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.
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.
The use of borrowed money “levers” or exaggerates the result of price movement. Suppose the stock moves to $200 a share and you sell it. If you had used your own money exclusively, your return would be 100% on your investment [($20,000 -$10,000)/$10,000]. If you had borrowed $5,000 to buy the stock and sold at $200 per share, your return would be 300 % [(20,000-$5,000)/$5,000] after repaying the $5,000 loan and excluding the cost of interest paid to the broker.
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.
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.
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.
Stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. These mutual funds let you purchase small pieces of many different stocks in a single transaction. Index funds and ETFs are a kind of mutual fund that track an index; for example, a Standard & Poor’s 500 fund replicates that index by buying the stock of the companies in it. When you invest in a fund, you also own small pieces of each of those companies. You can put several funds together to build a diversified portfolio. Note that stock mutual funds are also sometimes called equity mutual funds.
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.