Investing 101: Learn How to Buy Stocks Like a Pro

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Contributor, Benzinga
May 17, 2024

Investing in stocks can offer an excellent means of wealth accumulation over time, but it can also be intimidating for beginners. This guide aims to empower you with the knowledge and practical techniques needed to make informed decisions and build a successful investment portfolio. Whether you're a young professional, a seasoned investor, or someone looking to secure their financial future, understanding the stock market and learning how to buy stocks like a pro can be a game-changer.

From how to buy stocks, to diversification, risk mitigation, and the difference between fundamental and technical analysis, find everything you need to begin your stock market journey with confidence. 

Why Should You Invest in Stocks?

Investing in stocks offers several potential benefits, including:

  • Long-term growth potential: Historically, stocks have outperformed other asset classes, such as bonds and cash, over the long term, providing the opportunity for substantial wealth accumulation.
  • Compound returns: By reinvesting dividends and capital gains, you can harness the power of compounding, allowing your money to grow exponentially over time.
  • Inflation hedge: Stocks can act as a hedge against inflation, as companies can often pass on increased costs to consumers, helping to preserve the purchasing power of your investments.

However, it's important to recognize that investing in stocks also carries risks, including market volatility, company-specific risks, and the potential for losses. Diversification across asset classes and investment types, plus a long-term investment horizon can help mitigate these risks.

Understanding the Stock Market’s Basics

Stocks represent ownership in publicly traded companies. When you buy stocks, you become a shareholder and have a claim on a portion of the company's assets and profits. Stock prices are determined by supply and demand in the market, reflecting investors' collective perception of a company's future performance and growth prospects.

Stocks are traded on stock exchanges, such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq. These exchanges provide a platform for buyers and sellers to come together and execute trades. Stock prices fluctuate during the trading day, reflecting the constant ebb and flow of buy and sell orders.

Selecting an Online Brokerage

With the proliferation of online trading platforms, investing in stocks has become more accessible than ever before. When choosing an online brokerage, consider the following factors:

  • Commissions and fees: Seek brokers with low trading commissions and account fees, as these costs can cut into your returns over time. Low-cost index funds typically have fees of 0% to 0.03%.
  • Investment products and services: Evaluate the range of investment products offered, such as stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and options, as well as the availability of research and educational resources to make informed investment decisions. 
  • Trading platforms and tools: Check out the user-friendliness and functionality of the trading platform, including charting tools, real-time quotes, and mobile access. The best trading platforms will include extensive charting and research tools plus historical data.
  • Account minimums and account types: Consider the minimum account balance requirements and the availability of different account types such as individual, joint, and retirement accounts. Many brokerage accounts have no account minimum, so you can start with what you've got and build up gradually. 
  • Customer service and support: When you need help, you want a brokerage that can offer exceptional support that can answer your questions or troubleshoot issues. You can look for brokers with responsive and knowledgeable customer service teams and availability through various channels like phone, email, and chat.

Popular online brokers for stock purchases include Fidelity, Charles Schwab, E*TRADE, and TD Ameritrade, among others. Compare their offerings to choose the one that best suits your investment needs and preferences.

Establishing Your Financial Goals

Before investing in stocks, it's crucial to establish precise financial goals and understand your risk tolerance. Ask yourself:

  • Goals: What are your investment objectives? Are you saving for retirement, building an emergency fund, or investing for a specific goal like a down payment on a house?
  • Timeline: What is your investment time horizon? The longer your time horizon, the more aggressive you can be with your stock investments, as you'll have more time to ride out market fluctuations.
  • Risk tolerance: Are you comfortable with the potential for significant short-term losses, or do you prefer a more conservative approach? What is your risk tolerance? Discover more about trading psychology
  • Available assets: Look at your investment budget based on your overall financial situation and investment goals. How much can you afford to invest in stocks? 

Once you've defined your goals and risk tolerance, you can create an investment plan tailored to your needs.

Stock Research and Analysis Techniques

Before investing in any stock, conducting thorough research and analysis is essential. Investors use different analysis techniques, including fundamental and technical analysis as well as various stock screeners. 

While fundamental analysis is the most common investment strategy, it's important to learn the basics and study fundamental analysis techniques to get comfortable accessing stocks. Technical analysis is primarily used by large investment firms or professionals with access to extensive tools to perform these complex analyses.  

Here is an overview of research and analysis techniques to consider. 

  • Fundamental analysis: Evaluating a company's financial health, competitive position, management team, and growth prospects by studying its financial statements, industry trends, and other qualitative factors.
  • Technical analysis: Analyzing historical price and volume data to identify patterns and trends that may predict future price movements.
  • Stock screeners: You can use online tools to filter stocks based on specific criteria, such as valuation metrics, industry sectors, or performance indicators. This combines some of the fundamental or technical analysis techniques into a simplified screening process. 
  • Company news and analyst reports: Regardless of the other analysis techniques you use, it's important to stay up-to-date with company news, news releases, as well as analyst ratings and recommendations.

Conducting thorough research enables more informed investment decisions and potentially identifies undervalued or promising stocks. In addition to these techniques, you can place a portion of your portfolio in a low-cost index fund, which aims to track or mimic the overall stock market. In this way, you'll own a small portion of the top 500 companies, giving you a degree of built-in diversification. 

Initiating Your First Stock Trade

Once you've chosen an online brokerage and identified a stock you want to buy, it's time to place your first trade. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  • Open a brokerage account: Complete the account opening process, providing personal and financial information. Opening a brokerage account can happen in even a day. 
  • Fund your account: Transfer funds from your bank account to your brokerage account, ensuring you have enough cash to cover your desired stock purchase. Transfers can take up to three business days or may transfer in as little as a day. 
  • Place a market order: A market order is an instruction to buy or sell a stock at the best available price in the current market. This type of order is executed immediately, but the price may differ slightly from the last quoted price. If you don't see how to place a market order in your brokerage account, you can speak with customer service to understand the specifics of your platform. 
  • Place a limit order: A limit order allows you to set a specific price at which you're willing to buy or sell a stock. The order will only execute if the stock reaches your specified price or better. You can place limit orders for the current market price, or place the order at a lower price in case the price drops. 
  • Monitor your trade: After placing your order, keep an eye on its status and track the stock's performance. Continue to monitor stocks, companies, and overall performance, and readjust your portfolio as needed. 

It's essential to understand the different order types and their implications before placing trades. Several brokers provide educational resources and practice accounts to aid in getting comfortable with the trading process. Below, you'll find an overview of trading strategies.

Trading Strategies

There are various trading strategies you can employ when investing in stocks, each with its risks and possible rewards:

  • Buy-and-hold: This long-term strategy involves buying stocks and holding them for an extended period, typically years or decades, to benefit from long-term growth and compounding returns. Buy and hold is one of the strategies used by conservative investors interested in long-term time horizons. 
  • Day trading: Day traders aim to profit from short-term price movements by buying and selling stocks within the same trading day, capitalizing on intraday volatility. This is typically the highest-risk trading strategy unless you have extensive day trading experience. You can learn more about how to begin day trading.
  • Swing trading: Swing traders hold stocks for a few days to several weeks, attempting to capture short-term price swings and trends. While swing trading carries less risk than day trading, without strong analysis and market understanding, this also carries significant risk. 
  • Options trading: Options contracts give investors the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a stock at a predetermined price within a specific time frame. Options allow you to (potentially) profit on both down and up market swings. You can find brokers for options traders

Each strategy requires different skill sets, risk tolerances, and time commitments. It's essential to understand the risks and potential rewards before embarking on any trading strategy.

Regulatory Considerations

The stock market is regulated by various government agencies and industry organizations to ensure fair and transparent markets. Key regulatory bodies include:

  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): The SEC oversees the U.S. securities markets, enforcing laws and regulations to protect investors and maintain market integrity.
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA): FINRA is a self-regulatory organization that oversees and regulates brokerage firms and their registered representatives.

Investors should familiarize themselves with relevant regulations, such as insider trading laws, disclosure requirements, and anti-fraud provisions, to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues.

Transaction costs

By understanding and minimizing transaction costs, you can maximize the potential returns on your stock investments. Even an extra 1% saved annually could lead to significant additional growth over decades. When investing in stocks, it's essential to consider the various transaction costs that can impact your returns, including:

Brokerage commissions

Most brokers charge a commission or fee for executing trades, which can vary depending on the broker, account type, and trade size. The standard commission for full-service brokers is between 1% to 2% of assets under management (AUM). Other brokerages can be significantly less. 

Bid-ask spread

The bid-ask spread is the difference between the highest price a buyer is willing to pay (bid) and the lowest price a seller is willing to accept (ask). This spread represents an implicit cost for investors. The bid-ask spread is also a measure of market liquidity impacted by market risks that can widen when the market is highly volatile.

Taxes

Capital gains on stock investments are subject to taxation, with the rate depending on your income level and the holding period of the investment. Whether you have realized or unrealized capital gains will also affect your tax filings. You can find a comprehensive guide to how your investments are taxed

Building a Diversified Stock Portfolio

Diversification is a key principle of successful investing, as it helps mitigate risk by spreading your investments across different asset classes, sectors, and individual stocks. By diversifying your stock investments, you can potentially reduce overall portfolio risk, improve stability of returns, and enhance long-term performance. Strategies for building a diversified stock portfolio include:

Asset allocation

Allocate your investment capital across different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash, based on your risk tolerance and investment objectives. For example, a more aggressive portfolio might consist of 80% stocks and 20% bonds, while a more conservative portfolio might be 60% stocks and 40% bonds. A risk-averse or retirement portfolio might reverse the aggressive portfolio and contain 20% stocks or index funds and 80% bonds. 

Sector diversification

Even within asset classes, it's important to diversify. Invest in stocks from various sectors, such as technology, health care, finance, and energy to reduce the impact of industry-specific risks. Or even consider investing a small portion of your portfolio in cryptocurrency

For example, you can invest in sector-specific exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or by carefully selecting individual stocks across different industries. You can also choose index funds that track the wider market like the S&P 500, which aims to track the 500 largest companies in the U.S. market. You can also check out the best stocks under $100

Geographic diversification

Consider investing in both domestic and international stocks to capture global growth opportunities and reduce concentration risk. International investments can provide exposure to different economies, currencies, and market cycles, potentially enhancing portfolio diversification and providing new opportunities for returns. 

Rebalancing

Periodically review and rebalance your portfolio to uphold your preferred asset allocation and risk profile. Over time, your portfolio's asset allocation may drift from your target due to the performance of different asset classes. Rebalancing involves selling assets that have grown in value and reinvesting the proceeds into underperforming assets to realign with your desired allocation.

Concluding Tips for Building Your Investment Portfolio

Investing in stocks is a journey that requires preparation, perseverance, and a willingness to learn from your experiences. However, with discipline, patience, and a solid understanding of the market, investment principles, and analysis techniques, investing in stocks can be a powerful wealth-building tool. 

Successful investing is not about getting rich quickly; it's about consistently making well-informed decisions based on strong research and analysis skills, managing risk, and allowing time and compound returns to work for you. 

Stay committed to your investment plan, continue learning and adapting, and don't let short-term market fluctuations deter you from your long-term goals. By embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with stock investing with the principles in this guide, you'll be well on your way to achieving your financial goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q

Can I buy stocks with $100?

A

Yes, you can buy stocks with $100 or even less. Many brokers allow you to open an account with a relatively small initial investment, and some even offer fractional share trading, allowing you to buy portions of expensive stocks.

Q

What type of stock is best for beginners?

A

For beginners, it’s often recommended to start with well-established, large-cap companies with a proven track record of profitability and stability. These stocks tend to be less volatile and can provide a solid foundation for a portfolio. Additionally, index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track major indexes like the S&P 500 can be a good starting point for diversification.

Q

What is the safest stock to buy?

A

There is no such thing as a completely safe stock, as all investments carry some level of risk. However, stocks of well-established companies with strong financials, consistent earnings, and a history of paying dividends are generally considered safer investments. Examples include blue chip stocks, consumer staples, utilities, and healthcare companies. Diversification across different sectors and asset classes is also crucial for mitigating risk.

About Alison Plaut

Alison Kimberly is a freelance content writer with a Sustainable MBA, uniquely qualified to help individuals and businesses achieve the triple bottom line of environmental, social, and financial profitability. She has been writing for various non-profit organizations for 15+ years. When not writing, you will find her promoting education and meditation in the developing world, or hiking and enjoying nature.