So, you’re considering investing in stocks, but not sure where to start? Our guide to investing in stocks for beginners will help you start off on the right foot.
Quick note: If you’re wondering what stocks are and how they work, check out our “What is a Stock?” blog post to get the lowdown first.
Investing in stocks might sound like a big undertaking, but we’re here to break down how it works and what to watch out for. By understanding investing basics—like how to start investing, the basic terms, and the risks involved, you’ll be prepared to make the best decisions for your circumstances.
If you’ve held off on investing in stocks because of the perceived barriers to entry like a small budget, intimidating processes, and lack of know-how, this guide—an easy-to-understand “investing in stocks 101″— is just what you need.
To properly learn how to invest in stocks, we highly recommend reading the entire post, but if you have a specific question you need answered, use these links to navigate easily through the article:
- How to Invest in Stocks: Step-by-Step
- Stock Market for Beginners: Basic Investing Terms
- How to Buy Stocks: Create a Brokerage Account
- Things to Consider Before Investing
- Common Investing Mistakes
- When to Sell Stocks
- How to Invest FAQs
- You’re Ready to Start Investing in the Stock Market
How to Invest in Stocks: Step-by-Step
1. Choose how you’re going to invest in stocks.
- DIY: This is the hands-on approach where you will choose stocks and stocks for yourself. This is typically done through an online brokerage account.
- Hands-Off: While you specify your investment goals, you will not choose your own stocks. Instead, a robo-advisor will handle the actual investing process.
2. Open a brokerage account.
- Online Brokerage: If you’ve chosen to invest in stocks on your own, you’ll want to open an online brokerage account through a service like E-Trade. With an online brokerage account, you can open an individual retirement account (IRA) or taxable brokerage account. Online brokerages are typically fairly inexpensive and easy to use. Note: We’ll dive further into how to open a brokerage account in just a bit.
- Robo-Advisor Account: As we mentioned before, a robo-advisor such as Betterment will handle your investments for you. So, all you’ll have to do here is set up your account with your information and pay a small fee and the rest is handled.
3. Get familiar with the basics of investing in stocks.
Before you can start investing, you need to understand the basics of how stocks and the stock market work. This includes:
- Basic terminology
- Types of investment vehicles
- Personal factors you need to consider before investing in stocks
- What your investing goals are so you can strategize investments
- When and how to sell your stocks
- Common stock investment mistakes and how to avoid them
We’ll cover each of these topics in depth in just a bit so you can begin investing with confidence.
4. Determine how much you want to spend.
When setting your budget for investing in stocks, you need to figure out:
- How much you need to get started. The amount you’ll need to get started depends on the cost of your brokerage account or robo-advisor as well as the cost of the stock shares you’d like to purchase. The cost of a share can vary greatly from a few dollars to $1000’s. Depending on your budget, you’ll want to invest carefully.
- How much you’ll regularly invest in stocks. Your budget will determine how much you can afford to invest in stocks on a monthly basis. While you may be planning on only investing about $50 – $100 per month, you’ll need to be aware of whether there is a minimum required by your stock fund which can be about $1,000. But don’t let that discourage you, there are ways to invest with a small budget, you just have to research your options. In fact, some brokerages like Robinhood don’t have a minimum and offer commission-free trades. You can also use Mint’s investment calculator to help determine what regular contributions will do to your overall return.
5. Start investing and monitor your investments.
Once you’ve completed the first four steps, and read our guide from start to finish, you’ll be ready to start investing. While you don’t want to get caught up in obsessively monitoring each stock, it’s smart to check-in every once in a while. After all, stocks are meant to be a long-term investment, not a method of turning over large amounts of money on a monthly basis.
To effectively monitor your investments, keep an eye on the businesses you hold stocks in. If they’re doing well overall and seem to have a bright future, you’ll usually want to hold steady, even if they’ve taken a few recent dips in value.
So, now you technically know how to start investing in stocks, but you should still read the rest of our guide to investing in stocks 101 to cover all your bases.
Stock Market for Beginners: Basic Investing Terms
Before you start investing there are some basic terms and concepts you should familiarize yourself with:
- Common vs. Preferred Stocks: Common stocks are the most popular type of stock. The value of common stock usually depends on the company’s performance. While common stocks give owners claim to company profits and sometimes one vote per share, those who hold preferred stock are given priority when it comes time to hand out dividends. However preferred stockholders don’t get any votes. Note: For beginners, common stock is typically a good starting point.
- Market Index: A market index (or stock exchange) is used to provide a gauge on market performance. It is used by investment managers to make decisions about investments. The three most popular market indexes are the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite. However, there are 60 major stock exchanges in the world.
- Robo-Advisor: Automated financial planning services that will management your investment.
- Stockbroker: A professional who can buy and sell stock on your behalf.
- Bid vs. Ask Price: The highest amount that someone is willing to pay for the stock. The ask price is the lowest amount the seller is willing to accept for the stock.
- Beta: This metric measures how volatile a stock is, or how reactive it is to the stock market, which can help you determine how risky it is to invest in that stock.
- Compound Interest: Investment interest is how your money makes money on your behalf. If you invest, you earn a return on the initial amount of your investment in addition to a return on your earnings.
Note: A beta above one means a stock is more volatile.
- Investing vs. Speculating: Investing is when you put money toward a security or financial product where there is a fairly confident likelihood of turning a profit. Speculating, on the other hand, is when you put money toward a financial endeavor where there is an exceptionally high risk that you might not see any return. While speculating can be very rewarding, it is best reserved for advanced investors who can afford to assume such risks.
Understanding these terms will make it easier for you to navigate the process of investing in stocks.
Different Types of Investment Vehicles: How to Buy Stocks
When learning about stocks, you’ll come across a variety of options for investment vehicles. Investment vehicles are the different types of accounts you can invest through. These are the most popular ways to invest:
- 401k: A 401k is an investment option that’s offered by many employers where you can have a portion of your paycheck automatically deducted and put into a retirement saving’s account.
Note: You can’t begin withdrawing from your 401k until you’re 59 ½ years old. If you make an early 401k withdrawal you’ll likely have to pay a penalty.
- Individual Retirement Account (IRA): An IRA is an investment vehicle that is specifically dedicated to establishing a retirement fund.
Note: If you change jobs frequently, you may consider consolidating your retirement savings with an IRA rollover.
- Mutual Funds: Mutual funds are made up of a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other securities that are combined based on certain sectors and investment goals. Mutual funds allow investors who are new or have lower budgets to access a diversified portfolio, while earning off the investment based on their contribution.
- Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs): ETFs are similar to mutual funds in the way that they combine certain stocks into a collective portfolio, however, they are based on a specific index like the Dow Jones or S&P 500. ETFs are bought and sold like stocks on a daily basis.
- Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): An investment portfolio made up of a variety of real estate properties (within a certain sector) that generate income. As an investor, you can buy shares in a REIT.
Choosing your investment vehicle is an important aspect of stock market investment so you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of each before making your decision.
How to Buy Stocks: Create a Brokerage Account
One important part of learning how to invest in stocks is figuring out which brokerage you’ll use and starting up your account. Fortunately, creating a brokerage account is a fairly straightforward process:
- Choose a brokerage firm.
Before you sign up, you’ll want to do your research. Look for a brokerage with accounts that are affordable for your budget (consider the fees and commission rates), has a good reputation (are other customers happy with their services?), and offers incentives.
- Apply online.
Complete the brokerage’s online application. Typically, this will only take a few minutes. You’ll need to provide some information like your Social Security number, employment information, and other details about your finances so make sure you have the documentation you’ll need handy.
- Deposit funds.
In order to actually start investing, you’ll need to have funds in your account. Usually, there are several ways you can do this including an electronic funds transfer from your checking or savings account or a wire transfer. Check with your brokerage firm to see how you can transfer the money into your account.
If you have questions about any part of this process, your brokerage firm should have customer support that you can reach out to. They might also have resources that will help you figure out how to buy stocks if you’ll be choosing your own investments.
Things to Consider Before Investing
While there was a downward trend in people investing in the stock market after The Great Recession hit in 2008, according to Gallup, there has been a slow but steady upward trend in the number of adults investing over the last few years. In fact, as of 2018, 55% of U.S. adults were investing in the stock market. But how do you know if it’s the right time for you to start investing?
You might feel like you’re ready to start investing in the stock market but it’s important to consider your financial circumstances. Before jumping in, think about these important factors first:
Personal Investment Factors
1. What’s your financial situation?
- Are you having a hard time meeting your financial obligations?
If you’re having a hard time meeting your basic financial obligations like rent and your car payments, it’s likely not the best time to start investing. Similarly, if you’re barely skating by and living paycheck to paycheck, holding off on investing until you’re more financially stable is probably for the best.
- Have you paid off your debt?
If you still have a lot of high-interest debt such as credit cards, it might not be the best time to start investing in stocks. Instead, you may want to focus on paying off your debt first because it will only continue to get larger over time. Paying your debt as soon as possible means you’ll be in a better position to invest in stocks.
- Do you have an emergency fund established?
While investing in stocks can be a good way to set yourself up for a healthy financial future, it should only come into play once all your bases are covered, including a substantial emergency fund. Setting up a savings account can help you avoid building up more debt in times of crisis and can provide you with peace of mind.
- Are you having a hard time meeting your financial obligations?
2. What’s your risk tolerance?
Basically, risk tolerance boils down to how much risk you’re willing to assume, and potentially how much money you’re willing to lose. As a beginning investor, your risk tolerance is likely fairly low so you’ll want to consider this when choosing which stocks to invest in. Usually, you’ll want to invest in those with a lower beta coefficient (lower volatility). As you gain a better understanding of investing fundamentals, you will be able to strengthen your portfolio to hedge against risks.
3. What’s your time frame?
Consider whether you’re looking for a short-term or long-term investment. Typically, stocks are a better investment option for those who are looking to grow their wealth over long periods of time. If you’re looking for a bigger return in the near future, you may want to consider certificates of deposit (CDs), money market funds, or interest-bearing checking and savings accounts.
If you’re unsure of the answer to any of these questions, it might be a good idea to create a budget and review your financial obligations before you even consider stock market investment. Monitoring your financial health with Mint is a good starting point.
Setting Investment Goals
Usually, people start investing to meet certain goals. Before you invest in stocks, think about what you hope to achieve by doing so. Common investment goals include:
- Growing wealth
- Saving for retirement/helping fund retirement
- Establishing a college fund
- Increasing income (with dividend payouts)
Your goals will drive how you choose to buy and sell stocks.
Managing Your Stock Investments
Once you’ve invested in stock, it’s important to understand that you don’t need to worry about the day-to-day changes in your investment portfolio. It’s easy to look at small changes in stock prices and get worried about your investments and what the future holds, but it’s best to keep that in check. That being said, it’s still important to keep an eye on your investment portfolio to make sure your stock investments are going well.
If you want to track your investments, you can do that with Mint. These tools that allow you to track your investments make it easy to keep an eye on how your stocks are doing so you know when you need to reevaluate your investment strategy by diversifying further or investing in something a different type of asset. If your stock portfolio isn’t achieving what you need out of your investments, you can make the appropriate changes. Or alternatively, if you’re nearing retirement and you need to reduce your risk of major losses, you can shift your investments to be more conservative.
The most important thing is that you remain calm and take a strategic approach to managing your stock investments.
Common Investing Mistakes
While there is always a risk when investing in the stock market, certain investing mistakes can make it more likely for you to lose money, such as:
Setting & Forgetting Your Investments
While it can be easy to set and forget your stock investments, you should monitor them on a regular basis to ensure that you are still on the right track. Evaluating quarterly financial statements can help you keep an eye out for warning signs that your stock may lose value.
For example, if a company you’ve invested in is going downhill and their stock’s value is plummeting, you’ll probably want to sell that stock.
When you first get started, you’ll likely gravitate toward companies that are familiar but once you become a more seasoned investor, you’ll might want to diversify your investment portfolio and implement some basic strategies.
In addition to neglecting to diversify your portfolio, not increasing your investment as you make more money can also be a mistake. As you earn more, you might want to plan to dedicate more of your income to your investments in order to yield a greater return and bolster your savings for the future.
Emotional Buying & Selling
Getting overly excited or panicked about fluctuations in the stock market can lead to poor investment choices. It’s easy to get caught up in trends or stock market news that can leave an impression, but making snap decisions usually doesn’t pay off when it comes to stock investing.
Doing your research before buying and following the guidelines below for when to sell your stocks can help you avoid this common pitfall for beginner investors.
And, of course, one of the most common mistakes people make…
Waiting Too Long to Start Investing
Many individuals hold off on investing in stocks because they don’t think it’s worthwhile or don’t think they have enough money. However, neither of those things are true.
As we’ve mentioned, nearly anyone can start investing— even with a small budget. And, investing in stocks is a fairly reliable method to start saving for your retirement.
When to Sell Stocks
Typically, investors want to sell in two scenarios:
- To cash-in on big profits.
- To prevent further losses.
But how exactly do you know when to sell stocks? According to Investopedia, you’ll want to sell stocks when:
- You’ve achieved profits of 20 – 25%
- When your losses have reached 7% or greater
- The stock has reached your target price (For example, you bought the stock at $20 with the intention of selling once it hit $30 — that would be a gain of $10 per share!)
- When you realize buying the stock was a mistake (maybe you misunderstood their financial statements and come to the conclusion that it’s not a worthwhile investment for the risk)
- The stock rises dramatically in a very short period of time
Of course, there are many factors that impact whether you’ll want to sell or not and none of these guidelines are set in stone. When it comes down to it, making the choice to sell will also depend on your risk tolerance and goals.
5 Tips to Keep in Mind When Investing in Stocks for the First Time
As excited as you might be to get started with investing, there are some things you need to understand before you begin allocating money. As a beginner, it’s important to try to minimize risks and start slowly, that way you can learn the basics of investing in stocks without risking too much.
With that in mind, here are five tips you should keep in mind when investing stocks for the first time:
#1: Have a Strategy
Above all else, make sure you have a strategy before you invest in stocks. Simply choosing a few popular companies and investing may seem like a good idea, but there are so many things to consider. For example, certain stocks come with higher risks and higher rewards, while others are lower risk. Understanding how risky an investment is and choosing the right investments based on your risk tolerance is incredibly important. You also need to create a strategy that involves a diverse portfolio, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Here are a few things you should do when establishing your investment strategy:
- Take a look at your discretionary spending. How much can you realistically afford to put toward stocks?
- Outline your investment goals. Are you focused on the short term or long term? One of the most important keys to successful stock investing is holding onto them until you can maximize your profit, not buying and selling based on trends—especially when you’re still learning the ropes.
- Evaluate the current performance and costs of stocks you’re considering. Ideally, you want to buy as low as possible, then sell when they reach a high. That way, you stand to make a good profit.
- Use your dividends responsibly. Do the stocks you’re planning on investing in pay dividends? If so, it’s a smart idea to plan to reinvest those dividends when you do receive them.
There are a variety of tried and true strategies that investors follow when buying and selling stocks, including:
- Dollar-cost averaging: This approach commits to investing in stocks regularly with a set amount of money.
- Value investing: Essentially, value investing is a strategy based on finding deals or undervalued investment opportunities and capitalizing on them.
- Growth investing: Growth investing takes on the approach of looking for investment opportunities that have a lot of future potential.
- Momentum investing: This strategy focuses on following market trends and watching the data to make decisions.
However, it’s up to you to decide what works best for you based on your circumstances.
#2: Set Long-Term Goals
Investing is a long-term strategy, so don’t expect to make a ton of money from stocks in a short period of time. In fact, you might even lose money on your first investment or two. This is why it’s so important to start slow and set long-term goals that you can focus on. Stock prices are going to fluctuate a bit from day to day, and focusing on those changes can discourage you from investing. The key to making money off stocks is to buy low, then hold onto them until they go high—allowing you to maximize your earnings.
Set long-term goals and make sure you’re staying focused on meeting those instead of making a short-term profit. For example, you may want to use your stock investments to help you fund your retirement savings or purchase investment properties in a few years. Those are big goals, but investments can help you reach them.
#3: Diversify Your Portfolio
Diversifying is one of the most important things you can do if you want to be a smart investor. If you’ve only invested in one stock and that stock plummets, you’re going to lose all your money. If your money was spread across several different types of stocks, you’ll only lose a little bit of money, and your other stocks can make up for that loss. Don’t just invest in multiple companies, either; make sure you’re investing in multiple sectors so you’re not impacted as much when an industry is facing challenges.
The first step to diversifying your portfolio is asset allocation. This means investing in each of the three main categories of investments: stocks, bonds and cash equivalents. From there, you can diversify further by choosing different industries and making sure you have a backup plan no matter what’s going on with your portfolio.
#4: Be Patient
One of the most important things you can do when it comes to investing in stocks is simply being patient. As tempting as it might be to check for small fluctuations in daily stock prices, that’s not what you’re after as an investor. Any good stock market guide will tell you to be patient, so try not to worry about what’s happening in the short term and focus on your long-term goals instead.
#5: Regularly Monitor and Reassess Investments
As important as it is to be patient and focus on your long-term goals when it comes to investing in stocks, you also need to keep an eye on your investments and make changes when necessary. While stocks aren’t the biggest risk if you invest smartly and manage your investments well, there are risks if you don’t manage them correctly.
Keep an eye on stock market trends and keep track of your investments as best you can. You don’t have to check daily fluctuations in stock prices, but it’s important to understand whether your investments are paying off in the long term or not. The general rule of thumb is to check in about every three months. However, that depends on how volatile your stocks are and your personal goals.
If your stock market investments aren’t performing as well as you expected them to, it may be time to change your investment strategy. For example, you may notice that a certain stock isn’t performing well and all the data is saying it won’t recover—it might be time to cut your losses and sell it off. You may also need to purchase new stocks to help balance out your portfolio.
How to Invest FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that beginners have when learning about stocks:
How much money do you need to start investing in the stock market?
You can start investing in the stock market with nearly any budget. However, your options will vary depending on how much you have to spend. While many mutual funds have a minimum investment of $1,000, some individual stocks can be purchased for just a few dollars.
What are the cheapest stocks?
If you’re looking for affordable stocks, penny stocks are often a good place to start because they typically trade for less than $5 each. However, you can also find tips from leading financial publications and resources on the cheapest stocks to purchase at any given time.
Why are some stocks more expensive than others?
Understanding stock prices is an important part of investing in stocks 101. Stock prices are determined by supply and demand, which is in turn determined by how well the company is doing. The better a company is doing, the more people are going to want to invest in them. This drives up the price of a stock, which means people who own shares of that company make a profit. This is the most common way to make money from stocks, but you can also make money through dividend payments if a company is turning a profit.
What fees should you expect when investing in stocks?
Unlike certificates of deposit, there are typically fees associated with investing in stocks. Stock exchanges and brokers need to make money, and they make that money by charging a small fee for each transaction. When you’re investing in stocks, you can expect to pay a trade commission, also known as a stock trading fee. This is the same type of fee you pay when you buy or sell other investments, including exchange-traded funds and options. The amount you’ll pay in stock trading fees depends on the dollar amount of the transaction. Since these fees are typically percentage-based, larger transactions come with larger fees.
Additionally, you may have to pay annual fees, such as custodian fees, on retirement accounts for keeping it open for such a long period of time.
Can you buy half a stock?
If you’re just learning about stock trading for beginners, you might be wondering what your options are if you don’t have a lot of money to invest. More specifically, you might be wondering whether you can buy half a stock or not. The short answer is that you can buy half a stock or even a smaller fraction of a stock. These are known as fractional shares.
The only real difference in buying a fractional share is the fact that you get a fraction of the payout if that stock does well. If a stock pays dividends, for example, owning half a stock means you’ll receive half as much as you would if you owned one stock. That being said, investing in fractional shares can be a good way to get your foot in the door with stocks that belong to a larger company whose stocks are more expensive.
Are stocks a good investment?
Like any other investment, stocks aren’t a guaranteed money-maker. While stocks are riskier than savings products such as CDs, there are a variety of factors that influence how risky a stock investment is.
Stocks are a popular investment method because of the potential to grow your investment substantially over long periods of time. However, according to Redfin, many people believe that investing in real estate is a safer bet.
In the end, whether stocks are a good investment comes down to your unique circumstances.
What are the best stocks to buy for beginners?
Beginners can be anyone from seniors to college students looking to invest. As a beginner, you might want to consider investing in stocks that:
- Have low volatility
- Are in companies who are market leaders, are likely to have a good long-term outlook, or are in industries you know a lot about
- Are affordable
- Pay a dividend
While these guidelines can be helpful, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to investing in stocks for beginners. When deciding how to invest in stocks, keep in mind the investing basics we’ve covered throughout this guide.
Should beginners attempt trading stocks?
Trading is when investors try to strike when the iron is hot, keeping an eye on stock trends and small fluctuations to try to cash in on opportunities. This is usually best left to more experienced stock investors as it can be pretty high risk.
If you’re planning on trading stocks as a beginner, it’s best to make sure you do plenty of research and start slow.
You can always invest more in the future, so start with a few smaller stocks until you learn the ropes. If you need help, you can always speak with a financial advisor or investment company.
What are the benefits of investing in stocks?
Stocks might not be the lowest-risk investment you can choose but investing in stocks does have its distinct advantages, including:
- Good annual returns: The average annual return for stocks is about 10%.
- Easy exit: You can usually sell stocks very easily if you want or need to, so you’re not typically stuck with an investment you don’t want.
- Deferred taxation: You don’t pay taxes on your stocks until you sell them. And, if you hold onto them for longer, you’ll usually pay a lower capital gains tax rate.
What are the risks of investing in stocks?
Like any investment, there are certain risks to consider when investing in stocks:
- No guarantees: There is always a chance that the stock will not increase in value so you might lose the money you’ve invested.
- Stock market bubbles and crashes: The value of a fast-rising stock can plummet once investors start to sell, meaning that if you bought when they were rising sky-high, you could suffer a substantial loss. Or, the entire market could take a substantial drop, causing major losses. Usually, a stock market crash has a longer-lasting, widespread effect on the market.
- Liquidity risk: While buying and selling stocks is usually a fairly easy process, you may get stuck with a stock if there are no active buyers.
How can you reduce risk when investing in stocks?
Keeping risks low as you learn the stock market is almost always the best approach for beginners. You can do that by:
- Stick to your budget and risk tolerance. Don’t be tempted to take on too much risk too fast, you don’t want to end up losing all your money just as you’re getting your footing in the investment world.
- Invest in various industry sectors—this will help diversify your portfolio and ensure that if one industry takes a hit, all your investments don’t plummet in value.
- Buy stocks from different countries. You don’t have to just buy stocks in the U.S. In fact, you should consider stocks in other countries that may have high-performing industries that make for a great investment opportunity.
- Consider investing in REITS or bonds—this can help minimize your risk and diversify your portfolio with different types of assets.
- Don’t make snap decisions. Instead, keep a level head and your eye on the long-term strategy.
It’s also important to monitor and reassess your investments regularly so you’re not standing strong with bad investments.
What is sustainable investing?
Sustainable investing, also known as impact investing, is an investment strategy where you choose to purchase stock in companies that you believe in or those that are working toward a worthy cause. One way to do that is by choosing a mutual fund that only includes companies that meet certain standards. Two such examples are Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) funds or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds.
Sustainable investing is a great compromise between benefiting from investing in stocks while also contributing to social good.
Still have questions about how to invest in the stock market? Investor.gov is a great resource overseen by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Final Notes: Investing in the Stock Market
Now that you know how to invest in stocks, you’re ready to take charge of your financial future. Whether you’re planning to start investing right away, or need to focus on your finances first, sign up for Mint to help you manage your money and set yourself up for a successful financial future!