Commission prices are the key advantage of online discount brokers. Consider that a popular full-service brokerage firm charges a minimum of $50 just to buy or sell stock. The commission is variable, so the larger the order, the larger the commission. To buy or sell $10,000 of stock, a client would pay $80. On a $25,000 order, the commission surges to $205! Commissions for funds can be even higher!
For example, depending on your age and risk tolerance, you might want to have some of your portfolio invested in bond funds, growth and income funds, and international funds. You may also want to consider high dividend stocks among your individual stock holdings. Income earning securities tend to be less volatile than pure growth stocks, particularly in bear markets. You’ll want to develop a balance between your growth assets, and your income- or growth and income-holdings.
Also similar to a bank account, once your online brokerage account is open, the brokerage will ask you to "fund" it. You can do this in any of several ways -- for example, by mailing a check or making an electronic deposit directly from your bank. If you happen to sign up with a brokerage that has a physical office nearby, you could even walk in and hand someone a duffel bag full of cash.

Margin accounts -- A margin account allows you to use borrowed money to invest. Typically, investors who use margin accounts can borrow up to 50% of the value of the investment. Thus, to buy $5,000 of stock, an investor would only have to put up $2,500 of cash, and borrow the other $2,500 from the broker. We don’t think margin accounts are particularly good choices for beginning investors, because while using borrowed money can increase your returns, it also increases the risk you lose money. If you use margin and the investments you own decline in value, a broker can sell your investments without your authorization, potentially forcing you to sell at an inopportune time.


Tax Shelters: Retirement plans like 401(k)s or Roth IRAs offer numerous tax benefits. Some are tax-deferred, which (usually) means you get a tax deduction at the time you deposit the capital into the account, and then pay taxes in the future, allowing you year after year of tax-deferred growth. Others are tax-free, meaning you fund them with after-tax dollars (read: you don't get a tax deduction), but you'll never pay taxes on either the investment profits generated within the account nor on the money once you withdraw it later in life. Good tax planning, especially early in your career, can mean a lot of extra wealth down the road as the benefits compound upon themselves.
Make a list of things you want. To set your goals, you’ll need to have an idea of what things or experiences you want to have in your life that require money. For example, what lifestyle do you want to have once you retire? Do you enjoy traveling, nice cars, or fine dining? Do you have only modest needs? Use this list to help you set your goals in the next step. [1]
In terms of diversification, the greatest amount of difficulty in doing this will come from investments in stocks. This was illustrated in the commissions section of the article, where we discussed how the costs of investing in a large number of stocks could be detrimental to the portfolio. With a $1,000 deposit, it is nearly impossible to have a well-diversified portfolio, so be aware that you may need to invest in one or two companies (at the most) to begin with. This will increase your risk.
Trusts or Other Asset Protection Mechanisms: Another way to hold your investments is through entities or structures such as trust funds. There are some major planning and asset protection benefits of using these special ownership methods, especially if you want to restrict how your capital is used in some way. And if you have a lot of operating assets or real estate investments, you may want to speak to your attorney about setting up a holding company.
At $4.95 a trade, with no inactivity charge, and only a $50 full outgoing transfer fee, Ally Invest’s fee structure is about as low as you'll find. Even though a rash of brokers dropped their commissions in 2017 to be competitive with Ally Invest’s $4.95 flat rate, Ally keeps its edge with a zero account minimum and enticing discount for active investors — equity trades drop to $3.95 for users with 30+ trades each quarter or a balance of $100,000.
Whether or not your employer offers matching, though, you'll need to invest the money you put in the account. Your 401(k) will probably have a default option, but choose the mutual funds or other investment vehicles that make the most sense for your future needs. As money gets automatically added to your account with each paycheck, it will be put toward that investment.
"Here's the trap for the new person," Seiden says. "They will focus on the stocks where the news is good, but by the time they get the news, everyone else [in the know] has already bought it." This cycle means new investors are often buying when prices are highest. A better route is to watch a stock price and buy when it's down, a tactic Seiden encourages as a way to buy shares at a sale price.
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Which brokerage offers the best educational videos? TD Ameritrade, hands down. TD Ameritrade's educational video library is made entirely in-house and provides hundreds of videos covering every investment topic imaginable, from stocks to ETFs, mutual funds, options, bonds, and even retirement. Progress tracking is also part of the learning experience.
We recently explained in detail how to set up a brokerage account, but to recap: A brokerage account is a bit like a savings account — you can move money in and out freely — except you use the money to buy stocks or other investments, and those investments aren’t FDIC insured. Some of the most popular online stock brokers — which allow you to trade stocks at a discount compared to traditional brokerage houses — include Scottrade, E*TRADE, and Charles Schwab.
OptionsHouse doesn’t offer currency trading, and has limited commission-free and transaction-free offerings, but its 2016 acquisition by E*TRADE should help fill in those gaps as the two brokers continue to merge. OptionsHouse also falls short in mutual funds — it charges $20 per trade, as opposed to Ally Invest’s $9.95 — as well as currency trading, and commission-free ETFs, but for the active trader who know what they’re doing, it’s one of the best platforms available.
It is no coincidence that most wealthy people invest in the stock market. While fortunes can be both made and lost, investing in stocks is one of the best ways to create financial security, independence, and generational wealth. Whether you are just beginning to save or already have a nest egg for retirement, your money should be working as efficiently and diligently for you as you did to earn it. To succeed in this, however, it is important to start with a solid understanding of how stock market investment works. This article will guide you through the process of making investment decisions and put you on the right path to becoming a successful investor. This article discusses investing in stocks specifically. For stock trading, see How to Trade Stocks. For mutual funds, see How to Decide Whether to Buy Stocks or Mutual Funds.
Dividend reinvestment programs are often coupled with cash investment options that resemble direct stock purchase plans so you can regularly have money withdrawn from your checking or savings account, or send in one-time payments whenever you feel like, perhaps as little as $25, buying more shares of stock in a business as you might purchase something from a mail-order catalog.

A stock broker is a person or an institution licensed to buy and sell stocks and other securities via the market exchanges. Back in the day, the only way for individuals to invest directly in stocks was to hire a stock broker to place trades on their behalf. But what was once a clunky, costly transaction conducted via landline telephones now takes place online in seconds, for a fraction of what full-service brokers used to charge for the service. Today, most investors place their trades through an online brokerage account. (A little lost? Check out our explainers on brokerage accounts and buying stocks.)

While a limit order guarantees the price you’ll get if the order is executed, there’s no guarantee that the order will be filled fully, partially or even at all. Limit orders are placed on a first-come, first-served basis, and only after market orders are filled, and only if the stock stays within your set parameters long enough for the broker to execute the trade.
Understand the commodities market. When you invest in something like a stock or a bond, you invest in the business represented by that security. The piece of paper you get is worthless, but what it promises is valuable. A commodity, on the other hand, is something of inherent value, something capable of satisfying a need or desire. Commodities include pork bellies (bacon), coffee beans, oil, natural gas, and potash, among many other items. The commodity itself is valuable, because people want and use it.
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Never fear. Company names, as you may have noticed from watching CNBC, are usually abbreviated as stock "tickers" consisting of anywhere from one to five letters -- and it's those ticker symbols you enter when buying or selling a stock. But figuring out which ticker represents a little difficulty. Simply type into Google "[company name] ticker" -- that is to say, for example, "general motors ticker" -- and you'll be presented with the correct ticker for the stock you want to buy.
Learn about mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Mutual funds and ETFs are similar investment vehicles in that each is a collection of many stocks and/or bonds (hundreds or thousands in some cases). Holding an individual security is a concentrated way of investing – the potential for gain or loss is tied to a single company – whereas holding a fund is a way to spread the risk across many companies, sectors or regions. Doing so can dampen the upside potential but also serves to protect against the downside risk.

Understand that for both beginning investors and seasoned stock market pros, it's impossible to always buy and sell the best stocks at exactly the right time. But also understand that you don't have to be right every time to make money. You just need to learn some basic rules for how to identify the best stocks to watch, the ideal time to buy them, and when to sell stocks to lock in your profits or quickly cut any losses.
Basically, the goal of investing is to commit money, and in return that money will grow. However, investing involves risk. Whenever you’re not holding your money in your own bank account, there’s a risk of loss. With some investments, the risk is low; with others it’s high. The higher the risk, the more you’d better potentially earn to take that risk.
How to pick the right stock. While new investors don't need to worry too much about learning stock terms, experts do recommend they put in plenty of time researching which stock to buy. Annual reports and price-earnings ratios are helpful, but Reeves says his best piece of advice is for people to buy what they know. "Say I'm a doctor," he says. "It may make sense to invest in medical device companies because that's what I understand."
Not that it's a terribly complicated process. Basically, setting up an online brokerage account consists of Googling the name of any of the brokerages I mentioned, visiting the website, and clicking a prominently displayed button labeled "open an account." A series of pages will then open for you, requesting your name and contact information, your Social Security number, your annual income, and your net worth. They'll also ask precisely what kind of account you want to open -- individual or joint? Brokerage or retirement? With fries or without?
Of course, if you really want to get a sense of a company's value and growth potential, you'll need to look at some numbers. You can start by reviewing its balance sheet, which lists its various assets and liabilities. You can access public companies' balance sheets on the SEC's EDGAR website. Similarly, you can look at a company's cash flow statement to get a sense of how it manages its money, and its income statement to get a sense of its profits and losses.
Another thing to look for is businesses in a commanding position within their market. What this means is that they’re at the top of their pile, and their rivals can’t find a way to knock them off their perch. A good example of this is Google. They’re easily the number one search engine in the world and have the most-used web browser, advertising platforms, etc. It’s hard for competitors to unseat them at the top, which means their stock will more likely grow than drop.
Limit order -- A limit order differs from a market order in that the trade is only completed at a certain price. For example, if you enter an order to buy 10 shares of Nike at $70 each, the order will only go through if the broker can fill at it at a price of $70 per share. Limit orders are a good way to buy and sell stocks that trade less frequently, since there may not be enough willing sellers to fill a market order at a reasonable price. These orders are a good for “set and forget” investing, since you can place a limit order that will remain in effect until a stock reaches the price at which you’d like to buy.
To further raise the odds of a big run-up after a breakout, it's best to buy when the market is in a confirmed uptrend. Three of four stocks will eventually follow the market's direction, so it doesn't make sense to buy during a correction or when the market is under pressure. (Always read The Big Picture column so you can stay on the correct side of the market.)
To further raise the odds of a big run-up after a breakout, it's best to buy when the market is in a confirmed uptrend. Three of four stocks will eventually follow the market's direction, so it doesn't make sense to buy during a correction or when the market is under pressure. (Always read The Big Picture column so you can stay on the correct side of the market.)
Index funds. Companies like Charles Schwab don't have a minimum balance requirement for index funds. Take your $100 and invest in a variety of stocks. The basic index fund follows the S&P 500, but you can find many more. Index funds offer the diversification every portfolio should have. You'll likely have appreciating and depreciating stocks. The hope is that the appreciation is more than the depreciation so you still see a profit.
There are plenty of online resources to help you learn how to analyze a stock or mutual fund, and feel more comfortable picking your own stocks and balancing your own portfolio. Use all of the resources you can to educate yourself, and before long, you might be able to handle the majority of your own investing. However, if you aren't interested in managing funds yourself, take the time to find a suitable professional who can help. You will pay for the privilege, but only you can decide which path is the best use of your money and time.
Sometimes, companies are impacted by forces that are even beyond their control. Samsung could have issues making screens and that could delay the release of the iPad with negative effects on the stock price. Increased or decreased taxes on imported components of the device could impact the price and sales of a device, which in turn could sway the market feeling about a company.
* Merrill Edge was one of 14 brokers evaluated in the Barron's 2019 Best Online Broker Survey, February 22, 2019. Barron's evaluated firms in — the trading platform, usability, mobile, research, education, news, information, international offerings and retirement/divided-related services—to rate the firms. Merrill Edge earned an overall score of 28 out of a possible 50. All costs assume customer has a minimum of $100,000 in assets with broker. Occasional Trader: six stock and two options trades per month. Assumes customer qualifies for 100 $0 stock trades per month through Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors. If not, occasional fee is $70.60 per month. Learn more at http://webreprints.djreprints.com/55958.html. Barron's is a trademark of Dow Jones & Co., L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Barron's. Rankings and recognition from Barron's are no guarantee of future investment success and do not ensure that a current or prospective client will experience a higher level of performance results and such rankings should not be construed as an endorsement.
There are many fees an investor will incur when investing in mutual funds. One of the most important fees to focus on is the management expense ratio (MER), which is charged by the management team each year based on the amount of assets in the fund. The higher the MER, the worse it is for the fund's investors. It doesn't end there: you'll also see a number of sales charges called "loads" when you buy mutual funds.
Whether you save for retirement with a 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan, in a traditional or Roth IRA, or as an individual investor with a brokerage account, you choose what to invest in. It’s important to understand each instrument and how much risk it carries. Also, remember that you don’t need to have saved thousands to begin investing — even $500 can get you started.
Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to talk with three first-time investors. In addition to my friend's daughter mentioned above, I've also spoken with two friends in their twenties. One had never invested. The other had a 403(b), but really no idea how to create an investment plan or how to evaluate the mutual funds in his retirement account.

If your savings goal is more than 20 years away (like retirement), almost all of your money can be in stocks, Waldman says. The stock market can be unpredictable, with huge ups and downs depending on how well the economy is doing, but you’re likely to make more money there than with less risky assets (like bonds, or keeping cash in a savings account). Over nearly the last century, the stock market’s average return is about 10% annually.
Tax Shelters: Retirement plans like 401(k)s or Roth IRAs offer numerous tax benefits. Some are tax-deferred, which (usually) means you get a tax deduction at the time you deposit the capital into the account, and then pay taxes in the future, allowing you year after year of tax-deferred growth. Others are tax-free, meaning you fund them with after-tax dollars (read: you don't get a tax deduction), but you'll never pay taxes on either the investment profits generated within the account nor on the money once you withdraw it later in life. Good tax planning, especially early in your career, can mean a lot of extra wealth down the road as the benefits compound upon themselves.
We think a low minimum to open an account is a real advantage when you’re just starting out. That’s because you can start with…say, $500, and then add to your balance over time with monthly or annual contributions to your account. For most people, the hardest step in investing is just getting started, so we prefer brokers who have a low minimum to open an account and place a trade, so as to avoid a potential roadblock on the way to saving and investing.

If you hit 67 with lots of money in your portfolio, enough to last you 30 years even if there are ups and downs in the market, you can afford to make the shift to bonds. But some people make that shift too soon, missing out on the gains that they need to keep their investments growing and make it through retirement. With people living longer in retirement and therefore requiring more retirement income, experts are shying away from advising that anyone eliminate their equity exposure too soon.
John Jagerson is a CFA and CMT charter holder and a founder of Learning Markets, which provides analysis and education for individual and professional investors. He is an author or co-author of five books on investing, currencies, bonds, and stocks. John has appeared in outlets like Forbes.com, BBC Radio, Nasdaq.com, and CBS for his financial strategy expertise. After graduating with a B.S. in Business from Utah Valley University, John completed the PLD program at Harvard Business School. Once the markets close each day, he can be found back on his mountain bike or in his running shoes on the trails of the Wasatch Mountains near his home.

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.


The good thing about stocks is that they trade on a public exchange, which means it's easy to get up-to-the-minute information on what various companies' shares are selling for. But how do you actually acquire those shares? Well, you need a broker -- either an actual person or an online brokerage firm. These days, many investors opt for the latter, but keep in mind that some accounts have a minimum funding balance you'll need to meet. For example, you might need $1,000 to open an account and start trading.
Most importantly, though, frequent trading takes your eye off the fundamental connection between a company and its stock. Over long periods of time, share prices tend to track the success of the underlying business, and growing companies usually see their stocks grow with them. Taking the time to search out the companies you'd be comfortable owning can pay off with years or even decades of market-beating performance that will make it easier for you to achieve your financial goals.
Let’s say you’re interested in investing in Nike. If you look that up, the stock symbol is NKE on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The first number you’ll probably notice on any financial news site with a stock tracker is the current share price. In the United States, this is measured in dollars and cents, but the units may vary depending on where in the world you’re investing. In London, for example, they measure stock prices in pence.
How much liquidity (i.e. resources that can easily be converted to cash) do you need for your shorter-term goals and to maintain a proper cash reserve? Don't invest in stocks until you have at least six to twelve months of living expenses in a savings account as an emergency fund in case you lose your job. If you have to liquidate stocks after holding them less than a year, you're merely speculating, not investing.
Trusts or Other Asset Protection Mechanisms: Another way to hold your investments is through entities or structures such as trust funds. There are some major planning and asset protection benefits of using these special ownership methods, especially if you want to restrict how your capital is used in some way. And if you have a lot of operating assets or real estate investments, you may want to speak to your attorney about setting up a holding company.
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