Investing in the stock market can come across as a daunting task for some people.
When the term “stock market” is mentioned, the image of confusing graphs, numbers, charts and a bunch of greedy wall street professionals yelling in a chaotic room full of computer screens and monitors may come to your mind.
I think we can all agree that this description paints an intimidating picture for most. Thankfully, the reality is that investing in the stock market is actually very simple.
So, if you’re looking to learn the basics of how to invest in the stock market, you’ve come to the right place.
Consider this your ultimate handbook to understanding and getting started with investing in the stock market. This step by step guide to investing will take you from beginner to expert in no time.
First things first…
Before we discuss the process of investing in stock, a brief understanding of how the stock market works merit’s a quick discussion.
The following is a quick breakdown of what the stock market is, how it works, and why it’s important to invest. We’ll then go on to detail the process of investing along with different investment types, and great starting points to make your first stock purchase.
Stock Market Basics
Let’s imagine you and your best friend decide to open a local electronic store called ABC Electronics.
Each of you have 50% ownership in the business to which you each receive 50% of the net income from the business.
Right now, your company is worth $100,000 and is growing at a rapid rate.
As your company grows, so does the work load, and you and your partner agree to hire another part owner to help run the show.
To become part owner, the new partner will need to buy his share of the company ownership at a price of $33,333.33… $100,000 / 3 owners = $33,333.33.
The company value is still $100,000, but now has three equal owners rather than two.
A year later, upon evaluating your company growth, you realize that your company is now worth $150,000, increasing each partners equity or ownership in the company to $50,000 each.
The new partner is thrilled with his original investment of $33,333.33, because it’s now worth $50,000 due to the growth of the company.
This is exactly how the stock market works, but on a much…much…larger scale.
The concept is the exact same but multiplied by millions of investors. The third partner who bought 33% of the company represents the investor, and the business represents the stock or company you invest in.
Stock Market Exchanges
A stock market exchange is a central location where publicly traded stock companies list their stocks for trade at their respective prices.
Think of it like Amazon and Walmart.
Both are large retailers where you can go to purchase retail goods. Each is a central location where people can find products for sale. Similarly, this is what a stock market exchange is.
There are 3 major stock market exchanges where stock companies list their stock shares to be traded. The three major market exchanges are:
- NASDAQ – National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System
- NYSE – New York Stock Exchange
- AMEX – American Stock Exchange
Before a company is listed on a stock market exchange, the company is considered a “private company”. Meaning that the general public cannot buy and sell shares of the company, only private investors can.
In the above example, the ABC Electronics company would be considered a private investment until the company is big enough to list shares of ownership to the general public on a major stock exchange.
Why invest in the stock market?
Referring to our original example again of ABC Electronics, what benefit is there in having ownership in the company? The third partner who bought a third ownership in the company was able to turn his investment of $33,333 into $50,000.
The primary reason to invest in the stock market is to grow one’s wealth and help promote and sustain the economy.
How and Where to Invest in The Stock Market
Now that we got the “milk & honey” of the stock market out of the way, it’s time for the “meat” of the stock market.
Among the many questions you may have about investing is, “how do I invest in the stock market?” and “where do I start?”…Here is a simple 4 step process to start investing in the stock market.
Don’t worry, we’ll detail the rest further down, but first, here’s where to start:
- Open a brokerage account
- Fund your brokerage account
- Choose your stock investment
- Submit your purchase order transaction
Not so bad, right? Beginning the process to investing in the stock market is as simple as going to a bank to open your first checking account.
Only this time, you’re opening an investing account.
1. Open up a brokerage account
A brokerage account is an investment account where you have the ability to submit buy and sell orders for buying and selling stock. Brokerage refers a company (a financial institution) that buys or sells stuff (stock shares) for customers.
The process here is essentially the same as to opening a checking account.
You will need identification, your personal contact info, your social security number and usually a small opening deposit.
2. Fund your brokerage account
Most brokerage accounts these days are done electronically, so making a deposit in most cases isn’t the same as going to the bank to have a teller deposit your check— although some companies, like Fidelity, operate this way.
In most cases, you will make your first deposit by transferring money from your local bank checking account to your newly opened investment account. This can be done in one of two ways:
- Submit the transfer with your regular bank checking account, usually done through online banking. This requires you to input your investment account info to your bank so they can send the money to your investment account.
- Process the transfer with your new investment account, by requesting a withdrawal from your bank account. Your investment bank will withdrawal the desired amount, just like a store would when you make a purchase. This requires your bank account information to be submitted to your investment account, again usually through online banking.
3. Choose your stock investment
There are many different types of stock investments you can choose from, and not just talking about companies to invest in.
Aside from the fact that there are hundreds of millions of companies to choose from to invest in, there are also investment options that come in “pools” of companies, allowing you to invest in a basket of hundreds of companies at once.
Among your investment options to choose from are:
- Individual stock shares
- Mutual funds
- Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)
We will discuss the differences of these investment options in greater detail below. But for now, step 3 of getting started investing in the market will take place once your bank transfer has been completed to your new investment account.
After reviewing the different types of investments below, it’s time to choose your starting point to invest your money.
4. Submit your purchase order transaction
Once you have chosen your investment of choice, it’s time to make your first purchase.
Similar to online banking, your investment account will give you a login allowing you to view your cash balance online.
You will have options to search among different investments, companies and funds so you can perform research on your purchases.
When you are ready to make a trade, you simply submit a trade electronically of how much of said stock you want to purchase. Once submitted, your purchase will be processed, and you will have taken your first step to building a profitable investment portfolio.
Different investment vehicles to invest in the stock market
Back to the different types of stock investments you have available to you.
As previously mentioned in step three of “how and where to invest in the stock market” section, you have the option to purchase individual stock shares of individual companies, or you can purchase a basket of companies through either a mutual fund or an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund).
Why would anyone want to invest in a basket of a bunch of companies rather than an individual company alone?
By investing in just one company, you expose yourself to the risk that if that company fails you could lose all your money. But if you invest in a large group of companies and one of those companies fail, the other companies may offset the poor performance of the underperforming ones.
This is called “diversification” among stocks.
Within your brokerage account you will have the following options for investments:
- Individual stocks
- Mutual funds
Investing in individual stocks is when you purchase a share of stock from just one company. If you wanted to invest in Amazon or Apple, you could invest in either of them by purchasing shares of their company at the current market price.
Keep in mind that in most cases, investing in individual stocks should be reserved for those that have extensive experience investing in the stock market.
It is, in most cases, best to start out investing in a pool of funds via an ETF or a Mutual Fund (discussed next) when you are just starting out, as this will lower your risk of loss.
A mutual fund is a pool of funds that has a specific investment objective. Among mutual fund objectives are growth funds, income funds, value funds and many others.
Long story short, each fund objective will determine the underlying stocks of the fund. Objectives can be as specific as investing in the technology industry or clean energy industry for example.
Mutual funds are divided up into two different categories; actively managed funds and passively managed funds.
An actively managed mutual fund is one that has a dedicated team actively managing (thus the name) the portfolio and making adjustments as companies over or underperform expectations.
A passively managed fund is one that essentially mimics the investments of another fund or market index. Passively managed funds do not require the full-time attention from a management team because the fund simply matches the transactions of another fund or index.
Actively managed mutual funds are managed full time by investment professionals who are seeking to achieve the best portfolio performance with respect to the fund objective.
Actively managed funds usually have higher fees to pay for the added expertise and management, while passively managed funds are cheaper in overall costs.
When starting out, the difference in costs are fractions of a percent, and in most cases don’t mean much to beginning investors unless they start investing large amounts of money.
A mutual fund doesn’t have any transaction commissions like you see when purchasing shares of individual stock. Mutual funds have management fees instead of a transaction commission.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)
An exchange traded fund is simply a pool of companies piled into one “share” and traded like a stock. I know what you’re asking, how is an ETF different than a mutual fund? Great question.
Here are the differences:
- A mutual fund is either actively managed by a professional or passively managed by following the investments of another fund or index. An ETF has no fund manager and is just a basket of companies piled together and traded like a share stock, rather than purchased as ownership in a fund.
- Mutual funds don’t have transaction fees but have management fees instead. ETF’s have a commission on the buy or the sell of the share, just like an individual stock. To further explain, a mutual fund is like an investment company saying, “pay us to manage and grow this portfolio for you”, and an ETF is like an investment company saying, “pay us to process this transaction for you.”
- Because of the nature of an ETF, there are no fund managers to be paid, and are simply a basket of companies traded together like a share of stock. This makes the fund have much lower fees overall than a mutual fund has on the back end, referred to as expense ratios. A mutual fund might have an expense ratio of 0.7%, and an ETF might have an expense ratio of 0.07%, or ten times less than that of a mutual fund.
- Mutual funds are used for longer term investments, and ETF’s are used more often by those wanting to buy and sell more frequently.
Exchange traded are great investment options for those wanting to trade more frequently, and those looking for diversification with relatively lower fees overall.
Different types of stock investment accounts
When starting out investing, most often your first investment account will be a brokerage account as briefly described previously.
There are, however, other account types one can choose from that each have different benefits to using.
Just like your bank offers you options to open a checking account, savings account or CD savings account, you also have multiple options for investment accounts. The most common investment account options available are:
- Brokerage accounts
Since we already discussed how a brokerage account works, we won’t be redundant here and just give a quick summary of the brokerage account, and more details with the other account options.
These are generic investing accounts that are used by individuals and businesses to buy and sell stock investments.
They don’t have any contribution restrictions (as you will see the other options do) and are used for personal and business savings and investing purposes.
Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA)
IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account and are investment accounts that are used to save for retirement.
An IRA has the ability to buy and sell stock investments just like a brokerage account.
There are two types of IRA accounts; Traditional IRA’s and Roth IRA’s.
Traditional IRA’s are accounts that allow contributions to be made while deferring taxes until retirement.
Roth IRA’s are accounts that allow contributions to be made and will grow tax free and be withdrawn tax free in retirement.
Both Traditional and Roth IRA’s have different tax benefits, as well as penalties for early withdrawals since the funds are set aside for retirement.
401k Investment Accounts
A 401k is an employer sponsored retirement account. It functions much like a Traditional or Roth IRA in terms of before tax contributions and after-tax contributions.
These accounts are available through your employer and are transferrable to an IRA upon changing employment.
Investment options in a 401k are like a brokerage account or IRA account. However, most often you are limited in the funds you can choose from. Most 401k’s don’t offer the ability to purchase individual stocks, and only offer options to purchase mutual funds with different investment objectives.
Trusted Investing Apps & Brokerage Accounts
By now you’re nearly an expert in investing and should be well prepped to start growing your wealth.
Now that we’ve discussed all the major pieces of the stock market and how to begin investing, it’s worth noting a few great starting points to choose where to open an investment account.
Robinhood is a modern investment company that uses modern technology to make investing easy and cost effective. Through their user-friendly app, you can buy and sell individual stocks, ETF’s, options (another investment vehicle not discussed here), and cryptocurrencies all for free.
Acorns is another modern investment company with a unique twist to saving and investing. By linking your bank account to your Acorns investment account, Acorns will “Round Up” all your daily purchases to the next dollar and invest the spare change in your investment account for you. You also have the ability to open an IRA, known as an “Acorns Later” account and begin saving for retirement.
WiseBanyan is an investment app that focuses on helping people build diversified investment portfolios for free. They use technology to do everything from trading, advising, rebalancing portfolios, etc. rather than paying an advisor to do it.
They take the saved money in fees and “pass on the savings to you”. Their investment options are a range of ETF’s for different risk tolerances based on your investment goals.
With M1 Finance, you can pick a set of all your favorite stock investment companies and build your own “Pie” or portfolio of investments. Then, when you transfer money to invest, the money is diversified among your chosen companies allocated with the chosen percentages to each company. You can create as many “Pies” as you want, and investing is free of cost.
Stash is a similar investment app that allows you to invest in both ETF’s, as well as investing in different market sectors and ideas. If you want to invest in clean energy or in education, you can do so by selecting their respective portfolios available. Stash also has an option to begin saving for retirement as well.
Betterment is a modern “robo-advisor” that uses technology to suggest to you an appropriate portfolio mix for you to invest in. Upon account opening, they will ask you a few basic questions to determine your investment objectives and then suggest a portfolio for you to invest in. They as well use technology to lower fees and pass on the savings to your account.
Vanguard is perhaps one of the most well recognized investment banks of today. They are more of a traditional investment bank that provide you options to open a self-directed investment account, with the option to invest in mutual funds, ETF’s, individual stocks, etc. You can also open an IRA to begin investing for retirement. Vanguard also has a lineup of mutual funds managed by the company as well, and often have commission free options for investing in their funds.
Like Vanguard, Charles Schwab is an investment company that has been around for years and has one of the most reputable names in the industry. Their platform offers all the investing basics from individual brokerage accounts, IRA’s and other investing accounts like educational savings accounts (not discussed in detail here). Investment options range from individual stocks, ETF’s, mutual funds, and even more complex investments like options, futures contracts and derivatives (which aren’t discussed here and are used mainly by experienced investors).
The time to start is now…
The number one thing we all have on our side when it comes to investing, is time.
The more time you have the better potential you have to grow your wealth. Compound interest is often referred to as the 8thwonder of the world, and for good reason.
By investing your money for the long term, chances of retiring happy and building massive wealth are sure to happen. When is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago! When’s the next best time? Today.