Investing is central to building wealth and security and achieving important financial goals like planning for retirement. Yet many Americans don’t take advantage of investing opportunities to make their money work for them — only about half of Americans report having money in stocks, according to a Gallup poll.
Investing can be an intimidating topic, so to help the beginner investor, GOBankingRates asked 21 financial advisors to answer the question, “What is your best advice to new clients who want to get into investing?” If you want to learn how to invest money, follow this advice to jump-start your portfolio.
1. Know Your Investing Purpose
“One needs to be very clear on their personal goals and the purpose of investing for them,” said Bob Klosterman, a certified financial planner and CEO at White Oaks Investment. Knowing the “why” behind your desire to invest can help you make smart investing choices. “That will drive the specific objectives for an investment plan,” Klosterman said.
2. Invest to Reach a Goal
John Cuti, vice president and senior branch manager at Fidelity Investments, wants his clients to have a goal in mind when investing. “I would tell any new investor to ask themselves what goal they are trying to save for and then build a specific plan to meet that goal,” Cuti said.
You can build this plan on your own or with the help of a professional. “Access to financial planning tools and research has never been easier,” Cuti said, which gives new investors plenty of resources to build their investing plans.
3. Make Investing Part of a Financial Plan
Investing is most effective when it’s part of a complete financial plan, according to Julie Lambert, a vice president and branch manager for Charles Schwab. “In my experience with clients, having a comprehensive financial plan is a critical step to becoming a successful investor,” Lambert said. “The process of creating a plan forces you to think about your future and determine what’s important to you and your family.”
Having a financial plan can help you balance investing against other financial goals and stay on track. “A well-thought-out plan gives you a reference point, keeping you focused on the right things, [which] prevents backsliding and can help take the emotion out of investment decision-making,” Lambert said.
4. Don’t Compromise Savings to Invest
“You must first know that saving and investing are two different things,” said Jerry Linebaugh, founder and CEO of JLine Financial. Investment inherently involves the risk of losing your money, Linebaugh said, so it should serve a different purpose than savings.
A strong savings fund can preserve your financial security. “Make sure your savings will cover your current lifestyle for [at least] six months,” Linebaugh said, and keep this emergency fund in accounts that can be accessed without incurring penalties or charges. “You could look at investing after this savings amount is established.”
5. Raise Your Investing IQ
Ingrid John, a certified public accountant and managing director for Alexandria Capital, said that new investors should first learn about investing. “Seek professional advice or educate yourself on the subject matter,” John said. “The stock market makes no allowances for ignorance.”
Learn More: How to Start Investing With Just $500
6. Put Your Investing Knowledge Into Practice
As you learn how to start investing, find ways to test out your new knowledge, advised Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.
“Practice your investing and trading skills,” Luber said. You can try out strategies without even putting your own money on the line. “Several websites allow novice investors to use fake money so the trades they place feel real and the experience helps build investing confidence.”
7. Get Professional Investing Help
“Select a trustworthy financial expert who can help you achieve your goals,” said Jack Waymire, founder of online financial advisor registry Paladin Research & Registry. “Make sure the expert is a financial fiduciary.”
8. Choose a Fee-Based Advisor
Michael Miller, a CFP at Miller Premier Investment Planning, advised that people choosing a financial advisor should pay attention to how payment is structured. “Be sure you find a well-qualified, fee-only advisor,” Miller said. “Paladin [Registry] is a great place to start interviewing candidates and finding the one you are most comfortable with.”
9. Shop Around for a Financial Advisor
Fees aren’t the only basis for evaluating a financial planner, said Eric Mancini, a CFP and director of investment research for Traphagen Financial Group.
“[M]ake sure they focus on low fees, asset allocation, risk management and true alternative investments,” Mancini said. “In addition, make sure you ask about prior returns and risk levels of the portfolio. If you can find this type of an advisor with a good historical record of risk control and performance, you will be ahead of about 90 to 95 percent of all other investors.”
10. Ask Your Investing Questions
Theresa Lee, CFP and chief operating officer of Alexandria Capital, suggested being open and free with questions for your financial professional. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you understand and find comfort,” Lee said.
11. Start Simple
“My advice for clients who want to get into investing is to keep it simple,” said Kenyon L. Lederer, a CFP and president of Pinnacle Asset Management. “A great way to start is to select a moderate allocation fund with a good track record. This could be a core holding in your investment portfolio for the rest of your life.”
12. Stop Wasting Valuable Compounding Time
Harold Williams, CPA, CFP and CEO of Linscomb and Williams, gave this advice: “Just start.”
“It is amazing how many people procrastinate as much as five to 10 years because they are intimidated by the process,” Williams said. “That is very valuable compounding time which is lost forever.”
13. Stop Worrying About What You Haven’t Accomplished
Time is money to investors, said Brian Evans, a CPA and president of Madrona Financial Services. “Start investing now, not tomorrow,” Evans said. “It’s never too late to start building your assets. Don’t worry about what you haven’t accomplished in the past, only what you may accomplish in the future.”
14. Be Patient and Realistic
Martin A. Federici Jr., an accredited asset management specialist and CEO of MF Advisers, said investors need to be patient and keep expectations realistic. With his own clients, Federici said, “We also cover risk tolerance and capacity right out of the gate as well, as this goes hand in hand with patience and realistic expectations in helping them to feel comfortable with their portfolios.”
15. Refine Your Investment Plan as You Go
Roger Patterson, a certified investment management analyst and founder of The Advisory Group, said that investors should continually adjust their financial plan. “Stick with your plan, refining it as your life circumstances and goals evolve,” Patterson said. “Learn about common investor psychology [and] behavior mistakes that can derail goals.”
16. Invest Without Ego or Emotion
“It’s critical new investors learn very early [that] you must remove ‘The Two E’s’ from investing: ego and emotion,” said Dustin Tondre, a CFP and co-founder of TL Private Wealth. “These two items will negatively impact their decision-making and portfolio performance.”
17. Don’t Try to Beat the Market
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Laurie Wieder, vice president of the Qualified Plans division of Alexandria Capital. “Those who have ‘beat the market’ are anomal[ies]. Investing is a discipline — it requires study to understand market principles, prudence and patience.”
18. Don’t Panic Over Market Volatility
John Frisch, CPA, CFP and president of Qualified Plans at Alexandria Capital, said that it’s important to stay even-keeled with your investing plan.
“The best advice to new clients who want to get into investing is that stock market volatility does not equal risk,” Frisch said. “Understand that there will be many temporary declines during your investing life. Ride out these temporary declines and stick with your plan.”
19. Invest for the Long Term
“Think long term,” said Linda Ward, head of Retirement and Planning Solutions at JP Morgan Chase & Co. “Investments go up … investments go down,” she said. “Set a goal for those investments, pick investments that are reasonable for when you expect to realize that goal, and invest with your tolerance for risk in mind.”
20. Consider All-in-One Investments
Maria Bruno, a senior investment analyst for the Investment Strategy Group at Vanguard, said that an all-in-one investment can be a smart choice to build a diversified, low-cost investment portfolio that works for your long-term goals.
For instance, with “Vanguard’s Target Retirement Funds, which invest in Vanguard’s broadest index funds, … the asset allocation of the portfolio will gradually change to become more conservative as you approach retirement,” Bruno said. “All you’ll need to do is calculate the year you’re expected to retire and select the corresponding fund.”
21. Build a Portfolio That Matches Your Risk Tolerance
For most investors, “[A]ll you need is a relatively simple diversified portfolio that jibes with your risk tolerance and gives you a decent shot at the returns you need to build a nest egg that can help assure a secure retirement,” said Walter Updegrave, editor at RealDealRetirement.com.
“You can create such a portfolio pretty easily by combining just three low-cost index funds: a total U.S. stock market index fund, a total U.S. bond market index fund and, to add a little exposure to foreign markets for additional diversification, a total international stock index fund,” Updegrave said.