It is easy to be extremely cynical about the stock market.
We all see the rich people that sit on top of it, constantly rewriting the rules to make the system work for themselves at the cost of everyone else.
And it is true. In fact, it is so blatantly true that you can lose your mind contemplating the injustice of it all. But while the system is rigged, unjust, and has rules written to benefit a few people within it, that does not mean that you cannot make a profit off of it. Sometimes that profit can be huge.
The stock market is the product of a society that has forced everyone to value making money. That is a vice in many obvious ways. But one of the virtues that is only visible on the stock market is this: No one on the stock market intends to work together. They are all there for selfish reasons. But it still works.
Value still gets accumulated. Money still gets handed off to the people that have earned it. And most importantly, the small numbers turn into big numbers. All without anyone having to be altruistic.
The journey of trading stocks is a selfish and materialistic one. To help you get started on your own journey trading stocks, making money, and becoming financially independent, we have found the best free trading platforms for you to get started making money, whether you are new or experienced.
Top 11 Free Trading Platforms in the UK 🇬🇧️
|1. Robinhood||★★★★★||Open Account|
|2. Interactive Brokers||★★★★★||Open Account|
|3. TradeStation||★★★★★||Open Account|
|4. IG||★★★★★||Open Account|
|5. Vanguard||★★★★★||Open Account|
|6. Degiro||★★★★★||Open Account|
|7. Saxo Markets||★★★★★||Open Account|
|8. Freetrade||★★★★★||Open Account|
|9. Capital.com||★★★★★||Open Account|
|10. Hargreaves Lansdown||★★★★★||Open Account|
|11. Trading 212||★★★★★||Open Account|
1. Robinhood – Best Overall Free Trading Platform
You have probably heard of this app before. Ask anyone to name a free trading platform and there is a good chance that this is the one they can name.
But there is a reason for that. To begin with, Robinhood is one of the pioneers of mobile trading. This means they have an excellent phone app for trading stocks.
The reason this is an accomplishment is because stock trading is complicated. There is a lot of information that you can (and sometimes should) look at in order to properly trade a stock and make a profit. Robinhood was the first trading platform on a phone, but was hardly the first trading platform.
What Robinhood did to set themselves apart early and easily was condense the stock trading process to its essentials. It also made those essential functions tremendously easy to operate. And finally, it made them act fast by providing margin accounts that cover trades and transfers instantly.
What is Trading on Margin?
Trading on margin can mean either or both of two things. The first is what margin is traditionally: Trading with loaned money. In this situation, you receive a loan in a certain amount.
You then use the money from that loan to make an investment, and then use the profit from that investment to pay off the loan. After the loan payment, you keep the rest of the money you made.
This can be risky, since if your investment does not pan out, then you are stuck paying off the loan without the profit from the investment. However, this is not the only way to use margin in trading.
Robinhood actually offers margin accounts by default, but they are “Instant Margin” accounts. Here is how they work: When you make a trade, ordinarily that trade would take several days to resolve, or “settle”. This is a safety measure from the old days, when stock trading fraud was rampant.
Having to wait three to five days for trades to resolve is not very intuitive though. So, instant margin accounts were made to speed the process up. What that means is that when you sell a stock, while the trade will technically take three days to resolve, Robinhood will give you the money immediately.
This makes sure that you can trade fast, frequently, and intuitively.
The most obvious downside to this system is that you cannot day trade while trading on a margin account like this. When you trade using the default Robinhood instant margin account, you can only make up to four day trades in a week before your account gets restricted.
This is actually a consumer protection rule that makes sure people can’t burn through their finances too quickly. If your account has more than £25,000 in it, the trade limits are waived. In fact, you can actually downgrade your account to a “cash account”, meaning it is no longer instant and no longer restricted.
Another issue Robinhood has is a lack of clearly outlined resources and learning tools. They are actually there, but they are not given the same spotlight that other trading platforms give those tools.
Its intuitive, easy-to-use tools make Robinhood a great place to start for beginners, while also offering ways of taking the training wheels off that appeal to an experienced trader.
2. Interactive Brokers – Best Advanced Trading Platform
Many trading platforms are prioritising the same interface downsizing that Robinhood popularised. They are all racing to be as simple as possible, offering as little information as possible, and appealing to traders with the least formal training as possible.
But what if you want something deep and informative?
Interactive Brokers is a free trading platform that heavily rewards users who go in with highly advanced knowledge. This is reflected on two fronts: First in their actual website, and second in their trading app.
Let’s discuss their website first. The first thing you will notice about their website is that they keep several things separate. Namely: Looking at the stock market, placing a trade, and learning about the stock market are all discreet buttons. This means they are all equally, visually important.
This is very much intentional, as Interactive Brokers wants to create a very specific user experience. This is the user experience of an advanced trader: Someone who reads their news, analyses stocks, and buys shares in a company all as separate activities. But why is this? What is the advantage to this?
What Does it Mean to be an Advanced Trader?
Advanced trading means that you do not just buy the stocks that are advertised to you. If your stock market news and your stock trading ability exist on the same interface, then you will be looking at news stories claiming that a company is going to explode in value right next to the “buy stock” button.
The problem is that those news stories will all too often be paid for by those companies. The advantage that Interactive Brokers gives you is that it separates these things out. That means it can give you a more objective, more comprehensive view of the stock itself, as well as the news around it.
This extends to its desktop app as well. The desktop app has a heavily customisable interface. This means you can intermingle your watchlist, controls for buying stocks, and news in the same screen if you want to break down the barriers that Interactive Brokers have set up by default.
You have probably already noticed the drawback to the way Interactive Brokers does things, since it is the same as their advantage: They appeal to someone who is looking to make use of all of their tools.
This means that if you are not interested in all of their tools, then those tools will just get in the way. This is most obvious in relation to how they separate the market, buying, and learning. The biggest deal breaker some people will face is not being able to buy straight from the market screen.
This extends the most to their desktop app. While it is customisable, even customising it is hard. This is to say nothing of actually buying stock off of it.
3. TradeStation – Best Trading Platform for Variety
The stock market is not just stocks. If you are brand new to the market, then this is one of the first things you will learn that will really get you excited. Strictly speaking, the stock market deals in shares of companies. But even shares of companies can be bought and sold in a variety of different ways.
What TradeStation has to offer is one of the most comprehensive markets for trading in these alternative methods. These methods include things like stock options and CFDs, as well as futures and crypto. Basically, anything you can think of to trade, TradeStation has it available to trade.
The most popular method of trade that they offer is options. Let’s explore what those are.
What are Stock Options?
Imagine that you need a table to eat at. So, you buy a table. You eat off of it… But then the price of tables goes up. So, you sell it and make a profit. This is what normal stock trading is like
Options work differently. With options, you are buying a reservation for a table at a restaurant. That means you are buying the ability to use the table. But while demand for that table might increase, it might also decrease. This makes the value of that reservation an asset worth trading in itself.
Because you must own the option to buy a stock in order to buy the underlying asset, some people will pay good money to buy an option even (and sometimes especially) if the stock is cheap. This makes the market for stock options highly volatile. You can make a whole lot of money this way with little effort.
But to return to the metaphor of the table reservation: What if the restaurant burns down? That would render the reservation worthless. And similarly, if the underlying stock is found to be worthless, then that option will become worthless. And unlike an actual stock, a stock option can expire.
This creates a situation where you spend an amount of money to either make a lot of money or make no money at all. Not many platforms offer this way of trading because it is so risky for consumers.
But TradeStation does.
In addition to this, TradeStation offers similarly risky CFDs, futures, and less-risky crypto. This means that basically anything you might want to trade is on offer at TradeStation. In addition to this, they offer some above average learning tools.
Of course, offering risky trades presents its own problems. As with any trading platform that offers options and CFDs, TradeStation has a reminder on many of its pages that most people lose money trading them. This is required by law in most countries that regulate TradeStation, including the UK.
And while their learning tools are above average, they are hardly comprehensive. Their news feed is basically completely absent, minus token market updates. These are critical to a highly speculative market like options, so you will have to get them elsewhere. But why would these things be missing?
The obvious answer is that TradeStation views options and CFDs as gambles. Many people would agree, so be sure to invest in them sparingly. And remember, most trades with these securities lose money.
4. IG – Best Foreign Currency Trading Platform
British currency has an interesting history. Having one of the largest empires in the world, the British Pound Sterling (abbreviated as GBP) was formerly tied to the value of gold to give it a standard.
This “gold standard” was followed by most of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, since it allowed people to easily understand what the trade value of a currency was by measuring how much gold it could buy.
But by 1971, most countries in the world were tying their currency to the American Dollar.
The British Pound was one of the few currencies to be left “floating”. This meant that it was not tied to anything besides market forces. Sometimes (in fact, oftentimes) this made it even more valuable than the American Dollar, and by extension more valuable than all the currencies tied to it.
IG is a trading platform that does its best to represent that superior value. It does this in two ways: First, tying the New York and London Stock Exchanges together. And two, it allows for the easy foreign currency trade of the American Dollar and the British Pound.
What is Foreign Currency Trade?
Foreign currency trading is a unique and complex method of extracting value from the different currencies of the world. These currencies are organised into “pairs” where you use one to buy the other.
So, in this case you are using the British Pound to buy the American Dollar. The idea is that since the Pound is worth more you end up with more money after the trade. Once the Dollar increases in value and the Pound decreases in value, you can sell your Dollars for more Pounds than you started with.
While a lot of money can be made by doing this, it requires a lot of foreknowledge in order to make wise foreign currency trades. Luckily, IG provides some of the best learning and research tools for this kind of marketplace. They even give you access to other kinds of trade, like basic stocks and cryptocurrency.
IG’s biggest weakness is visible just from going to their site: Their interface. It is dense, complex, and poorly optimised so that it can move really slowly sometimes. It is like this because the primary method of trade that it is facilitating requires a lot of different sources of information to do right.
But of course, that does not matter to most traders. Most people who are trading foreign currency are likely going to want ease of use over advanced analytics. But since those analytics are what makes the difference between you making money and losing money most times, we chose to place IG higher.
5. Vanguard – Best UK Based Trading Platform
While all of the trading platforms on this list are accessible from the United Kingdom, Vanguard is one of the few trading platforms that is actually based in the United Kingdom. But why is this even important?
Well, consider trading regulations. The United States is run by the SEC, also known as the Securities and Exchange Commission.
This is the governmental regulatory body that outlines how trading is done in the United States. Most trading platforms are going to follow their rules.
That also means that if they break those rules, it is the SEC that punishes them. This is where your average person can start to see a problem. The SEC is, at this point, known for letting certain things slide. Things like securities fraud, market manipulation, and insider trading.
Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. The United Kingdom has a far better reputation for its regulatory bodies. Not that it’s amazing, but it is better than the SEC.
What Does Vanguard Offer?
In regards to trading, one of the main things that Vanguard offers is a focus on consumer trading accounts. This means that it has different accounts for different needs: Do you want a retirement account? An account to pay off a loan? Or maybe you’re setting up a college fund?
Vanguard can cover these, as well as opening the door to normal day trading. This makes them great for beginners and people who do not want to go too deep into trading.
The issue there is that Vanguard is not as useful to people looking to trade big and dramatically. Advanced users will find very little for them here, since it is mostly aimed at achieving certain long-term financial goals. There are not a lot of ways to make an income using Vanguard, so keep that in mind.
As a result, it also lacks serious learning, news, or research tools.
6. Degiro – Best International Trading Platform
It is easy to think of the New York Stock Exchange as the centre of the financial world. And in a way, it is. But it is not the only centre—the London Stock Exchange is the most obvious example. But Hong Kong, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates have their own stock exchanges with unique trading rules.
Degiro connects them all. This means two things: First, it means that the platform has access to a huge number of different markets. These markets have different trends, respond to different events, and in general operate very differently. Mastering these differences can make you a lot of money.
But the second thing that this means is that Degiro is regulated by a variety of different regulators. Each country in which Degiro does business oversees the trades Degiro does with its markets. This means that, unlike many online trading platforms, Degiro has far more scrutiny put upon it than others.
Do These Regulations get in the Way?
People tend to think of regulations as necessarily obstructive. But that is not always the case. Most of the time, different regulations in different countries just mean that things are traded…well, differently.
The most obvious example is “Islamic account” options offered by many Arab markets. The Quran forbids certain kinds of interest from being placed on debts (specifically compounding interest).
This means that many brokers that offer trading platforms and trading services to countries in the Middle East will have some sort of Islamic account option that does not deal in any sort of compounding interest. They will usually have some sort of other fee to account for that, however.
So, in short, an Islamic account will have to pay these fees up-front (if at all) in order to trade. In the long run, however, they can sometimes end up paying less money. Up-front fees are generally linear. Compounding fees are so destructive because they can multiply, or even grow exponentially.
Another example of different regulations is the United States PDT or Pattern Day Trading rules. These are rules that are not made by a governmental body, but an independent agency that oversees trade in the United States. Their rules state that no one below a certain amount of capital can day trade.
If you are a regular day trader in the United Kingdom, you might be surprised to do business in the American market and find that because your assets are tied up somewhere that the regulators can’t see, you are considered too low capital to trade more than four times in one week.
With all this talk of international markets, you might be wondering how much Degiro does to help you understand the different rules in these markets. The answer is, sadly, not a whole lot.
The interface Degiro offers you is clean, so there is rarely anything getting in the way of you seeing how the markets work themselves. But that still is not as good as a hard and fast lesson as to how they work.
As a result of this lack of introduction, most people will not actually use their Degiro accounts very much after signing up. Instead, they will take their time carefully analysing the different markets to see how they work before placing their trades. If this does not appeal to you, then Degiro is not the place for you.
7. Saxo Markets – Best Indexes
Saxo Markets is a trading platform that offers quite a lot to investors of all skill levels.
This is because while they have lots of charts, graphs, and other learning and analysis tools for newer investors, they also have something that more advanced investors treat as valuable as gold: Really great indexes.
They also provide an ISA program that is free, meaning anyone can get started growing their savings with them.
Their indexes make them more suitable for advanced traders, but their educational tools and savings tools make them appealing to retail investors and beginners at trading.
What is an Index?
The indexes are a big deal, because while there are some that can reach across all platforms (the S&P 500 is the most obvious example), there are some that are exclusive to a single trading platform.
An index is a database of different securities—usually stocks. This database keeps track of the share prices of a variety of different companies. You can buy into an entire index, usually at the average price of all the companies in it, and therefore get a fractional share of each company.
The idea here is that your investment covers the whole industry, rather than being dependent on the success or failure of a single company. If the industry is seeing success, then so will you.
Saxo Markets’ indexes are known for being more interesting and complex than just representations of whole industries. They will track worker movements, regulations, and the kinds of resources that the companies make use of as well, allowing for the index to include complex data points.
Saxo Markets offers a lot of help to new traders. But there is only so much it can do to make “vertical integration” and “macroeconomics” engaging, interesting, or even comprehensible to beginners.
It is a trading platform designed for people who want to engage with the market on a more complicated, nuanced level. This means that there is a lot to maximise and optimise. But it also means that if you do not know how to do that, then there is a lot of lost value in even doing business with Saxo Markets.
It is also limited in how much you can get out of overseas trading due to market limitations.
8. Freetrade – Best for Retail Traders
Freetrade is a platform that offers a lot to new investors and beginners. The stand out features include things such as web seminars on how to spot good trades, learning tools for everything from the basics of working the interface to high level macro analysis, and of course indexes of the biggest industries.
9. Capital.com – Best Trading Platform for UK to US Trade
They even give you access to securities such as foreign currency and options. They stop short of anything more complicated, like CFDs and cryptocurrency though. This relates to the way they are regulated, as they do not like to include securities as volatile as those, which are known for having risk related issues.
But where Freetrade really shines is in how welcoming it is to retail investors.
What is a Retail Investor?
You are either a retail investor or you are not. The less sure you are about what a retail investor is, the more likely it is that you are a retail investor. A retail investor is someone who is not a “professional” trader. That means they have little to no formal education or licensing for stock trading.
Rather than doing their trading at a brokerage firm, they use their salary from a real job to finance their investments. This means they will usually have less money to trade and less knowledge on how to do it.
Freetrade welcomes retail investors not only with their copious learning tools, but also with free stocks, no commission fees, and options to invest in an ISA, or individual savings account.
The ISA is a great place to start with Freetrade’s issues. The ISA is a great tool for growing your savings, but Freetrade locks it behind the paywall of its premium services. Some stocks and indexes are locked behind paywalls as well. In all cases, the paywalls are justified by the lack of commission fees.
What it means, however, is that while Freetrade is a great place for retail investors to start, it is only going to really reward them if they trade frequently, which most retail investors do not do.
Trading between countries has a catch to it that is not often mentioned: Foreign exchange fees.
When trading between countries, a fee has to be paid to the platform you are using for your trades in order to cover the difference in foreign currency value between your country and the foreign country.
The thing is, there is not always a difference in those currencies’ value. Sometimes they are almost exactly the same. In those cases, the foreign exchange fee only exists as a matter of tradition.
This can be frustrating to many traders, especially since you are basically paying for computer processing power when these trades happen online (as opposed to paying a broker for their time, which was the case when these fees were instituted). Capital.com gets rid of these foreign exchange fees entirely.
Not only that, they also have no account fees and no commission fees. This works in combination with their generous learning tools and ease of use to make them a great source of foreign trade.
How are They Able to do This?
Capital.com does business with the markets in the United Kingdom, but they are actually a company based in the United States. While foreign exchange fees are custom, they are actually a product of non-governmental bodies of regulation. That means that they are not required by law.
It also means that Capital.com is regulated by both the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority as well as the United States’ Securities and Exchange Commission. This makes them reliable, as both regulators regularly audit foreign trade specialists like Capital.com to make sure everything’s in line.
While it has a lot of great learning tools and connects two very different markets, Capital.com can feel lacking in terms of diversity elsewhere. It does not feature any unique indexes, nor does it allow you to trade options, CFDs, bonds, foreign currency, or cryptocurrency.
This is all in an effort to avoid regulatory trouble. Connecting the stock markets is really complicated—you will not see that complexity up front, but it means that trading foreign currency would be even harder for Capital.com since they would have to do as much work to fill another, smaller niche.
In short, it does not offer a very high ceiling for skill for advanced users. This means that as you trade more and more, you will start to feel the limitations of the trading platform.
All in all, however, you will spend most of your time enjoying the expansiveness it brings.
10. Hargreaves Lansdown – Best Mobile App
Mobile apps tend to be highly streamlined. This means a couple of things: Firstly, trade is always slower on them. If you are looking to buy a share and sell it in the same five-minute window, a mobile app will not be very reliable in that strategy.
That is not to say that it will never happen, just not always.
They also generally lack highly nuanced learning tools. After all, how much market analysis can you do when you are working with a screen smaller than most people’s palms?
Hargreaves Lansdown seeks to address exactly these obstacles. It makes trading fast, reliable, and as easy as most mobile apps. But it also incorporates things like learning tools into the mobile experience.
The most notable of these is its lessons, which can be consumed as videos, but also work as podcasts. This means that you do not have to use the app with totally rapt attention like most trading apps. You can put on a podcast teaching you about candlesticks, then go for a run.
What Sort of Advanced Options Does Hargreaves Lansdown Offer?
Perhaps the most notable thing that sets Hargreaves Lansdown apart from other mobile apps is its variety of different securities and account options. Most account options are a matter of how much money you are spending in order to get paywalled off conveniences. But not with this app.
Hargreaves Lansdown offers ISAs and SIPPs. We already covered investment savings accounts, but not SIPPs. A SIPP is a self invested personal pension. That means it is a recovery account for situations when you lose employment, get injured, or need funds for a personal emergency.
The advantage that a SIPP offers you over an employer-provided pension is that you can direct how it grows yourself. You can have it directed for you as well, but many people seek out SIPPs because they have an idea of how to make it grow larger than a normal pension provided by an employer.
The best part of SIPPs, however, is the fact that having one does not disqualify you from a pension from either your employer or the government. This means that while having one is somewhat complex and can take from your current finances, getting a SIPP is a strict upgrade from not having one.
You have probably noticed that most of the favourable comparisons we make for Hargreaves Lansdown are between itself and other mobile apps. That is because it is generally not as good as a desktop app.
It has its niche, certainly. If you are not interested in (or, more likely, not able to) trade stocks while sitting at a computer, then a mobile app is the way to go. But for all of its tools, Hargreaves Lansdown is going to feel clunky and slow to anyone with substantial trading experience due to being on mobile.
While it has no minimum deposit or account fees, it does have commission fees. This means that it favours traders who deal in large trades every so often, as opposed to trading frequent, small amounts.
11. Trading 212 – Best User Experience
For many people just starting out in trading, they are not looking to be fully immersed. In fact, such an idea is objectionable to them. What most people want is to feel like they are connecting to something bigger than themselves. They want to see how to get from financially struggling to independent.
Trading 212 knows this and prioritises this experience. Its interface is clean, concise, and futuristic. Its tutorials are in-depth, simple, and paced for absolute beginners at stock trading.
But perhaps most importantly, its mobile app and desktop app are almost identical. In theory, this should not work. Mobile apps are constructed a certain way to benefit the controls and screen size of a phone. Desktop apps are built to present more information and have access to more tools at once.
Trading 212 unifies these designs so that you can switch between them seamlessly, while also keeping their interfaces easy to use on both platforms.
Does Trading 212 Allow you to Customise its Interface?
Along with low fees and clear tutorials, customisability is another feature that beginner traders look for in a trading platform’s app. The reason for this is simple: They assume that most of the information a trading platform offers them is going to be basically incomprehensible to them anyways.
Trading 212’s customisation tools are geared around this fact. They do not drown you in charts, graphs, and news reports with little to no direct relationship to the stocks you are tracking and trading.
Instead, they start you off with a blank canvas and allow you to fill it in over time. They give you recommendations as to how this canvas is filled, but it is never crammed full of information for you.
While Trading 212 does a lot to stay cheap and easy to use, it can prove difficult for most people to get what they want out of it. This has to do with a couple of things: Firstly, while it does have analysis and learning tools, they are hard to find and not very comprehensive.
Secondly, the platform does not actually give you access to that many different stocks. This means that a lot of your buying power is going to be limited to a small market that is subject to more external forces than internal forces. It also means your money does not go as far in general.
Trading 212 also lacks any higher-risk securities. This is for the best, given the platform’s target demographic, but on top of everything else it is lacking, the platform is generally underequipped.
One of the most common themes you will notice among free trading apps is the tension between complexity and simplicity.
Generally, something being deeper means that it has to be harder to use. It will give you more options, but at the cost of being more complicated.
Keep this in mind not just when you pick your first trading app, but throughout your whole trading journey. While you might start simple, there may come a day when you want to make the jump over to a trading app that has more tools, more ways of learning, and more securities to make use of.
And when that happens, you can freely switch over to a trading app that is more complicated.