Secrets of the Stock Market's Biggest Winners
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No thanks, I’m good with making a piddly 10% in the market each year.

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.

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.

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.

The 2010s have been a boom era for online stock brokers. According to Statista, between 10% and 15% of all U.S. adults used an online broker at least once in 2018. While some major brokerages have remained the same (Charles Schwab), others have gone through mergers and acquisitions (E*TRADE acquired OptionsHouse; TD Ameritrade and Scottrade merged; TradeKing is now Ally Invest), and a new generation of millennial-focused brokers (like Robinhood and Acorns) has kept the old guard on its toes by lowering commission rates and minimum deposits. After digging into 25 trading platforms, here are the factors that set our top picks apart from the crowd.

What should I invest my money in?


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).

E*TRADE does require an investment minimum for new brokerage accounts ($500), which may seem like more than a novice would like to throw in. But you’ll need at least that much to see real growth, and compared to the minimums of traditional brokerages, $500 is an incredibly welcoming threshold. Additionally, if you can commit to a $10,000 deposit, you can get 60 days of commission-free trades.

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.

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.

A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, or any individual that has a fundamental understanding of the stock market. A good mentor is willing to answer questions, provide help, recommend useful resources, and keep spirits up when the market gets tough. All successful investors of the past and present have had mentors during their early days.

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.

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.

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.

To the inexperienced investor, investing may seem simple enough - all you need to do is go to a brokerage firm and open up an account, right? What you may not know, however, is that all financial institutions have minimum deposit requirements. In other words, they won't accept your account application unless you deposit a certain amount of money. With a sum as small as $1,000, some firms won't allow you to open an account.

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.

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.


Diversification is considered to be the only free lunch in investing. (If you are new to this concept, check out Introduction To Diversification, The Importance Of Diversification and A Guide To Portfolio Construction.) In a nutshell, by investing in a range of assets, you reduce the risk of one investment's performance severely hurting the return of your overall investment. You could think of it as financial jargon for "don't put all of your eggs in one basket".

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.


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.