How To Start Investing in Stocks in 2024

Table of Contents

Account Type Description Tax Implications Key Features
Brokerage Accounts Standard accounts for buying and selling a wide range of investments; can be individual or joint (shared). The basic type is a cash account: you buy securities using only the money in your account. There are also margin accounts for experienced investors who borrow to buy additional stock. No tax advantages; capital gains and dividends are taxable. Full control over investments, flexible funding, and withdrawal options.
Managed Accounts Accounts managed by professional advisors on your behalf. No tax advantages; capital gains and dividends are taxable. Professional management, personalized investment strategies, typically higher fees.
Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) Accounts Accounts that automatically reinvest dividends into additional shares of the stock. Dividends are taxable when received. Automatic reinvestment, compounding growth, usually no transaction fees.
Retirement Accounts Accounts for long-term retirement savings with tax advantages. Depends on the account type; generally tax-deferred or tax-free growth. Contribution limits, potential employer matching, penalties for early withdrawal.
401(k), 403(b), 457 Plans Employer-sponsored retirement accounts. Take advantage of any matching funds if offered. Contributions reduce taxable income; tax-deferred growth. Potential employer matching (401[k] and 403[b]); no early withdrawal penalties for 457 plans; contribution limits.
Traditional IRAs Individual retirement accounts with tax-deductible contributions. Contributions reduce taxable income; tax-deferred growth. Annual contribution limits; penalties for early withdrawal before age 59.5.
Roth IRAs Individual retirement accounts are funded with after-tax dollars. Tax-free growth; tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Annual contribution limits; no required minimum distributions; penalties for early withdrawal of earnings.
Roth 401(k) Plans Employer-sponsored retirement accounts with after-tax contributions. Tax-free growth; tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Potential employer matching; contribution limits; penalties for early withdrawal before age 59.5.
Education Savings Accounts (529 Plans) Accounts to save for education expenses. Contributions are not federally tax-deductible; tax-free growth. Used for education expenses; states tax benefits in some cases; no federal contribution limits.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) Accounts for medical expenses with triple tax advantages: tax-deductible contributions, tax-free growth, and tax-free withdrawals for qualified expenses. Contributions reduce taxable income; tax-free growth and withdrawals. High-deductible health plan required; contribution limits; funds roll over year to year.

3. Evaluate your investment goals: Match your investment account type with your goals. For long-term retirement savings, consider tax-advantaged accounts. For short-term goals or flexible investing, a standard brokerage account might be better.

4. Scrutinize account fees, commissions, and minimums:

  • Trading commissions: These are fees brokers charge when you buy or sell securities. Many brokers now offer commission-free trades for particular investments, such as stocks and ETFs.
  • Account maintenance fees: Some brokerage accounts may charge annual or monthly maintenance fees, which depend on the account type and balance.
  • Inactivity fees: Brokers may charge fees if your account has little or no trading activity over a certain period.
  • Subscription-based models: As Generation Zers and Millennials take up a larger share of the investment space, financial advisors, planners, and brokers are adjusting. Instead of paying per transaction or for specific services, you pay a flat monthly or annual fee. Your subscription may include commission-free trades, access to research tools, and other premium support.
  • Account minimums: Momentous changes in recent years have resulted from immense competition among brokerages. Many online brokers have eliminated account minimums, making it easier for more investors to get started. If you have just a few dollars to invest, you can open a brokerage account and begin trading stocks.

5. Check for added features: Some accounts offer additional features such as automatic contributions, access to financial advisors, educational resources, and more. Select an account that provides the features that fit your preferences.

  • Research and analysis: Choose a broker with robust research tools, market analysis, and educational resources to help you make informed decisions.
  • User-friendly trading platform: It shouldn’t be glitchy or too difficult for you to use. It’s best if it has real-time quotes, sophisticated charting tools, and mobile access.
  • Customer service: Look for brokers that offer several customer support options, including phone, email, live chat, and in-person support if needed.
  • Reputation and security: Avoid any platform that is not regulated by authorities like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Also, check that the broker employs strong security measures, such as encryption and two-factor authentication, to protect your personal and financial information.

6. Pick your broker: Brokers are full-service, discount, or robo-advisory. A good broker will offer the tools, resources, and support you need to make informed investment decisions and manage your portfolio effectively.

  • Full-service brokers: These pack an array of financial services into one offering, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare, and educational products. They might craft financial plans to help you save for college, prepare for retirement, navigate estate transitions, and tackle other major life events. This personalized service explains their typically higher fees—usually a percentage of your transaction values and assets under management. Some firms bill a yearly membership fee. To access these services, you’ll typically need to invest at least $25,000, and they have traditionally catered to high-net-worth individuals.
  • Discount brokers: These have much lower, if any, thresholds for access but have a typically more streamlined service that allows you to place individual trades (often for low or no commissions per trade). Most have educational materials on their sites and mobile apps. However, they may have other requirements and fees. Be sure to check on both and review our Best Online Brokers for Beginners of 2024.
  • Robo-advisors: For an automated solution, robo-advisors save money and take little effort on your part. If you select one, you won’t be alone. According to Charles Schwab, 58% of Americans say they will use some sort of robo-advisor by 2025. They tend to offer fewer trading options and lack the personal approach to financial planning that’s often best for long-term investing. Want to know more? See our Best Robo-Advisors of 2024.

Step 6: Fund Your Stock Account

By this step, you’ve picked a broker that aligns with your investment goals and preferences or is simply the most convenient. You’ve also decided whether you’re opening a cash account, which requires you to pay for investments in full, or a margin account, which lets you borrow when purchasing securities.

Once you’ve chosen a brokerage and account type, you’ll open your account. This involves providing your personal information: Social Security number, address, employment details, and financial data. This shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes.

Now you’ll have to fund it. Here are tips for doing so:

Tips for Funding Your Stock Account

1. Choose how you’ll fund it:

  • Bank transfer: The most common method is to transfer funds directly from your bank account. This can be done via electronic funds transfer or wire transfer.
  • Check deposit: Some brokers allow you to mail a check to fund your account. This method can take longer but is viable if you prefer not to use electronic transfers.
  • Transfer from another brokerage: If you have an existing brokerage account, you can transfer assets directly to your new account. This process, known as an ACATS transfer, is usually straightforward but may take a few days to complete.

2. Set up automatic contributions: Dollar-cost averaging involves investing a fixed amount of money at regular intervals over time, no matter what the market does. This cuts your risk of making bad decisions based on short-term market news. Most brokers let you customize the frequency and amount of your automatic contributions, making it easier to stay within your budget and keep on track with your investment goals.

3. Start investing: Once you’ve verified the funds are in your account (don’t worry: the brokerage won’t let you trade otherwise), it’s time to start choosing the stocks that best fit your investment goals.

If you plan to trade frequently, check out our list of brokers for cost-conscious traders.

Step 7: Pick Your Stocks

Even experienced investors grapple with choosing the best stocks. Beginners should look for stability, a strong track record, and the potential for steady growth. Resist the temptation to gamble on risky stocks, hoping for a quick windfall. Long-term investing is mostly slow and steady, not fast and rash.

Here are the types of stocks more likely to be solid bets when starting off:

  • Blue chips: These are shares of large, well-established, and financially sound companies with a history of reliable performance. Examples include companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. They are typically industry leaders and offer stability during market fluctuations.
  • Dividend stocks: Companies that regularly pay dividends can be a good choice for beginners. Dividends give you a regular income, which can be reinvested to buy even more stock. See How to Buy Dividend Stocks to learn more.
  • Growth stocks: The greater the chances for outsized growth in a stock, the riskier investing in it will be. Beginners interested in growth stocks should target industries with long-term potential, such as technology or healthcare.
  • Defensive stocks: These are in industries that tend to do well even during economic downturns, such as utilities, healthcare, and consumer goods. They will give you a buffer against market volatility as you start.
  • ETFs: Traded like stocks, these track market indexes like the S&P 500, and offer instant diversification, reducing the risk associated with individual stocks. As you gain experience, you can look at funds for sectors that pique your interest, themes that meet your investment goals, or funds pooling environmental, social, and governance stocks.

It’s prudent to begin with a conservative approach, focusing on stocks or funds that offer stability and a good track record. This will give you confidence and returns to trade with as you advance in your investing knowledge.

Step 8. Learn, Monitor, Review

Successful investors discover tips and strategies each passing day. As the stock market changes, staying up to date, going back to Step 1, reviewing your goals, etc., will be key. Here are tips on learning about, monitoring, and reviewing your accounts with an eye toward your goals and risk tolerance.

Tips for Learning and Monitoring Your Stocks

  1. Read widely and regularly: Read reputable financial news sites. Keep informed about the global economy, industry trends, and the companies you are invested in. Avoid sites and books promising easy returns or tricks, not tips, likely to redound to their benefit when you buy their courses or apps. Books on investment strategies, stock market fundamentals, and diversification are essential.
  2. Use stock simulators: These are platforms that enable you to practice trading stocks risk-free using virtual money. They are excellent for applying investment theories and testing strategies without risk. Investopedia‘s simulator is entirely free to use.
  3. Learn about diversification: Having taken your beginning steps here, you’ll next want to spread your investments across diverse asset classes to cut down on risk and improve your potential for returns. When you’re ready, we can help you learn how to diversify your portfolio beyond stocks.

You now need to monitor your stocks and other investments. Regular reviewing and staying informed will help you adjust when necessary to keep on track with your financial goals.

Best Stocks for Beginners

Picking the right stocks can overwhelm those starting to navigate the investing world—you’re starting with a blank slate, and the options are endless. Here are ideas that aren’t only the best for beginners but are many times the choice of the experts managing their own portfolios:

Index funds: These are not technically stocks but funds that trade shares like them. They are passively managed funds that track the performance of a particular market index, like the S&P 500, a collection of 500 major publicly traded American companies.

These might not come with the excitement of picking a stock and seeing it take off, but index funds take what would be impractical or too expensive for a beginner and let you invest in a whole pool of them. And they do well: According to the S&P Indices Versus Active score cards, a widely respected benchmark, about 90% of actively managed funds didn’t match the returns of the S&P 500 over 10 and 15-year periods. This is simple but winning information: the most effortless route might be the most profitable.

Blue chip stocks: Classic investing advice has been to buy shares of well-established, stable companies with a history of consistent growth and dividend payments. The blue chips—named for the traditional color of the highest-value poker chips—have strong brand recognition, a solid market position, and a track record of weathering economic downturns. Investing in them can provide you with stability and the potential for steady, long-term returns.

Examples include Apple (AAPL), known for its ubiquitous technology products and loyal customer base; JP Morgan & Chase Co (JPM), the banking giant; Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), a healthcare giant that also owns manufacturers of many consumer goods; and Coca-Cola (KO), the soft drink maker that has distributed dividends each year since 1893.

Dividend aristocrats: Coca-Cola is not just a blue-chip stock but also belongs to a select group that has distributed and increased their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. By investing in dividend aristocrats, beginners can benefit from the potential for rising income and the chance to reinvest the dividends for compound growth.

Examples include ExxonMobil (XOM), one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies with a history of solid cash generation; Procter & Gamble Co. (PG), the consumer products multinational; and Walmart (WMT), the retail behemoth.

Low-volatility stocks: These companies’ shares have historically had fewer price swings, providing more solidity to portfolios and, not for nothing, calm for investor heart rates. They often belong to “defensive sectors” (recession-proof parts of the economy) such as utilities, consumer staples, and healthcare.

Examples include companies we’ve mentioned already (Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, etc.), as well as Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), Brystol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY), Duke Energy (DUK), and the Hershey Company (HSY), whose stability even during financial storms shows that the love of chocolate doesn’t go away when the economy hits some bumps.

Quality factor ETFs: These invest in companies with solid balance sheets, consistent growth in earnings, and other measures of good financial health. Quality factor ETFs take a rules-based approach to selecting stocks with low debt levels, stable earnings, and high returns.

Example funds include the iShares MSCI USA Quality Factor ETF, which holds large- and midcap U.S. stocks with solid quality characteristics, and the Invesco S&P 500 Quality ETF, which focuses on high-quality stocks within the S&P 500 index.

The potential drawback for each of these investments is that you might not see the outsized growth that riskier stocks could provide. In addition, past performance does not determine future results. If you have limited funds, this could be unappealing: more modest returns won’t seem to add much when you don’t have much to begin with.

However, reinvested dividends and compound growth add up. Investing is not gambling, and the reason to invest rather than go to a casino is that prudent, patient, and disciplined investing is how most investors get ahead.

How Much Money Do I Need To Start Investing in Stocks?

The amount needed depends on the brokerage firm and the investments you’re interested in. Some online brokerages have no minimum deposit requirements, allowing you to start investing with a small amount of money. However, the price of individual stocks and the minimum investment for certain mutual funds or ETFs might require you to start with more of an initial investment. That said, there are many brokerages and investment options now for those starting with less to invest than there were a decade or two ago.

Are Stock Funds Good for Beginner Investors?

Stock funds, including mutual funds and ETFs that invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, are a good option for beginner investors. They offer diversification, which helps spread risk across different stocks, and are managed by professional fund managers. In addition, stock funds allow beginners to invest in a broad range of stocks with a single investment, making it easier to get started without having to pick individual stocks. While you watch your mutual fund or ETF investment over time, you will also gain experience about the ebb and flow of the stocks these funds hold, good knowledge that will help you when investing later.

What Are the Risks of Investing?

Investing is a commitment of resources now toward a future financial goal. There are many levels of risk, with certain asset classes and investment products inherently much riskier than others. It is always possible that the value of your investment will not increase over time. For this reason, a key consideration for investors is how to manage their risk to achieve their financial goals, whether short- or long-term.

Do I Have To Live in the U.S. To Open a Brokerage Account?

To open a brokerage account, you don’t have to live in the U.S. Many U.S. brokerage firms accept international clients. However, the application process and requirements will differ, including the need for additional documentation, such as proof of identity and residence. There are also some investments and services regulations curtailed for those who aren’t U.S. citizens, but the experience is very similar. Most major online brokerages in the U.S. accept international clients.

How Do Commissions and Fees Work?

Most brokers charge customers a commission for every trade. Due to commission costs, investors generally find it prudent to limit the total number of trades they make to avoid spending extra money on fees. Certain other types of investments, such as exchange-traded funds, may carry additional fees to cover fund management costs.

The Bottom Line

Beginners can start investing in stocks with a relatively small amount of money. You’ll have to do your homework to determine your investment goals, risk tolerance, and the costs of investing in stocks and mutual funds. You’ll also need to research brokers and their fees to find the one that best fits your investment style and goals. Once you do, you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage of the potential stocks have to reward you financially in the coming years.

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