Secrets of the Stock Market's Biggest Winners
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NerdWallet's ratings for brokers and robo-advisors are weighted averages of several categories, including investment selection, customer support, account fees, account minimum, trading costs and more. Our survey of brokers and robo-advisors includes the largest U.S. providers by assets under management, plus notable and/or emerging players in the industry. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include advisory fees, branch access, user-facing technology, customer service and mobile features. The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

“I know stocks can be a great investment, but I’d like someone to manage the process for me.” You may be a good candidate for a robo-advisor, a service that offers low-cost investment management. Virtually all of the major brokerage firms offer these services, which invest your money for you based on your specific goals. See our top picks for robo-advisors.

In addition to attractive pricing, Ally offers a quality platform that gives you access to the entire universe of stocks and ETFs. Where some discount brokers focus on only one kind of trader (for example, options traders or high-net-worth investors), Ally Invest provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds. A focus on discounted costs can sometimes be a red flag for quality, but Ally truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Ally also offers a robust research library that incorporates visual slides and interactive media into its market data.

CAUTION – Be careful. Many paid subscriptions marketed online, especially in social media, come from one-off traders that claim to have fantastic returns and can teach you how to be successful. 99.99% of them are a really poor investment and come with higher prices of $99 – $149 per month, or more. The worst damage though comes when you try to do what they do, invest way too much in a stock tip, and get burned when it doesn’t work out. See, Day Trading: 10 Lessons That Changed My Career.

In terms of diversification, the greatest amount of difficulty in doing this will come from investments in stocks. This was illustrated in the commissions section of the article, where we discussed how the costs of investing in a large number of stocks can be detrimental to the portfolio. With a $1,000 deposit, it is nearly impossible to have a well-diversified portfolio, so be aware that you may need to invest in one or two companies (at the most) to begin with. This will increase your risk.


History has shown that investing in stocks is one of the easiest and most profitable ways to build wealth over the long-term. With a handful of notable exceptions, almost every member of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people got there because they own a large block of shares in a public or private corporation. Although your beginning may be humble, this guide to investing in stocks will explain what stocks are, how you can make money from them, and much more.

With cutting-edge research tools and mobile apps, online stock trading is perfect for investors who want to strike out on their own with “self-directed trading” instead of paying fees for a managed portfolio. Whether you’re a first-time investor or an expert trader, you need a trading platform that’s user-friendly, trustworthy, and packed with data visualizations. To find the best online stock trading sites of 2019, we analyzed 25 of the most popular platforms and tapped into the expertise of a former day trader, a stock analyst, and a financial commentator with more than two decades of trading experience. In short, there is no single best online stock broker, but each of our top picks has its own strengths for different types of investors. We’ll help you determine the best fit for your investment goals and experience.

First things first, let’s quickly define stock trading. Stock trading is buying and selling shares of publicly traded companies. Popular stocks most Americans know include Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX), and more recently listed companies such as Uber (UBER) and Pinterest (PINS).

Paying for research and trade ideas can be educational. Some investors may find watching or observing market professionals to be more beneficial than trying to apply newly learned lessons themselves. There are a variety of paid subscription sites available across the web; the key is to find the right one for you. Here’s a list of the services I use myself. Two of the most well-respected subscription services are Investors.com and Morningstar.

TD Ameritrade has been a powerful player in the online stock trading ecosystem for years. The flipside to such robust platforms? Cost. Even though TD Ameritrade lowered its fees in 2017 from $9.99 to $6.95, pretty much every other major discount broker slashed its prices, too. TD Ameritrade remains one of the more expensive options out there, even with more than 100 commission-free ETFs. Though its pricing structure is more expensive than those of some of the other discount brokers, there are many traders who think it's a best-in-class trading platform.

Stock investing is filled with intricate strategies and approaches, yet some of the most successful investors have done little more than stick with the basics. That generally means using funds for the bulk of your portfolio — Warren Buffett has famously said a low-cost S&P 500 index fund is the best investment most Americans can make — and choosing individual stocks only if you believe in the company’s potential for long-term growth.

At $4.95 per trade, with no inactivity charge and a $50 full outgoing transfer fee, Ally Invest’s fee structure is about as low as you'll find. Even though a rash of brokers dropped their commissions in 2017 to be competitive with Ally Invest’s $4.95 flat rate, Ally keeps its edge with a zero account minimum and enticing discount for active investors — equity trades drop to $3.95 for users with 30-plus trades each quarter or a balance of $100,000.

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Is it good to invest in stocks?


Should you sell these five stocks, you would once again incur the costs of the trades, which would be another $50. To make the round trip (buying and selling) on these five stocks would cost you $100, or 10% of your initial deposit amount of $1,000. If your investments do not earn enough to cover this, you have lost money by just entering and exiting positions.


In addition to attractive pricing, Ally offers a quality platform that gives you access to the entire universe of stocks and ETFs. Where some discount brokers focus on only one kind of trader (for example, options traders or high-net-worth investors), Ally Invest provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds. A focus on discounted costs can sometimes be a red flag for quality, but Ally truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Ally also offers a robust research library that incorporates visual slides and interactive media into its market data.

We evaluated brokerage firms and investment companies on the services that matter most to different types of investors. For example, for active traders, we note online brokers offering volume discounts on trade commissions and robust mobile trading platforms. For people venturing into investing for the first time, we call out the best online brokers for educational support (such as stock-picking tutorials) and on-call chat or phone support.


One drawback of Robinhood’s simplicity is that as of 2019, you can only trade stocks, ETFs, and options on the platform — not bonds, mutual funds, or futures, and you can’t short-sell. But Robinhood is our “Best for Beginners” pick, and most first-time investors will probably want to stick to the basics. If you’re interested in bonds and mutual funds, Ally Invest has the best rates of our top picks. If you want to try futures trading, E*TRADE and Charles Schwab are your best bets.

Now, imagine that you decide to buy the stocks of those five companies with your $1,000. To do this, you will incur $50 in trading costs—assuming the fee is $10—which is equivalent to 5% of your $1,000. If you were to fully invest the $1,000, your account would be reduced to $950 after trading costs. This represents a 5% loss before your investments even have a chance to earn.

The most common order types: market, limit, and stop (see my guide, Best Order Types for Stock Trading). Market orders buy or sell immediately at the current best market price. Limit orders only buy or sell these shares at, “$xx price or better”. Lastly, stop loss orders are combined with a market or limit to trigger once $xx price hits. For new investors just getting started, I always suggest just sticking with market orders.

How does the stock market work for beginners?


John Paulson, a hedge-fund manager in New York, lead his firm to make $20 billion in profits between 2007 and early 2009. By betting heavily against first the housing market and then later financial stocks, his firm made a killing. Paulson’s success netted him a paycheck of some $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day. His funds during this time had returns of several hundred percent. These are his eight investing lessons:

If mutual funds or bonds are investments you would like to make, it is simpler in terms of minimum deposit amounts. Both of these can be purchased through brokerage firms, where similar deposit rules apply as stocks. Mutual funds also can be purchased through your local bank, often for less than $1,000 when you have an existing relationship with the bank.

We found Robinhood’s trading interface — both via its mobile app and its website — the most user-friendly of all candidates, making it a perfect option for the first-time trader. The design is minimalist, interactive, and easy to navigate. “Robinhood is a good fit for new investors because it offers a slick, modern app that allows you to trade efficiently,” says James Royal, a stock analyst and investing and wealth management reporter at Bankrate. “And of course, it's free, allowing you to invest money that would have otherwise gone into a broker's pocket.”

One drawback of Robinhood’s simplicity is that as of 2019, you can only trade stocks, ETFs, and options on the platform — not bonds, mutual funds, or futures, and you can’t short-sell. But Robinhood is our “Best for Beginners” pick, and most first-time investors will probably want to stick to the basics. If you’re interested in bonds and mutual funds, Ally Invest has the best rates of our top picks. If you want to try futures trading, E*TRADE and Charles Schwab are your best bets.

Unlike most online stock trading platforms, Robinhood doesn’t charge a commission fee every time you buy or sell stocks, ETFs, or options. If you’re a high-volume trader, or a beginner without much cash to spare, that makes Robinhood an attractive alternative to the $5 to $7 fees per trade offered by competitors. However, Robinhood does rake in “payment for order flow” by rounding regulatory fees up to the nearest penny and pocketing the difference. “That means if you buy a stock for $100.00, Robinhood earns 2.6 cents from the market maker,” says co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev, whereas “other brokerages earn rebates and charge you a per-trade commission fee.”

After the basic inputs have been made, the “Place Trade” button will appear to complete the order. By default, a summary screen always appears once this button is clicked to summarize the order and confirm we have enough funds in our account. Once investors have experience and are comfortable with the trade ticket, this confirmation page can be disabled.

The main difference between ETFs and mutual funds is in how they trade. ETFs trade like stocks, which means you can buy and sell them throughout the day and they fluctuate in price depending on supply and demand. Contrarily, mutual funds are priced each day after the market closes, so everyone pays the same price. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum investment than ETFs.

TD Ameritrade offers two best-in-class platforms, designed for two different types of investors. Both platforms are free to use for any investor with a TD Ameritrade account. The web-based Trade Architect, though often in the shadow of thinkorswim, is streamlined and easy to use. It will appeal to beginning investors or anyone who prefers a simplified educational interface. Its tab-based navigation lets users flip between trading tools and account overview, plus charts, stock screeners, heat maps, and more.

The best investors are in it for the long haul. Checking your account too often might make you react to the fluctuations in the market too quickly. Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has written that you should check your investments “probably every few months, with a major review every year.” On many sites, you can also set an alert if a stock dives. Other than that, just set up a quarterly recurring appointment to check in.

TD Ameritrade has been a powerful player in the online stock trading ecosystem for years. The flipside to such robust platforms? Cost. Even though TD Ameritrade lowered its fees in 2017 from $9.99 to $6.95, pretty much every other major discount broker slashed its prices, too. TD Ameritrade remains one of the more expensive options out there, even with more than 100 commission-free ETFs. Though its pricing structure is more expensive than those of some of the other discount brokers, there are many traders who think it's a best-in-class trading platform.

New investors need two things from their online stock trading platform: an easy learning curve and lots of room to grow. E*TRADE has both. Its platform boasts a library of educational videos, articles, and webinars for each type of investor. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, read up on market news, reports, and commentary from E*TRADE analysts. You can also take advantage of one-on-one assistance: Branch appointments are free to book, and online chat tools and 24-hour hotline are there to guide you from anywhere in the world.

In most cases, your broker will charge a commission every time that you trade stock, either through buying or selling. Trading fees range from the low end of $2 per trade but can be as high as $10 for some discount brokers. Some brokers charge no trade commissions at all, but they make up for it in other ways. There are no charitable organizations running brokerage services.

In addition to attractive pricing, Ally offers a quality platform that gives you access to the entire universe of stocks and ETFs. Where some discount brokers focus on only one kind of trader (for example, options traders or high-net-worth investors), Ally Invest provides an excellent experience for investors of all kinds. A focus on discounted costs can sometimes be a red flag for quality, but Ally truly delivers with sophisticated calculators, profit-loss estimators, and more. Ally also offers a robust research library that incorporates visual slides and interactive media into its market data.

If mutual funds or bonds are investments you would like to make, it is simpler in terms of minimum deposit amounts. Both of these can be purchased through brokerage firms, where similar deposit rules apply as stocks. Mutual funds also can be purchased through your local bank, often for less than $1,000 when you have an existing relationship with the bank.

TV is another way to expose yourself to the stock market. No question, CNBC is the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden your knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news intimidate you, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and source of excitement than being actually useful. Recommendations rarely yield profitable trades.

CAUTION – Like paid subscriptions, be very careful with classes and courses. Most are easily over $1,000 and are sold with promises of acquiring valuable knowledge. Their fantastic sales funnels will suck you in, take your money, excite you during the course, then leave you with a strategy that was profitable five or ten years ago, but is no longer relevant today. That, or you simply do not yet have the expertise required to be successful and trade the strategy properly.

Articles are a fantastic resource for education. My most popular posts are listed on my stock education page. The most popular website for investment education is investopedia.com. I also highly recommend reading the memos of billionaire Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital), which are absolutely terrific. Naturally, searching with Google search is another great way to find educational material to read.

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.