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How To Know When to Buy a Stock

Since investors don’t have (functional) crystal balls, figuring out how to know when to buy a stock, in an effort to time the market and generate the biggest return, is difficult. While you shouldn’t necessarily try to time the market, if you are trading and incorporating some knowledge and tactics around when to buy a stock as a part of your larger financial plan, you’ll want to do what you can to fine-tune your strategy.

Trading stocks, of course, is fairly risky, and investors will want to keep that in mind. But with some practice and knowledge, you may be able to figure out the best time to buy stocks, and other variables, to help you try to boost your portfolio.

Key Points

•   Timing the stock market is difficult, but understanding when to trade stocks can help your portfolio.

•   The best time of day to buy stocks is usually in the morning, shortly after the market opens.

•   Mondays and Fridays tend to be good days to trade stocks, while the middle of the week is less volatile.

•   Historically, April, October, and November have been the best months to buy stocks, while September has shown the worst performance.

•   Knowing when to hold or sell stocks depends on personal strategies, research, and confidence in the stock’s potential for growth.

The Best Times to Buy Stocks

As noted, it’s generally not a good idea to try and time the market. But that’s not to say that there are larger market forces at work that result in certain trends. With that in mind, there can be good times of the day, days of the week, and even months to buy stocks that could generate bigger returns – though nothing is guaranteed.

The Best Time of Day to Buy Stocks

First and foremost, remember when the stock market is open and when trading is occurring. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, two of the largest and most active stock exchanges, are open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

With that, the best time of the day, in terms of price action, is usually in the morning, in the hours immediately after the market opens up until around 11:30 a.m. ET, or so. That’s generally when most trading happens, leading to the biggest price fluctuations and chances for investors to take advantage.

The Best Day of the Week to Buy Stocks

If investors are aiming to trade during times of relative volatility, then they’ll want to utilize a trading strategy that aims to crowd their activity near the beginning and end of the week. Monday is probably the best day to trade stocks, since there is likely considerable volatility pent up over the weekend.

That said, Friday can also be a good day to trade, as investors make moves to prepare their portfolios for a couple of days off. The middle of the week tends to be the least volatile.

The Best Month to Buy Stocks

When thinking about the best months to buy stocks, examining historic performance can be helpful. For instance, looking at monthly returns from 2000 to 2020, the best months to buy are usually April, October, and November. Conversely, the month with the worst historic performance is September.

Again, these “best times to buy stocks” in terms of times, days, and months aren’t guarantees of anything, but are merely based on historical performance. That can be good to keep in mind.

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When Should You Buy Stocks

There’s a difference between “can” and “should” – and investors trying to discern when they should buy stocks should really consider their personal preferences, risk tolerance, and investment strategies. The right time to buy a stock is when an investor has done their research and feels confident that a stock price will rise in the short or long term, and that they’re willing to hold onto it until it does.

It helps to be informed when considering whether to buy stocks, and one way to do that is to learn about the company itself. Interested investors can find many company’s financial reports and earnings reports from government databases or private company research reports.

While ultimately it may be a good idea to buy stocks across different industries in order to diversify, it sometimes helps to start with a business or industry one is familiar with. Knowing about the company can help put the earnings reports into context.

Understanding the value of stocks is often, if not always tied to understanding the business those stocks represent a share in. Is the company a good investment? Does it have sound financials and growth potential? Here are helpful questions to consider when contemplating buying a stock:

What is the price range at which you’re willing to buy? If an investor has a company in mind, setting a price range at which they would want to buy stock in that company may help inform their decision. One can do this through analysts’ reports and consensus price targets, which average all analyst opinions.

Does the stock appear undervalued? There are different ways to determine value. The most common valuation metric is a price-earnings ratio (or P/E), which takes the price per share and divides it by earnings per share. The lower the number, the less the value. Generally for U.S. companies, a P/E below 15 is considered a good value and a P/E over 20 is considered a bad value. You can also compare the company’s P/E to others in the industry.

Another way to look at value is a discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis, which takes projected cash values and discounts them back to the present. This ultimately gives an investor a theoretical price target; if the actual price is below the target, then in theory, it’s undervalued and a good buy.


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When Is the Worst Time to Buy Stocks?

Just as there are the purported best times to buy stocks, there are also the worst times to buy stocks, too. Given that investors may be looking for relatively volatile times in the market to buy stocks, relatively calm periods during the trading day may be the worst times to buy. Those hours would be during the middle of the day, perhaps from 11:30 a.m. ET until 3 p.m. ET.

In terms of days of the week? Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays may be worse than Mondays or Fridays, barring any market-moving news or other volatility-inducing events. Finally, September, February, and May tend to be the weakest-performing months for the stock market, dating back nearly a century.

How Do You Know When to Hold Stocks?

Knowing when to hold a stock often comes down to one’s investment strategy. With a passive investment approach, investors invest in various stocks with the intention of holding them for an indefinite amount of time. This is also known as a buy and hold investment strategy.

With this type of investing, investors attempt to match a market index such as the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. So, they select stocks in that market index coinciding with the same percentages in that index.

One benefit of the buy and hold strategy is that the tax rate on long-term capital gains (from stocks that an investor has owned for more than one year) are much lower than that of short-term capital gains.

For many, if not most investors, if you’re going to buy a stock, it may be a good strategy to hold onto it for a while. When an investor buys an undervalued stock, it could take a few years for it to reach its “correct” valuation. And of course, there’s always a risk it will never reach what the investor has determined is the correct valuation.

Not everyone holds onto their stocks for a long time, but there are risks to day trading that may inspire some to become buy-and-holders.

How Do You Know When to Sell a Stock?

Just like how a decision to hold a stock largely depends on an individual investor’s specific strategy, so does the choice as to whether or not to sell.

Some investors rely on a rule of thumb that states that the stock market reaches a high point in May or June and then goes down over the summer until September or October. While that can sometimes be observed in overall market behavior — partially because traders (just like lots of people) go on vacation in the summer and partially because it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy — it doesn’t mean an individual stock will definitely go down over the summer.

Taking this advice, however, — and other, similar types of advice – should be taken with a grain of salt. Again, the choice of whether to sell a stock is up to you, and the research you’ve put into making the decision.

The Takeaway

Knowing when to buy, sell, and hold stocks can be less confusing when an investor does the research into company health, overall market conditions, and their own financial needs as relates to personal short-term and long-term goals.

One of the easiest ways to buy and sell stocks or manage any investment portfolio is to open an online taxable brokerage account. This is often appealing to investors who want to take more of an active investing approach and buy and sell stocks. Investors would typically pay fees based on the account and the number of trades they make.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

Is it best to buy stocks when they are down?

The best time to buy a stock is when an investor has done their research and due diligence, and decided that the investment fits their overall strategy. With that in mind, buying a stock when it is down may be a good idea – and better than buying a stock when it is high. But there are always risks to take into consideration.

Should I buy stocks at night?

Investors can engage in after-hours trading, but there are unique risks to doing so, and orders won’t execute until the market opens. Interested investors may want to try after-hours trading to get a feel for it before fully incorporating it into their strategy.

What are the worst months for the stock market?

Based on past performance, the worst months for the stock market tend to be in the early fall and summer. September is usually the worst, but October, June, and August can be bad as well.


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INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
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Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What Are High-Net Worth Individuals?

What Are High-Net Worth Individuals?

A high net worth individual (HNWI) is generally considered to be someone who has $1 million or more in investable assets. That includes liquid assets such as cash or cash equivalents.

Someone who has a high net worth may rely on specialized financial services for money management. For example, they may work with a wealth manager or open accounts at a private bank. In terms of financial planning, the needs of high net worth individuals may include estate planning, investment guidance, and tax management.

Achieving a high net worth is something that can be done through strategic investing and careful portfolio building. It’s important to keep in mind that high net worth individuals may have access to certain investments that the everyday investor would not. Minimizing liabilities is another part of the wealth-building puzzle, as net worth takes debt into account alongside assets.

Key Points

•   A high net worth individual (HNWI) is someone with $1 million or more in investable assets, including cash or cash equivalents.

•   HNWIs may rely on specialized financial services like wealth managers or private banks for money management, estate planning, investment guidance, and tax management.

•   Different metrics, such as income, investable assets, and net worth (assets minus liabilities), can be used to define high net worth individuals.

•   The SEC requires registered advisors to disclose information about high net worth individuals on Form ADV, and accredited investors are also considered high net worth individuals.

•   HNWIs may enjoy benefits like reduced fees, discounts on financial services, access to exclusive investments, and special perks and events.

What Defines a High Net Worth Individual?

When it comes to the high net worth definition, there are different metrics that can be used to calculate net worth and determine whether someone falls under the high net worth umbrella. Those can include a person’s:

•   Income

•   Investable assets

•   Total net worth when liabilities are deducted from assets

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires registered advisors to provide information about high net worth individuals on Form ADV. Specifically, the form asks advisors to list how many clients they serve who have $750,000 in investable assets or a $1.5 million net worth.

The SEC can also refer to high net worth individuals when discussing accredited investors. An accredited investor is defined as having:

•   Earned income of $200,000 or more (or $300,000 for couples) in each of the two prior years, with a reasonable expectation of the same income in future years

•   Net worth of over $1 million either alone or with a spouse, excluding the value of a primary residence

What is considered a high net worth individual to those who work with them? Private banks or wealth managers who serve high net worth individuals might choose to define them differently. For example, someone who wants to open an account with a private bank might need to have $5 million or $10 million in investable assets to qualify. Someone who has that much in assets may be relabeled as “very high net worth” instead. And at higher levels of assets, they enter the realm of ultra high net worth.

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Benefits Afforded to HNWIs

High net worth individuals may get a number of special benefits. For instance, they might qualify for reduced fees and discounts on financial services like investments and banking. They may also be granted access to special perks and events.

HNWI can also invest in things other investors or the general public can’t, such as hedge funds, venture capital funds, and private equity funds.

HNWI Examples & Statistics

The super rich, or HNWI, are tracked by Forbes on the Real-Time Billionaires List, which is updated daily. As of August 31, 2023, these were the HNWI at the top if the list:

•   Elon Musk with a net worth of $248.8 billion

•   Bernard Arnault and family with a net worth of $208 billion

•   Jeff Bezos with a net worth of $160.9 billion

•   Larry Ellison with a net worth of $152.3 billion

•   Warren Buffet with a net worth of $121.1 billion

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between Income and Net Worth?

How Is Net Worth Calculated?

Wondering how to find net worth? It’s a relatively simple calculation. There are three steps for figuring out net worth:

1.    Add up assets. These can include:

◦   Bank account balances, including checking, savings, and certificates of deposit

◦   Retirement accounts

◦   Taxable investment accounts

◦   Property, such as real estate or vehicles

◦   Collectibles or antiques

◦   Businesses someone owns

2.    Add up liabilities. Liabilities are debts owed. For example, a home’s value can be considered an asset for net worth calculations. But if there’s a mortgage owing on it, that amount has to be entered into the liabilities column.

3.    Subtract liabilities from assets. The remaining amount is an individual’s net worth.

Net worth can be a positive or negative number, depending on how much someone has in assets versus what they owe in liabilities.

Net Worth vs Liquid Net Worth

In simple terms, net worth is the difference between assets and liabilities. Liquid net worth, on the other hand, is the difference between liquid assets and liabilities. A liquid asset is one that can easily be sold or used to invest. So cash in a savings account is an example of a liquid asset while investments in a real estate investment trust (REIT) would be illiquid since they can’t be sold at short notice.

What Is an Ultra High Net Worth Individual?

Someone who fits the definition of an ultra high net worth individual (UHNWI) generally has personal financial holdings or assets of $30 million or more. People who are considered to be ultra high net worth individuals are among the top 1% wealthiest in the world.

So what is the net worth of the top 1%?

According to a report from Knight Frank, the typical net worth of the 1% falls far below the $30 million in assets required for ultra high net worth status. For example, in the U.S. someone would need $4 million in wealth to join the ranks of the top 1%. They’d need $7.9 million to belong to the top 1% in Monaco.

But what about the top 0.1%? Again, the level of wealth needed to qualify is still below the $30 million cutoff required for an UHNWI. In the U.S., you’d need $25.1 million to be considered part of the 0.1%. This is the highest amount of assets needed to qualify among the countries included in Knight Frank’s research.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

How to Get a Higher Net Worth

Reaching high net worth status can be a lofty goal but it’s one many HENRYs — high earner not rich yet — work toward. The typical HENRY makes most or all of their income from working. While they may earn an above-average income, they may not have sufficient disposable income to start building wealth to increase their net worth.

There are, however, some ways to change that. For example, someone who earns a higher income but doesn’t have the higher net worth to reflect it may consider things like:

•   Paying off student loans or other debts

•   Relocating to a less expensive area to reduce their cost of living

•   Rethinking their tax strategy so they’re able to keep more of their income

•   Finding ways to increase income

Coming up with a solid investment strategy is also important for boosting net worth. That includes diversifying to manage risk while investing in assets that are designed to produce income. For example, that might include such things as:

•   Purchasing shares of dividend stocks

•   Enrolling in a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP)

•   Buying dividend exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

•   Investing in REITs or real estate mutual funds

Creating multiple streams of income with investments or starting a side hustle while also reducing liabilities can help with making progress toward a higher net worth. At the same time, it’s also important to take advantage of wealth-building assets you may already have on hand.

For example, if you have access to a 401(k) or similar plan at work, then making contributions can be an easy way to increase net worth. If your employer offers a company matching contribution you could use that free money to help build wealth.

The Takeaway

High net worth individuals are typically described as people who have $1 million or more in investable assets. Those with more than $5 to 10 million in investable assets may be labeled as “very high net worth”, and those with more than $30 million are generally considered ultra high net worth individuals.

Individuals with a higher net worth often consider time to be an asset in itself. The thinking goes, the sooner you begin investing, the better.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


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FAQ

What are different types of high-net-worth individuals?

There are several types of high net worth individuals. Those who are high net worth have more than $1 million. Individuals with about $5 million are considered very high net worth. If a person has more than $30 million dollars they are considered ultra high net worth.

Where are most of the HNWIs located?

North America has the most high net worth individuals. There are 7.9 million HNWI in North America. The Asia-Pacific region has 7.2 million high net worth individuals, and there are 5.7 million HNWI in Europe.

Do high-net-worth individuals include 401(k)?

Yes. All of your different retirement accounts, including your 401(k), are included as assets when calculating high net worth.


Photo credit: iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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Pros & Cons of Investing in REITs

REIT is the abbreviation for Real Estate Investment Trust, a type of company that owns or operates properties that generate income. Investors can buy shares of REITs as a way of investing in different parts of the real estate market, and there are pluses and minuses to this option.

While developing and operating a real estate venture is out of the realm of possibility for some, REITs make it possible for people to become investors in large-scale construction or other real estate projects.

With a REIT, an investor buys into a piece of a real estate venture, not the whole thing. Thus there’s less responsibility and pressure on the shareholder, when compared to purchasing an investment property. But there is also less control, and most REITs come with specific risks.

Key Points

•   REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) allow investors to buy shares of companies that own and operate income-generating properties.

•   Investing in REITs provides diversification and the potential for dividends.

•   REITs can be publicly traded or non-traded, with different risks and trading options.

•   Benefits of investing in REITs include tax advantages, tangibility of assets, and relative liquidity compared to owning physical properties.

•   Risks of investing in REITs include higher dividend taxes, sensitivity to interest rates, and exposure to specific property trends.

What Are REITs?

When a person invests in a REIT, they’re investing in a real estate company that owns and operates properties that range from office complexes and warehouses to apartment buildings and more. REITs offer a way for someone to add real estate investments to their portfolio, without actually developing or managing any property.

Many, but not all, REITs are registered with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and can be found on the stock market where they’re publicly traded. Investors can also buy REITs that are registered with the SEC but are not publicly traded.

Non-traded REITs (aka, REITs that are not publicly traded) can’t be found on Nasdaq or the stock exchange. They’re traded on the secondary market between brokers which can make trading them a bit more challenging. To put it simply, this class of REITs has a whole different list of risks specific to its type of investing.

Non-traded REITs make for some pretty advanced investing, and for this reason, the rest of this article will discuss publicly traded REITs.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

Types of REITs

Real Estate Investment Trusts broadly fall into two categories:

•   Mortgage REITs. These REITs can specialize in commercial or residential, or a mix of both. When an investor purchases Mortgage REITs, they’re investing in mortgage and mortgage-backed securities that in turn invest in commercial and residential projects. Think of it as taking a step back from directly investing in real estate.

•   Equity REITs. These REITs often mean someone’s investing in a specific type of property. There are diversified equity REITs, but there are are specialized ones, including:

◦   Apartment and lodging

◦   Healthcare

◦   Hotels

◦   Offices

◦   Self-storage

◦   Retail

💡 If you’re interest in REITs, be sure to check out: What Are Alternative Investments?

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Pros of Investing in REITs

Investing in REITs can have several benefits, such as:

•   Diversification. A diverse portfolio can reduce an investor’s risk because money is spread across different assets and industries. Investing in a REIT can help diversify a person’s investment portfolio. REITs aren’t stocks, bonds, or money markets, but a class unto their own.

•   Dividends. Legally, REITs are required by law to pay at least 90% of their income in dividends. The REIT’s management can decide to pay out more than 90%, but they can’t drop below that percentage. Earning consistent dividends can be a compelling reason for investors to get involved with REITs.

•   Zero corporate tax. Hand in hand with the 90% payout rule, REITs get a significant tax advantage — they don’t have to pay a corporate tax. To put it in perspective, many dividend stocks pay taxes twice; once corporately, and again for the individual. Not having to pay a corporate tax can mean a higher payout for investors.

•   Tangibility. Unlike other investments, REITs are investments in physical pieces of property. Those tangible assets can increase in value over time. Being able to “see” an investment can also put some people at ease — it’s not simply a piece of paper or a slice of a company.

•   Liquidity. Compared to buying an investment property, investing in REITs is relatively liquid. It takes much less time to buy and sell a REIT than it does a rental property. Selling REITs takes the lick of a button, no FOR SALE sign required.

Compared to other real estate investment opportunities, REITs are relatively simple to invest in and don’t require some of the legwork an investment property would take.

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Cons of Investing in REITs

No investment is risk-free, REITS included. Here’s what investors should keep in mind before diving into REITs:

•   Taxes on dividends. REITs don’t have to pay a corporate tax, but the downside is that REIT dividends are typically taxed at a higher rate than other investments. Oftentimes, dividends are taxed at the same rate as long-term capital gains, which for many people, is generally lower than the rate at which their regular income is taxed.

However, dividends paid from REITs don’t usually qualify for the capital gains rate. It’s more common that dividends from REITs are taxed at the same rate as a person’s ordinary income.

•   Sensitive to interest rates. Investments are influenced by a variety of factors, but REITs can be hypersensitive to changes in interest rates. Rising interest rates can spell trouble for the price of REIT stocks (also known as interest rate risk). Generally, the value of REITs is inversely tied to the Treasury yield — so when the Treasury yield rises, the value of REITs are likely to fall.

•   Value can be influenced by trends. Unlike other investments, REITs can fall prey to risks associated specifically with the property. For example, if a person invests in a REIT that’s specifically a portfolio of frozen yogurt shops in strip malls, they could see their investment take a hit if frozen yogurt or strip malls fall out of favor.

While investments suffer from trends, REITs can be influenced by smaller trends, specific to the location or property type, that could be harder for an investor to notice.

•   Plan for a long-term investment. Generally, REITs are better suited for long-term investments, which can typically be thought of as those longer than five years. REITs are influenced by micro-changes in interest rates and other trends that can make them riskier for a short-term financial goal.

💡 Quick Tip: Distributing your money across a range of assets — also known as diversification — can be beneficial for long-term investors. When you put your eggs in many baskets, it may be beneficial if a single asset class goes down.

Are REITs a Risky Investment?

No investment is free of risk, and REITs come with risks and rewards specific to them. As mentioned above, they’re generally more sensitive to fluctuations in interest rates, which have an inverse influence on their value.

Additionally, some REITs are riskier than others, and some are better suited to withstand economic declines than others. For example, a REIT in the healthcare or hospital space could be more recession-proof than a REIT with properties in retail or luxury hotels. This is because people will continue using real estate associated with healthcare spaces regardless of an economic recession, while luxury real estate may not experience continued demands during times of economic hardship.

Risks aside, REITs do pay dividends, which can be appealing to investors. While REITS are not without risk, they can be a strong part of an investor’s portfolio.

Investing in REITs

Investing in publicly traded REITS is as simple as purchasing stock in the market — simply purchase shares through a broker. Investors can also purchase REITs in a mutual fund.

Investing in a non-traded REIT is a little different. Investors will have to work with a broker that is part of the non-traded REITs offering. Not any old broker can help an investor get involved in non-traded REITs. A potential drawback of purchasing non-traded REITs are the high up-front fees. Investors can expect to pay fees, which include commission and fees, between 9 and 10% of the entire investment.

The Takeaway

Investing in REITs can be a worthwhile sector to add to your portfolio’s allocation. They carry risks, but also benefits that might make them a great addition to your overall plan.

After all, REITs allow investors to partake of specific niches within the real estate market, which may provide certain opportunities. But owing to the types of properties REITs own, there are inevitably risks associated with these companies — and they aren’t always tied to familiar types of market risk.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


Invest in alts to take your portfolio beyond stocks and bonds.


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Alternative investments, including funds that invest in alternative investments, are risky and may not be suitable for all investors. Alternative investments often employ leveraging and other speculative practices that increase an investor's risk of loss to include complete loss of investment, often charge high fees, and can be highly illiquid and volatile. Alternative investments may lack diversification, involve complex tax structures and have delays in reporting important tax information. Registered and unregistered alternative investments are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as mutual funds.
Please note that Interval Funds are illiquid instruments, hence the ability to trade on your timeline may be restricted. Investors should review the fee schedule for Interval Funds via the prospectus.

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INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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Guide to Maxing Out Your 401(k)

Maxing out your 401(k) involves contributing the maximum allowable to your workplace retirement account to increase the benefit of compounding and appreciating assets over time.

All retirement plans come with contribution caps, and when you hit that limit it means you’ve maxed out that particular account.

There are a lot of things to consider when figuring out how to max out your 401(k) account. And if you’re a step ahead, you may also wonder what to do after you max out your 401(k).

Key Points

•   Maxing out your 401(k) contributions can help you save more for retirement and take advantage of tax benefits.

•   Strategies to maximize your 401(k) include contributing enough to get the full employer match, increasing contributions over time, and utilizing catch-up contributions if eligible.

•   Automating contributions and adjusting your budget can help you free up funds to maximize your 401(k) contributions.

•   Diversifying your investments within your 401(k) and regularly reviewing and rebalancing your portfolio can optimize your returns.

•   Seeking professional advice and staying informed about changes in contribution limits and regulations can help you make the most of your 401(k).

What Does It Mean to Max Out Your 401(k)?

Maxing out your 401(k) means that you contribute the maximum amount allowed by law in a given year, as specified by the established 401(k) contribution limits. But it can also mean that you’re maxing out your contributions up to an employer’s percentage match, too.

If you want to max out your 401(k) in 2024, you’ll need to contribute $23,000 annually. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $7,500, for an annual total of $30,500. If you want to max out your 401(k) in 2023, you’ll need to contribute $22,500 annually. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $7,500, for an annual total of $30,000.

For some quick background, 401(k) plans are one of the most common types of retirement plans in the U.S. They are employer-sponsored accounts that allow both you and your employer to make contributions.

When you set up a 401(k), you can opt to have a certain amount or percentage of your paycheck go directly to your 401(k), and sometimes an employer will match your own contributions up to a certain percentage or dollar amount. For example, you might contribute 3%, and your employer might match your 3% dollar for dollar, for a total of 6%. If your employer’s maximum match is 3%, and you contribute up to that matching amount, then in this case, you’re “maxing out” your 401(k).

If you were contributing less than 3%, you might want to make changes to your 401(k) contributions to “max” it out.

But on a broader scale, and what we’ll stick with for the purposes of this piece, maxing out a 401(k) primarily refers to contributing as much as legally possible during a given year.

So, to max out a 401(k) for tax year 2023, an employee would need to contribute $22,500 in salary deferrals — or $30,000 if they’re over age 50. Some investors might think about maxing out their 401(k) as a way of getting the most out of their retirement savings strategy.

Is It Good to Max Out Your 401(k)?

4 Goals to Meet Before Maxing Out Your 401(k)

Generally speaking, yes, it’s a good thing to max out your 401(k) so long as you’re not sacrificing your overall financial stability to do it. Saving for retirement is important, which is why many financial experts would likely suggest maxing out any employer match contributions first.

But while you may want to take full advantage of any tax and employer benefits that come with your 401(k), you also want to consider any other financial goals and obligations you have before maxing out your 401(k).

That doesn’t mean you should put other goals first, and not contribute to your retirement plan at all. That’s not wise. Maintaining a baseline contribution rate for your future is crucial, even as you continue to save for shorter-term aims or put money toward debt repayment.

Other goals could include:

•   Is all high-interest debt paid off? High-interest debt like credit card debt should be paid off first, so it doesn’t accrue additional interest and fees.

•   Do you have an emergency fund? Life can throw curveballs—it’s smart to be prepared for job loss or other emergency expenses.

•   Is there enough money in your budget for other expenses? You should have plenty of funds to ensure you can pay for additional bills, like student loans, health insurance, and rent.

•   Are there other big-ticket expenses to save for? If you’re saving for a large purchase, such as a home or going back to school, you may want to put extra money toward this saving goal rather than completely maxing out your 401(k), at least for the time being.

Once you can comfortably say that you’re meeting your spending and savings goals, it might be time to explore maxing out your 401(k). There are many reasons to do so — it’s a way to take advantage of tax-deferred savings, employer matching (often referred to as “free money”), and it’s a relatively easy and automatic way to invest and save, since the money gets deducted from your paycheck once you’ve set up your contribution amount.

Get a 2% IRA match. Tax season is now match season.

Get a 2% match on all your SoFi IRA contributions* through Tax Day (up to the annual contribution limits). Plus, you can still contribute to your 2023 IRAs until April 15th.


*Offer lasts through Tax Day, 4/15/24. Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.

6 Steps to Maxing Out Your 401(k)

For 2023, the IRS has set the 401(k) contribution limit as $22,500 in salary deferrals. Individuals over the age of 50 can contribute an additional $7,500 in catch-up contributions. Only a relatively small percentage of people actually do max out their 401(k)s, however. Here are some strategies for how to max out your 401(k).

1. Max Out 401(k) Employer Contributions

Your employer may offer matching contributions, and if so, there are typically rules you will need to follow to take advantage of their match.

An employer may require a minimum contribution from you before they’ll match it, or they might match only up to a certain amount. They might even stipulate a combination of those two requirements. Each company will have its own rules for matching contributions, so review your company’s policy for specifics.

For example, suppose your employer will match your contribution up to 3%. So, if you contribute 3% to your 401(k), your employer will contribute 3% as well. Therefore, instead of only saving 3% of your salary, you’re now saving 6%. With the employer match, your contribution just doubled. Note that employer contributions can range from nothing at all to upwards of 15%. It depends.

Since saving for retirement is one of the best investments you can make, it’s wise to take advantage of your employer’s match. Every penny helps when saving for retirement, and you don’t want to miss out on this “free money” from your employer.

If you’re not already maxing out the matching contribution and wish to, you can speak with your employer (or HR department, or plan administrator) to increase your contribution amount, you may be able to do it yourself online.

2. Max Out Salary-Deferred Contributions

While it’s smart to make sure you’re not leaving free money on the table, maxing out your employer match on a 401(k) is only part of the equation.

In order to make sure you’re setting aside an adequate amount for retirement, consider contributing as much as your budget will allow. Again, individuals younger than age 50 can contribute up to $22,500 in salary deferrals per year — and if you’re over age 50, you can max out at $30,000 in 2023.

It’s called a “salary deferral” because you aren’t losing any of the money you earn; you’re putting it in the 401(k) account and deferring it until later in life.

Those contributions aren’t just an investment in your future lifestyle in retirement. Because they are made with pre-tax dollars, they lower your taxable income for the year in which you contribute. For some, the immediate tax benefit is as appealing as the future savings benefit.

3. Take Advantage of Catch-Up Contributions

As mentioned, 401(k) catch-up contributions allow investors over age 50 to increase their retirement savings — which is especially helpful if they’re behind in reaching their retirement goals. Individuals over age 50 can contribute an additional $7,500 for a total of $30,000 for the year. Putting all of that money toward retirement savings can help you truly max out your 401(k).

As you draw closer to retirement, catch-up contributions can make a difference, especially as you start to calculate when you can retire. Whether you have been saving your entire career or just started, this benefit is available to everyone who qualifies.

And of course, this extra contribution will lower taxable income even more than regular contributions. Although using catch-up contributions may not push everyone to a lower tax bracket, it will certainly minimize the tax burden during the next filing season.

4. Reset Your Automatic 401(k) Contributions

When was the last time you reviewed your 401(k)? It may be time to check in and make sure your retirement savings goals are still on track. Is the amount you originally set to contribute each paycheck still the correct amount to help you reach those goals?

With the increase in contribution limits most years, it may be worth reviewing your budget to see if you can up your contribution amount to max out your 401(k). If you don’t have automatic payroll contributions set up, you could set them up.

It’s generally easier to save money when it’s automatically deducted; a person is less likely to spend the cash (or miss it) when it never hits their checking account in the first place.

If you’re able to max out the full 401(k) limit, but fear the sting of a large decrease in take-home pay, consider a gradual, annual increase such as 1% — how often you increase it will depend on your plan rules as well as your budget.

5. Put Bonus Money Toward Retirement

Unless your employer allows you to make a change, your 401(k) contribution will likely be deducted from any bonus you might receive at work. Many employers allow you to determine a certain percentage of your bonus check to contribute to your 401(k).

Consider possibly redirecting a large portion of a bonus to 401k contributions, or into another retirement account, like an individual retirement account (IRA). Because this money might not have been expected, you won’t miss it if you contribute most of it toward your retirement.

You could also do the same thing with a raise. If your employer gives you a raise, consider putting it directly toward your 401(k). Putting this money directly toward your retirement can help you inch closer to maxing out your 401(k) contributions.

6. Maximize Your 401(k) Returns and Fees

Many people may not know what they’re paying in investment fees or management fees for their 401(k) plans. By some estimates, the average fees for 401(k) plans are between 1% and 2%, but some plans can have up to 3.5%.

Fees add up — even if your employer is paying the fees now, you’ll have to pay them if you leave the job and keep the 401(k).

Essentially, if an investor has $100,000 in a 401(k) and pays $1,000 or 1% (or more) in fees per year, the fees could add up to thousands of dollars over time. Any fees you have to pay can chip away at your retirement savings and reduce your returns.

It’s important to ensure you’re getting the most for your money in order to maximize your retirement savings. If you are currently working for the company, you could discuss high fees with your HR team. One of the easiest ways to lower your costs is to find more affordable investment options. Typically, the biggest bargains can be index funds, which often charge lower fees than other investments.

If your employer’s plan offers an assortment of low-cost index funds or institutional funds, you can invest in these funds to build a diversified portfolio.

If you have a 401(k) account from a previous employer, you might consider moving your old 401(k) into a lower-fee plan. It’s also worth examining what kind of funds you’re invested in and if it’s meeting your financial goals and risk tolerance.

What Happens If You Contribute Too Much to Your 401(k)?

After you’ve maxed out your 401(k) for the year — meaning you’ve hit the contribution limit corresponding to your age range — then you’ll need to stop making contributions or risk paying additional taxes on your overcontributions.

In the event that you do make an overcontribution, you’ll need to take some additional steps such as letting your plan manager or administrator know, and perhaps withdrawing the excess amount. If you leave the excess in the account, it’ll be taxed twice — once when it was contributed initially, and again when you take it out.

What to Do After Maxing Out a 401(k)?

If you max out your 401(k) this year, pat yourself on the back. Maxing out your 401(k) is a financial accomplishment. But now you might be wondering, what’s next? Here are some additional retirement savings options to consider if you have already maxed out your 401(k).

Open an IRA

An individual retirement account (IRA) can be a good complement to your employer’s retirement plans. The pre-tax guidelines of this plan are pretty straightforward.

You can save up to $7,000 pre-tax dollars in an IRA if you meet individual IRS requirements for tax year 2024, and $6,500 for tax year 2023. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $1,000, totaling $8,000 for 2024 and $7,500 for 2023, to an IRA.

You may also choose to consider a Roth IRA. Roth IRA accounts have income limits, but if you’re eligible, you can contribute with after-tax dollars, which means you won’t have to pay taxes on earnings withdrawals in retirement as you do with traditional IRAs.

You can open an IRA at a brokerage, mutual fund company, or other financial institution. If you ever leave your job, you can roll your employer’s 401(k) into your IRA without facing any tax consequences as long as they are both traditional accounts and it’s a direct rollover – where funds are transferred directly from one plan to the other. Doing a rollover may allow you to invest in a broader range of investments with lower fees.

Boost an Emergency Fund

Experts often advise establishing an emergency fund with at least six months of living expenses before contributing to a retirement savings plan. Perhaps you’ve already done that — but haven’t updated that account in a while. As your living expenses increase, it’s a good idea to make sure your emergency fund grows, too. This will cover you financially in case of life’s little curveballs: new brake pads, a new roof, or unforeseen medical expenses.

The money in an emergency fund should be accessible at a moment’s notice, which means it needs to comprise liquid assets such as cash. You’ll also want to make sure the account is FDIC insured, so that your money is protected if something happens to the bank or financial institution.

Save for Health Care Costs

Contributing to a health savings account (HSA) can reduce out-of-pocket costs for expected and unexpected health care expenses. For tax year 2023, eligible individuals can contribute up to $3,850 pre-tax dollars for an individual plan or up to $7,750 for a family plan.

The money in this account can be used for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses such as copays for doctor visits and prescriptions. Another option is to leave the money in the account and let it grow for retirement. Once you reach age 65, you can take out money from your HSA without a penalty for any purpose. However, to be exempt from taxes, the money must be used for a qualified medical expense. Any other reasons for withdrawing the funds will be subject to regular income taxes.

Increase College Savings

If you’re feeling good about maxing out your 401(k), consider increasing contributions to your child’s 529 college savings plan (a tax-advantaged account meant specifically for education costs, sponsored by states and educational institutions).

College costs continue to creep up every year. Helping your children pay for college helps minimize the burden of college expenses, so they hopefully don’t have to take on many student loans.

Open a Brokerage Account

After you max out your 401(k), you may also consider opening a brokerage account. Brokerage firms offer various types of investment account brokerage accounts, each with different services and fees. A full-service brokerage firm may provide different financial services, which include allowing you to trade securities.

Many brokerage firms require you to have a certain amount of cash to open their accounts and have enough funds to account for trading fees and commissions. While there are no limits on how much you can contribute to the account, earned dividends are taxable in the year they are received. Therefore, if you earn a profit or sell an asset, you must pay a capital gains tax. On the other hand, if you sell a stock at a loss, that becomes a capital loss. This means that the transaction may yield a tax break by lowering your taxable income.

Will You Have Enough to Retire After Maxing Out 401(k)?

There are many factors that need to be considered, however, start by getting a sense of how much you’ll need to retire by using a retirement expense calculator. Then you can decide whether maxing out your 401(k) for many years will be enough to get you there, even assuming an average stock market return and compounding built in.

First and foremost, you’ll need to consider your lifestyle and where you plan on living after retirement. If you want to spend a lot in your later years, you’ll need more money. As such, a 401(k) may not be enough to get you through retirement all on its own, and you may need additional savings and investments to make sure you’ll have enough.

Pros and Cons of Maxing Out Your 401(k)

There are some pros and cons to maxing out your 401(k).

Pros of 401(k) Max Out

The most obvious advantage to maxing out your 401(k) is that your retirement savings account will be bigger, which can lead to more growth over time. That’s critical if you hope to indeed retire some day, and by maxing out your 401(k) every year, you might be able to hit your goals sooner.

Maxing out your 401(k) can also make your saving and investing relatively easy, as long as you’re taking a no-lift approach to setting your money aside thanks to automatic contributions.

Cons of 401(k) Max Out

The downsides of maxing out a 401(k) include the fact that not everyone is in a financial position to do so. Depending on your specific financial situation, you simply may not be able to afford to contribute the maximum amount per year, especially if you’re also tackling debt and taking aim at other savings goals.

There are also opportunity costs to consider, which boil down to the fact that you may be able to do something else with your money besides put it in your retirement plan. For instance, during years when the stock market realizes substantial returns, your money could be more immediately accessible if invested in these assets via a non-retirement account, rather than being tied up in a retirement fund.

That said, putting money away — no matter how you do it — isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s likely always better than frittering it away on unnecessary expenditures.

The Takeaway

Maxing out your 401(k) involves matching your employer’s maximum contribution match, and also, contributing as much as legally allowed to your retirement plan in a given year. For 2024, that limit is $23,000, or $30,500 if you’re over age 50. For 2023, that limit is $22,500, or $30,000 if you’re over age 50. If you have the flexibility in your budget to do so, maxing out a 401(k) can be an effective way to build retirement savings.

And once you max out your 401(k)? There are other smart ways to direct your money. You can open an IRA, contribute more to an HSA, or to a child’s 529 plan. If you’re looking to roll over an old 401(k) into an IRA, or open a new one, SoFi Invest® can help. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions (the full fee schedule is here), and you can access complimentary professional advice.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What happens if I max out my 401(k) every year?

Assuming you don’t overcontribute, you may see your retirement savings increase if you max out your 401(k) every year, and hopefully, be able to reach your retirement and savings goals sooner.


Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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What Is Leverage in Finance? Leverage Defined

What Is Leverage in Finance?

Leverage in finance involves using a relatively small amount of capital to make larger trades or investments, increasing the potential of larger returns. In the world of finance, it’s critical to understand leverage if you plan to day trade or make other types of short-term investments, and the additional risks involved.

In general, leverage means doing a lot with a little. Think about how you may use an actual, physical lever to turn a switch, for instance. The switch itself may be small, and require a turn that’s a quarter of an inch to flip from off to on. But by using a lever — which is much bigger, physically, than the switch itself — the work becomes easier.

Key Points

•   Leverage in finance involves using a small amount of capital to make larger trades or investments, potentially increasing returns.

•   Leverage can be achieved through borrowing money or trading on margin, allowing investors to make increased dollar investments.

•   While leverage can amplify gains, it also magnifies losses and comes with additional risks and costs.

•   Different types of leverage exist, including financial leverage used by businesses to raise capital and operating leverage used to analyze fixed and variable costs.

•   Leverage can be used in personal finance, such as taking out a mortgage, and is also utilized by professional traders to potentially increase profits.

What Is Leverage?

In finance, leverage refers to using a small amount of capital to do a relatively big amount of work — making big investments with a small amount of money. The rest of the money used to make the investment is borrowed, or investors are trading on margin.

In short: Leverage is about borrowing capital to make bigger bets in an effort to increase returns.

How Leverage Works

In leveraged investing, the leverage is debt that investors use as a part of their investing strategy. While it’s easy to think that all debt is bad, in fact it can actually be useful when folded into a specific investing tactic, although it also introduces additional risks and costs.

Leverage typically works like this: A person or company wants to make an outsized investment, but doesn’t have enough capital to do it. So, they use the capital they do have in conjunction with margin (borrowed money) to make a leveraged investment. If they’re successful, the return on their investment is far greater than it would’ve been had they only invested their own capital.

The risk, of course, is that those returns do not materialize, putting the investor in debt. Investors will also need to consider how their overall costs could increase, as they’ll likely pay interest on the money they borrow, too.

Example of Leverage

Here is an example of how leverage could be used:

Let’s say that you found a startup. To get the company off the ground, you take in $10 million from investors, but you want to expand operations fast — hire employees, ramp up research and development efforts, and build out a distribution network.

You can do that with the $10 million, but if you were to borrow another $10 million, you would be able to double your efforts. That would allow you to hire more employees, improve your products faster, and distribute them further and wider, though you’d need to pay interest on the loan, too, factoring into overall costs.

That $10 million you borrowed is allowing you to do more with less. Of course, you run the risk that the company won’t be able to sustain a quick growth pace, in which case you may not be able to pay back the loan, or end up paying additional costs for interest and fees. But if things do work out, you’d be able to grow faster and accrue more value than if you hadn’t taken on any additional debt.


💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

Pros and Cons of Leverage

On the surface, leverage can sound like a powerful tool for investors — which it can be. But it’s a tool that can cut both ways: Leverage can add to buying power and potentially increase returns, but it can also magnify losses, and put an investor in the hole.

What’s important to remember is that there are both pros and cons to a tool like leverage.

Pros of Leverage

Cons of Leverage

Adds buying power Increased risks and costs
Potential to earn greater returns Leveraged losses are magnified
For investors, it’s generally easy to access It can be more complex than meets the eye

Leverage vs Margin

Margin is a type of leverage that is specifically tied to use in the financial markets by investors. It is basically like a line of credit for a brokerage or investment account.

Here’s how margin works: An investor has a cash balance, which acts as collateral, and there are interest rates at play, like any other type of loan. With a margin account, investors can tradesome, but not all stocks or other assets on margin.

Using margin, an investor can effectively supercharge their potential gains or losses. It’s also important to note — and it’s worth repeating over and over — that using margin as an investor can increase overall costs and risks. Not every investor will be comfortable assuming those risks and costs (such as interest charges), so you’ll want to know what you’re doing before using margin.

Margin and leverage are related, and it’s easy to confuse the two. Even if you know what margin trading is and how margin accounts work, it’s important to make sure you know what the differences are. This chart should help.

Leverage vs Margin

Leverage

Margin

A loan from a bank for a specific purpose A loan from a brokerage for investing in financial instruments
May involve a cash injection to be used for a specific purpose No cash is exchanged; acts as a line of credit
Can be used by businesses or individuals; May take the form of a mortgage or to expand inventory Can be used to create leverage and increase investment buying power

Types of Leverage

So far, we’ve mostly discussed leverage as it relates to the financial markets for investors. But there are other types of leverage, too.

Financial Leverage

Financial leverage is used by businesses and organizations as a way to raise money or access additional capital without having to issue additional shares or sell equity. For instance, if a company wants to expand operations, it can take on debt to finance that expansion.

The main ways that a company may do so is by either issuing bonds or by taking out loans. Much like in the leverage example above, this capital injection gives the company more spending power to do what it needs to do, with the expectation that the profits reaped will outweigh the costs of borrowing in the long run.

Operating Leverage

Operating leverage is an accounting measure used by businesses to get an idea of their fixed versus variable costs.

When discussing financial leverage, math needs to be done to figure out whether a company’s borrowing is profitable (called the debt-to-equity ratio). When calculating operating leverage, a company looks at its fixed costs as compared to variable costs to get a sense of how the costs of borrowing are affecting its profitability.

Leverage Investing

Leverage trading is the use of borrowed money to try and increase profits or returns. A company can use leverage investing by purchasing a new factory, allowing it to expand its ability to create products, and as such, increase profitability. An individual investor can borrow money to buy more stocks, increasing their potential returns.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that leverage trading, or the use of borrowed money to invest, increases overall costs for investors, as they will need to pay interest on the money they borrow, and may be subject to other fees, too.

With that in mind, there are a few ways that leverage can be used in investing, either by individuals, or organizations.

Buying on Margin

Margin is a form of leverage, and trading on margin means that an investor is using money borrowed from their brokerage to execute a trade. In other words, an investor is borrowing money from their trading platform or brokerage — paying an applicable interest rate to do so, which can vary and should be considered as a part of overall trading costs — and making trades with it. It’s similar to using a credit card for investing, in some ways.

Given that margin concerns interest charges and additional costs, using it to trade or invest involves additional risks, particularly for inexperienced investors.

Leveraged ETFs

ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, can also have leverage baked into them. Leveraged ETFs are tradable funds that allow investors to potentially increase their returns by using borrowed money to invest in an underlying index, rather than a single company or stock. Leveraged ETFs utilize derivatives to increase potential returns for investors.

Using Borrowed Money to Invest

While many investors utilize margin, it’s also possible to borrow money from an outside source (not your broker or brokerage) to invest with. This may be appealing to some investors who don’t have high enough account balances to meet the thresholds some brokerages have in place to trade on margin. For example, a platform may require an investor to have a minimum balance of $25,000 in their account before they’ll offer the investor margin trading.

If an investor doesn’t have that much, looking for an outside loan — a personal loan, a home equity loan, etc.— to meet that threshold may be an appealing option.

But, as mentioned when discussing margin, borrowing money to invest can rope in additional risk, and investors will need to consider the additional costs associated with borrowing funds, such as applicable interest rates. So, before doing so, it may be a good idea to consult a financial professional.

Leverage in Personal Finance

The use of leverage also exists in personal finances — not merely in investing. People often leverage their money to make big purchases like cars or homes with auto loans and mortgages.

A mortgage is a fairly simple example of how an individual may use leverage. They’re using their own money for a down payment to buy a home, and then taking out a loan to pay for the rest. The assumption is that the home will accrue value over time, growing their investment.

Leverage in Professional Trading

Professional traders tend to be more aggressive in trying to boost returns, and as such, many consider leverage an incredibly important and potent tool. While the degree to which professional traders use leverage varies from market to market (the stock market versus the foreign exchange market, for example), in general most pro traders are well-versed in leveraging their trades.

This may allow them to significantly increase returns on a given trade. And professionals are given more leeway with margin than the average investor, so they can potentially borrow significantly more than the typical person to trade. Of course, they also have to stomach the risks of doing so, too — because while it may increase returns on a given trade, there is always the possibility that it will not.

Leveraged Products

There are numerous financial products and instruments that investors can use to gain greater exposure to the market, all without increasing their investments, like leveraged ETFs.

Volatility and Leverage Ratio

A leverage ratio measures a company’s debt situation, and gives a snapshot of how much debt a company currently has versus its cash flows. Companies can use leverage to increase their profitability by expanding operations, etc., but it’s a gamble because that profitability may not materialize as planned.

Knowing the leverage ratio helps company leaders understand just how much debt they’ve taken on, and can even help investors understand whether a company is a potentially risky investment given its debt obligations.

The leverage ratio formula is: total debt / total equity.

Volatility is another element in the mix, and it can be added into the equation to figure out just how volatile an investment may be. That’s important, given how leverage can significantly amplify risk.


💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

The Takeaway

Leverage can help investors, buyers, corporations and others do more with less cash on hand in their accounts at a given time. But there are some important considerations to keep in mind when it comes to leverage. In terms of leveraged investing, it has the potential to magnify gains — but also to magnify losses, and increase total costs.

Utilizing leverage and margin as a part of an investing or trading strategy has its pros and cons. But investors should give the risks some serious consideration before getting in over their heads. It may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional accordingly.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What is leverage in simple terms?

In simple terms, the concept of leverage means to do a lot with a little. As it relates to finance or investing, this can mean using a small amount of capital to make large or outsized trades or investments.

What is an example of leverage?

An example of leverage could be a mortgage, or home loan, in which a borrower makes a relatively small down payment and borrows money to purchase a home. They’re making a big financial move with a fraction of the funds necessary to facilitate the transaction, borrowing the remainder.

Why do people want leverage?

Leverage allows investors or traders to make bigger moves or take larger positions in the market with only a relatively small amount of capital. This could lead to larger returns — or larger losses.


Photo credit: iStock/StockRocket

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