As part of The Motley Fool's mission to help the world invest better, we're putting together a list of some of the top online investment brokers and giving you step-by-step guides on how to sign up for accounts. For this how-to, we're focusing on Robinhood's online brokerage account. If you want to view competing offers from various brokers, check out our broker comparison page.
What you'll need to get started
- Social Security number
- Bank information to fund the account (you can always set this up later)
- A mobile device (you can only invest through Robinhood on a smartphone or tablet)
The company's site says it takes less than four minutes to set up an account, which I found to be pretty accurate.
There aren't any fees for opening up a Robinhood account or maintaining one, nor does the company charge you when you make your trades. It kind of sounds too good to be true, but Robinhood says it makes money from "accruing interest from customers' uninvested cash balances," just like other online brokerages do. The company also has a Robinhood Gold service that starts at $10 per month and gives customers additional features like after-hours trading, a line of credit (to trade on margin), and larger deposit amounts that are instantly available to invest.
Step 1: Set up an account
First, navigate to Robinhood's sign-up page. Here you'll provide some basic information like your name and email address. You'll also create a username and password for the account. At the bottom of the page, Robinhood asks whether or not you have a mobile device running iOS or Android (Hint: If your phone or tablet isn't made by Apple, then it's pretty likely that it's an Android device).
The company asks you this question because all of the trading done on Robinhood is done on a mobile device. In short, don't sign up for a Robinhood account if you want to invest using your laptop or desktop computer, because you won't be able to do it.
You can, however, set up the account on your computer first and then log in to the Robinhood app on your phone to begin investing. We'll walk through setting up the account online, and then show you how to access your Robinhood account on your mobile device for this how-to.
Step 2: Enter your contact information
This section asks you for some of your personal information like your home mailing address and phone number. You'll also be asked whether you, or a member of your immediate family, is employed by a member firm of a stock exchange or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), or if you or a family member is a director, 10% shareholder, or senior officer of a publicly traded company. You'll likely answer "no" to these two questions.
On the right-hand side of the screen you'll see answers to questions you might have about the application questions, like why Robinhood needs a customer's address (answer: Uncle Sam requires all brokerages to collect addresses for identity verification).
Once you're done with this page, just click "continue" and head on to the next step!
Step 3: Verify your identify
In this section you'll first see a page that explains why Robinhood is about to ask for your Social Security number. All broker dealers are required by law to collect Social Security numbers, and Robinhood says, "This information is used to prevent known money launderers and terrorists from gaining access to the stock market." So if you're neither of those, then click the "continue" button to go to the next page (and if you do fall into one of those categories, please save all of us a lot of trouble and go turn yourself in!).
On the next page, you'll be asked for your Social Security number, citizenship status, marital status, number of dependents, date of birth, and employment status. Just answer those questions quickly and head on to the next step.
Step 4: Fund your account
The company says on this page that there are no fees for putting money into, or taking money out of, your account. There are also no minimum deposit amounts.
You can choose to fund the account from a list of financial institutions. If you don't see your bank on this page (or if you want to fund the account later), you can click the "What if I don't see my bank on this list" link on the right-hand side of the page and then select the "click here" link. This will allow you to go on to the next application step and fund the account later through the Robinhood app.
Step 5: Submit the application
You'll review the account agreement on this page (maybe grab a cup of coffee for this part) and then click "Submit Application."
Step 6: Download the app
Once you submit the application, you'll be taken to a page that tells you to download the Robinhood app so you can start investing.
The company says it will notify you via email when your application is approved -- unless it needs more information from you first, in which case you will still be notified. There's also a link on this page for you to save your own copy of the application.
The links on this page will take you directly to the Android or iOS versions of the app to download.
Step 7: Log in to the app
Once you've dowloaded the app to your mobile device, just log in using the account information you created in Step 1. When you do that, you'll see a screen showing that your account has been approved and a message at the bottom of the screen telling you to fund the account.
Click on the "Add Funds" link and enter your bank account information to start investing with Robinhood! Side note: You can access all the information about your account, settings, investing history, etc., by clicking on the icon in the top-left corner of the app.
And that's it! Don't forget to check out special broker offers here, and if you need some tips on how to get started investing, check out these articles: