Another important thing to consider is the distinction between investing and trading. When people talk about investing they generally mean the purchasing of assets to be held for a long period of time. These types of investments are usually made to reach a retirement goal or to put your money into assets that may grow faster than it would in a standard savings account accruing interest. Trading, on the other hand, most commonly involves the buying and selling of assets in short periods. Trading is generally considered riskier than investing.
Stock brokers are people or firms licensed to buy and sell stocks and other securities via the stock market exchanges. Back in the day, the only way for individuals to invest directly in stocks was to hire stock brokers to place trades on their behalf. But what was once a clunky, costly transaction conducted via landline telephones now takes place online in seconds, for a fraction of what full-service brokers used to charge for the service. Today, most investors place their trades through an online brokerage account. (A little lost? Check out our explainers on brokerage accounts and buying stocks.)
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When it comes to investing for long-term growth and putting your money to work, it is immensely important to understand your goals and the investment philosophy you will adhere to. It can be easy to lose sight of your targets amidst the noise on social media or news outlets surrounding the latest and greatest investment trends, but if you define your goals and investment strategy, you can stay on track.
Traders use a variety of different trading platforms depending on their trading style and volume. If you're still new to trading, Investopedia's Trading for Beginners Course provides an in-depth introduction to active trading. You'll learn market terminology, techniques for identifying trends, and even build your own trading system in over five hours of on-demand video, exercises, and interactive content.
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.
Normally a broker will offer their customers a branded trading platform that’s more or less unique to that individual broker, but there are also independent platforms that can connect to multiple brokers. An independent platform can be a good choice for the experienced trader, while using a broker’s own platform is the easiest way to get started for beginners.
This brokerage is not good for passive investors with few trades per year or a large balance. The account requires a hefty $100,000 minimum balance or $10 in commissions per month to avoid an activity fee. The activity fee is the difference between your trading commissions and $10 per month to total a $10 minimum monthly charge. The account charges a higher $20 minimum if you don’t keep at least $2,000 in equities in the account.
Let’s take a look at an example – if you want to sell 50 shares of Tesla, good market makers will buy your shares, regardless of whether they have a seller lined up yet. However, they may buy those Tesla shares for $300 each (the ask price), while offering to sell them to another trader for $300.05 (the bid price). That $0.05 is where your online broker is making their money.
If there are any lessons to be learned from the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, the 2008 stock market crash (information here) and Wall Street bailout that followed - and there are lots of lessons - it is that borrowed money can be very dangerous in investments, even when it is being handled professionally. The failure of LTCM, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock and many others shows just how precarious a business model can be with too much gearing.
In contrast, professional fund managers (information here) do not want tips. They have dozens of good ideas of their own. They won't be sharing those ideas with you and they will not be expecting you to share yours. Instead, they ask about how you allocate money. "Which sectors and markets do you like and why?" The difference between these approaches is like night and day.
However, it might be best to not become too much of a market "expert". Some of the most famous and successful investors of all time, such as Peter Lynch, the famed manager of the huge Fidelity Magellan fund. He suggested that looking for clues in normal life is a great way to find opportunities. Lynch used to closely follow the shopping habits of his wife to see what brands people were buying. He believed that most people working professionally on the NYSE lived in a bubble.
How user-friendly is their platform? – The trading platform provided by the broker needs to work for you. Most brokers offer several to choose from, some will tick the boxes for the average day trader, others will offer more advanced platforms for the veteran trader. Likewise, does it suit your hardware – is the platform compatible on Mac, PC, Linux, or whatever you use?