C (Fair) - In the trade-off between performance and risk, the stock has a track record which is about average. It is neither significantly better nor significantly worse than most other stocks. With some funds in this category, the total return may be better than average, but this can be misleading since the higher return was achieved with higher than average risk. With other funds, the risk may be lower than average, but the returns are also lower. In short, based on recent history, there is no particular advantage to investing in this fund.
A person who feels negative about the market is called a “bear,” while their positive counterpart is called a “bull.” During market hours, the constant battle between the bulls and the bears is reflected in the constantly changing price of securities. These short-term movements are driven by rumors, speculations, and hopes – emotions – rather than logic and a systematic analysis of the company’s assets, management, and prospects.
While that may sound like outdated advice, in late 2012, an American marketing executive explained how he had turned $20,000 into $2 million during the recession. Chris Camillo explained that Wall Street is quite homogenous and tends to be behind the curve on trends involving females, young people and those on low incomes. Camillo invested in stocks that anyone could have, he just spotted trends before the investment bankers did and was able to make some very sizable profits.
But this isn’t your typical market, and you can’t show up and pick your shares off a shelf the way you select produce at the grocery store. Individual traders are typically represented by brokers — these days, that’s often an online broker. You place your stock trades through the broker, which then deals with the exchange on your behalf. (Need a broker? See our analysis of the best stockbrokers for beginners.)
Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
Nerd tip: If you're tempted to open a brokerage account but need more advice on choosing the right one, see our 2019 roundup of the best brokers for stock investors. It compares today's top online brokerages across all the metrics that matter most to investors: fees, investment selection, minimum balances to open and investor tools and resources. Read: Best online brokers for stock investors »
Finally, the other factor: risk tolerance. The stock market goes up and down, and if you’re prone to panicking when it does the latter, you’re better off investing slightly more conservatively, with a lighter allocation to stocks. Not sure? We have a risk tolerance quiz — and more information about how to make this decision — in our article about what to invest in.
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.
But building a diversified portfolio of individual stocks takes a lot of time, patience and research. The alternative is a mutual fund, the aforementioned ETF or an index fund. These hold a basket of investments, so you’re automatically diversified. An S&P 500 ETF, for example, would aim to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 by investing in the 500 companies in that index.
A broker – Your broker will be your gatekeeper to the market. They will facilitate your trades in return for a commission on your trades. When you’re making so many trades each day, an expensive broker could seriously cut into your profits in the long term. Do your homework and find a broker that’s reliable and offers a straightforward, competitive fee structure. To compare platforms, visit our brokers page.
Dollar-cost average: This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Dollar-cost averaging means investing a set amount of money at regular intervals, such as once per week or month. That set amount buys more shares when the stock price goes down and fewer shares when it rises, but overall, it evens out the average price you pay. Some online brokerage firms let investors set up an automated investing schedule.