Depending on your goals, investing in individual stocks may be more trouble than it’s worth. Choosing index funds in a specific sector can provide your portfolio with the tilt you want, but with fewer dramatic swings. There are three criteria that can be leveraged to help guide fund choice. The most discussed is “expense ratio,” where lower means fewer fees to you. The second is the number of stocks in the fund. The higher the number, the more diverse the fund. Just as important is “total assets” under management. The more assets, the more other people also agree this is a great fund. When comparing two mutual funds, I’ll line up these three criteria for funds in the same category to make an informed decision.
Financial markets can be intimidating the first time you try to put your money to work, so it helps to have an online broker that understands that and puts in an effort to help. To determine the best broker for beginners, we focused on the features that help new investors learn as they are starting their investing journey. Brokers were selected based on top-notch educational resources, easy navigation, clear commission and pricing structures, and the overall quality of their portfolio construction tools. We also looked for low minimum account balances, as these can be a barrier for new investors with limited capital. Finally, we put an emphasis on the availability of demo accounts so new investors can practice using the platform and placing trades.
Some online brokers on the list above allow clients to open an account with $0 down. Investors should take this opportunity and open few brokerage accounts, and see which one they like the most. This will also allow investors to take advantage of unique and valuable features that some companies provide at no charge. For example, Ally Invest offers lots of great trading tools, low mutual funds commission, and $0 minimum to open an account. If a client decides to invest, the firm has hard-to-beat $0 commission on stocks and ETFs. With TD Ameritrade there is also $0 minimum to open an account, and a client will get an amazing selection of independent, third-party investment research, best trading platform on the market, free Level 2 quotes, and a generous promotion offer. There are no inactivity or maintenance fees to worry about - everything is free.
When investing in the stock market, you have to think long term and avoid the temptation to check your portfolio several times per day. All this will do is waste your time, stress you out, and increase the odds that you will make a big mistake and sell at the wrong time. Plan to set up automatic contributions to your investment so you can buy more investments no matter where you are.
While it doesn’t offer as much for beginner traders and new traders, you could host a family office or business portfolio on TradeStation with no problems. In fact, its tools are so good it sells many of them for a fee to professional investors with accounts at other brokers. With an active account at TradeStation, you get those tools for free. Just beware the minimum $2,000 balance or five trades per year to avoid a $95 annual account fee.
Note that once a broker has identified you as a pattern day trader due to the above activity, your account will likely be considered a pattern day trading account going forward, even if you don’t continue to meet the definition. If you decide to stop day trading, you’ll want to contact your brokerage and ask that they remove the minimum equity requirement from your account.
We hope that this beginner stock market investing guide sets you on a good path towards further research and learning, investment success and profits. It really is possible to be a successful investor if you want to be, but it will take time, effort, dedication and patience. If you can find those within yourself and treat investing as a journey that will take years, you can do it too.
In the professional world, one of the key concepts is diversification. Harry Markowitz is a Nobel prize winning economist and one of his major discoveries was that adding new asset classes can dramatically alter the overall risk profile of a portfolio. His finding was that a portfolio that contained very low risk assets would normally benefit from lower volatility and higher returns if a higher risk asset was added. This is due to the likely lack of correlation between high and low risk asset classes.
Bernard Baruch, known as “The Lone Wolf of Wall Street,” owned his own seat on the New York Stock Exchange by age 30 and became of the country’s best known financiers by 1910. Mr. Baruch, while a master of his profession, had no illusions about the difficulties of successful stock market investing, saying, “The main purpose of the stock market is to make fools of as many men as possible.” According to Ken Little, author of 15 books on investing and personal finance topics, “If you are an individual investor in the stock market, you should know that the system stacks the deck in its favor.”
When you are choosing an online stock broker you have to think about your immediate needs as an investor. Are you a beginner? Maybe you need a broker that has great educational material about the stock market. Do you only have a small amount of money you can put aside to invest? Some online brokers allow for small minimum deposits which can be a great option for those with limited funds. Are you always on the go and in need of a robust mobile platform? Some online brokers have incredible mobile apps delivering nearly all the features that their desktop counterparts do.
Finally, trading platforms may have specific requirements to qualify for their use. For example, day trading platforms may require that traders have at least $25,000 in equity in their accounts and be approved for margin trading, while options platforms may require approval to trade various types of options before being able to use the trading platform.
Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.
What are your financial goals for 10, 15, or 20 or more years down the line, and how do you plan on getting there? What is your level of risk tolerance, and what sort of investment approach will you take (value investing, dividend investing, or some combination of multiple strategies)? As you consciously outline your financial goals and the type of investor you want to be, you can experience success as a disciplined investor in the long run and stay on track with your plans.
Understand the risks associated with the stocks you are investing in. In the company’s 10-K, there is an extensive section that talks about the company’s risks. You also need to understand your own tolerance for risk. If you invest in a stock that is highly volatile and you are not comfortable with market fluctuation, owning the investment will make you anxious and more likely to sell when it does not make sense strategically.

Even when the stock price has performed as expected, there are questions: Should I take a profit now before the price falls? Should I keep my position since the price is likely to go higher? Thoughts like these will flood your mind, especially if you constantly watch the price of a security, eventually building to a point that you will take action. Since emotions are the primary driver of your action, it will probably be wrong.


We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.
7. Don’t concentrate on the money – This may sound counterintuitive, but it makes good sense. Having money at the forefront of your mind could make you do reckless things, like taking tiny profits in fear of losing what you’ve already won, or jumping straight in so you don’t miss a move. Instead, focus on sticking to your strategy and let your strategy focus on making you money.
Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.
Our mission has always been to help people make the most informed decisions about how, when and where to invest. Given recent market volatility, and the changes in the online brokerage industry, we are more committed than ever to providing our readers with unbiased and expert reviews of the top investing platforms for investors of all levels, for every kind of market.
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