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Investing in stocks is a way to make your money grow over time. By regularly putting money aside to invest, you can see its value multiply over the long term. That’s why it’s important to begin as soon as you have the money to do so—the longer your time horizon, the better. This article takes you through how much you need, what stocks to choose, and the other basics of investing in stocks you need to get started, all in 10 steps. Whether you have thousands set aside or can invest a more modest $25 a week, you have enough to begin.

Key Takeaways

  • You can earn more money by working longer hours, getting a raise or finding another job, or turning your money into a growth tool by investing in stocks and letting it work for you.
  • Investing carries the chance of losses. But there are ways to lower your risk, though you can’t get rid of it altogether.
  • New investors have never had so many resources for expert advice.
  • You can seek out articles, books, and courses to educate yourself; use robo-advisors, automated apps and platforms, or financial specialists to manage your portfolio; or personally manage your own stock investments.

Step 1: Set Clear Investment Goals

Begin by reflecting on what you want to achieve financially. You might have short-term goals like saving for a home or a vacation or have long-term objectives like securing a comfortable retirement or funding a child’s education. Your objectives will depend on your life stage and ambitions. Younger investors tend to focus more on growth and long-term wealth accumulation, while those closer to retirement typically prefer income generation and capital preservation.

The more precise you can be about your goals, the easier it will be to sort out the best means to get you there. Here are some tips:

  • Be precise about your objectives: Instead of general goals like “save for retirement” or “I don’t want to have to worry about money one day,” set specific objectives like “accumulate $500,000 in my retirement fund by age 60.”
  • Set your investment horizon: Determine how long you have to achieve each goal you set. You will have longer and shorter timelines for different purposes. In general, the longer you can give yourself, the less risk you’ll need to take on, and the more viable your objectives will be.
  • Evaluate your finances: Be realistic about how much you can allocate toward your investment goals. This includes looking at your savings, regular income, and any other financial resources you can put to work as you begin. We’ll come back to this.
  • Rank your goals: Most of us have several goals at once, like saving a down payment for a house, paying for a wedding next year, or preparing for retirement. Prioritize these and balance them according to their importance and urgency.
  • Review and adapt to changes in your life: The phrase financial planning is best taken as a verb, not a noun since goals aren’t set in stone, and planning your finances is an ongoing project. You might fall in love or out of it, have many children or none of them, or realize your life’s work is best done in a different place in the country. Life changes, and so will your financial objectives. Regularly review and adjust your goals accordingly.

The first step in any venture is the biggest, but it’s also when you set your aspirations and imagine yourself in a future that your investments in stocks, a touch of luck, and a prudent investment strategy you’ll begin to learn here make possible.

Step 2: Determine How Much You Can Afford To Invest

Determining how much you can afford to put in stocks involves carefully and honestly assessing your financial situation. Don’t worry if your funds are less than you would wish. Just like you shouldn’t berate yourself for not being ready for a race on your first day of training, so too, you’re just at the beginning of your investment journey. This is a marathon, not a sprint and you’ve got a long way to go. Here are some tips for giving yourself an honest appraisal of how much you can use:

  1. Look at your sources of income: Start with your income. In particular, you’ll want to see if your employer offers ways for you to invest while gaining tax benefits or with matching funds that will amplify your own contributions.
  2. Have an emergency fund: You should have a solid financial foundation before investing, though solid does not mean perfect. Settle on how much you need for emergencies, typically covering major expenses (a few months of mortgage or rental payments, plus your other bills).
  3. Snuff out any high-interest debts: Financial advisors also generally suggest making sure you’ve paid down your debts, especially credit cards and anything else with high interest rates. Any returns you expect from trading stocks are unlikely to make back the cost of the high interest rates accruing each month on your credit card statements. If you still owe on your student loans, look at how much interest you pay. Balance that against the returns you expect by investing in stocks, and choose whether it’s better to pay your loans down or invest.
  4. Set a budget: Based on your financial assessment thus far, decide how much money you can comfortably put into stocks. This shouldn’t dip into any funds you need for expenses now or down the road. Your budget should determine if you are starting with a large lump sum or investing smaller amounts at set times each month or year.

Investing in stocks carries risk, and it’s important to only invest money you can afford to lose. Never put yourself in a financially vulnerable position for the sake of investing. This is what separates investing from some of the worst forms of gambling.

Step 3: Appraise Your Tolerance for Risk

Understanding your risk tolerance is a cornerstone of investing. Gauge your level of comfort with the inherent uncertainties of the stock market. Your risk tolerance will differ depending on your life stage, financial goals, and your financial cushion for potential losses.

Determining your risk tolerance is crucial for crafting an investment strategy that matches your financial goals while keeping your peace of mind. It helps you decide which stocks are suitable for your portfolio and what to do when the market goes up or down. Don’t be goaded into being more adventurous than you need to be, or more cautious than called for. Do you prefer stability, or are you willing to accept higher risks and price swings if that means there’s the potential for more returns? This self-assessment is key to setting a foundation for your investment journey.

Stocks can be organized by the risk they involve. For instance, large-capitalization (large-cap) stocks are generally more stable since they are well-established, major companies well-known in the market. Small-cap stocks usually offer more growth potential but come with increased risk. Similarly, growth stocks are sought for rapid gains, with higher risks, while value stocks focus on long-term, steady growth, usually with lower risks.

Step 4: Determine Your Investing Style

Everyone has a different relationship with money. We’ve seen how this affects your risk tolerance. But investors also have investing styles that best suits them. Some prefer an active role, meticulously pouring over the last cell on the spreadsheets for their portfolios, while others opt for a hands-off, set-it-and-forget-it approach, trusting their investments will grow over time if they just leave them alone. Some just might not have the time to be active traders following the ticker crawls and latest reports on investing platforms. It’s important to recognize that your style might evolve, but you’ll need to start somewhere, even if your choice isn’t set in stone.

Here are general directions for understanding your investing style:

  • DYI investing: If you have a good grasp of how stocks work and are confident to head out with minimal guidance into the market, managing your stock trades is one option. You can set up an account with well-known and trusted online brokers to access a wide range of investment options, including stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), index funds, and mutual funds. This approach gives you full control over your investments, even if certain choices might be stock funds and the like managed by professionals with a fiduciary responsibility to look after your funds.
  • Working with a financial advisor or broker: For those who prefer the more personal approach and want more, an experienced broker or financial advisor can be invaluable. They offer advice tailored to your life experiences and goals, help you decide among the more promising stock choices for you, monitor your portfolio, and collaborate with you when adjustments need to be made.

Step 5. Choose an Investment Account

You’ve figured out your goals, the risk you can tolerate, and how active an investor you want to be. Now it’s time to choose the type of account you’ll be investing through. Each has its own set of features, benefits, and drawbacks.

Here are the most common:

Retirement accounts

  • Your employee retirement plan: If your employer offers a retirement plan, this is a convenient way to invest in stocks, including potentially those of the company itself. The plans are known by the sections where they’re described in the U.S. tax code. The most popular are 401(k)’s (tax-deferred, private employer-sponsored retirement savings), but you could also have a 403(b) (used mostly by nonprofit organizations, public schools, and some churches), a 457 (mostly for state and local public employees), or a similar plan. You contribute to your account automatically each pay period, and many employers offer matching contributions, boosting your investment. Your contributions are tax-deductible, and the account balance grows tax-deferred.
  • Individual retirement account (IRA): You can start investing in stocks by opening an IRA in addition to your workplace retirement plan (if you have one). IRAs provide some tax benefits, and you can choose between a traditional IRA (tax-deductible contributions) or a Roth IRA (tax-free withdrawals in retirement).

Taxable brokerage accounts

If you prefer more flexibility or have maxed out your IRA contributions, a regular taxable brokerage account gives you access to various investment options, including individual stocks, stock mutual funds, ETFs, and stock options. While they don’t have the tax advantages of retirement accounts, they are more flexible and don’t have contribution limits. You can also pick different taxable brokerage accounts as you seek a match for your investment style.

  • Individual brokerage accounts: These are standard accounts opened by one person. The account holder has full control over the investments and is solely responsible for any tax implications. The most basic type is a cash account, through which you buy securities using only the money available in your account. You can also have a margin account at a brokerage for more experienced investors who borrow money from the brokerage against their account’s value to buy additional stock.
  • Joint brokerage accounts: These are shared by two or more individuals, typically spouses or partners, and can be cash or margin accounts. These accounts can be structured as joint tenants with rights of survivorship: if someone on the account dies, ownership passes to the survivor(s).
  • Managed accounts: These are professionally managed, and a portfolio manager makes the decisions on your behalf, personalized to your needs, goals, and investment style.

Accounts for specialized goals

There might be tax advantages to using different kinds of accounts if you’re investing in stocks for specific goals, e.g., for your own or your child’s education or health expenses. If so, it’s to your advantage to consider these alternatives, which have special tax incentives:

  • Dividend reinvestment plan accounts: Some brokers offer accounts that automatically take your stock dividends and use them to purchase new shares, usually without charging commissions for the additional shares.
  • Education Savings Accounts: These offer tax advantages when the funds are used for qualified educational expenses.
  • Health savings account: Contributions are tax-deductible, and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.
  • Trust and custody accounts: A trustee manages trust accounts for the benefit of a third party according to the terms of a trust agreement. In the case of custody accounts, minors can own stocks and other assets, but a custodian manages the account until the minor is an adult.

Step 6: Learn the Costs of Investing

Commissions and fees

Besides reputation and fit with your investment strategy and goals, broker fees are the most important consideration when you’re choosing a brokerage firm, which comes in the next step. Let’s prepare. Traditionally, brokerages have charged fees through trade commissions, account maintenance fees, and fees for additional services like research or financial advice. However, the landscape of brokerage fees has evolved significantly in recent years. Here’s what you’ll want to look for as you do your research:

Trading commissions: A broker might charge a commission every time you trade a stock, whether you buy or sell. Trading fees range from $2 per trade to $10. Some brokers charge no trade commissions at all, but they make up for it with other fees. Depending on how often you plan to trade, these fees can add up, affect your portfolio’s return, and deplete the money you have available to invest.

Let’s see this in action: Suppose you buy one share of stock in five companies with $1,000. Assuming a transaction fee of $10, you will incur $50 in trading costs which is equivalent to 5% of your $1,000. Should you sell these stocks, the round trip (buying and then selling) would cost you a total of $100, or 10% of your initial deposit amount of $1,000.

Maintenance fees: Some brokerages charge monthly or annual fees to keep your account active. These might be waived, though, if your account balance is above a certain threshold.

Service fees: You might pay additional fees if you haven’t used your account in a while. Brokers also may charge for services like broker-assisted trades, access to their premium research, and trading on margin (by borrowing). Most of these fees and the services linked to them are optional.

Subscription-based models: As Generation Zers and Millennials take up a larger share of the investment space, financial advisors, planners, and brokers are taking on clients used to month-to-month or yearly fees for apps and app-based services. Instead of paying per transaction or for specific services, you pay a flat monthly or annual fee. Your subscription may include commission-free trades, access to research tools, and other premium support.

Some platforms offer tiered subscription levels, supplying more features or lower margin rates at higher subscription rates. As you would with Hulu or your favorite online magazine, you’ll want to keep an eye on how much you’re taking advantage of what you’re paying for. If not, you might draw down to a lower tier or seek another broker altogether.

Account minimums

A major change in recent years has resulted from the immense competition among brokerages. Many online brokers have eliminated account minimums, making it easier for a wider range of investors to get started.

This means that if you have just a few dollars to invest, you can still open a brokerage account and begin trading stocks. While some brokerages still require you to deposit substantial amounts before you can become a client, this shift away from very low or no minimum requirements has made investing far more accessible to nontraditional investors and beginners. However, you’ll want to assess any minimum a brokerage requires, which is still your money, with transaction fees and maintenance costs that may lead you to decide that keeping a minimum in your account is less costly in the long run.

Step 7: Pick Your Broker

Brokers are either full-service or discount.

Full-service brokers

These offer a full range of traditional brokerage services, including financial advice for college planning, retirement planning, estate planning, and for other life events. This customized advising justifies the higher fees that they typically charge, normally a percentage of the value of your transactions, a percentage of your assets under management, and sometimes, a yearly membership fee. Minimum account sizes can start at $25,000. 

Discount brokers

These offer you tools to select your investments and place your orders. Some also offer a set-it-and-forget-it robo-advisory service. Most have educational materials on their sites and mobile apps. Some brokers have no (or very low) minimum deposit restrictions. However, they may have other requirements and fees. Be sure to check on both as you look for a brokerage that’s best for your financial situation.

Below, we get you started by comparing the best online brokers:

Compare the Best Online Brokers
Company Category   Investopedia Rating Account Minimum Basic Fee
 Fidelity Investments Best Overall, Best for Low Costs, Best for ETFs  4.8 $0   $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
 TD Ameritrade  Best for Beginners and Best Mobile App  4.5 $0   $0 for stock/ETF trades, $0 plus $0.65/contract for options trade
 Tastyworks  Best for Options  3.9 $0   $0 stock/ETF trades, $1.00 to open options trades and $0 to close
 Interactive Brokers  Best for Advanced Traders and Best for International Trading  4.2 $0  $0 for IBKR Lite, Maximum $0.005 per share for Pro platform or 1% of trade value 

We recommend the best products through an independent review process, and advertisers do not influence our picks. We may receive compensation if you visit partners we recommend. Read our advertiser disclosure for more info.


For an automated solution, robo-advisors or automated investment platforms are cost-effective and pretty effortless when investing. If you select this option, you won’t be alone in doing so. According to Charles Schwab, 58% of Americans say they will use some sort of robo-advisor by 2025.

An app or platform takes the information you provide about your financial goals, risk tolerance, income and savings, and so on, and its robo-advisor creates and helps manage your investment portfolio using its specialized algorithms. Aimed at retail investors, robo-advisors are low-cost, usually have little or no minimum balance requirements, and are programmed for strategies suited for new and intermediate investors. That said, they tend to offer fewer trading options and lack the personal approach to financial planning best suited for long-term investing.

If this interests you, we get you started below by comparing the best robo-advisors.

Compare the Best Robo-Advisors
Company Category Investopedia Rating Account Minimum  Fees 
Wealthfront Best Overall / Best Goal Planning 4.8 $500 0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers. 0.42%–0.46% for 529 plans
Betterment Best Beginners / Best Cash Management 4.5 $0 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan
Interactive Advisors Best SRI / Best Portfolio Construction 4.2 $100 to $50,000 0.08-1.5% per year, depending on advisor and portfolio chosen
M1 Finance Best Low Costs / Best Sophisticated Investors 4.2 $100 ($500 minimum for retirement accounts) 0%
Personal Capital Best Portfolio Management 4.2 $100,000 0.89% to 0.49%
Merrill Guided Investing Best Education 4.4 $1000 0.45% annually, of assets under management, assessed monthly. With advisor – 0.85% Discounts available for Bank of America Preferred Rewards participants
E*TRADE Best Mobile 3.9 $500 0.30%

Step 8: How To Fund Your Stock Account

Now that you’ve chosen the type of account to open, you’ll have to fund it. Here’s what to do:

  1. Choose a brokerage: First, select a brokerage firm, perhaps one of the major online firms, that aligns with your investment goals and preferences or is simply most convenient for you. Consider factors like fees, available investment options, and the platform’s user-friendliness.
  2. Pick your account type: Decide whether you’re opening a cash account, which requires you to pay for investments in full, or a margin account, which allows for borrowing to purchase securities.
  3. Open your account: Once you’ve chosen a brokerage and account type, you’ll need to open your account. This involves providing your personal information: Social Security number, address, employment details, and the particulars of your financial situation. This shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes.
  4. Link your bank accounts: The most common way to fund your stock account is by linking it to your bank account. This is usually done online through the brokerage’s platform, where you’ll enter your bank account number and routing number. Many brokerages allow you to link your account via small test transactions for verification.
  5. Transfer or deposit your first funds: Once your bank account is linked, you can transfer funds to your brokerage account, typically through an electronic funds transfer, which can take a few days to process. Other options may include wire transfers for faster funding if you’re raring to go, though these usually cost more. Some brokerages still accept physical checks. If you prefer this method, you can mail a check to the brokerage or bring it to a physical location.
  6. Set up periodic transfers: If you plan to make stock buys a habit, consider setting up automatic transfers from your bank to your brokerage account.
  7. Start investing: Once you’ve verified the funds are in your account (don’t worry: the brokerage won’t let you trade otherwise), it’s time to start choosing among the stocks that best fit your investment goals.

If you plan to trade frequently, check out our list of brokers for cost-conscious traders.

Step 9: Pick Your Stocks

Choosing the right stocks can be daunting even for experienced investors. Beginners should look for stocks that have stability, a strong track record, and the potential for steady growth. Don’t start out of the gate with a risky stock, thinking you’ll hit it big right away. Investing for the long term is mostly slow and steady, not fast and rash. Here are some stocks that are solid bets to begin:

  • Blue chips: These are shares of large, well-established, and financially sound companies with a history of reliable performance. Examples include companies listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. They are typically industry leaders and offer stability during market fluctuations.
  • Dividend stocks: Companies that regularly pay dividends can be a good choice for beginners. Dividends give you a regular income, which can be reinvested to buy even more stock. See How to Buy Dividend Stocks to get started.
  • Growth stocks: The greater the chances for outsized growth in a stock, the riskier investing in it will be. Beginners interested in growth stocks should look for industries with long-term potential, such as technology or healthcare.
  • Defensive stocks: These are in industries that tend to perform well even during economic downturns, such as utilities, healthcare, and consumer goods. They will give you a buffer against market volatility as you start.
  • ETFs: Traded like stocks, these track many indexes or sectors and are a low-cost way to gain exposure to a broad range of assets. You can trade shares in them throughout the day at market prices. These funds often track a specific market index, like the S&P 500, and offer instant diversification, reducing the risk associated with individual stocks. As you gain experience, you can look at funds for sectors that pique your interest, themes that meet your investment goals, or indexes that track environmental, social, and governance stocks to match your quest for returns with your values.

It’s prudent to begin with a conservative approach, focusing on stocks or funds that offer stability and a good track record. This will give you confidence and returns to work with as you advance in your investing knowledge.

Step 10. Keep Learning About Investing In Stocks

Investing in stocks is an ongoing learning experience—even the most successful investors are learning new tips and strategies each passing day. As the stock market continually evolves, staying up to date and going back to Step 1 and reviewing your goals, available funds for trading, investment style, and so on, will be key. Here are some final tips for now:

  1. Read widely and regularly: Consistently visit reputable financial news sites. Keep informed about the global economy, industry trends, and the companies you are invested in. Avoid sites and books promising easy returns or tricks, not tips, likely to redound to their benefit when you buy their courses or apps. Books on investment strategies, stock market fundamentals, and diversification techniques can be essential.
  2. Use stock simulators: These platforms enable you to practice trading stocks risk-free using virtual money. They are excellent tools for applying investment theories and testing strategies without risk. Investopedia’s simulator is entirely free to use.
  3. Learn about diversification: Having taken your beginning steps here, you’ll next want to spread your investments across diverse asset classes to reduce risk and improve the potential for returns. When you’re ready, we’ll help you learn how to diversify your portfolio beyond stocks.

Just as financial planning is a verb, learning about stock investing is continuous. The more informed you are, the better you’ll be able to make wise investment decisions and adapt to market changes.

What Is the Difference Between a Full-Service and a Discount Broker?

Full-service brokers provide a broad array of financial services, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare, education, and more. They can also offer a host of investment products and educational resources. They have traditionally catered to high-net-worth individuals and usually require significant investments. Discount brokers have much lower thresholds for access, but tend to offer a more streamlined set of service, allow you to place individual trades, and offer educational tools.

What Are the Risks of Investing?

Investing is a commitment of resources now toward a future financial goal. There are many levels of risk, with certain asset classes and investment products inherently much riskier than others. It is always possible that the value of your investment will not increase over time. For this reason, a key consideration for investors is how to manage their risk to achieve their financial goals, whether short- or long-term.

How Do Commissions and Fees Work?

Most brokers charge customers a commission for every trade. Due to commission costs, investors generally find it prudent to limit the total number of trades they make to avoid spending extra money on fees. Certain other types of investments, such as exchange-traded funds, carry fees to cover fund management costs.

The Bottom Line

Beginners can start investing in stocks with a relatively small amount of money. You’ll have to do your homework to determine your investment goals, risk tolerance, and the costs of investing in stocks and mutual funds. You’ll also need to research brokers and their fees to find the one that best fits your investment style and goals. Once you do, you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage of the potential stocks have to reward you financially in the coming years.

Options trading entails significant risk and is not appropriate for all investors. Certain complex options and strategies carry additional risk. Before trading options, please read the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options. Supporting documentation for any claims, if applicable, will be furnished upon request.

There is an Options Regulatory Fee that applies to both option buy and sell transactions. The fee is subject to change. See Fidelity.com/commissions for details.