One of the most common fallacies of the lower and middle classes is this: Save enough money = eventually become rich. You make a good living, you save a good chunk of your paycheck every week, and as you get promoted or your annual income increases, you continue to squirrel away your savings. You keep it in a separate bank account you declared your ‘do not touch’ fund, or put it into a money market savings account, or even a high interest online-bank savings account. While savings accounts are a useful tool, the primary mode of building wealth, planning for retirement or putting your money to work for you is investing [in the market].
If your employer offers a 401k, ask HR to set you up and start a monthly contribution. If your employer doesn’t offer 401k contribution or you’re freelance/self-employed, skip to IRA. This is a pre-tax monthly deduction from your paycheck/annual income and the IRS will treat it as such. The real benefit with 401k’s is employers will offer to match your contribution up to a certain percentage. For example, you make $5,000 per month and contribute 10% of your monthly income to your 401k. Your employer offers up to a 6% 401k contribution match.
An IRA is like a 401k but an individual account set up and controlled by you, with whichever brokerage or fund you choose. The downside is you are the sole contributor; no employer or other company can match or contribute. However, there are two types of IRA’s to choose from: Traditional or Roth.
Traditional: Contributions now are tax-free; withdrawals later in life (presumably during retirement) are taxed at your retirement income’s tax bracket. If you’re a high earner now ($160k+) and anticipate being in a significantly lower income tax bracket during retirement, this may the better option for you.
Roth: Contributions now are taxed at current income tax bracket. If you’re earning less now than you anticipate you will in the future and possibly even in retirement, Roth may be the better option. This is usually the selection for post-grads and young professionals who are early in their careers.
Note: Your IRA may be able to be converted into the other depending on your brokerage’s policies. Generally, one can convert a Roth IRA into a Traditional IRA. The inverse may or not be possible depending on your brokerage.
Start investing as early as possible, even if it’s only $50/month. Consistency and time in the market are your greatest advantages. Analyze which type of IRA is best for you based on current income, current annual tax bracket, and long-term expected income. Set up automated monthly contributions, set it, and forget it.
There is a major distinction between investing and trading. Investing is taking high-probability calculated risks in (what is considered) reliable appreciating asset(s) for positive returns over longer periods of time. Trading encompasses taking positions in securities or assets for either more frequent or higher percentage gains over a shorter period of time. This could be months (medium term) down to fractions of seconds (high frequency trading). Trading seems daunting, and it certainly is at first. But anything you don’t understand or know much about seems that way. Trading is no different, except it is amplified.
Most should not rely on trading as a means of building wealth, sustainable income, or securing a retirement fund. However, trading can be a lucrative skill, and over time can be an exceptional supplemental income, to say the least. Even if it’s not for you, learning more about it will only enhance your understanding of investing.
Once you begin to read and study it on a consistent basis, like anything, things slow down and the chaos starts to settle. Learn the fundamentals, terminology, market hours, international relations, market psychology, price action, correlations, etc. There is an infinite amount of information available on the internet and in libraries that literally anyone with access to a public library or even just a WiFi signal can learn to successfully trade profitably.
There are a huge range of reputable brokers to use. These are third party platforms that offer a capital custodial service to hold your funds while you execute trades using their in-house user interface to buy, sell and short securities. Some are more advanced than others, but the absolute best way to get started is to start paper trading. Paper trading is trading in real time using a simulator. After you’ve become acquainted with trading terminology, understand what market hours are best suited for you, and have a trading strategy or two you’d like to test out and develop, create a paper trading account with TD Ameritrade’s Think or Swim platform and get a 60 day free trial. Once you’re confident enough to put some skin in the game, register for Think or Swim or fund your brokerage account and start executing.
Once you are staring at live market data in real time and watching trades be executed and price action fluctuate wildly by the second, this is the point of the steepest learning curve. There is a ton of market data and user interface detail flashing in your face, and the more you understand, the more equipped you are to leverage it all to execute smart trades. Remove the unnecessary displays and simplify your screen according to your developed trading strategy. Withdraw from your emotions, or do your best to mute them, and act according to logical reasoning and confluence with your quantitative trading strategy. Do not FOMO and do not panic-sell.
Be sure to have a quality risk management strategy in place. This meaning using stop-losses to limit your exposure and prevent small losses from becoming huge ones. No trader wins 100% of the time, nor should you expect to. It’s better to take a $50 loss than to let a trade that turned against you continue to fall purely based on the hope that it will recover. Unless of course this is in line with your longer term trading strategy and you simply entered the trade prematurely (caught a falling knife).
TLDR; Approach like learning a new language and absorb the terminology and contexts. Use a simulator to paper trade for at least a couple months; the overwhelming UI will force you to adjust to the steep learning curve. Develop trading strategy and once consistently reliable, fund a live brokerage account; start small and focus on making small, albeit consistent gains.
TD Ameritrade Think or Swim ($6.99 / trade or $2.99 / trade via phone request)
Interactive Brokers ($0.01 per share; account minimums apply)
Merrill Edge ($6.95 / trade, OR Free if account value >$50k for 3+ months)
Ally Invest ($4.95 / trade)
eTrade ($6.95 / trade)
Fidelity ($4.95 / trade)
(Deposit $100+ into account, receive an additional free share of stock)
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