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5 Essential Tips for Investing in Stocks

Buying stocks isn’t hard. What’s challenging is choosing companies that consistently beat the stock market.

That’s something most people can’t do, which is why you’re on the hunt for stock tips. The below strategies will deliver tried-and-true rules and strategies for investing in the stock market. (Need to back up and learn some basics? Here’s our guide for how to buy stocks.)

One bonus investment tip before we dive in: We recommend investing no more than 10% of your portfolio in individual stocks. The rest should be in a diversified mix of low-cost index mutual funds. Money you need within the next five years shouldn’t be invested in stocks at all.

5 stock market investment tips

1. Check your emotions at the door

“Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ … what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.” That’s wisdom from Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and an oft-quoted investing sage and role model for investors seeking long-term, market-beating, wealth-building returns.

Buffett is referring to investors who let their heads, not their guts, drive their investing decisions. In fact, trading overactivity triggered by emotions is one of the most common ways investors hurt their own portfolio returns.

All the stock market tips that follow can help investors cultivate the temperament required for long-term success.

2. Pick companies, not ticker symbols

It’s easy to forget that behind the alphabet soup of stock quotes crawling along the bottom of every CNBC broadcast is an actual business . B ut don’t let stock picking become an abstract concept. Remember: Buying a share of a company’s stock makes you a part owner of that business .

Remember: Buying a share of a company’s stock makes you a part owner of that business.

You’ll come across an overwhelming amount of information as you screen potential business partners. But it’s easier to home in on the right stuff when wearing a “business buyer” hat. You want to know how this company operates, its place in the overall industry, its competitors, its long-term prospects and whether it brings something new to the portfolio of businesses you already own.

3. Plan ahead for panicky times

All investors are sometimes tempted to change their relationship statuses with their stocks. But making heat-of-the-moment decisions can lead to the classic investing gaffe: buying high and selling low.

Here’s where journaling helps. (That’s right, investor: journaling. Chamomile tea is a nice touch, but it’s completely optional.)

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Write down what makes every stock in your portfolio worthy of a commitment and, while your head is clear, the circumstances that would justify a breakup. For example:

Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.

What would make me sell: Sometimes there are good reasons to split up. For this part of your journal, compose an investing prenup that spells out what would drive you to sell the stock. We’re not talking about stock price movement, especially not short term, but fundamental changes to the business that affect its ability to grow over the long term. Some examples: The company loses a major customer, the CEO’s successor starts taking the business in a different direction, a major viable competitor emerges, or your investing thesis doesn’t pan out after a reasonable period of time.

4. Build up positions gradually

Time, not timing, is an investor’s superpower. The most successful investors buy stocks because they expect to be rewarded — via share price appreciation, dividends, etc. — over years or even decades. That means you can take your time in buying, too. Here are three buying strategies that reduce your exposure to price volatility:

Dollar-cost average: This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Dollar-cost averaging means investing a set amount of money at regular intervals, such as once per week or month. That set amount buys more shares when the stock price goes down and fewer shares when it rises, but overall, it evens out the average price you pay. Some online brokerage firms let investors set up an automated investing schedule.

Buy in thirds: Like dollar-cost averaging, “buying in thirds” helps you avoid the morale-crushing experience of bumpy results right out of the gate. Divide the amount you want to invest by three and then, as the name implies, pick three separate points to buy shares. These can be at regular intervals (e.g., monthly or quarterly) or based on performance or company events. For example, you might buy shares before a product is released and put the next third of your money into play if it’s a hit — or divert the remaining money elsewhere if it’s not.

Buy “the basket”: Can’t decide which of the companies in a particular industry will be the long-term winner? Buy ’em all! Buying a basket of stocks takes the pressure off picking “the one.” Having a stake in all the players that pass muster in your analysis means you won’t miss out if one takes off, and you can use gains from that winner to offset any losses. This strategy will also help you identify which company is “the one” so you can double down on your position if desired.

» No brokerage account? Learn how to open one

5. Avoid trading overactivity

Checking in on your stocks once per quarter — such as when you receive quarterly reports — is plenty. But it’s hard not to keep a constant eye on the scoreboard. This can lead to overreacting to short-term events, focusing on share price instead of company value, and feeling like you need to do something when no action is warranted.

When one of your stocks experiences a sharp price movement, find out what triggered the event. Is your stock the victim of collateral damage from the market responding to an unrelated event? Has something changed in the underlying business of the company? Is it something that meaningfully affects your long-term outlook?

Rarely is short-term noise (blaring headlines, temporary price fluctuations) relevant to how a well-chosen company performs over the long term. It’s how investors react to the noise that really matters. Here’s where that rational voice from calmer times — your investing journal — can serve as a guide to sticking it out during the inevitable ups and downs that come with investing in stocks.

Ready to put these tips to work? Here are our top picks for the best brokers:

E*TRADE Review 2020: Free Commissions, Large Investment Selection

E*TRADE excels even outside of its $0 commissions, with superb educational resources, portfolio-building tools and a large mutual fund selection.

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Our Take

The bottom line: E*TRADE has long been one of the most popular online brokers. The company’s $0 commissions and strong trading platforms appeal to active traders, while beginner investors benefit from a large library of educational resources.

on E*TRADE’s website

E*TRADE

on E*TRADE’s website

Account Minimum
Promotion

cash credit with a qualifying deposit or transfer

Pros & Cons

Large investment selection.

Excellent customer support.

Access to extensive research.

Advanced mobile app.

Commission-free stock, options and ETF trades.

Website can be difficult to navigate.

Compare to Similar Brokers

Account Minimum
Account Minimum
Promotion

cash credit with a qualifying deposit or transfer

Promotion

minimum trade cost

Best Online Brokers

Full Review

E*TRADE offers value to both beginner investors and frequent traders with a library of educational resources, professional-level trading platforms, and tools to help assemble a risk-appropriate, balanced portfolio. Active traders will appreciate the firm’s $0 commission for all stock, ETF and options trades.

In February 2020, Morgan Stanley announced a $13 billion deal to purchase E*TRADE, which is expected to be complete pending regulatory approvals by the end of the year. E*TRADE will continue to accept new accounts, which will move to Morgan Stanley once the deal is final.

E*TRADE is best for:

Research and data.

Retirement planning assistance.

E*TRADE at a glance

Stock trading costs

No base commission; $0.65 per contract (volume discount available)

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)

No annual or inactivity fee. $75 full transfer out fee; $25 partial

Number of commission-free ETFs

All ETFs trade commission-free.

Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds

• Stocks. • Bonds. • Mutual funds. • ETFs. • Options. • Futures.

Three platforms available for free to all customers: • E-Trade Web. • Power E-Trade. • E-Trade Pro.

Two high-performing apps: • E*TRADE Mobile. • Power E*TRADE. Available on iOS and Android.

Research and data

Free and extensive, with over eight providers available at no cost.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Phone, email and chat support 24/7; 30 local branches

$100 to $2,500 cash credit with a qualifying deposit.

Where E*TRADE shines

Trading platforms: E*TRADE has three trading platforms — E*TRADE Web, Power E*TRADE and E*TRADE Pro. All are free and available to all customers, with no trade activity or balance minimums.

E*TRADE Web offers free streaming market data, free real-time quotes, live market commentary, analyst research stock screeners and more. From the dashboard, you can track your accounts, create watch lists, view market data and make trades, including complex options strategies.

E*TRADE Pro, the company’s desktop platform, is equally impressive, with idea-generating tools like Strategy Scanner and back-testing capabilities.

And for truly active traders, there’s Power E*TRADE, the result of the company’s acquisition of OptionsHouse several years ago. The web platform offers real-time data, more than 100 technical studies, over 30 drawing tools, streamlined trade tickets, customizable options chain views and trading ladders.

E*TRADE options trading platform.

There are plenty of educational materials and demos on the E*TRADE website that let you peek at what each platform can do.

Free commissions: Effective October 2020, E*TRADE dropped its once-high $6.95 trade commission to $0 for online stock, options and ETF trades. Options still carry a contract charge, but that was reduced to $0.65, with a discounted fee of $0.50 for active traders.

Mobile app: E*TRADE’s two free mobile apps are standouts, perhaps the best available from any online broker. Both are available for iOS and Android.

The E*TRADE mobile app allows you to easily manage your account, place trades and get real-time quotes and news, including Bloomberg TV. It offers advanced mobile features like stock and ETF screeners, as well as multi-leg options trades. The E*TRADE app is available for Apple Watch as well.

The Power E*TRADE app offers many capabilities on the go: Traders can access the customizable options chain, a selection of popular technical studies, charts, streaming quotes and news. The app can be used for trading complex strategies, including four-legged option spreads, and futures traders can enter futures orders directly from the futures ladder.

Investment selection: E*TRADE offers a breadth of investment choices that will please active traders and retirement investors alike, including futures and advanced options strategies, as well as more than 4,400 no-transaction-fee mutual funds. That mutual fund lineup easily rivals those at other brokers. Mutual funds not on the no-fee list will cost $19.99 per transaction.

E*TRADE’s analysts regularly update a list of highlighted mutual funds called the All-Star Funds Report with the top no-load funds and ETFs offered.

Educational resources: E*TRADE is a great jumping off point for beginner investors, in part because of the educational resources it offers. Online, investors can view webinars on topics like options trading, technical analysis and how to diversify a portfolio, and in-person events are regularly held at E*TRADE branches.

The company also offers online investing courses from independent investment research company Morningstar, covering everything from stocks 101 to how to build an emergency fund. A thematic investing section of the E*TRADE website includes advice for how to invest in companies that align with specific values, like gender diversity, clean energy and cybersecurity.

E*TRADE also has strong in-person customer service, with 30 branches staffed by financial consultants. Customer support is also available by phone, email and live chat 24/7.

If you’d rather skip learning and cede investment decisions to the experts, E*TRADE’s robo-advisor service, E*TRADE Core Portfolios , will manage your portfolio for you for an annual advisory fee of 0.30%. The minimum investment for that service is $500. Robo-advisors are computer-based investment advisors who build and manage client investment portfolios.

» Interested in a robo-advisor? Here are our top picks .

Where E*TRADE falls short

Website transparency: Part of our analysis includes how easily and quickly customers and potential customers can find key information on a broker’s website; E*TRADE came up a bit short in this area. Our testers were unable to easily find the company’s required account minimum or guidance on how to close an E*TRADE account once open, both of which should be readily available.

The bottom line

E*TRADE’s investing tools, educational resources, large selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds and innovative trading technology will suit all types of investors. Active traders will love the $0 commissions, and beginners will easily get up to speed with the company’s deep educational resources.

The 9 Best Investing Books of 2020

Get smart and get rich

We are committed to researching, testing, and recommending the best products. We may receive commissions from purchases made after visiting links within our content. Learn more about our review process.

Whether you’re an experienced trader or you’re just starting out with your first investment, it always pays to have a good understanding of the rules and trends, and to keep abreast of them as they change. Tips on technique and insights from those investors who have excelled can come in pretty handy, too. Read up to find out what others are doing and how and why they’ve been so successful before you invest your next dollar.

Best Overall: The Intelligent Investor

Before his death, “The Intelligent Investor” author Benjamin Graham was a renowned professor known as the godfather of investing, and Jason Zweig, The Wall Street Journal columnist, adds in some commentary in this revised edition.

This book takes a different approach from other investing books, although it’s not without positive encouragement. It won’t tell you how to make millions, but rather how not to lose your shirt. The authors impart must-read basics to get you started in investing and keep you going for a long time, from recommended strategies and how to analyze stocks to a comprehensive history lesson on the stock market.

Graham published the first edition of this book in 1949, and Buffett himself has called that version “the best book on investing ever written.”

Runner-Up, Best Overall: The Little Book of Common Sense Investing

John C. Bogle is credited with creating the first-ever index fund, so he surely knew a good bit about investing. He was also the founder of Vanguard Group, and it was rumored that he and Buffett were the best of friends. Buffet even gave his endorsement to Bogle’s book, saying that “investors large and small” should read it.

“The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns” takes the surprising approach that for many investors, the stock market is a lose-lose proposition. Bogle then explains what he learned to turn the odds in his favor. This isn’t his only book, but it’s the one that manages to cover his own personal innovative techniques and truths in a relatively short and easy read.

Best Essay Collection: The Essays of Warren Buffett

The fourth edition of “The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America” was released in 2020, and it’s a worthy read for learning from the very best. You’d be hard-pressed to name a more successful investor than Buffett, and he’s taken the time to share what he knows and has learned on the subject over the years.

The title addresses “corporate America,” but you can take that to include shareholders. The book offers an excellent explanation of the relationship between corporations and their shareholders, which makes it ideal for those new to investing. Plus, this collection of essays spans more than 50 years.

Best for Beginners: A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Investing doesn’t necessarily mean you devote hours on managing a broad-based, extensive portfolio, and Burton Malkiel knows that. “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” is invaluable reading for those who are trying to get a handle on their first 401(k)s. First, you have to learn to talk the talk, or at least understand what’s being said when someone else speaks it.

Malkiel’s book includes some handy definitions of investment terms, and it applies them to various investment strategies geared toward different stages in life. He emphasizes long-term investments rather than get-rich-quick schemes, and how to predict prices and avoid common mistakes. This is a revised edition of a book that’s been around for a while. “A Random Walk” has sold more than 1.5 million copies to date.

Check out our other reviews of the best investing books for beginners available on the market today.

Best Psychological: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman knows a thing or two about thinking — he’s a psychology professor at Princeton University and knows a lot about finances, having won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

His New York Times bestseller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” delves into how your thought processes can affect your success in investing. Everyone harbors their own little biases, sometimes subconsciously. Kahneman explains how to identify your own and lock them away so you can make investment decisions without their input, thinking clearly, rationally, and analytically. Note that this book isn’t just about investing, although that’s its focus. Kahneman also explains how biases can affect our everyday lives and other financial decisions.

Best Skill-Building: One Up on Wall Street

“One Up On Wall Street: How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market” throws down a challenge flag to beat the beast. Author Peter Lynch says it’s not only possible for newbie investors to do as well as — if not better than — the pros, but he maintains they already have everything it takes right at their fingertips.

Lynch believes that solid investment opportunities are everywhere. They litter the ground at our feet and we just have to stop walking so fast, pause in our everyday lives, and bend down to inspect the clutter so we can pluck out the most viable options. In doing so, we can beat the pros to the punchline and get in on an investment before the rest of the world realizes its potential.

“One Up on Wall Street” has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in 2000. The New York Times says Lynch, a renowned investor in his own right, is “in a league by himself.”

Read more reviews of the best books for learning stocks available to purchase online.

Best for Inspiration: Principles: Life and Work

This No. 1 New York Times bestseller is written by one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. An average, middle-class kid who grew up in Long Island, Ray Dalio began his investment firm in his New York apartment. Forty years later, Fortune named his company, Bridgewater Associates, one of the five most important in the U.S.

“Principles: Life and Work” is part autobiography, part instructional. Dalio shares his secrets and insights and explains how businesses, individuals, and organizations can adopt them, including a set of rules for applying them to investing, life, your business, and your finances in general.

Take a look at other product reviews and shop for the best personal finance books available online.

Best Classic: The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need

This book has been around for over 40 years and for good reason. The Los Angeles Times says it “actually lives up to its name.” Don’t worry — it’s not antiquated with advice from the 70s. It was recently updated in 2020 to keep pace with the current economy and trends.

Andrew Tobias doesn’t just address the wealthy investor. He offers tips and guidance for those with more limited capital, and he does it in a frank, easy-to-understand, and often humorous language. He dedicates the book to his broker, who, he says, “from time to time made me just that.” This book has helped educate over 1 million readers to date.

Best for Real Estate Investing: The Book on Rental Property Investing

If you’re looking to profit off of rental properties, opt for this great starter book, “The Book on Rental Property Investing: How to Create Wealth and Passive Income Through Smart Buy & Hold Real Estate Investing.” In almost 400 pages, author Brandon Turner breaks down the tips and tricks you’ll need to become a successful rental property investor. Reviewers praise the practical, “how-to” style of this investment book, making it suitable for both beginners and experts. You’ll learn about the author’s four easy strategies, how to find incredible deals, ways to pay for your rentals, why so many real estate investors fail, and more. You can trust Turner’s advice, too, as he’s an active real estate investor and co-host of The BiggerPockets Podcasts, one of the top business podcasts today.

Need some more help finding what you’re looking for? Read through our best real estate investing books article.

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