Use a college cost calculator to determine how much you will need to save for your children’s college, how much parents are expected to contribute and the various types of financial aid your children may qualify for, based on your income and net worth. Remember that costs vary widely depending on the location and type of school (public, private, etc.). Also remember that college expenses include not only tuition, but also fees, room and board, transportation, books and supplies. 
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.
If you still have high-interest debt, such as credit cards or personal loans, you should hold off on investing. Your money works harder for you by eliminating that pesky interest expense than it does in the market. This is because paying off $1 of debt balance saves you 12%, 14%, or more in future interest expense. More than traditional investments can be expected to return.
Overall commission costs can also be affected by new customer promotions. Brokers may give you a chunk of free trades, based on your deposit amount. If your deposit can get you a substantial number of free trades, that can write off otherwise higher per-commission costs. Ally Invest offers small incentives for deposits as low as $500. Fidelity Investments, meanwhile, has a higher barrier for entry — it takes a $50,000 deposit, but then you'll get 300 free trades.
Andrew: 00:50 Yeah, I love it. So maybe I’m recording this because this is something I need to tell myself more than anything else. Having people around and having them influence your life can do a lot of things for you. Very, very well. They say the five people closest to you are the most important because they impact how you live your life and the big, big way. So I, I kind of present this topic and this idea based on some personal context. I guess I didn’t mean to get like super personal, but there’s a saying that as you get close to the turn of a decade you start to make big moves, right? So we’re here close to the end of 2020 and that full decade before.
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.
Mutual funds come in different shapes and sizes. Some are actively managed, meaning there is a team of analysts and other experts employed by the fund company to research and understand a particular geographical region or economic sector. Because of this professional management, such funds generally cost more than index funds, which simply mimic an index and don't need much management. They can be bond-heavy, stock-heavy, or invest in stocks and bonds equally. They can buy and sell their securities actively, or they can be more passively managed (as in the case of index funds).
The material provided by E*TRADE Financial Corporation or any of its direct or indirect subsidiaries (E*TRADE) or by a third party not affiliated with E*TRADE is for educational purposes only and is not an individualized recommendation. The information contained in the third-party material has not been endorsed or approved by E*TRADE, and E*TRADE is not responsible for the content. This information neither is, nor should be construed as, an offer or a solicitation of an offer to buy, sell, or hold any security, financial product, or instrument discussed herein or to engage in any specific investment strategy by E*TRADE.
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 can 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.
A stock is intrinsically attached to the financial performance of a company. So if the business is doing well, the value of its shares go up. If it’s trending downward, the shares will lose value. Because of this volatile nature, stocks are some of the riskiest investments you can make. However, along with high risk comes the potential for high returns.
Preferred stock, meanwhile, represents an ownership share in a company as well, only if you hold preferred shares, you're entitled to a predetermined dividend that's likely to be larger than what common stockholders receive. Furthermore, in the event of a liquidation (which is when a company shuts down operations and sells off all of its assets), preferred shareholders get paid before common stockholders, making preferred shares a less risky investment. On the other hand, preferred shareholders don't get voting rights on company matters.
Schwab Equity Ratings and the general buy/hold/sell guidance are not personal recommendations for any particular investor or client and do not take into account the financial, investment or other objectives or needs of, and may not be suitable for, any particular investor or client. Investors and clients should consider Schwab Equity Ratings as only a single factor in making their investment decision while taking into account the current market environment.
You can turn to financial advisors and use online calculators to help you break down your goals. If you need more capital to invest to increase your potential annual earnings, set shorter-term savings goals — like saving a certain amount of money to open a high-yield certificate of deposit or money market account. Your plan will likely involve using several financial tools and account types to achieve your goal.
Some retirement plans and accounts also have asset protection benefits. For instance, some have unlimited bankruptcy protection, meaning that if you suffer a medical disaster or some other event that wipes out your personal balance sheet and forces you to declare bankruptcy, your retirement savings will be out of the reach of creditors. Others have limitations on the asset protection afforded to them, but still reach into the seven-figures.
Picking specific stocks can be complicated, so consider investing in an index fund, which mirrors the performance of an entire stock market index. An index fund is a good option for new investors because it provides diversification, or a way to reduce investing risk by owning a range of assets across a variety of industries, company sizes and geographic areas. Research has shown that index funds, which are “passively managed” funds, perform better than actively managed funds, which have a fund manager choosing specific stocks and bonds in an attempt to outperform the market.
Taxable Accounts: If you opt for a taxable account, such as a brokerage account, you will pay taxes along the way, but your money is not nearly as restricted. You can spend it however you want, at any time. You can cash it all in and buy a beach house. You can add as much as you desire to it each year, without limit. It is the ultimate in flexibility but you have to give Uncle Sam his cut.
Knowing where you can put your money is a huge step, but you also need to figure out exactly how much to put there. If you don’t have a detailed budget, at least make a list of all your expenses: what you spend monthly on bills, loan payments, food and entertainment. Only invest once you know you can pay your monthly bills and you’ve saved at least three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund.
* 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.
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.
After selecting the stocks that you want to purchase, you can either make a “market order” or a “limit order.” A market order is one in which you request a stock purchase at the prevailing market price. A limit order is when you request to buy a stock at a limited price. For example, if you want to buy stock in Dell at $60 a share, and the stock is currently trading at $70, then the broker would wait to acquire the shares until the price meets your limit.
A "record date" is the date a dividend distribution is declared, the date at the close of which one must be the shareholder in order to receive the declared dividend. An "ex-dividend date" is typically two business days before the record date. When shares of a stock are sold near the record date of a dividend declaration, the ex-dividend date is the last day on which the seller is clearly entitled to the dividend payment.
If you’re saving for a short-term goal, like a down payment for a house in the next five years, the risk associated with stocks makes it more likely you’ll lose money in that time frame. That means the percentage of your investments in stocks will decrease. If the time separating you from that goal is less than five years, invest in a money market fund or a bond fund. Both will bring you lower returns than stocks but are safer places to put money in the short term.
Dividend discount model: the value of a stock is the present value of all its future dividends. Thus, the value of a stock = dividend per share divided by the difference between the discount rate and the dividend growth rate.  For example, suppose Company A pays an annual dividend of $1 per share, which is expected to grow at 7% per year. If your personal cost of capital (discount rate) is 12%, Company A stock is worth $1/(.12-.07) = $20 per share.
Put broadly, investing is the creation of more money through the use of capital. Essentially, when you invest, you offer your money to people and organizations who have an immediate use for it, and in exchange, they give you a share of the money that they earn with this funding. There are different types of investments — including stocks, bonds and real estate — and each comes with its own level of risk.
Low-cost index funds usually charge less in fees than actively-managed funds.  They offer more security because they model their investments on established, well respected indexes. For example, an index fund might select a performance benchmark consisting of the stocks inside the S&P 500 index. The fund would purchase most or all of the same assets, allowing it to equal the performance of the index, less fees. This would be considered a relatively safe but not terribly exciting investment. Advocates of active stock picking turn their noses up at such investments.  Index funds can actually be very good “starters” for new investors. Buying and holding "no-load," low-expense index funds and using a dollar-cost-averaging strategy has been shown to outperform many more-active mutual funds over the long term. Choose index funds with the lowest expense ratio and annual turnover. For investors with less than $100,000 to invest, index funds are hard to beat when viewed within a long time period. See Decide Whether to Buy Stocks or Mutual Funds for more information whether individual stocks or mutual funds are better for you.
And if you’re interested in learning how to invest, but you need a little help getting up to speed, robo-advisors can help there, too. It’s useful to see how the service constructs a portfolio and what investments are used. Some services also offer educational content and tools, and a few even allow you to customize your portfolio to a degree if you wish to experiment a bit in the future.