Investing is one of the best ways to grow your wealth over the long term, but it’s often intimidating to beginners. With so many investments to choose from and all sorts of charts and metrics to keep track of, it can get pretty complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. If you follow the three steps below, you’ll be off to the races in no time.
1. Decide how much you’re comfortable investing
You need some of your own money to start investing, but not just any money will do. You don’t want to invest your emergency fund because you never know when you’ll need to tap it for help with an unplanned expense. If you invest this money, there’s a chance you might have to sell at a loss to get cash when you need it. So it’s better to keep your emergency fund in a high-yield savings account where it’s always accessible.
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You also don’t want to invest money you plan to spend in the next five to seven years. If you’re saving up for a home or car down payment, for example, keep this in a savings account as well. This way, you’ll only make money on your savings, and you won’t have to worry about delaying your purchases until you’re ready to sell your investments.
It’s best to invest money routinely if you’re able to, but even if you can only afford a one-time contribution, that’s better than nothing. It’s OK to start small. Over time, you can increase your contributions as you gain more confidence in your abilities.
2. Decide where you’re going to invest your money
Retirement accounts are a great place for most people to invest their long-term savings because they offer special tax benefits. They typically fall into two categories: tax-deferred and Roth.
Tax-deferred retirement account contributions reduce your tax bill this year, but you owe taxes on your investment earnings — the money you make from selling your investments at a higher price than you purchased them for — in retirement. Roth account contributions don’t give you a tax break this year, but you get tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
You can also break retirement accounts down by type. The two most popular are 401(k)s and IRAs. A 401(k) is offered through a job and, if you choose to participate, the employer automatically takes money out of each of your paychecks and deposits it into the 401(k) each pay period.
You choose how much you want to contribute and what you want to invest in. In 2022, you may contribute up to $20,500 to a 401(k) or $27,000 if you’re 50 or older. Your employer may also give you some money in the form of a 401(k) match.
IRAs are retirement accounts you can open on your own with any broker. You can’t have money deferred from each paycheck, but you can set up automatic transfers from your bank account in most cases. You’re allowed to contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA in 2022 or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older.
One final option worth mentioning is the taxable brokerage account. This isn’t a retirement account and it doesn’t offer the same tax benefits. But it’s much more flexible. There’s no limit on how much you can contribute to a taxable brokerage account, and you can invest in whatever you want. You can also withdraw the money at any time, while most retirement accounts penalize you if you take money out before 59 1/2.
3. Decide what you want to invest in
Index funds are a great option for beginning and experienced investors. These are bundles of stocks designed to mimic the performance of a market index, like the S&P 500. This contains 500 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. When those companies are doing well, the index does too. And so does an S&P 500 index fund.
One of these funds will quickly diversify your savings so no single stock weighs too heavily on your portfolio, and they’re usually pretty affordable too. Most index funds only charge a few cents to a few dollars per year, depending on how much you have invested in the fund.
There are plenty of indexes and index funds to choose from. They’re pretty easy to identify because they list their index in the fund name. All you have to do is choose the index you want, then look for funds based on that index.
Once you’ve chosen your investments, the money you add to your account will automatically be invested in the funds or stocks you’ve chosen. Now, all you have to do is hold on to them for a while.
Keep investing a little at a time and continue to educate yourself so you can make better decisions in the future. But don’t wait to get started because you feel like you don’t know enough. Often, the best way to learn is by doing.
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