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Investing in stocks: The basics

Investing in stocks means buying shares of ownership in a public company. Those small shares are known as the company’s stock, and by investing in that stock, you’re hoping the company grows and performs well over time. When that happens, your shares may become more valuable, and other investors may be willing to buy them from you for more than you paid for them. That means you could earn a profit if you decide to sell them.

Investing in the stock market is a long game. A good rule of thumb is to have a diversified investment portfolio and stay invested, even when the market has ups and downs. One of the best ways for beginners to get started investing in the stock market is to put money in an online investment account, which can then be used to invest in shares of stock or stock mutual funds.

Focus on investing for the long-term

Stock market investments have proven to be one of the best ways to grow long-term wealth. Over several decades, the average stock market return is about 10% per year. However, remember that’s just an average across the entire market — some years will be up, some down and individual stocks will vary in their returns.

For long-term investors, the stock market is a good investment no matter what’s happening day-to-day or year-to-year; it’s that long-term average they’re looking for.

Stock investing is filled with intricate strategies and approaches, yet some of the most successful investors have done little more than stick with stock market 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.

The best thing to do after you start investing in stocks or mutual funds may be the hardest: Don’t look at them. Unless you’re trying to beat the odds and succeed at day trading, it’s good to avoid the habit of compulsively checking how your stocks are doing several times a day, every day.

Manage your stock portfolio

While fretting over daily fluctuations won’t do much for your portfolio’s health — or your own — there will of course be times when you’ll need to check in on your stocks or other investments.

If you follow the steps above to buy mutual funds and individual stocks over time, you’ll want to revisit your portfolio a few times a year to make sure it’s still in line with your investment goals.

A few things to consider: If you’re approaching retirement, you may want to move some of your stock investments over to more conservative fixed-income investments. If your portfolio is too heavily weighted in one sector or industry, consider buying stocks or funds in a different sector to build more diversification. Finally, pay attention to geographic diversification, too. Vanguard recommends international stocks make up as much as 40% of the stocks in your portfolio. You can purchase international stock mutual funds to get this exposure.

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