Robinhood: Free Is Not The Best Choice

The Internet has created a mentality that everything should be free. People don't want to pay for anything anymore it seems, and that is especially true of millennials.

In the world of stock trading, investors have never had it so good. I guess the vast majority don't remember the time (before the Internet) when you had to physically go into a broker, talk to someone, and hand them a check to open an account. Making a trade meant you had to pick up the phone and again actually talk to a real person who would place the trade. The cost? At least $30 with the cheapest brokers and higher for others.

Full service brokers (which are still around) charge A LOT more than that per trade because you get to talk to your personal financial expert at any time plus you get access to the companies proprietary research. But I assume full service brokers are a dying industry which just caters to old, rich folk.

Online Discount Brokers Made It Very Cheap

Now in 2017 we have had online discount brokers for a good 15 years or longer and the trading fees for those keep going down. Most charge between $4.95 and $9.99 per trade which is dirt cheap compared to prices of yesteryear. Thats significantly cheaper than it used to cost and you can do it all online by yourself and make the trades almost instantly.

But even cheap isn't good enough anymore so Robinhood had to give free trading a go. Free is always better with the younger crowd and so the service is doing well I hear in getting customers. But is Robinhood a real stock broker where you would want to put serious savings and retirement money?

Robinhood Is NOT For Serious Investors!

I hate to break it to you but Robinhood is not a place you should put any real savings that you wish to preserve and grow. Its a site for beginners who want to put a few dollars into the market and who probably have zero stock market experience and want to avoid all fees. Its for people who want to play around in the stock market and buy a few shares here and there. I mean, if you only have $100 dollars to invest I guess avoiding the fees makes sense. 

Anyone serious about investing should stay clear of Robinhood and go with any one of the more traditional online discount brokers (E*Trade, TD Ameritrade, Scottrade, etc). You'll get more services, access to more training, better analytics, more comfort at night knowing your money is really safe, access to more stocks to trade, and better prices with any of the mainstream brokers. 

It can be looked at this way: Robinhood is for kids and the main discount brokers are for adults. 

First Time Investors Who Bought Snap Are Getting Burned

It must suck to buy your first stock ever and have it go down right away. But thats what happens when you buy Snap (the company that owns Snapchat) without doing some real homework to find out whether what you are buying is a smart investment.

I assume that many millennials who had never bought any stock before were a decent percentage of those that chose to buy Snap. Caught up in the hype, they just couldn't stay away from putting their money down on a company who's future is very uncertain.

Anyone who bought Snapchat that first day paid a minimum of $24 and could have paid as much as $29 and change. And after that first day the stock has done nothing but go dow. It now sits at $20 and change which represents a minimum loss of at least 15% in one short month. Not a fun way to start out if you are a first time investor.

But this bad investment could have been avoided if only some research and thought were done:

1) The most fanatical Snapchat users are 12 to 14 year olds and they are NOT the target market most advertisers want because they don't bother looking at ads.

2) Snap itself went out of its way to classify itself as a "camera" company in the initial S-1 documents filed with the SEC. A camera company? I thought Snapchat was a social media company and their unwillingness to call themselves that might have put up a red flag or two.

3) There where dozens upon dozens of articles posted and easily found on the Internet prior to the IPO that detailed why SNAP was a lousy investment. These weren't written by suspect and unheard of websites but by many mainstream financial news outlets like Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and others.

What I'm saying is that we have a repeat of what happened with Facebook, Twitter, and Alibaba which were each stocks that brought in a lot of novice first time investors. In Facebook's case, the stock went down initially but turned out to be a great long term investment. Twitter has been a disaster and Alibaba has turned to all right if you were willing to withstand a frightening ride down before going back up. But in each case, investors have had to weather some scary price drops.

Snapchat may or may not end up being a long term investment but with the short attention span and propensity to make frequent trades we see in today's millennials, it is doubtful that many of them will own the stock long enough to make money on it if the stock ever goes go back up.