If you are literally just getting started, the services offered by most major stockbrokers (information here) as a part of their trading account services will be a good place to start (and free). Firms such as Trade King, eTrade, Charles Schwab and Ameritrade provide a range of online tools. These will give you a feel for how portfolio management software works without having to pay extra to learn. However, these services typically offer no advice (known as execution only), which means that a separate service will be required for information analysis.
As you near retirement, a full-service brokerage firm may make more sense because they can handle the complex "stuff" like managing your wealth in a tax-efficient way, or setting up a trust to pass wealth on to the next generation, and so on. At this point, it may be advantageous to pay 0.50%-1% of your assets in fees each year for advice and access to a certified public accountant who can help you with the nitty-gritty details that are more important as you start making withdrawals (rather than contributions) from your retirement accounts.
While most online brokers do not offer international trading, some do. Nearly every broker supports trading American depositary receipts (ADRs), which offers US investors an easy, simple way to invest in foreign companies. However, if you want to buy physical shares of an international company, then you need to do your research. Interactive Brokers is the leader in this space but is built for professionals. For casual investing, both Fidelity and Charles Schwab offer international stock trading.
In order to be successful at both stock trading and investing, you need to be patient and maintain your composure in every situation. The nature of work is stressful, almost hectic, and you are bound to be losing substantial amounts of money some days. It could be very tempting to try to recuperate your losses by “doubling up” on your gamble, or opening high-risk positions that were not a part of your game plan, but this is precisely what you should be avoiding. That does not mean you shouldn’t dynamically adjust your investment plan to fit the current market conditions—it just means you shouldn’t modify your plans in a rushed or disorganized manner while carrying an emotional burden.
Merrill Edge is the online brokerage arm of Bank of America, which is open to all investors, regardless if they are a current banking customer. Alongside $0 trades, Merrill Edge offers excellent stock research (Merrill Edge was rated #1 for environmental, social, and governance “ESG” research). Also, Merrill Edge offers the best rewards program. Reward perks include credit card bonus cash back, savings interest bonuses, priority customer service, and more. My wife and I have personally been members of the program since it launched in 2014. It’s awesome. Full review.
Most of these services offer some form of free portfolio tracking - this enables you to create a portfolio and track it properly to see how you do with no money on the line. This used to be known as paper trading in the 'good old days' before 2001. This kind of exercise can be a good way to learn and play around with things without being either serious or costly.
Imagine owning stocks in five different companies, each of which you expect to continually grow profits. Unfortunately, circumstances change. At the end of the year, you might have two companies (A & B) that have performed well so their stocks are up 25% each. The stock of two other companies (C & D) in a different industry are up 10% each, while the fifth company’s (E) assets were liquidated to pay off a massive lawsuit.
What would make me sell: Sometimes there are good reasons to split up. For this part of your journal, compose an investing prenup that spells out what would drive you to sell the stock. We’re not talking about stock price movement, especially not short term, but fundamental changes to the business that affect its ability to grow over the long term. Some examples: The company loses a major customer, the CEO’s successor starts taking the business in a different direction, a major viable competitor emerges, or your investing thesis doesn’t pan out after a reasonable period of time.
By understanding your risk tolerance, you can avoid those investments which are likely to make you anxious. Generally speaking, you should never own an asset which keeps you from sleeping in the night. Anxiety stimulates fear which triggers emotional responses (rather than logical responses) to the stressor. During periods of financial uncertainty, the investor who can retain a cool head and follows an analytical decision process invariably comes out ahead.
In that case, it is possible to invest passively in capital markets. This means that a private investor puts aside either a lump sum or an amount each month and the money is invested into a fund. That fund contains the savings of lots of other private investors and is managed by a professional equities investor. The fund will then be invested in an equity market (such as the NYSE) or a sector (such as energy).