The investing process has changed over time. People had to work face to face or over the phone with a trusted broker to get involved in the market in the past. It wasn’t until the 1990s that stocks became available online [ 1]. Today, everything happens online.
Hundreds of brokers and trading platforms make it easy for you to invest in stocks online.
Unfortunately, the stock market isn’t something most people learn in grade school. At the same time, finance is a taboo topic [ 2]. So, you may feel left in the dark, unaware of how to get started. Don’t worry. Follow the steps below to learn how to invest in stocks online… Successfully.
Step #1: Choose the Best Online Broker
Stock brokers are the middlemen between the investor and the publicly traded company. They make it easy for you to buy stocks online and off [ 3]. So, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a broker to work with.
Your broker should make it easy to buy stocks, ETFs, and other exchange-traded products. There are several brokers to choose from. Five of the most popular include :
- Fidelity. Founded in 1946, Fidelity is a traditional brokerage firm that quickly adjusted to the times as technology took hold on Wall Street. Today, the company is the most popular online discount broker by amount of customers and shows no signs of giving up its lead.
- Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab is also a more traditional broker, founded in the mid-1970s. Like Fidelity, Schwab led the charge as discount brokers changed the landscape of Wall Street, becoming one of the leaders in the market to this day.
- Robinhood. Robinhood was founded in 2013 as an online broker for the every day investor and trader. The platform appeals most to millennials and is well known for offering fractional shares and even free shares of stock just for signing up.
- WeBull. Webull is the newest brokerage on this list, founded in 2017. However, the company quickly rose to the top, offering a simplified, low-cost approach to investing and trading.
- TD Ameritrade. Founded in 1975, TD Ameritrade is another traditional brokerage turned discount online broker as the change in tides on Wall Street took place. The company is well known for its advanced trading technology and low-cost trading experience.
Keep in mind that each broker is unique. So, it’s crucial that you compare your options. Never sign up for the first online brokerage you come across. The most important factors to compare include:
Fees & Commissions
You’re investing to make money, not to spend it. Your online broker is in the business to make money. So, chances are that you’ll pay fees at some point in your investing career.
There are several online brokers that offer commission-free trading. Though commission-free trading only applies to domestic stocks and ETFs in most cases. International stock trading will come with added fees. The same is true for futures and options trading.
Pay attention to all fees in your comparison to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Nonetheless, it’s easy to keep your investments in commission-free assets. Doing so will reduce your cost of investing.
When you work with an online broker, you’re signing up for a financial service. Your broker will be responsible for keeping your investment dollars safe. So, it’s important to make sure the broker you choose takes proper measures to protect your data.
The best brokers offer the following security features:
- Encryption. Encryption is a must in online broker data transfers. Encryption mixes letters and numbers. So, if hackers do get ahold of your data, they won’t be able to read it.
- Activity Notifications. Activity alerts notify you whenever you buy or sell stock in your account. You’ll also receive notifications when you transfer money and for all other activities.
- PIN. Some brokers allow you to set up a PIN Number. You’ll use your PIN any time you buy, sall, or take any other action on their platform.
- Two-Factor Authentication. Finally, the most secure brokers offer two-factor Authentication. This means when you log in, you’ll enter a unique code sent via text or email to access your account .
Consumers love to share their opinions about products and services. This has led to a sea of online reviews to sift through. Look for reviews about the brokers you’re interested in signing up for.
Chances are you’ve found a great broker if the majority of its investors are happy. You’ll want to look for other options if most investors have had a bad experience.
You’re going to want to focus on the traditional idea of investing in stocks in the beginning. But, as you gain more experience, you may want to venture into futures and options trading. You may even want access to margins.
Take some time to look into the different product offerings from each broker you compare. The best brokers tend to offer a wide range of products.
Step #2: Get an Understanding of Order Types
There’s more to investing than simply buying and selling stocks. There are several different ways to place orders in the stock market. Many order types give you more control over how, and when, you execute online stock orders .
Some of the most common order types include:
Market orders are the traditional order buy and sell orders that most beginners use. Your broker will execute these orders as soon as they’re placed at the best possible price.
For example, say you place a market order to buy 10 shares of Apple stock. You’ll buy the next 10 shares available at the best price possible.
Limit orders set limits on the amount of money you’re willing to spend or accept to buy or sell stock. For example, ABC stock is trading at $10.50 per share, but you want 10 shares at $10.45 per share. You place a buy limit order to buy 10 shares at $10.45 each. When the price falls, the order will convert to a market order at a price closer to your goal.
Limit orders give you more control over your entry and exit prices. Conversely, your broker will never execute them if the trigger price isn’t met.
Stop-loss orders are designed to give you more control over the risk you accept when making a trade. These orders have an execution price. When the execution price is met, the stop-loss becomes a market order to exit your position.
For example, you bought XYZ stock at $10.00 per share hoping the stock would move upward. However, you’re not willing to take more than a 5% loss on the trade. So, you set a stop loss at $9.50 per share. If XYZ falls to $9.50, the stop-loss order is triggered and your shares will be sold at $9.50, limiting the bleeding on bad moves in the market.
Take-profit orders are the exact opposite of stop-loss orders. These orders are designed to lock in profits at a certain level to protect you from a reversal that could eat into your gains.
For example, you purchase XYZ stock at $10.00 per share and hope to earn a 5% profit. So, you set a take-profit order at $10.50 per share. Once the stock reaches $10.50, the order converts to a market order and your shares are sold to lock in your profits.
Trailing Stop-Loss Order
Finally, the trailing stop-loss order works just like the stop-loss with one big advantage. When the stock moves up, the stop-loss order moves with it, helping to both limit losses and lock in profits.
For example, you buy ABC stock at $10.00 per share. You’re willing to accept a 5% loss and set a trailing stop loss at 5%. So, if the stock falls to $9.50 per share, the order becomes a market order to sell your shares and you automatically exit your position.
A month goes by and you look at your holdings to find that ABC has climbed to $11.00 per share. As a result, your trailing stop-loss followed the stock up. Now, the stop-loss will be triggered if the ABC falls below $10.45 per share, a 5% loss from the high of $11. Should this be the case, you’ll lock in a 4.5% gain.
Step #3: Choose an Investment Strategy
Successful investors often say the most important part of investing is choosing and sticking with an investment strategy. A strong investment strategy tells you which stocks to buy, when to buy them, and when to sell them.
You can find countless investing strategies online, but they all tend to funnel into one of five categories.
Growth investing is most popular during bull markets. Growth investors specifically target stocks with a strong performance across multiple growth categories. Though each investor looks for a unique set of statistics that point to sustained upward momentum, most typically at least look at:
- Revenue Growth. Revenue growth is the amount of money a company makes over a predetermined time compared to the previous period. For example, growth investors look for companies that see consistent revenue growth quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year.
- Earnings Growth. A company can generate incredible revenue growth, but still not qualify as a growth stock. After all, if revenue is eaten away by expenses, it doesn’t mean much. That’s why growth investors pay close attention to earnings growth as well.
- Stock Price Growth. Finally, growth investors attempt to tap into defined upward trends. So, a stock must be experiencing a trend of price appreciation to qualify as a growth stock.
Growth investing is best for you if you’re moderately risk-tolerant and want to produce greater-than-average market returns. However, growth stocks often come with high valuations and experience high levels of volatility – both of which are a turnoff to risk-averse investors.
Income investing is the process of investing in assets that produce regular, reliable income. If you deploy the income investing strategy in the stock market, it means you invest in stocks that pay high dividends.
There is a tradeoff here.
Quality dividend stocks are known for slow steady growth, rather than robust price appreciation. So, this isn’t the strategy for you if you’re interested in beating average market returns. Nonetheless, if you’re a risk-averse investor, income investing is a great way to tap into market gains while generating regular dividend payments.
Some of the best stocks for income investors are known as dividend aristocrats. Companies labeled dividend aristocrats haven’t missed a dividend payment and consistently increased base dividends annually for a period of 25 years or longer .
Value investors look for stocks that the market has largely ignored. These stocks have great revenue and earnings data, compelling products, and strong intellectual property, but their share price doesn’t reflect their success.
Value investors believe that when they tap into these undervalued stocks, they purchase shares at a discount – opening the door to more profitability when the market realizes what it’s missing.
Several investing gurus, including Warren Buffett, live by this strategy.
Value investing is an effective way to increase your portfolio returns without adding significant risk. The key in doing so is research. In some cases, value stocks may be undervalued for a reason. For example, revenue and profits may have been going well for some time but projections suggest a plateau ahead. Nonetheless, with enough research, you can find diamonds in the rough that pay serious dividends in the long run.
Factor investors look for risk-premium factors when they invest. This means they look for opportunities to accept minimal amounts of increased risk that are heavily correlated with maximum profitability.
For example, many investors focus heavily on small-cap stocks.
Small-cap stocks are traditionally riskier than their large-cap counterparts . On the other hand, they also typically produced higher annualized returns than large-cap stocks over the long run .
So, when you invest in small-cap stocks you accept more volatility – which equates to more risk. However, in the long run, you’ll likely come out ahead when compared to large-cap stocks in the same sector.
Factor investing is best for long-term investors who have moderate risk tolerance. These investors are capable of watching the market ebb and flow without letting emotions get involved. They also have a knack for research and choosing early-to-mid-stage companies with the potential to captivate a large target audience over time.
Exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, are bucket investments that use money from a large group of investors to invest in a diversified group of stocks or other securities. These funds trade on major stock exchanges, just like stocks, making them easy for you to access.
Each ETF is managed by a team of professional investors who follow strict strategies outlined in the fund’s prospectus .
There are ETFs built around just about any investment strategy you can think of – from growth to income, value, and yes, factor investing. You can also use these funds to build diversified portfolios of domestic or international stocks or a mix of the two.
ETF Investing is best if you’re a busy investor who doesn’t have the time to manage a diversified portfolio comprised of individual stocks. Whether you’re looking for income, price appreciation, or a mix of the two, there’s a strong chance you can find a mix of ETFs that meets your investment objectives.
Step #4: Find & Analyze Opportunities
Now that you know how the stock market works and you have your strategy in place, it’s time to decide which companies you’re going to invest in. It’s important to choose stocks that are in line with your investment strategy and have a high probability of long-term growth. Learn how to pick the best stocks below.
Start With a Stock Screener
There are thousands of publicly traded companies on the United States stock market alone. Add in the rest of the world and you have more opportunities than you can analyze in a lifetime. The best way to make your way through the figurative haystack to find the needle you’re looking for is to use a stock screener.
The best stock screeners let you set the exact parameters of stocks you’re looking for. That could mean stocks that have produced a specific annual percentage growth over a predetermined period of time or stocks that trade with a P/E ratio that points to an undervaluation.
Some of the best stock screeners online include:
- Finviz. Finviz has become a household name in the investing community because it offers a wide range of tools, including a stock screener, for free. The company offers an elite membership that unlocks tools like backtesting and advanced charting for just under $25 a month, but if you just want a screener, the free membership is all you need .
- TC2000. TC2000 has been around for two and a half decades and benefits from significant refinement through experience. The platform features one of the most robust sets of fundamental and technical settings, making whittling thousands of stocks down to a handful that match your criteria possible. You can get a basic account for $9.99 per month, but if you really want to unlock the power of the screener, the Gold plan is only $29.99 per month. You can unlock savings by signing up for an annual or bi-annual subscription .
- Trade Ideas. Trade Ideas isn’t just a screener, it’s a complete trader education program that unlocks the power of artificial intelligence as you learn. The Trade Ideas screener incorporates artificial intelligence into the screening process. The technology at Trade Ideas is second-to-none and education is a must for any beginners who want to turn the market into a career .
Make a Watchlist
A watchlist is a list of stocks you plan on paying close attention to. These can be stocks or funds you’re already investing in or assets you’re considering. You’re free to create a watchlist using a pen and pad, or even an Excel or Google Drive spreadsheet, but the best way to do so is by taking advantage of free online tools. Some of the best watchlist providers include:
- Yahoo! Finance. All you need to do is create a free Yahoo! account. Once you have your account you can create your own watchlist at Yahoo! Finance.
- StockTwits. StockTwits is likely the most popular stock market-related social network online. The network is free to join and you won’t pay a penny to create a watchlist.
Research Each Company
The best investments tend to be the most well-researched ones. So, take your time and research each company. As you do, pay close attention to the following:
- Revenue & Earnings Growth. The best companies produce consistent growth in topline revenue and bottom line profitability. Dive into earnings reports for at least the past four quarters to ensure the company is growing.
- Valuation. In many cases, companies that are doing overwhelmingly well are also overvalued. That means there may not be much room for growth ahead. Look into valuation metrics like the P/E ratio (price-to-earnings ratio), P/S ratio (price-to-sales ratio), and P/B ratio (price-to-book ratio) in comparison to the company’s peers to determine if it’s undervalued, overvalued, or trading at a fair market value.
- Dividend Yield. Dividends aren’t a must for a solid investment, but they are a sign that the company is doing well. They also provide reliable income through your investment that you are free to either enjoy or reinvest to expand your exposure to the compounding power of financial markets.
- Future Prospects. Consider the company’s handle on its target audience and potential growth ahead. If the company has already completely saturated its market, it may be headed for a plateau, but if it’s successfully growing market share, there may be plenty of room for growth.
Look Into Growth, Income & Value
There are tons of different investment strategies to choose from, but the vast majority fall into one of three categories – growth, income, and value . It’s important to decide which type of strategy you’ll follow to help you dial down the best investment opportunities for your portfolio. Here’s how these three strategies work:
- Growth. Growth investing is best for the aggressive investor who’s willing to accept increased risk in order to beat average market returns. Growth stocks have a strong history of producing revenue and earnings growth as well as consistent price appreciation.
- Income. Income investing is best for the risk-averse investor. This type of investing typically involves buying blue chip stocks with stable and growing dividends. Though these stocks won’t grow in value as fast as growth stocks, they tend to withstand bear markets impressively.
- Value. Value investors take a middle-of-the-line approach to risk. As a value investor, you by stocks with clear undervaluations – much like using a coupon to receive a discount at a retail store. The goal is to beat the market as the stocks you buy climb to more fair market valuations.
Keep Diversification in Mind
Diversification is the process of spreading your investment dollars over a large list of investments. This protects you because if one or two stocks in your portfolio take a dive, the gains from the remaining stocks in your portfolio lighten the blow.
A properly diversified portfolio includes at least 20 stocks with no more than 5% of your total portfolio value invested in any individual asset . Although some portfolios are far more diversified.
If you’re not comfortable maintaining a portfolio with so many assets, don’t worry. You can also invest in exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These funds collect investment dollars from several investors and typically use those dollars to invest in a list of hundreds, or even thousands of stocks. There are ETFs for all styles of investors, centered around all sectors.
Step #5: Buying Your First Stocks & ETFs
It’s time to start adding stocks and ETFs to your portfolio. Considering everything you’ve learned above, build a diversified group of stocks, or invest in a few ETFs that provide diversified exposure to different areas of the market. Although each broker is different, the process of making an investment is typically very similar. Follow the steps below:
- Log In. Log into the brokerage account of your choice. If you haven’t already signed up, it’s time to do so.
- Search. Most online brokerages have a search bar at the top left, or top right, hand corner of the screen. Search for the full name of the company or ticker that represents the company on the market.
- Click “Buy”. Once you navigate to the page representing the stock you’re interested in, click the “Buy” button. In some cases, the button may be labeled “Trade,” followed by “Buy” and “Sell” buttons.
- Input Your Order. Type either the number of shares you want to buy or the dollar amount worth of shares you want to buy and submit your order.
- Confirm Your Order. Review your order details and click “Confirm” or “Submit” to finalize your stock or ETF purchase.
Step #6: Add a Safety Net With Fixed-Income Investments & Other Safe Havens
Balance is important in any investment strategy. Investors typically balance out the volatility of the stock market with fixed-income and other safe haven investments. This way, if the market crashes, your safe haven allocation helps you avoid significant losses.
Corporate bonds are loans you make to corporations in exchange for a predetermined interest rate and payment of your principal investment in full at a later date. In the event of a liquidation, bondholders are paid before stockholders, making these a safer bet.
Treasury Debt Securities
Treasure debt securities like Treasury Bonds, Treasury Bills, and Treasury Notes, are loans made by you, the investor, to the United States Treasury . These loans are backed by the full faith and financial security of the United States government, making them some of the safest investments on the market.
However, there is a tradeoff.
Because of the safety of these investments, they’re known for the lowest yields and often fail to produce gains equal to or greater than the rate of inflation.
Finally, precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum have long been used as safe haven investments . These metals are known as effective stores of value, both outpacing inflation and performing well in the face of market downturns.
Step #7: Rebalance Regularly
Over time, some assets in your portfolio will perform better than others. This means that as time passes, your portfolio will fall further and further out of balance. As a long-term investor, you don’t have to worry about rebalancing weekly or monthly, but it is a good idea to assess your current asset allocation and rebalance it according to your strategy at least bi-annually.
Of course, there’s no shame in quarterly, or even monthly rebalancing as this will only serve to keep your portfolio in order to protect you against any unexpected events in the market.
Investing In Stocks Online Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Investing is a complex topic. It only makes sense that there are several frequently asked questions about investing in stocks online. Here are the answers to some of the most common:
How Can I Invest $100?
It may be difficult to properly diversify individual stocks with a $100 starting portfolio value. So, your best bet is to invest in a couple of highly diversified ETFs. This will give you exposure to the market while protecting you by spreading your money across hundreds or even thousands of different stocks.
Which Online Investing Site Is Best?
The best online brokerage for me may be different from the best brokerage for you. The most popular online brokerages include Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, and TD Ameritrade. Your best bet is to compare these options and choose the one you believe fits you best.
How Do I Invest With No Money?
You need money to invest, but you don’t need a ton of it. Even if you’ve only got $15 or $20 to invest, you can sign up for any of the top online brokers and purchase fractional shares to get your portfolio going.
The key is acting now. The longer you wait, the more compound gains you give up!
Is It Better to Buy in Shares or Dollars?
For allocation purposes, I find that it’s better to buy stock in dollar amounts. It can be hard to purchase exactly 5% of your portfolio’s total value in a single stock if you’re buying a whole share at a time. Chances are, you’ll need fractional shares to ensure proper allocation.
Can I Buy Amazon Stock?
Amazon stock’s ticker is AMZN and it’s one of the most popular stocks on the market. You can buy the stock with just about any broker online.
At What Age Should You Start Investing?
My 12-year-old son started investing this year and I think that was too late. The simple fact is, the earlier you start, the better.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is simple. Investing in stocks online likely isn’t as difficult as you think. It’s all about finding quality opportunities, doing your research, and making educated investment decisions.
Keep in mind, this guide is for investing in stocks, not trading them. If you’d like to learn how to trade, I strongly recommend taking advantage of Trade Ideas’ educational series and trading tools.