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Robinhood Review 2021: An Investing App to Avoid

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Robinhood, founded in 2013, is a fee-free platform that makes trading in the stock market easy — too easy, according to some experts and regulators. And it doesn’t offer the tax-advantaged investment accounts that are key to building long-term wealth. 

The app has 21 million customers and over $102 billion in assets and aims to be “easy, friendly, and approachable” to its customers. The average age of its users is 31, and about 50% of those are first-time investors, according to a spokesperson for Robinhood. 

Although its low fees and usability are sure to hook users, investors should be wary of Robinhood. 

In recent years, Robinhood has faced regulatory fines, public scrutiny, and lawsuits. In 2020, Robinhood was hit with a $65 million fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for misleading customers. (A representative at the time said the settlement “relates to historical practices that do not reflect Robinhood today.”) In June 2021, Robinhood was fined $70 million by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for outages and misleading its customers. (In response, Robinhood said it had “invested heavily in improving platform stability, enhancing our educational resources, and building out our customer support and legal and compliance teams.”) 

Earlier in 2021, Robinhood settled a wrongful death lawsuit over the death of a 20-year-old user who committed suicide after seeing an incorrect negative balance of $730,000 on the app. (A Robinhood spokesperson said: “We were devastated by Alex Kearns’ death. Since June, we’ve made improvements to our options offering … We remain committed to making Robinhood a place to learn and invest responsibly.”)

For a list of cheap and accessible alternatives to Robinhood, see NextAdvisor’s best online brokers of 2021. Or read on to see some more pros and cons of the Robinhood app.

Pros and Cons of Robinhood 

Pros

  • Fee-free platform — the account is free to use and users can make an account in minutes.
  • Fractional shares available — Ability to buy partial shares of a company’s stock.
  • No fee to trade cryptocurrency  — Robinhood offers 7 coins in 48 states.
  • $0 account minimum 
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • No retirement or tax-advantaged accounts — Robinhood only offers taxable brokerage accounts, so if investors are looking for tax-advantaged investing accounts like Roth or traditional IRAs, they must look elsewhere. 
  • Gamifies investing and trading — Regulators have accused Robinhood of pushing new investors into “unnecessary trading risks” with features like digital confetti meant to celebrate trades. (Robinhood discontinued the confetti feature prior to its IPO.)
  • Lack of educational resources — Educational resources for new investors are limited to a newsletter and some articles on Robinhood’s website. In-depth reports are available only with a Robinhood Gold membership ($5 monthly fee).  
  • Lack of some diversified investing products — No mutual funds or bonds, which can make it hard to create a well-rounded portfolio.

Robinhood At A Glance

  • Self-directed investing app 
  • Two main accounts available: brokerage and cash management 
  • Investments available include over 5,000 stocks and ETFs listed on U.S. exchanges, over 650 stocks on global exchanges through ADRs, options, gold, crypto 
  • Gold pricing offers Level II market data, in-depth research reports from Morningstar, larger instant deposits
  • Educational articles on investing basics in “Learn” section 
  • No account opening minimums or fees to maintain an account 
  • 24/7 customer support phone line

Investments Available on Robinhood

  • Stocks
  • ETFs 
  • Options
  • Crypto 

Thousands of fractional shares are available on the Robinhood platform. 

Robinhood Fees

You can read more about Robinhood’s pricing on its fee schedule

Fee Amount
Trading and commission fees  Stocks, ETFs, crypto, and options: $0 (there may be fees tacked on to stocks on global exchanges through ADRs)
Account minimum for brokerage and trading services  $0 
Annual fee  $0 
Account maintenance fee for brokerage and trading services  $0 
Inactivity, data fees  $0
Wire transfers $0 
Account closing fee / ACATs (automated customer account transfer service),outgoing  No closing fee, but $75 to transfer funds out of your account
Gold pricing (in-depth research reports, Level II data, access to margin)  For 30 days (plus $1,000 of margin): $5
Margin for $1,000+: 2.5%

Who Is Robinhood Best For?

So is Robinhood good? Well, it can be appealing to newer investors without a lot of cash with which to invest. With no trading or commission fees, no account minimums or account maintenance fees, it’s a low-cost way to get one’s feet wet with the stock market.

However, the app’s gamified approach to investing makes it too easy to trade quickly and frequently. Robinhood users trade nine times more often than users of other low-cost brokerages such as E*Trade, according to a November 2020 study by behavioral finance experts. Other studies have shown passive investing — also known as buying and holding — is proven to build more wealth over the long term than making active trading decisions. So Robinhood’s ease of trading may actually work against you. 

Another reason to look elsewhere? Robinhood does not offer Roth IRAs or traditional IRAs. Financial experts love these accounts because they help shield you from taxes while you build wealth. Other discount brokerages allow you to make all the same investments you might make with Robinhood, except within a tax-advantaged retirement account. 

Robinhood might be a decent option for people who would like to invest in cryptocurrency, though it lacks some of the more advanced features you’ll get with cryptocurrency exchanges. Financial experts advise investors to limit their crypto holdings to about 5% of their overall portfolio, and to achieve other financial goals first, such as eliminating high-interest debt, building an emergency fund, and investing in a traditional retirement account. 

While some discount brokerages offer in-depth reports and detailed research, online workshops and virtual trading to help newer investors learn the basics of investing, Robinhood’s educational resources are limited to a Learn section on its app. While it’s a robust library of content, newbie investors could benefit from having free access to more learning tools.

Finally, those who wish to get AI-powered guidance through a robo advisor, or have their portfolios managed by a professional, will also need to look elsewhere. 

How to Open an Account with Robinhood

1. Research discount brokerage platforms and apps. If you’re looking for a low-cost way to get started trading, start by doing your homework and looking at different discount brokerage platforms. What kinds of services, products, and investments do they offer?

2. Compare fees. Look beyond commission trading fees and see if there are any account maintenance fees, minimums to open an account, or other costs. Consider the expense ratio of any stock or fund in which you plan to invest. 

3. Submit an application through the Robinhood app. You’ll be required to provide personal information such as your tax ID and financial details. Within a few days you’ll receive an email either approving your application or requesting more information. Should Robinhood need to verify your identity, the process could take an additional five to seven days.

During the application process, you have the option of pre-loading your initial deposit. That way when your application gets approved, the money will be ready to go. 

Robinhood Compared to Others

Robinhood TD Ameritrade Vanguard
Types of investing accounts  Self-directed brokerage and trading  Self-directed brokerage and…

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