Friday, February 16, 2018

Low Cost Brokers: Robinhood vs Motif vs Stockpile

Until recently, one thing that kept small investors from investing in individual shares of stock vs mutual funds was the fees charged.  Most brokerage houses had a minimum fee per transaction and if that transaction only involved a few shares, the fees made it cost-prohibitive.  The advent of the internet and electronic trading has made it possible to reduce those fees considerably, to the point that it is possible to buy a single share of stock in one company or even fractions of shares.  Let's take a look at a few of the companies set up to serve small investors.


Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, and offers a large selection of stocks, though not the entire market.  The market they seem to be trying to reach is that of the young and inexperienced investor.  Stockpile's website includes a "Learn" section which includes articles on such topics as "What is an Exchange?" and "What Is NASDAQ?".  The articles are short, informative and easy to read.

Another way Stockpile reaches small investors is by offering fractional shares.  As of this writing, Amazon stock costs $1448.69, which is more than I want to invest in any one company.  Stockpile allows me to pick any dollar amount to invest, so that I could invest $145 and get 1/10 of a share of Amazon, or $14.50 to buy 1/100 of a share.  

A unique feature of Stockpile is that they offer gift cards, either physical or virtual.  With Stockpile I can choose to give you stock in Disney rather than Disney bling.  However, when you go to redeem the gift card, you are allowed to invest that money in any stock you please, so if you prefer Universal to Disney, go ahead and switch (and you don't even have to tell me).  

Stockpile does not charge account maintenance fees and they do not offer IRAs.  However, they do offer custodial accounts for minors.  With these accounts, an adult custodian is responsible for the account, but it is owned by the minor.  Minors can be given their own log in information.  The only difference is that when a minor tries to enter a buy or sell order, the request is routed to the custodian for approval.  

If you want to get started with Stockpile, clicking this link will give you $5.00 worth of whichever stock you want.

The main disadvantage of Stockpile is that trades are made at the closing price the day you order them.  You cannot make a quick choice to get out NOW, and, if the market drops noticeably between the time you requested the trade and the time it executes, you may find that you don't get the price you were expecting.

Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, so if you are buying a very small amount of stock it could get expensive on a percent of assets basis.  I recommend a minimum investment of $100.00.  Other fees include a 3% debit/credit card fee (though you can transfer money from your bank account at no cost) and a $2.99 gift card fee.  While there are other fees, these are the ones most investors will be most likely to see.


Motif's claim to fame is enabling small investors to buy fractional shares of a variety of companies in one basket, dubbed a "Motif".  Motif offers some professionally designed motifs as well as many designed by ordinary people.  If you design a motif and convince others to buy it, you will get a sales commission.

The minimum amount of money necessary to invest in a motif is $300, and each motif can contain up to 30 different stocks.  

Motif recently changed its fee schedule.  Now, you can get commission-free next market open trades of both individual stocks and professionally designed motifs.  If you want to trade in real time, professional motifs will cost you $9.95 per motif, a motif you build is $19.95 per trade or if you want to trade single stocks, the fee is $4.95 per trade.

For larger or more active investors Motif offers "Impact" or "Motif Blue" accounts.  An "Impact" account is a fully-automated portfolio what is automatically rebalanced and which has a composition that changes as you age.  Regarding the cost of an Impact account, Motif says "The fee structure for a Motif Impact account, that provides a fully automated portfolio aligning your financial goals with your values, is 0.25%, expressed as an annual fee rate."  A "Motif Blue" account is one in which you pay a $19.95 per month fee in exchange for three "free" real time trades per month, plus real time quotes.  If you would like to try Motif Blue, click this link and you will get three months free.  

Motif is now charging $10 per quarter for each account that is under $10,000 and which has had no commissioned trades in the last three months.  In my opinion, that cost is high, percentage-wise, if your account is much under $5,000.  

Right now I own eight professionally designed motifs, most of which were purchased when Motif was offering them at no commission as "motifs of the week".  I also own one that I designed, which I did pay a commission to purchase.  Today I made my first use of the commission-free trade service and used my accumulated dividends to buy a fraction of a share of NVIDIA.  

If you would like to try Motif, use this link; you'll get three months of Motif Blue (and then you can decide whether to keep it or not) and I'll get one.

Motif's strength is allowing you to spread a moderate amount of money among a large number of stocks for a relatively low amount of money.  However real-time trading will cost you, and fees will disproportionately affect small accounts.  


Robinhood is a smartphone app only (for now) brokerage.  They are planning a webpage but it is not live yet.  The app is available for both Apple and Android phones.  

While Robinhood does not offer IRAs, it offers margin accounts and is in the process of rolling out options trading and crypto-currency trading.  

Stock trades on Robinhood are in real time but most users are not allowed more than three day trades (buying and selling the same stock on the same day) per five day window.  Trading on Robinhood is commission free, which makes it easy to buy and sell one share of stock at a time.  

One nice feature is "instant deposit".  Once your bank account and Robinhood are linked, you can deposit up to $1,000 into your Robinhood account and have instant access to it.  When the market fell quickly last week, I deposited an additional $200 in my account and went shopping.  I did not have to wait for the check to clear.

Robinhood offers a margin account, known as "Robinhood Gold" Besides allowing you to borrow money with which to buy stocks, a Robinhood Gold account allows you extended trading hours and a larger instant deposit.

I find the Robinhood interface to be easy to use.  When I log in I see my account balance, along with how much it moved that day.  As I scroll down I see each company in which I own stock with a notation of how many shares of each I own.  There is a small graph that shows whether the stock is up or down for the day, and the latest price per share.  If I click on any company, I get a graph that shows its movement in the last day, week, month, three months, year and five  years.  I can click to buy or sell.  I can scroll down and see what my equity value (shares times share price) is, and how much my average price per share was, and my percentage return both in total and today.  I can see my history with the stock, along with an earnings chart.  Often there are links to articles about company.

If you would like to invest via Robinhood, use this link and we both get a free share of stock.

So, Which Is the Best?

Honestly, it depends.  I have accounts with all three.  Right now, I have little reason to use Stockpile.  My Motif account is almost $10,000 and with their new pricing structure, I plan to bring it up to that level soon, thereby eliminating the quarterly charge.  For people who have an account big enough to avoid Motif's fee, I'd recommend using it to purchase fractional shares, as you can do so without commission.  If you do not have that much money and want to be able to purchase fractional shares, I'd recommend using Stockpile for that purpose.  

For purchasing shares in companies you can afford to buy full shares of, I'd recommend Robinhood.  It is free, easy to use and trades in real time.  The only downside is that you have to use a smartphone, at least right now.  

Motif is the only one of these companies that offers IRAs, but unless you have $10,000, the fees get high.

If you are interested in opening an account with one of these companies, please use my referral links.

Disease Called Debt


  1. These reviews are so helpful! Thank you for introducing me to these platforms--hadn't heard of them before your blog!

  2. Thank you for these reviews! I'm trying to find an easy way to start my 13-yr-old buying stocks & managing them solo.

    1. If you are only talking about a little bit of money, and are willing to have him lose it, open an account in your name and give him the password and let him at it with Robinhood. If you want more control, open a custodial account on Stockpile--it will cost more and he won't be able to trade in real time but you will get ultimate approval on all puchases and sales.