Investing 101 How, Where, When, and Why to Begin (1440 × 600 px)
Investing 101 How, Where, When, and Why to Begin (411 × 600 px)

Investing 101: How, Where, When, and Why to Begin

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Are you searching for a way to build long-term wealth? Investing can help accomplish this goal. The best part is that you don’t need to be an investment banker or wealthy to start.

If you still need to invest your first dollar, you can see how you can start today, and how it can benefit your future. Plus, you will learn how to keep your investing costs and income taxes low.

What to Invest In

The number of investment options can feel mind-boggling. Index funds are the quickest and most cost-efficient way to diversify. Each fund mimics the performance of a broad market index. For instance, an S&P 500 index fund invests in 500 of the largest publicly-traded companies on the U.S. stock exchange.

You may consider building this “three-fund portfolio,” coined by Taylor Larimore, to invest in (almost) every market sector:

  1. Total U.S. Stock Market Index Fund: Large-, mid-, and small-cap U.S. stocks
  2. Total International Stock Index Fund: Developed and developing international markets
  3. Total Bond Market Index Fund: Investment-grade corporate and government bonds

Index funds are available from any online broker and most 401(k) plans. It’s possible to start with as little as $1 per fund. Most brokers have a questionnaire you can answer to determine your asset allocation for each fund.

Man sitting on couch tracking investments on his laptop.

What if you don’t feel comfortable managing your portfolio? No worries. An automated investing solution like Wealthfront builds and manages a variety of funds personalized for you. This type of account makes it easy to start building long-term wealth by managing risks and maximizing returns.  

Another hands-off investment idea is target-date retirement funds. Choose a fund closest to your planned retirement date. The fund managers will put your money in more conservative assets as retirement approaches. Target date funds can have more fees than index funds but still cheaper and less risky than picking individual stocks.

Invest in Retirement Accounts First

All investment income is subject to federal and state income taxes. To minimize your tax bill, consider contributing to your workplace 401(k) plan or an individual retirement account (IRA) first. With either retirement account, you only pay taxes on your cash once.

A traditional 401(k) or IRA contribution reduces your taxable income for your contribution year. Your contributions grow tax-deferred as you pay taxes on the withdrawal amount.

While a Roth 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions require you to pay taxes in the current tax year. However, the contribution amount and lifetime earnings grow tax-free.

Man helping a woman sign up for a retirement plan.

You might contribute to a 401(k) first, if your employer offers matching contributions. Otherwise, invest in the account with the lowest plan fees.

It’s also not a bad idea to put some of your cash in a taxable non-retirement account as you will generally need to pay penalties for early withdrawal if you are younger than 59½ from retirement plans. Although your investment income is subject to annual taxes, the long-term gains can be higher than a bank savings account. Only invest cash you don’t need for at least five years to prevent selling for a loss. It may take several years for investments to rebound from a market correction.

When to Start Investing

The best time to start investing is today. The sooner you do, the more opportunities you’ll have to earn dividend income and capture share price growth. As you reinvest your earnings, your passive income begins to compound.

Successful investors put their money to work, but don’t try to time the market. Even if you can only start with $10 each paycheck, it’s better than nothing. You can increase your monthly contributions as your finances improve. Strive to invest at least 10% of your pre-tax income.

The average historical annualized return for the S&P 500 since its inception in 1957 through the end of 2021 is approximately 11.88%. If you have high-interest debt above 11.88%, you may use most of your free cash to pay off these debts first. However, you should still invest small amounts to begin working on earning passive income.

With each loan you repay, previous monthly loan payments can turn into financial growth. While investing might not be as exciting as spending cash, each investment helps build your net worth, so you can build your future.

Why Invest Now?

Investing is the primary way for most Americans to save for retirement. The sooner you start means you are less likely to delay retirement or outlive your savings.

Bank account interest rates likely won’t generate enough compound interest to build a nest egg. Plus, inflation rates tend to outpace savings account rates. So, investing is one of the best ways for your cash to earn consistent returns with minimal effort.

Becoming a successful investor isn’t rocket science. A good starting point is putting as much as possible each month into an index or target-date fund. These types of funds give you diversification while keeping your investment costs low.

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