We all know someone who has “tried” investing in the stock market, lost a lot of money, and denounced it as a scam. The truth is that the stock market is not a scam; it is an incredible wealth-building tool. Most people who lose money in stocks do so because they get spooked by a dip in the market and then panic. Fearing that they will lose all of their investment, they hastily sell their shares, often at a loss. This should not be the case. Investors must keep in mind that over the long run, the stock market tends to increase in value, so they should think twice before selling their investments in a panic.
The most feared words on any stock exchange are margin call. A margin call is made when a position is losing money and more money is required by the broker to keep the trade open. If and when a stock ticker moves quickly, there can be people whose borrowing levels literally bankrupt them as things get worse ... fast. Volatility can be either a blessing or a curse, but if you have too much leverage, it can break a trader.
Since the underlying businesses operate in differing markets, sectors and countries, their quoted prices move independently as supply and demand in them rises and falls and new information is released to the public about the current business situation. It is the changing of prices that offer investors the opportunity to make a capital gain (or loss) via ownership.
It is also important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest. For example, you might want to purchase a home, fund a child’s college education, or build an adequate retirement nest egg. If you set financial goals at the outset—and match your investments to achieve those goals—you are more likely to reach them.
The OTC Markets Group (POTCQX, OTCQB, OTC Pink): Formerly known as The Pink Sheets, these markets are considered very risky for penny stock investors. Since they have such a low standard to get started, and almost non-existent fees, just about any company can be publicly traded on them. By avoiding penny stocks trading on these markets, you can reduce the vast majority of downside risks of investing in low-priced shares.
It can be helpful to start with paper trading, or simulated trading that allows you to practice without risking actual money. By keeping track of pretend money, and making imaginary trades, you'll learn what tactics work and what sorts of penny stocks provide you with the greatest profits. If you lose on your trades, you don't lose cash in real life, and ideally, you'll learn some things that you might be doing wrong.
The solution to both is investing in stock index funds and ETFs. While mutual funds might require a $1,000 minimum or more, index fund minimums tend to be lower (and ETFs are purchased for a share price that could be lower still). Two brokers, Fidelity and Charles Schwab, offer index funds with no minimum at all. Index funds also cure the diversification issue because they hold many different stocks within a single fund.
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.
The recent market turbulence has reinforced the importance of this approach. The stock market has gone through each of the three possible stages in recent months: market in confirmed uptrend, uptrend under pressure and market in correction. To stay protected throughout these changes, follow the No. 1 rule of investing: Always cut your losses short. While you can't control what the stock market does, this basic rule lets you control how you react.
A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
Many orders placed by investors and traders begin to execute as soon as the markets open in the morning, which contributes to price volatility. A seasoned player may be able to recognize patterns and pick appropriately to make profits. But for newbies, it may be better just to read the market without making any moves for the first 15 to 20 minutes. The middle hours are usually less volatile, and then movement begins to pick up again toward the closing bell. Though the rush hours offer opportunities, it’s safer for beginners to avoid them at first.
You can buy stock directly using a brokerage account or app. Other options exist for those who are employed—either a 401k plan or a 403b plan if you work for a non-profit. Then there's the IRA—be it a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Simple IRA, or SEP-IRA account. You can also set up a direct stock purchase plan or dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). Each type of account has different tax implications.
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.
"Investing has become much easier," says Steve Sanders, executive vice president of marketing and new product development at Greenwich, Connecticut-based Interactive Brokers. "More of your hard-earned money will go straight toward your portfolio and not toward paying fees. I think this will be extremely helpful for beginning investors as well as others who like to save money."
Buy in thirds: Like dollar-cost averaging, “buying in thirds” helps you avoid the morale-crushing experience of bumpy results right out of the gate. Divide the amount you want to invest by three and then, as the name implies, pick three separate points to buy shares. These can be at regular intervals (e.g., monthly or quarterly) or based on performance or company events. For example, you might buy shares before a product is released and put the next third of your money into play if it’s a hit — or divert the remaining money elsewhere if it’s not.