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How to Buy Stocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

You’ve probably heard that investing provides a great way to grow and save money. But getting into the stock market isn’t a one-and-done deal. It requires research and upkeep to make sure your investments continue to perform well. So how do you start the investing process in the first place? Many people work with a financial advisor to create an investment plan. Let’s start with some basic stock buying information, and then break out practical steps to help you connect with a brokerage and invest.

What Are Stocks?

Stocks are shares in ownership of a company that you are allowed to buy. This means you become a partial owner of the company, no matter how big or small your share is. As the company grows, so does your stock’s value.

Investing in stocks can give you the flexibility to buy and sell as you please. Some stocks pay dividends, which is extra money you see immediately rather than when you sell a share. Of course, investing in stock comes with some risk due to the stock market’s own volatility. In turn, it’s crucial that you understand stocks before you invest your hard-earned money.

Step #1: Learn About the Stock Market and Investing

Before diving into the stock market, it’s important to take a look at your finances and investing goals. Since investing in stock requires you to spend money, make sure there’s room in your budget to spend. You should take care of any debts or ongoing bills before you dedicate money to your stock ventures.

Then you’ll want to set some investing goals. For example, ask yourself questions like these:

  • For what reason are you investing?
  • Are you trying to supplement your retirement savings or are you investing solely to make money?
  • Do you want to consistently buy and sell, or would you rather let your stocks sit untouched?

You should also establish your tolerance for risk, on top of learning how the stock market works. The stock market is affected by a number of factors, such as supply and demand, companies’ performances, world events and more.

Some stocks provide more security than others, which you can figure out by looking at the company’s past performance. In addition, some investors choose to invest only in safer stocks to avoid possible losses. Others try to work with the market to balance high- and low-risk investments to maximize their returns.

If you’re unsure about your risk tolerance or what to invest in, a financial advisor can give can give you a better idea of what you can handle, and help align your investments with your long-term financial goals.

Step #2: Figure Out How You’re Going to Invest

Once you’ve determined what you want out of stock investing and how to go about it, you can go ahead and open a brokerage account. This requires shopping around for a broker with which to open your account. You’ll want to find a stockbroker with a Series 7 license, or a Registered Representative. This license signals that they are qualified to sell securities and provide investment management and advice.

Nowadays, you can easily find a stockbroker online. There are a number of robo-advisors, like Betterment and Blooom, who provide advisors and managers for your investments. They not only make recommendations, but they work to get the best outcome for you and your investments. If working with an online broker isn’t for you, you can certainly find in-person brokers to help you out. Keep in mind that brokers, whether online or not, will charge some sort of management fee for their services. This often represents a percentage of your assets, an hourly rate or a flat-rate fee.

To open a brokerage account, you’ll need to provide some personal information and proof of identification. You also have to fund the account, either with a check or electronically. If you work with a robo-advisor, they may have limitations on how you can fund the account. Some brokers also have limitations on the amounts you must deposit. For instance, some brokers will only accept deposits of thousands of dollars or more. Be sure to check any limitations with your broker beforehand. That way, you’re not surprised out of any money.

Step #3: Plan Out Which Stocks You Want to Invest in

How to Buy Stocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

With so many stocks to choose from, it helps to research and make a plan first. That way you’ll know exactly which companies you want to buy into and how much you’ll spend for each share. You’ll also need to decide how many shares of each company’s stock you want to buy.

Although no one can predict the market, it can help to watch the stocks you’re interested in before buying. That way you can be more prepared for what you’ll see after you buy. It could also help to check up on a company’s performance. For one, you may end up rethinking buying a share in a company whose value is actively decreasing.

Of course you’ll also need to stick to your budget. If you can only afford to spend $10 per share, you’ll want to avoid any expensive shares, no matter how tempting. Your final budget will depend on the price of each share and how many shares you want to buy. Don’t forget that when you buy a stock, you’ll have partial ownership of that company.

Note that not all stocks function similarly. There are a range of different types of stocks to choose from, including blue-chip stocks, small-cap stocks, large-cap stocks, preferred stocks and more.

Step #4: Buy Your Stocks

How to Buy Stocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now it’s time to actually go ahead and buy those stocks. There are a few ways to go about buying stocks. For one, you can submit a market order. This means that you want to buy a share at the best available current market price. This happens immediately, regardless of the share’s price. Keep in mind that since the market constantly fluctuates, so will the price you pay (or sell at).

Luckily, you also have the option of submitting a limit order instead. This kind of order sets the price point that you’re willing to pay for a certain company’s share. For example, say a share currently prices at $80, but you’re only willing to pay $60. You submit a limit order and your purchase (or sale) will only go through at $60.

This is when having a broker to manage your investments can really come in handy. Without a broker, you would have to make all these orders and moves yourself. A broker can lend a more professional view to your investments to make efficient trades. Plus, they’ll know more of the language specific to the stock market and trading.

Step #4: Build a Stock Portfolio

Buying stock is only part of your financial journey. And if you want to align your stock with your financial goals, you should aim to build an investment portfolio. This strategy puts stock, bonds, cash and other assets into a basket with a long-term focus on making money and minimizing risk.

Every time you invest, you take on some risk, which means that you can lose money when the market or asset underperforms. Determining how much risk you are willing to tolerate   can guide what type of investments you will make, especially when the market goes up and down.

You should also keep in mind how long you are willing to hold on to your investment. This is called a time horizon, and whether you are investing to buy a first home or retire comfortably, putting your financial goals on a timeline will give them a greater purpose.

A broker will allow you to invest in different types of assets, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, certificates of deposit (CD), real estate investment trusts (REITS), and other investment opportunities.

Bottom Line

Buying stocks is an important part of many people’s investing plans. It isn’t a complicated process, but it does involve a few steps and, if you’re doing it right, a decent amount of preparation. Before you find a broker and actually buy the stocks, make sure you’ve gone over your finances and know which stocks you want to buy that will help you achieve your financial goals.

Tips for Investing in Stocks

  • Whether you’re new to investing or a veteran of the stock market, a financial advisor can help you refine your portfolio. Finding the right financial advisor for you doesn’t have to be hard, though. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area in just five minutes. Get started now.
  • No matter how hard you try, the stock market effectively cannot be predicted or beaten. Stock prices rise and fall every day, and these changes and your eventual payout will depend on a number of factors, including inflation.
  • In most cases, building a diversified portfolio is your best course of action. This means that your investments should range from different kinds of stocks to various bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and more. You can determine your suitable asset allocation based on your risk tolerance and time horizon.

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Lauren Perez, CEPF® Lauren Perez writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SmartAsset, with a special expertise in savings, banking and credit cards. She is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. Lauren has a degree in English from the University of Rochester where she focused on Language, Media and Communications. She is originally from Los Angeles. While prone to the occasional shopping spree, Lauren has been aware of the importance of money management and savings since she was young. Lauren loves being able to make credit card and retirement account recommendations to friends and family based on the hours of research she completes at SmartAsset.
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