Investing for the first time can be downright intimidating.
It can bring up a whole host of nerve racking questions: Is it too risky? Is now the right time to invest?
But allowing fear to stop you from investing can be a big mistake.
In fact, the sooner you begin investing, the better off your financial future will be. Why? By investing early, you give your money time to grow.
After all, it’s not about timing the market to get rich quick, but rather your time in the market and allowing your investments to compound. And while there’s always going to be some risk involved, investing wisely helps reduce those risks significantly.
Here’s how you can get started investing.
Figure out your game plan
Before making your first investment: “it’s important to assess what your goals are,” said Trina Patel, a financial advice manager at financial service Albert.
Ask yourself what you’re looking to achieve by investing, how much risk you’re willing to take on and when you’ll need the money.
Remember that different goals will warrant different strategies and time horizons. For example, if your goal is to save enough for a down payment on a home, that will likely require much less time than if you were saving for retirement.
Learning basic investing terms can also help you make the best decisions for your goals.
No such thing as a small investment
Many people assume that a lot of money is required to begin investing. But that isn’t the case.
In fact, you can begin investing with as little as $5 or as much as $50,000.
Just be sure to take into consideration your investment goals and when you’re looking to reach them.
It’s also important to note that budgeting still matters. So make sure you still have enough money set aside for the essentials.
“To start investing well, you need to take care of the prerequisites,” said Corbin Blackwell, a certified financial planner at Betterment, a financial advisory company that offers cash management and retirement advice.
Stick to a budget that allows you to take care of your expenses and pay down any high-interest debt. You should also set aside cash for an emergency fund. Emergency funds can help in the event of a financial emergency or serve as a cushion in case your investments take a dip.
How to get started
Saving for retirement is a common investment goal, and certain accounts — like 401(k)s and IRAs — are set up specifically for that purpose. Often the holder will pay some sort of penalty if they withdraw funds too early or for a reason other than retirement.
Luckily, if you’re offered a 401(k) at work, it’s pretty easy to get started. The accounts are typically funded through payroll deductions and may include a contribution match by your employer.
But suppose you don’t have a 401(k). You can open an individual retirement account, such as a Roth or traditional IRA. Just be sure to compare the two, as they vary in tax benefits, contribution limits and income requirements. Many banks offer IRA or Roth IRA accounts. SoFi, Ally Invest and Schwab are some examples of places you can open a retirement account.
If you’re saving for something other than retirement or need access to your money more quickly, you can opt for a taxable brokerage account, with a company like Fidelity, TD Ameritrade or Vanguard, instead. That means you’ll have to pay taxes on any investment income within the account. This can include selling a stock or when your cash balance earns interest. It’s important to note that these gains or income are taxable in the tax year they were earned — not when they are withdrawn.
Unlike retirement accounts which have restrictions on when you can withdraw funds, taxable brokerage accounts allow you to deduct money at any time. Since these accounts offer no tax advantages, there are no restrictions on when and how you can withdraw your money or how much you can contribute.
Where else can you open accounts?
Online brokers and robo-advisors are some other places where you can open accounts.
Online brokers, such as Webull and ETrade, enable you to manage your own investments and typically have no required minimum balance. But they do charge fees for things such as stock and options trading. So be sure to compare what each brokerage charges before choosing one.
Robo-advisors, on the other hand, are automated financial advisors that manage and choose your investments for you. These include digital platforms like Betterment and Wealthfront, which offer low minimums and a small management fee.
Patel says that using automated advisers can benefit newer investors looking to create a portfolio that aligns with their goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. She also suggests trying auto-investing, which involves scheduling reoccurring contributions toward your investment portfolio.
“You can easily see how that builds up, instead of starting with all your life savings at one time,” she said.
Understanding your options
Once you’ve opened an account, you’ll want to explore your investment options and the risk they carry. Here are some of the most common investments you’ll need to consider:
- Stocks are a share of ownership in a company and can be purchased individually for a share price or through mutual funds.
- Bonds are loans taken out by a company or governments and typically pay a certain interest rate.
- Mutual funds are a bundle of investments that include assets such as stocks and bonds. Some of these funds are professionally managed and help to remove the burden of picking individual stocks or bonds. Mutual funds are traded once a day after the market close.
- Exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, similar to mutual funds, also include a bundle of assets, but trade on the stock exchange throughout the day and are bought for a share price.
It’s important to remember to diversify your portfolio with a mix of asset classes to help balance out risk.
Mutual funds and ETFs, for example, are options that can provide first-time investors a chance to diversify. While investing in safer bets, like bonds, are a good way to set off riskier investments in things like real estate investment trusts (REITs).
The bottom line
No matter what route you take, investing is another way to grow your wealth, or as the saying goes “make your money work for you.”
Investing can help you reach your financial goals such as buying a house, saving for retirement or even starting your own business. The younger you are when you start investing, the better your chances are of accruing higher returns. It also gives your money time to compound, which means the returns you earned from your investments can start to generate their own earnings.
“Think about investing as an overall strategy and way to preserve and grow your money,” said Patel.