I’m 18 years old and want to learn how to invest my money. How do I get started?

Answer by Adena DeMonte:

  1. If you have a job, start a Roth IRA. You can do this easily at a place like Vanguard Group or Sharebuilder. If you have $1000 you can put it into the Vanguard STAR fund which has a $1k minimum, which I recommend if you want to test the waters. The other funds all have $3k minimums. You can also open a Roth IRA at Sharebuilder with no minimums. It's better to invest larger amounts up front due to fees, however. You can invest up to $5k per year as long as you've made that much in the year. If you have $3k to start with you can put it into one of Vanguard's other basic and diverse index funds, or one that is set for your retirement year. Max that out for the year before you think of investing elsewhere. (If you aren't earning income then skip this step or try to earn $5k per year.)
  2. if you happen to have a job with a 401(k) with a match, first put your investment money into that. Since you're 18 I'm going to guess that you don't given 401k matches are impossible to find these days, esp for younger employees, but I could be wrong. If you do have a match, once you hit your match, put the money into the Roth IRA.
  3. Read  personal finance blogs. Get different perspectives on investing. I started out mostly investing in Index Funds and Exchange-Traded Funds (funds that have lots of different stocks that are similar either in size, industry or some other commonality) and have since become a stock investor — but not day trader. Mutual Funds, which are basically index funds that are managed by someone who thinks they can out smart the market, are generally expensive over the long run and not worth it. Some may perform really well, but others perform poorly, and you can perform really well and/or poorly on your own. Just don't be stupid and put all your money on any one company…
  4. Don't put all of your money into any one thing or any three things. Diversify. Figure out your risk tolerance. Don't day trade unless you want to spend a lot of time learning how to do that and like a lot of risk. I don't have the time for it, so I don't do it. Even though I own ~90 shares of Apple stock, I've forced myself to purchase shares of other industries and companies at the same time. If I had put all my money on Apple, I'd be better off today, but tomorrow if the stock crashes I have plenty of other companies that, as long as there's no apocolypse, should perform ok. It seems it's a good time to invest now since the economy is still recovering. The worst time to invest is when the economy is doing really well and everyone thinks the market will keep going up.
  5. Long term Capital Gains Tax — which is the rate all of your gains on your stocks and other investments will be taxed at if you leave them in your account for at least a year after purchase — isn't that bad at its current rate of 15%. If you're not making a lot of money now the % for capital gains tax may be equal to or more than your actual tax bracket. If your tax bracket is 25% or more, then the 15% will be a large benefit for saving.
  6. Ask your parents, 30-somethings, and other folks older than you what they wish they knew about investing when they were 18. Take notes. Don't listen to everything they say, but find commonalities and do those things.
  7. If you want to get into stock investing, sign
     up for an account on SigFig / Wikivest.com and start tracking the stock of
    companies that you think are successful. Pay attention to the company's
    Price-to-Earnings Ratio (P/E). This shows if the market is overpaying
    for a stock. You can also see if the stock is trending up or down. Of course you can never know this for sure, as if a company
     grows extremely fast a high P/E could be a good thing. Right now
    Amazon's P/E is 144, while Apple's is 17.60. While Apple seems to be
    expensive, you can tell it's not that expensive looking at the P/E
    number. There are many other stats to look at — but I think P/E is good
     to understand. It's what kept me invested in Apple when it went from
    $250 to $300, then $400, then $500 and now over $600 a share. Some
    people probably thought it was getting to expensive, but in comparision
    to other stocks, esp given it's quarter-over-quarter growth figures, it
    was (and maybe still is) cheap.

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