The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham ought to be required reading for every private investor. While the innovations he brought to stock analysis have long been outdated and the red flags he used to watch out for in a company's accounts are now regulated against by the SEC, many of his insights about thinking about investment still stand. For example, his description of Mr Market is still an excellent way of understanding how a crowd moves with the daily news.
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).
In most cases, your broker will charge a commission every time that you trade stock, either through buying or selling. Trading fees range from the low end of $2 per trade but can be as high as $10 for some discount brokers. Some brokers charge no trade commissions at all, but they make up for it in other ways. There are no charitable organizations running brokerage services.
Brokers are either full-service or discount. Full-service brokers, as the name implies, give the full range of traditional brokerage services, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare and everything related to money. They usually only deal with higher-net-worth clients, and they can charge substantial fees, including a percent of your transactions, a percent of your assets they manage, and sometimes a yearly membership fee. It's common to see minimum account sizes of $25,000 and up at full-service brokerages. Still, traditional brokers justify their high fees by giving advice detailed to your needs.
One constant principle of investing is that markets fluctuate. Stock prices will rise and fall for a number of reasons: the economy, investor sentiment, political uncertainty at home or abroad, energy or weather problems, or even corporate scandals. This means market performance isn’t always predictable. That is why diversification, or spreading the investments in your portfolio among different asset classes and across different sectors within each class, is such an important strategy. Diversification is a time-tested way to manage risk.
An online brokerage account likely offers your quickest and least expensive path to buying stocks, funds and a variety of other investments. With a broker, you can open an individual retirement account, also known as an IRA — here are our top picks for IRA accounts — or you can open a taxable brokerage account if you’re already saving adequately for retirement elsewhere.