Stocks are shares of ownership in a company. To start investing in stocks, you would find a company that you like and think might grow in value and then purchase its stock through a brokerage account. If the stock price rises, you could sell your shares and potentially make a profit — or not if share prices decline.
Of course, when it comes to investing for beginners, you need to learn some basics to invest in stocks and do it well. Thanks to technology and various educational resources, you can get started using an app or online brokerage account and learn as you go. It has never been easier to build investing confidence as you gain experience. Here is a step-by-step guide for those who want to start investing in stocks now.
How to Start Investing in Stocks: 5 Steps
1. Determine Your Investing Approach
Before you get started investing in stocks, you need to determine your investing approach. Because every person has unique financial goals and risk tolerances, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to begin investing in the stock market.
Most people will need to decide whether they want a hands-on approach to investing or whether they’d like to outsource their wealth building to some sort of financial advisor.
Additionally, investors need to consider their time horizons before investing in stocks. Some investors want to invest long-term — buying and holding assets to build wealth for retirement. In contrast, other investors are more interested in short-term trading, buying and selling stocks daily or weekly to make a quick profit. The type of investor you want to be will help determine what kind of stocks you should buy and your investing approach.
The Different Ways to Invest in the Stock Market
Fortunately, various options are available for every type of investor as they begin to invest in stocks.
As mentioned above, some investors like to have a hands-on approach to investing. These investors want to make decisions on their own, picking what stocks are right for them and building a portfolio from the ground up. This self-managed strategy can be time-consuming but an excellent option for investors who have a general understanding of the markets or would like to learn more about them.
Other investors like to have experts, like a money manager, manage the investing process for them. While this investing approach may cost more than doing it yourself, it can be an ideal choice for individuals who do not have the time or energy to devote to financial decision-making.
2. Decide How Much you Will Invest in Stocks
How much you invest depends entirely on your budget and financial goals. Many financial experts recommend saving between 10% and 15% of your after-tax annual income, either in a savings account or by investing. With that guideline in mind, you may decide to invest with whatever you can comfortably afford.
Fortunately, it’s much easier to invest these days, even if you only have a few bucks at a time. Many brokerage firms offer low or no trading fees or commissions, so you can make stock trades without worrying about investment fees eating into the money you decide to invest.
Additionally, many brokerage firms offer fractional share investing, which allows investors to buy smaller amounts of a stock they like. Instead of purchasing one stock at the value for which the stock is currently trading — which could be $1,000 or more — fractional share investing makes it possible to buy a portion of one stock. Investors can utilize this to use whatever dollar amount they have available to purchase stocks.
For example, if you only have $50 available to invest and want to buy stock XYZ trading at $500 per share, fractional share investing allows you to buy 10% of XYZ for $50.
Asset allocation involves spreading your money across different types of investments, like stock, bonds, and cash, in order to balance risk and reward. Determining a portfolio’s asset allocation can vary from person to person, based on financial goals and risk tolerance.
Asset allocation is closely tied with portfolio diversification. Diversification means spreading one’s money across a range of assets. Generally, it’s like taking the age-old advice of not putting all your eggs in one basket. An investor can’t avoid risk entirely, but diversifying their investments can help mitigate the risk one asset class poses.
3. Open an Investment Account
Once you determine your investing approach and how much money you can invest, you’ll need to open a brokerage account to buy and sell shares of companies or whatever other assets you’d like to invest in.
Several investment accounts might make sense for you, depending on your comfort level in managing your investments and your long-term financial goals.
Professional option: Full-service brokerages
Many investors may use traditional brokerage firms, also known as full-service brokerages, to buy and sell stocks and other securities. A full-service brokerage offers additional services beyond just buying and selling stocks, such as investment advice, wealth management, and estate planning. Typically, full-service brokerages provide these services at high overall costs, while discount and online brokerages maintain scaled-down services with lower overall costs.
A full-service brokerage account may not be the best option for investors just getting started investing in stocks. These firms often require substantial account minimum balances to open an account. This option may be out of reach for most in the early stages of their investing journey.
Do-it-yourself option: Online brokerage
An online brokerage account is ideal for most beginning investors looking to have a hands-on approach to trading stocks and building a financial portfolio. Many online brokers offer services with the convenience of an app, which can make investing more streamlined. If you feel confident or curious about how to start investing at a lower cost than a full-service brokerage firm, opening an account with an online broker could be a great place to start.
Hands-off, automated option: Robo-advisor
If you’re interested in investing but want some help setting up a basic portfolio, opening an investment account with a robo-advisor might be best for you. A robo-advisor uses a sophisticated computer algorithm to help you pick and manage investments. These automated accounts generally don’t offer individual stocks; instead, they build a portfolio with a mix of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Nonetheless, it’s a way to become more familiar with investing.
Retirement option: 401(k) and IRAs
Retirement accounts like employer-sponsored 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are tax-advantaged investment accounts that can be great for the beginning investor trying to build a retirement nest egg. These accounts offer investors a range of investment choices, including individual stocks. You may also have access to tutorials, advisors, or other resources to help you learn how to start investing in these accounts.
💡 Ready to start retirement investing? Consider opening an IRA online.
Tip: Compare Costs and Features
No matter where you decide to open your investment account, be sure to research and compare costs and features within the account. For example, many brokerage accounts charge investment fees and commissions for making trades. Although investment costs can be quite low — and you can trade stocks without paying a commission — any investment fee can add up over time and ultimately reduce your overall investment returns.
Additionally, it helps to check if the investment account requires a minimum deposit to open an account. A minimum deposit can be a barrier to getting started for the beginning investor who doesn’t have much money to invest. However, many firms do not have minimum deposit requirements any longer.
4. Choose Your Stocks
Deciding what individual stocks to invest in can be challenging for most investors. There are countless ways to evaluate stocks before you buy.
Before choosing your stocks, you generally want to do a deep dive into a company’s inner workings to understand the company’s overall valuation and the stock’s share price.
As a beginning investor, you want to get comfortable reading a company’s balance sheet and other financial statements. All publicly-traded companies must file this information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), so you shouldn’t have trouble finding these financials.
One of the most fundamental metrics for understanding a stock’s value compared to company profits is its price-to-earnings (PE) ratio. Others include the price-to-sales (PS) ratio and the price/earnings-to-growth (PEG) ratio, which may be helpful for companies that have little to no profits but are expanding their businesses quickly.
These metrics, and other financial ratios, can help you determine what stocks to buy. And the advantage of owning individual stocks is that you can get direct exposure to a company you believe has the potential to grow based on your research. The downside, of course, is that investing doesn’t come with guarantees, and your stock’s value could decline even with thorough research.
💡 Recommended: 15 Technical Indicators for Stock Trading
5. Continue Building Your Portfolio
After you’ve decided what stocks to invest in, you generally want to continue building a portfolio that will help you meet your financial goals.
One way to bolster your portfolio is by buying mutual funds and ETFs rather than individual stocks. A benefit to investing in funds that hold stocks is that you can avoid some of the risks of being invested in individual stocks that may not perform well.
Whether investing in individual stocks or funds, you may want to consider the level of diversification in your portfolio that feels right for you. There is no consensus about the right way to diversify investments. For one person, ideal diversification could mean owning 20 stocks in different industries. For another, it could mean owning the “whole” market via a handful of mutual funds.
Once you get more comfortable investing in stocks and funds, you can employ numerous other investing strategies. You can add various securities, like bonds, commodities, and crypto, to your portfolio.
Historically, investing in the stock market has been a way for some individuals to build personal wealth. These days, it’s never been easier for new investors considering getting into stocks to start. Whether you choose to work with a financial advisor or use an online broker or app, there are several ways to find a method that makes stock investing easy, fun, and potentially profitable. Of course, there are no guarantees, so it’s wise to take a step-by-step approach, start small if you prefer, do some research using the many resources available, and see what comes as you gain experience and confidence.
Investors can open an online investing account with SoFi Invest® to trade individual stocks, ETFs, or fractional shares with no commissions. Additionally, SoFi’s Automated Investing builds, manages, and rebalances portfolios with no SoFi management fee for those interested in investing in stocks through a more hands-off approach.
How do I invest $100?
You can invest $100 by opening an investing account that does not require a minimum account balance and purchasing shares of a stock or ETF that are less than $100. You can also use your funds to purchase fractional shares of whatever stocks you want to own.
How do I open a brokerage account?
You’ll need to take a few steps to open a brokerage account. First, you’ll need to find a broker that fits your needs. Once you’ve found a broker, you’ll need to complete an application and submit it to the broker. The broker will then review your application and, if approved, will open an account for you.
What is the S&P 500?
The Standard and Poor’s 500, commonly known as the S&P 500, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500 large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ stock exchanges. It is one of the most commonly followed stock market indices in the United States, along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite.
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