There has recently been a race to the bottom for apps providing the cheapest stock trading possible. In the UK, two of the heavy hitters are Freetrade and Trading 212. But how free is free? And are there really no hidden fees at all? Read on to learn our opinions on the upsides and downsides of using the cheapest apps out there.
- Founded in London in 2016
- Founders: Adam Dodds and Davide Fioranelli
- Tradable assets: stocks, ETFs, and fractional shares in the UK, only fractional shares in the U.S.
- Available in the UK and the U.S.
- Fees: no inactivity fee, minimum deposit, or withdrawal fee. Paid subscription available but not required.
- Mobile only
- Founded in Bulgaria in 2005, currently based in London
- Founders: Ivan Ashminov and Borislav Nedialkov
- Tradable assets: stocks, ETFs, forex, and CFDs
- Available in over 100 countries worldwide, but not the U.S.
- Fees: $1 minimum deposit, no withdrawal or inactivity fees, average trading fees
- Mobile and desktop availability
How Free is Free?
Both Freetrade and Trading 212 offer extremely low fees. Freetrade has been described as a competitor to Robinhood in the company’s values and easy to use mobile interface.
So, are there truly no fees at all?
Not quite. Some of the fees to be aware of on Freetrade include 0.45% FX fee when trading in foreign markets, €5 for a same-day withdrawal request, €3 per month for stocks and shares ISA, €9.99 monthly fee for Freetrade Plus, and €9.99 or €7.99 for Freetrade Plus members for the Freetrade SIPP (Self-Invested Personal Pension).
To determine how much your portfolio might cost on Freetrade, try their fee calculator.
Trading 212 also has a few fees to be aware of. They also have an FX fee for foreign market trades, but it’s considerably lower at 0.15%. They introduced this fee in March of 2021, just when the Reddit page Wallstreet Bets took the trajectory of Gamestop into its hands. Controversy over whether or not Trading 212 was just trying to capitalize on the new surge of investors looking for mobile trading apps immediately erupted.
Image: We love the “things we’re working on” section of the Freetrade website. We like how transparent and open this company is when it comes to their growth goals. Image from freetrade.io
How do these apps make money?
Very low-cost apps raise the question of how the app makes money. The answer is different for Freetrade and Trading 212. Let’s dive in:
Freetrade makes money by:
- Charging for FX
- Charging for ISA accounts
- Offering a paid subscription plan
Trading 212 makes money by:
- Charging for FX
- Getting a good deal on the spread. Read about how companies make money on the spread, or the difference between the buy and sell price of a certain asset, here.
At the end of the day, every company needs to make money and can’t be completely free. Freetrade does not currently make money off of spreads, but since most other low-cost brokerage services do so, it could be possible that they introduce that revenue stream in the future.
Free trade is about as minimalist as it can get. The app is only available on mobile and has just two types of assets to trade. It is also limited mostly to the UK, with just some availability in US trading. The app is simple and streamlined, with no extra frills.
Trading 212 takes a similar, highly basic approach. They do have a professional account that allows you to trade with more leverage. For the criteria on how to get a pro account, click here.
One of the downsides of the two apps for some users is how simple they are—there are no full robo-advisor options, there is a limited amount of assets to trade, and data and charts can be more limited. Also, on Freetrade, users are restricted to mobile-only. Trading 212 recently started an auto-invest section of their app, but it appears to be mostly pie-style investing similar to M1 Finance.
But we see value in apps that focus on just a few things rather than trying to provide everything to everyone. And, with Freetrade being just a few years old, there could be innovations in the near future to make it even better.
The minimalist approach to trading isn’t for everyone, but it’s something to be aware of when choosing your broker.
Image: Trading 212 has many educational videos for a range of investor skill levels. Image from trading212.com
Educational Tools and Charts
Trading 212 offers a demo account, but they take a unique approach. Instead of having to set up two separate accounts, users can toggle between the demo account and the live account. This is helpful for traders who are just getting started and want to be able to practice outside of the live environment.
Freetrade has a Learn section where new investors can learn about everything from capital gains taxes to REITs to calculating how much money they need to retire. These lessons are in the form of blog posts.
We like the Dictionary section on the Freetrade Learn tab. In this section you can search for potentially confusing and cloudy financial terms such as custodian bank, holding period return, and junk bond. This section explains everything simply and easily, so first-time investors can start to learn the jargon.
Trading 212 also has a dedicated Learn section to help investors get their feet on the ground. They have a series of videos explaining financial topics ranging from basic to complex. We like their videos that explain how to read certain charts, such as candlestick charts. These types of videos help investors learn how to make their own decisions, which we like.
Trading 212 also has detailed articles for investors who want to go beyond the basics. Articles such as “Aggregating vs. Hedging” and “What Are Elliott Waves?” offer tons of great information for investors wanting to learn how to predict trends and make well-educated moves.
Neither Freetrade or Trading 212 are known for their extensive charts and research, so we recommend getting your market information elsewhere.
Community and Transparency
Trading 212 is used significantly more than Freetrade—12 million on Trading 212 compared to around 700,000 on Freetrade.
But Freetrade is a much newer app that is still in startup stages. If Freetrade continues on its current growth pattern, it could take over the market that Trading 212 currently dominates.
We like that Freetrade has a tab on their site dedicated to where they’re heading next. This Roadmap section lists new features and updates they’re rolling out, as well as what they’re currently working on. This transparency is refreshing and helps set them apart from other fintechs. They also have a Pricing page where you can easily compare Freetrade’s offerings to other apps.
Trading 212 does not offer this same level of transparency, possibly because they have been established longer and are far from the startup phases that Freetrade is still in. But we wonder if Trading 212 could do more to follow its mission to democratize investing.
Image: The Dictionary section of Freetrade is one of our favorite portions of the Learn tab. Terms ranging from basic to complex are explained here very simply. Image from freetrade.io
Freetrade and Trading 212 are very similar apps, but for the emphasis on transparency while keeping prices as low as possible, Freetrade is our pick for best low-cost stock trading app in the UK.
One of the major advantages to choosing Trading 212, however, is that investors have more stock choices available to them. But for UK investors just starting out, Freetrade has tons of options and does not lack assets to trade.
Investors could likely get very similar results from using Trading 212, but we like the company values of Freetrade better. We like companies that are up-front with their customers and aren’t trying to hide anything. For these reasons, we recommend Freetrade over Trading 212.
Image: Like many other low-cost mobile trading apps, fractional shares are a cornerstone of investing. Image from trading212.com
Is Freetrade legit?
Yes, Freetrade is a safe and legitimate trading platform. The company is a member of the London Stock Exchange and regulated by the FCA.
Is Trading 212 legit?
Yes, Trading 212 is a safe and legitimate trading platform regulated by the FCA in London and the FCS in Bulgaria.
Does Freetrade have crypto?
No, you cannot buy or sell cryptocurrencies on Freetrade.
Does Trading 212 have crypto?
No, Trading 212 does not have cryptocurrency available to buy or sell on the app.
Is Freetrade in the U.S.?
Freetrade allows U.S. traders to trade only fractional shares. As of June 2021, they have not released full trading capabilities for U.S. traders.
Is Trading 212 in the U.S.?
No, Trading 212 is not available in the U.S. Trading 212 is available in the UK, all over Europe, and over 100 countries worldwide.
Is Freetrade really free?
Yes, if you trade on an unpaid subscription plan, Freetrade truly is a free trading app. There are a few circumstances where you’ll pay fees. Read about those here.
Is Trading 212 really free?
Trading 212 is a mostly free trading app. There are a few circumstances where you’ll pay fees. Read about those here.
How does Freetrade make money?
Freetrade makes money by charging 0.45% on FX trades, 3 euro per month for having ISA accounts. They also have a paid version of the app.
How does Trading 212 make money?
Trading 212 makes money on its FX trades and the spread between the buy and sell price of an asset.