Robinhood is a free-trading app that’s ideal for investors who are willing to give up a full-service online trading platform in exchange for the ability to buy a wide selection of stocks and ETFs without paying commissions or fees. Robinhood offers real-time market data but little in the way of research or tools.
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Robinhood is best for:
- Frequent stock or ETF traders
- Mobile users
- Individual taxable accounts
- Margin accounts
Robinhood at a glance
|Stock trading costs||Free.|
|Account minimum||$0; $2,000 for Robinhood Gold margin account (regulatory minimum).|
|Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)||No annual, inactivity or ACH transfer fees. $75 ACAT outgoing transfer fee.|
|Trading platform||Purposely simple. App only; no desktop or web version. Available for iPhone, Apple Watch and Android.|
|Commission-free ETFs||Most U.S.-listed ETFs.|
|Research and data||Real-time market data; no research.|
|Tradable securities||• Stocks
|Customer support/branches||Phone support Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern; email support.|
Where Robinhood shines
Commissions: This is obvious: What’s better than free? Robinhood’s commitment to providing 100% commission-free stock and ETF trades is admirable, and the savings for investors who trade frequently is significant. After all, every dollar you save on commissions and fees is a dollar added to your returns.
Account minimum: Robinhood doesn’t have one, which means investors can get started right away. Of course, in order to invest, you’ll need enough to purchase at least one share of the stock or ETF you have your eye on. But this is a low bar of entry in a sea of online brokers that often require $1,000 or more to open an account.
One note: Like other brokers, Robinhood requires a $2,000 minimum portfolio balance to open a margin account. This is a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority regulation.
New to investing? See our article on how to buy stocks.
Ease of use: If you’re accustomed to using a smartphone — and Robinhood’s target user base obviously is — you’ll find the sign-up and account funding process quick and painless. It all happens within the app in less than five minutes, with just a few quick questions that gather your personal information, contact details, Social Security number and means of funding your account. The company says approved customers are notified in less than an hour, at which point they can initiate bank transfers.
The company uses instant verification with many major banks, sparing users the hassle of reporting micro-deposits to an account to verify information. Bank transfers take four to five trading days to complete and can be set up to occur automatically on a weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly schedule.
New customer bank transfers of up to $1,000 are available instantly for investing. Robinhood Instant, a free account upgrade, also makes the proceeds from the sale of stocks or ETFs available immediately to reinvest. The add-on currently has a waiting list, and accounts with Robinhood Instant are subject to margin trading regulations.
Streamlined interface: This could be a negative, as the service doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of a typical online stock broker. But for investors who know what they want, the Robinhood platform is more than enough to quickly execute trades, and the app supports market orders, limit orders, stop limit orders and stop orders.
Robinhood Gold: Though Robinhood has raised funding from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Nas and Jared Leto, it’s reasonable to wonder how, exactly, the company plans to make money off a commission-free model. That question was answered at least partially last year when the company launched Robinhood Gold.
Robinhood Gold is a premium service that offers investors access to extended-hours trading — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern — and the ability to trade on margin, also known as borrowed money. The opt-in service requires a minimum balance of $2,000, the regulatory requirement for a margin account. It also carries a flat monthly fee based on margin – or “buying power,” as Robinhood calls it — and account size.
New investors should be aware that margin trading is risky. You’re trading on dollars borrowed from the broker, which means you can lose more than you invest.
Where Robinhood falls short
Limited securities: This app is for stock and ETF investors only; you can’t trade options, mutual funds or bonds. That said, it does give investors access to more than 5,000 securities, so it’s not as limited as Loyal3, another free trading service. Robinhood has said it hopes to support more investment choices in the future. Robinhood also lacks an automatic dividend reinvestment program, which means dividends are credited to accounts as cash rather than reinvested in the security that issued them.
One account option: Robinhood supports only individual taxable accounts. For most investors, investing through this type of brokerage account should come only after they have invested 10% to 15% of their income for retirement in a tax-advantaged account like a 401(k) or IRA.
» Interested in IRAs? Learn about these accounts and if they’re right for you in our IRA guide.
Lack of tools and resources: Robinhood is designed for executing free trades once you know what you want, which means you’ll have to do your trade research elsewhere. The app doesn’t include the support you’ll find on other trade platforms, such as research reports or analysis software. It also doesn’t offer much in the way of educational resources, despite the fact that Robinhood is targeted largely toward young, new investors. You can, however, create watch lists, and the app offers real-time data — though we’ve heard from users that price quotes can lag in some cases.
No broker transfers: Robinhood does not support automated customer account transfers, which allow customers to transfer assets already in existing brokerage accounts into Robinhood. Investors can transfer assets from Robinhood to another broker via ACAT, for a $75 outgoing transfer charge.
Is Robinhood right for you?
These days, “free” often just means the extra fees are buried deep where you can’t find them, at least not until they show up as a surprise addition to your account statement. Robinhood is refreshing if only because the service is truly free: You can trade through the app without spending a dime in fees or commissions, and there are no hidden costs here.
You’ll give up a few things in exchange — trading tools, research, education, investment options beyond stocks and ETFs — but if limiting costs is your No. 1 concern, Robinhood is a solid choice.
Interested in other brokers that work well for new investors? Also see NerdWallet’s rankings of the best brokers for beginners.
Updated Feb. 7, 2017
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