
  • Wide selection of theme-based portfolios (i.e. Creative Economy Stocks, or Dividend Stocks)
  • Commission-free trading
  • Offers crypto trading (25+ coins)
  • Social sharing features

Cons:

  • Only offers taxable brokerage accounts (no retirement accounts)
  • Doesn’t support options or mutual funds

Vanguard

Best for simple index investing

Vanguard Investments

Vanguard is the original low-cost investment company. In fact, it was instrumental in pushing the industry toward the low-fee model that most brokers now use today.

Vanguard is also an investment management company — which means it manages a wide variety of mutual funds and ETFs that are extremely popular. The company focuses on passive index-fund investing.

Vanguard now has commission-free trading on most trades. More importantly, it offers some of the lowest management fees in the industry on Vanguard funds.

Keep in mind that you don’t actually need a Vanguard account to buy Vanguard ETFs — you can buy them through most brokers. But if you want to mostly use passive index investing approaches, Vanguard is an excellent choice.

Pros:

  • The original low-cost investment broker
  • Commission-free trades on stocks and ETFs
  • Vanguard ETFs have very low expense ratios
  • Huge variety of low-cost index funds, ETFs, and mutual funds
  • Ideal for passive, simple investing
  • Offers retirement accounts and standard brokerage accounts
  • Full-service brokerage

Cons:

  • User interface isn’t very intuitive for newcomers
  • You can buy the popular Vanguard ETFs with most brokers (so you don’t necessarily need a Vanguard account)

Robinhood

Best for user-friendly investing and options trading

Robinhood investing app

Robinhood was one of the first apps to offer free stock trading, and it drastically changed the investment industry for the better.

Today, it’s still offering the same perks, including fee-free trading of stocks and ETFs as well as commission-free options trading. They even offer commission-free cryptocurrency investing, which is very rare in the industry.

One of the biggest benefits of Robinhood is that it’s very user-friendly. You don’t need to be an investing pro to use the app. And even for advanced activities like options trading, Robinhood does a good job of making them beginner-friendly.

At this time, Robinhood only offers standard taxable brokerage accounts — retirement accounts aren’t available.

Pros:

  • The original commission-free trading app
  • Very user-friendly
  • No-fee trading of stocks, ETFs, options, and even crypto
  • Supports fractional share investing

Cons:

  • Robinhood crypto has a limited selection of coins
  • Robinhood has been at the center of some controversy in recent years
  • No retirement accounts — only taxable investment accounts

What to look for in a free investing app

Many free investing apps are available today, but finding the right app is important.

Free stock app features

Here are the features that you should look for when choosing the right app for you.

No commissions: Commissions are an upfront fee charged every time you buy or sell an asset. All the apps on the list above offer commission-free trading on stocks.

Low fees: There may be other fees to watch out for outside of commissions. These include fees to trade crypto, transfer funds or assets, option trading, etc. Look for a provider that has low fees overall and no monthly fees.

A good app: If you’re looking for the best investment app, it’s not just about the fees or the features. It’s also about the app itself. Check app store reviews for iOS in the Apple App Store and for Android in the Google Play Store to get a better idea of which apps are user-friendly.

Low account minimums and trade minimums: Some brokers require a minimum deposit when you open an account — $500, for instance. Likewise, some require a minimum investment for all individual trades ($30, for instance). If you’re just getting started, look for an app with low investment minimums (or no minimum at all).

Investment selection: All free stock apps will let you trade stocks — but what about ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, or cryptocurrencies? If you’re interested in diversifying into a variety of assets, look for an app that supports a wide variety.

Account types: By default, an investment account will be a “taxable” account, aka a “brokerage” account. This means that it has no special tax treatment. If you’re interested in starting a retirement account or another tax-advantaged investment account, look for a provider that also offers IRAs or 401(k)’s.

Educational resources: If you want to learn more about investing and other financial literacy topics, look for an investment platform that offers learning tools and educational guides.

Fractional shares: Fractional stock trading allows you to buy a fraction of a stock. For example, Amazon currently trades at over $3,000 per share — but with fractional trading, you could put $50 into Amazon stock if you wanted. If an app doesn’t support fractional shares, you’d need to actually have the full $3,000+ to invest in Amazon.

Sign-up bonuses: Some apps offer free stock signup bonuses to help attract new users. For instance, you may receive a few free shares of stock for signing up and investing $100. This usually isn’t a huge amount of money, but it’s a nice little bonus to look out for.

An ethical business model: Apps that don’t charge commission have to make money somehow. Most do this through a mix of revenue streams — some of which are a bit controversial. Rehypothecation and Payment for Order Flow are two of the most controversial and have led to backlash against apps like Robinhood.

Ease of use: Finally, you want an investing experience that’s easy to navigate. Many of the newer “app-first” brokers do a good job of this, but more established brokers are also becoming more user-friendly.

List of top investing app features to look for

Use a free stock app to get started with investing

Utilizing a free stock app can help you start investing without giving up a lot of your hard-earned money to fees. The options above are some of the best investing apps available today.

Looking for other ways to save money? Check out CouponFollow for the latest coupons and discount codes.

And for students, be sure to check out our complete savings guide for college.

about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.