How to invest money A step-by-step guide to choosing and managing your own investments

Faced with an unenviable set of market conditions, they have a stronger imperative than ever to make the most of what little is on offer. The good news is that today’s youngsters have better access to financial information, easy-to-use investment platforms and low-cost index funds than any generation before them. The bad news is that too many are falling victim to traps that will crimp their already meagre expected returns. Even so, the long-term outlook for stocks, which have historically been the main source of investors’ returns, remains dim. Although prices dropped last year, they have spent most of this one staging a strong recovery.

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You give a bank a certain amount of money for a predetermined amount of time and earn interest on that money. When that time period is over, you get your principal back, plus the predetermined amount of interest. The longer the loan period, the higher your interest rate is likely to be. While the types of investments are numerous, it is possible to group them into one of three categories, equity, fixed-income and cash or cash equivalents. This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute “investment advice” or an investment recommendation within the meaning of federal, state, or local law. You are solely responsible for evaluating and acting upon the education and information contained in this material. BlackRock will not be liable for any direct or incidental loss resulting from applying any of the information obtained from these materials or from any other source mentioned.

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Instead, investors buy commodities using futures and options contracts. You can also invest in commodities via other securities, like ETFs or buying the shares of companies that produce commodities. When you invest in bonds, you’re loaning money to the issuer for a fixed period of time. In return for your loan, the issuer will pay you a fixed rate of return as well as the money you initially loaned them. Because there are no guaranteed returns and individual companies may go out of business, stocks come with greater risk than some other investments.

Savings and earnings in these, such as a 529, are used to pay for qualified educational expenses. You can choose the allocation in funds that contain products such as stocks and bonds, and there are tax advantages as well. SmartAsset Advisors, LLC (“SmartAsset”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Financial Insight Technology, is registered with the U.S. SmartAsset does not review the ongoing performance of any RIA/IAR, participate in the management of any user’s account by an RIA/IAR or provide advice regarding specific investments. Mutual funds carry many of the same risks as stocks and bonds, depending on what they are invested in. The risk is often lesser, though, because the investments are inherently diversified.

On the other hand, if you have a long-term financial goal—especially retirement, but any goal a decade or more out—you can afford to invest in the stock market. While you will almost certainly encounter a bear market during the time you invest, you will also have time to ride it out.

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So there’s no doubt that it’s worth your time to figure out how it all works. You can invest in real estate by buying a home, building or a piece of land. Real estate investments vary in risk level and are subject to a wide variety of factors, such as economic cycles, crime rates, public school ratings and local government stability. Commodities are agricultural products, energy products and metals, including precious metals. These assets are generally the raw materials used by industry, and their prices depend on market demand. For example, if a flood impacts the supply of wheat, the price of wheat might increase due to scarcity.

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The majority of online stockbrokers have eliminated trading commissions for online stock trades. So most (but not all) are on a level playing field as far as costs are concerned, unless you’re trading options or cryptocurrencies, both of which do still have trading fees with most brokers who offer them. First, let’s talk about the money you shouldn’t invest in stocks. The stock market is no place for money that you might need within the next five years, at a minimum.

It will construct and maintain a portfolio of stock- and bond-based index funds designed to maximize your return potential while keeping your risk level appropriate for your needs. One important step to take before investing is to establish an emergency fund.

Now that you have a portfolio, try to remember that it’s normal for investments to bounce around over the short term. And of course, plenty of people end up deciding to use some mix of those options—like investing in funds with their retirement money, but perhaps also picking individual stocks with a small portion of their money. Whatever options you’re considering, just be sure also to consider any fees, expenses, or commissions. “Over the last 30 years, an investment in the S&P 500 would have achieved a 10% annualized return,” says Sandi Bragar, managing director at wealth management firm Aspiriant. “Missing the 25 best single days during that period would have resulted in only a 5% annualized return.” That a reminder not to sell your investments in a panic when the market goes down. It’s incredibly hard to predict when stock values will increase again, and some of the biggest days of stock market gains have followed days of large losses. Because of their guaranteed, fixed rates of return, bonds are also known as fixed income investments and are generally less risky than stocks.

Then within each asset class, you’ll also want to diversify into multiple investments. This both overstates the difference between ESG and “normal” funds, and papers over their impact on costs and returns. According to a recent study by the Harvard Business School, funds investing along ESG criteria charged substantially higher fees than the non-ESG kind. Moreover, the ESG funds had 68% of their assets invested in exactly the same holdings as the non-ESG ones, despite charging higher fees across their portfolios. Such funds also shun “dirty” assets, including fossil-fuel miners, whose profits are likely to generate higher investment yields if this shunning forces down their prices. Today’s specialised bets are largely placed via exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which have seen their assets under management soar to more than $10trn globally.

You can purchase international stock mutual funds to get this exposure. For long-term investors, the stock market is a good investment no matter what’s happening day-to-day or year-to-year; it’s that long-term average they’re looking for. A 30-year-old investing for retirement might have 80% of their portfolio in stock funds; the rest would be in bond funds. A general rule of thumb is to keep these to a small portion of your investment portfolio. But mutual funds are unlikely to rise in meteoric fashion as some individual stocks might. The upside of individual stocks is that a wise pick can pay off handsomely, but the odds that any individual stock will make you rich are exceedingly slim.

The average return for the stock market over 20-year periods is about 7% a year, and the worst it’s ever returned is about 0.5% a year. While history has shown the stock market almost always goes up in the long run, prices are notoriously volatile. And studies have shown unprepared investors tend to make rash decisions, often selling at the wrong time. Commission-free trading of Vanguard ETFs applies to trades placed both online and by phone. Commission-free trading of non-Vanguard ETFs excludes leveraged and inverse ETFs and applies only to trades placed online; most clients will pay a commission to buy or sell non-Vanguard ETFs by phone. It also excludes leveraged and inverse ETFs, which can’t be purchased through Vanguard but can be sold with a commission. Commission-free trading of non-Vanguard ETFs also excludes 401(k) participants using the Self-Directed Brokerage Option; see your plan’s current commission schedule.

For each taxable account you wish to enroll, the entire balance must be in the brokerage account’s settlement fund. The Vanguard Digital Advisor service is offered through Vanguard Advisers, Inc. (“VAI”), a federally registered investment advisor. Investors can get a diversified portfolio quickly and easily with an index fund. Instead of trying to actively pick stocks, an index fund passively owns all the stocks in an index.

For instance, many stocks pay quarterly dividends, whereas bonds generally pay interest every quarter. In many jurisdictions, different types of income are taxed at different rates. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income. On the other hand, if you’re investing for a short-term goal — less than five years — you likely don’t want to be invested in stocks at all. Investing in stocks will allow your money to grow and outpace inflation over time. As your goal gets closer, you can slowly start to dial back your stock allocation and add in more bonds, which are generally safer investments.

In this article, we’re largely focusing on investing for long-term goals. We’ll also touch on how to invest with no specific goal in mind. After all, the aim to grow your money is a fine goal by itself. But even if disdain for bonds is understandable, it is not wise. More important, they have a tendency to outpace inflation that cash does not. The long-run real return on American bonds since 1900 has been 1.7% a year—not much compared with equities, but a lot more than cash.

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