You want to started investing but aren’t sure what steps to take. No worries. Let me walk you through the basics and you’ll soon be on your way.
Before we start, you should know that the stock market offers a great way to grow your wealth. However, with the reward of earning 5%, 8%, or even 12% per year on your investments comes with the risk of losing money.
That means the value of your investments may drop one year. It may also take several years to recover from that loss. If you aren’t ready for the risks, then investing is not for you.
Think about These Issues Before You Start Investing
Investors are urged to invest for long term gain. This is due to changes in the market (those gains and losses you will see).
If you will not need your money for a minimum of 5 – 7 years, then you are the perfect candidate for investing. The between now and when you need your money is called the time horizon. For example, if you are investing toward buying a small cabin on the lake in 15 years, then your time horizon is 15 years. However, if your child will be heading off to college in 4 years, your time horizon would be 4 years.
Your time horizon is not the only thing you should know. Ask yourself a few other questions as well:
- Am I investing for retirement, education, or another purpose?
- How much do I have to invest, and is that money available in a lump sum, a regular monthly amount, or both?
- Am I wanting to spend my time managing these investments?
- How much money do I want to spend in investment fees?
- What amount of fluctuation from the U.S. stock market performance am I willing to accept?
Your responses will guide your investing decisions, not only for the types of investments but also the brokerage firm you choose.
Consider Investing for Retirement with Low-Cost Index Funds
Let’s say you are investing for retirement, have an initial investment of $3,000. The plan is to add $100 each month to your account. You goal is to spend little time managing your investment. In addition, you would like to closely match U.S. stock performance (either the S&P 500 or the entire market). What should you do?
You can open an IRA with an online brokerage firm such as E*Trade, Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade, or Vanguard. To get started investing, you will need to fund your account. Funding is how the money moves from your account to your investment accounts.
In most cases, funding is arranged by setting up a link between your checking account and the brokerage account, and making transfers. The initial process can take a few days but after the connection is established, you can move funds to purchase shares of stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs.
Next, purchase either commission-free, market-index exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or no-load, no-transaction-fee market-index mutual funds. For example, you can buy shares in Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares (VTSMX) for a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and additional investments of at least $1. You will want to make sure you sign up for paperless statements so you can get the $20 account fee waived.
Or, you could purchase shares in commission-free Schwab U.S. Broad Market ETF (SCHB) for $1,000 (or any multiple of its market price, which is about $50 at this writing); and make additional minimum purchases that equal the fund’s share price.
Buy Individual Stocks If You Are Comfortable with Greater Risk
Alternatively, you may be interested in growing your wealth more aggressively and are willing to accept risks (and losses) associated with potentially greater rewards. You have plenty of time to spend evaluating and selecting individual stocks plus you don’t mind paying transaction fees associated with the purchase and sale of stocks (or sector or specialty mutual funds or ETFs).
Again, you could open a regular brokerage account with any of the online brokerage firms. You might look at investing with KCCapital, E*Trade, Schwab, or Fidelity. Keep in mind that each on-line firm has minimum investment thresholds that you will need to meet. You could choose stocks on your own or find ones using screening tools available on each firm’s website.
After determining what you’d like to buy and the approximate quantity, you’ll want to set a price to indicate how much you are willing to pay for shares and then place your order. Fees to place orders typically run about $9.99 or less.
Decide Whether Innovative Brokerage Firms Are Right for You
You might also consider investing with a newer firm, such as Betterment, Motif Investing, or Loyal3; these companies all have unique approaches to serving customers that may or may not meet your needs.
Betterment makes investment decisions on your behalf and charges an account management fee rather than individual transaction fees; you may like this approach if you don’t have time to invest on your own. Motif Investing offers fee-free investing through its Horizon Motifs, which are comprised primarily of market index ETFs, along with its specialty motifs that trade for a flat $9.95 fee. Loyal3 has a totally fee-free platform in which you can buy shares (or even fractional shares) of certain stocks with an investment of as little as $10.
If you are ready, now is the time to get started in investing, regardless of whether the market is up or down today. The sooner you start, the more your money can grow.
Julie holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Julie started investing soon after graduation and has continued to invest and learn over the past 20+ years. In her free time, she enjoys cycling with friends and spending time with her husband and nearly grown sons.
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