Secrets of the Stock Market's Biggest Winners
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Worth noting: A 401(k) is a type of investment account, and if you’re participating in one, you may already be investing in stocks, likely through mutual funds. However, a 401(k) won’t offer you access to individual stocks, and your choice in mutual funds will likely be quite limited. Employer matching dollars make it worth contributing despite a limited investment selection, but once you’re contributing enough to earn that match, you can consider investing through other accounts.

While E*TRADE’s baseline fees are a little high ($6.95 for stocks/ETFs, $6.95 plus 75 cents per contract for options) compared to Ally Invest, Charles Schwab, and Fidelity, E*TRADE does offer volume discounts. If you make more than 30 stock/ETFs trades per quarter, the fee drops to a very competitive $4.95, and if you trade more than 30 options per quarter, the contract fee goes down to 50 cents. That makes E*TRADE a good fit for active traders who keep a close eye on the market.

Thinkorswim is a particular standout in options trading, with options-trading tabs (just click “spread” if you want a spread and “single order” if you want one leg), plus links that explain the strategies on the order page. Its Strategy Roller feature lets investors create custom covered calls and then roll those positions from expiration to expiration.

If you want to trade “futures” (agreements to buy or sell assets in the future), Ally Invest isn’t an option. That’s not unusual for an online stock broker — neither Robinhood, Vanguard, nor Fidelity offer futures trading — but you can do it with some of our other top picks, including E*TRADE, Charles Schwab, Interactive Brokers, and TD Ameritrade.

Take for example the S&P 500 market index, which is comprised of 505 companies. Buying shares in 505 different companies would be very difficult to do. Thanks to mutual funds and ETFs, we can simply buy one single security that holds shares in all 505 companies. The largest S&P 500 mutual fund is the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) and the largest S&P 500 ETF is the State Street Global Advisors SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).

Our experts suggest you begin by looking at your own life. “Buy what you know, where you are. If you can, identify good companies locally,” says Randy Cameron, a portfolio manager and investment advisor with 35 years of experience. “Look for companies you and your friends are talking about, ones with plans to go national.” As for how much time and money you need, “start with what you have,” he says. There is literally no minimum to get started, and starting with just one share is better than putting things off.

If you want to trade “futures” (agreements to buy or sell assets in the future), Ally Invest isn’t an option. That’s not unusual for an online stock broker — neither Robinhood, Vanguard, nor Fidelity offer futures trading — but you can do it with some of our other top picks, including E*TRADE, Charles Schwab, Interactive Brokers, and TD Ameritrade.

To keep costs as low as possible, famous investors like John Bogle and Warren Buffett recommend buying and holding the entire stock market. Known as passive investing, it is a buy and hold strategy where you buy an entire market index, typically the S&P 500, as a single mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). By buying an entire index, you are properly diversified (have shares in ~500 large companies, not just one), which reduces your risk long term. In fact, John Bogle is credited with creating the first index fund.

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When it comes to research, Fidelity is in a league of its own. The intellectually curious can dive into research from more than 20 providers, including Recognia, Ned Davis, and McLean Capital Management. Fidelity’s Learning Center featured videos are organized by topic, but they don’t stop after explaining the concept; they also cover how to apply principles to your own Fidelity investments.

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*Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 9/30/2019 and funded within 60 calendar days of account opening with $3,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000-$99,999. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000-$249,999. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more. Offer is not valid on tax-exempt trusts, 401k accounts, Keogh plans, profit sharing plan, or money purchase plan. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, accounts managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Accounts funded with $3,000 or more are eligible for up to 500 commission-free trade internet equity, ETF, or option trades executed within 60 calendar days of account funding. All other trade types are excluded from this offer. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. No credit will be given for unexecuted trades. Limit one offer per client. Account value of the qualifying account must remain equal to, or greater than, the value after the net deposit was made (minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances) for 12 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the offer at its sole discretion. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Taxes related to TD Ameritrade offers are your responsibility. All promotional items and cash received during the calendar year will be included on your consolidated Form 1099. Please consult a legal or tax advisor for the most recent changes to the U.S. tax code and for rollover eligibility rules. (Offer Code: 220)

You'll have to do your homework to find the minimum deposit requirements and then compare the commissions to other brokers. Chances are you won't be able to cost-effectively buy individual stocks and still be diversified with a small amount of money. Given these restrictions, it's probably worth starting out on your investment journey with mutual funds. However, like all aspects of investing, it's up to you to do the research and figure out the strategy that suits you best.