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Dollar Cost Averaging: 9 Things You Need to Know

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Dollar cost averaging is a simple strategy that can increase your investment returns and reduce your risk. With this method, an investor purchases equal dollar amounts of an investment regularly over time instead of putting a lump sum of money into the market at once.

Using this strategy minimizes the chance of buying at a high point and can help lower an investment’s average purchase price, increasing an investor’s overall return. Here’s how dollar cost averaging works and nine things you need to know about it.

1. It can protect you against market fluctuations

Perhaps the biggest advantage of dollar cost averaging is the fact that it puts the stock market’s natural fluctuations to work for you.

If you buy in a large lump sum and mistime the market, it can be a long climb out of the hole. But by spreading out your purchases over time, you could avoid putting all your cash in at the top of the market and likely will buy some shares at a lower price. This can reduce your risk and help you buy at an average value over the period of your purchases.

2. Dollar cost averaging can keep you from making emotional decisions

If you commit to dollar cost averaging — buying regularly regardless of the market’s performance — you’ll avoid a temptation that hurts many investors. Some become fearful when the market drops and don’t buy, but when the market rises, they start buying again.

In the end, they pay a higher price than they ought to. Rather than trying to make decisions as the market fluctuates, commit to a regular schedule of purchases and take the emotion out of it.

3. It works best in a falling market

Dollar cost averaging often helps you achieve a lower price for your position. While the strategy really shines when the market’s falling, it can help lower your risk in all markets.

For example, let’s say you buy 100 shares of a $10 stock in a lump sum for $1,000. Your cost basis is $10. If the stock falls to $5, you’re suddenly down $500. Even if the stock later recovers to $7.50, you’re still down $250.

With dollar cost averaging, you take advantage of this drop. Let’s say you split your buys into two $500 chunks. At $10 per share, you spend $500 and receive 50 shares. Then at $5 per share, you spend another $500 and receive 100 shares. Now you own 150 shares with a cost basis of $6.67 per share. When the stock recovers to $7.50, your investment is now worth $1,125 and you’ve made a profit of $125, even though the stock has only partially recovered.

In a flat market, a lump-sum approach and dollar cost averaging produce nearly the same profit, but the investor had to have more money in the market and so took more risk. Meanwhile, the investor using dollar cost averaging had less money in the market, took less risk and had the potential to take advantage if stocks fell.

Even in a rising market, with less money in the market at one time, dollar cost averaging reduces your risk, though it will cost gains that you could have had with a lump-sum approach.

4. It’s a long-term strategy

Dollar cost averaging forces you to think long term. When you’re buying a stock, you want it to be as cheap as possible, and that means hoping for it to go lower before it finally goes higher.

At lower prices, you’ll buy more shares, so when the stock does rise, your gains will be even greater. But you have to think long term and be willing to stomach short-term losses and consider them great buying opportunities.

5. Beware the trading costs

Dollar cost averaging can run up trading costs if you don’t carefully manage how often you’re buying and how many securities you’re using this strategy for.

Purchasing just one or two stocks or funds? You’re probably all right. But pay attention to how often you’re buying. For most people, buying weekly is too much; if you purchase too often, you won’t give the market enough time to move. Biweekly or monthly is a better option for most.

Plus, if you trade too often, fees will eat up money that could be put into stocks. Of course, if you’re using a free trading app, such as Robinhood, those extra trades won’t cost you anyway.

6. Dollar cost averaging makes the most sense for volatile assets

Dollar costs averaging generally makes the most sense for volatile assets because it takes advantage of and protects against price fluctuation. That means the strategy is ideal for stocks, stock-based exchange-traded funds and mutual funds.

It’s likely not a great fit for relatively stable securities, such as bonds or high-yield savings accounts, because they don’t move around as much. These stable assets will move, of course, but over a much longer time frame, so mistiming a purchase is less costly.

7. This method lowers risk, but you could miss out on returns

Dollar cost averaging is a great strategy for individuals and less sophisticated investors, but in a rapidly rising market, this approach is going to cost you. In a rising market, a lump-sum purchase would have worked out better. But that requires timing the market correctly, a risky approach that savvy investors usually avoid. And no one — not even the top professionals — knows which direction the market is headed.

Because of that, it’s usually best to limit your risk, avoid timing the market and take advantage of the market’s drops.

8. Dollar cost averaging can be done automatically

If your idea of a good time is watching the calendar for the right day of the month to buy stock, then make your investments manually. For the rest of us, find a brokerage that’s able to automate the process so you can spend more time on the things you enjoy.

You can set up your account to buy on a preset schedule, and all you’ll have to do is make sure the money is available. Even easier, many brokerages can pull the money right from your bank account.

This automatic approach is great because it keeps your emotions out of the investing process. Instead, set it and forget it.

9. This strategy is the norm for 401(k) programs

Do you contribute regularly to a 401(k) program and invest your contribution in the market? Then you’re already using dollar cost averaging. You’re using the power of automatic investing to continue buying even when the market dips and keeping your emotions out of the decision-making process. It’s the way to be pleasantly surprised when you check your account balance.

Dollar cost averaging doesn’t always lead to maximum gains, but it works well in many situations and can help protect your portfolio from bad outcomes. And because it’s a formulaic purchasing plan, it’s even better for beginning and intermediate investors who don’t want to spend their time thinking about how and when to invest.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James F. Royal, Ph.D.
James F. Royal, Ph.D. |

James F. Royal, Ph.D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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Investing

E*Trade vs. TD Ameritrade

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

E-Trade and TD Ameritrade are two of our picks for the best online brokers available in the market today. While these firms share broad similarities in the services they offer, there are some important differences that can hopefully help you make an informed choice between these two key industry players.

Based on our comparison, E-Trade is less expensive for high volume traders who do more than 30 trades per quarter. TD Ameritrade seems to offer a wider range of trading options, including foreign exchange and cryptocurrency, plus more portfolio management options for larger balance accounts.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Feature comparison

E-TradeTD Ameritrade
Current promotions

For customers who deposit at least $10,000, E-Trade offers up to 500 commission-free trades for each stock or options trade executed within 60 days of funds becoming available.
For new accounts with a deposit of at least $25,000, you'll also receive a cash bonus, which can range from $200 to $2,500 depending on the amount deposited. 

Deposit $3,000 or more and get 60 days of commission-free online equity, ETF and option trades.
Stock trading fees
  • $6.95 per trade (less than 30 trades per quarter)
  • $4.95 per trade (more than 30 trades per quarter)
  • $6.95per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $500
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures/Commodities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures/Commodities
  • Forex
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $25 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 yearly inactivity fee
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Ease of use
 
 
Mobile appiOS, AndroidiOS, Android, Windows phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 30 branch locationsPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 364 branch locations
Research resources
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases
  • Earnings call transcripts
  • Earnings call recordings

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Fees & account minimums

Some brokers charge an annual or monthly fee to maintain your account. Neither E-Trade nor TD Ameritrade impose such a fee, nor do they charge a fee if your account is inactive during the year. However, E-Trade does impose a $500 minimum to open an account at the firm. TD Ameritrade requires no minimum account balance.

E-Trade and TD Ameritrade charge investors a flat fee for each stock trade. At E-Trade, the charge is $6.95 a trade for the first 30 transactions in a quarter. When you make more than 30 transactions per quarter, E-Trade drops its commission to $4.95 per trade. TD Ameritrade charges a flat $6.95 commission per trade. This makes E-Trade less expensive for high volume traders. Both firms offer a range of commission-free exchange traded funds (ETFs) and the ability to purchase mutual funds without a transaction fee.

Both brokers charge fees for professional account management services. At E-Trade, fees range from 0.30% to 0.90% of assets under management, depending on the services chosen by the investor. At TD Ameritrade fees are similar, ranging from 0.30% to 0.90% of assets the firm manages.

E-Trade charges a $75 fee for a full account transfer and a $25 fee for a partial transfer. TD Ameritrade charges the same $75 fee for a full account transfer. However, at TD Ameritrade, partial account transfers are free, offering investors additional flexibility.

Many online brokers offer special incentives to attract investors. E-Trade and TD Ameritrade both currently offer commission-free stock and options trading. At E-Trade you get $600 (and up to 500 free trades) for a $10,000 deposit. At TD Ameritrade you must deposit at least $3,000 to get 60 days of free trades. In addition, you get $100 if you deposit $25,000, $300 if you deposit $100,000 and $600 if you deposit $250,000. Offers vary over time.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Tradable securities

In addition to trading stocks and bonds, E-Trade and TD Ameritrade offer their customers a wide range of investable asset classes to choose from:

  • Mutual funds: For investors interested in the professional management that mutual funds offer, at E-Trade you can invest in more than 4,400 mutual funds with no transaction fee. Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade offers more than 13,000 mutual funds.
  • Options: An option allows an investor to sell a security at a predetermined price for a certain period of time. At E-Trade investors can trade options at regular commission rates plus an additional fee of $0.75, which drops to $0.50 with 30 or more trades per quarter. TD Ameritrade permits investors to trade options for $6.95 plus $0.75 per contract.
  • ETFs: Including ETFs in your portfolio is a great way to add an element of diversity. E-Trade gives investors access to more than 250 ETFs free of commission. At TD Ameritrade, investors have access to more than 550 ETFs that are commission-free.
  • Foreign exchange trading. At TD Ameritrade, investors can access the currencies of more than 20 countries. E-Trade does not offer foreign exchange trading.
  • Futures. If you decide to trade in futures you are essentially agreeing to sell a security or other asset at a set price at a predetermined time in the future. E-Trade offers futures trading for $1.50 per transaction. TD Ameritrade gives investors access to more than 70 futures products.
  • Cryptocurrency. TD Ameritrade recently began offering cryptocurrency investing through ErisX, a regulated exchange for cryptocurrency trades. E-Trade does not offer the ability to invest in cryptocurrency.

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Special features

E-Trade offers two levels of managed account services. Core Portfolios is the company’s robo-advisor product, which offers you an automated portfolio of ETFs customized to your investment goals. Just complete a five-minute online questionnaire to get started, which includes information about your goals, timelines and attitudes about risk. The minimum investment is just $500 and the annual fee is 0.30% with no commissions.

Blended Portfolios is E-Trade’s second level of managed accounts. Investors work with a financial consultant to tailor a portfolio that meets their needs, however you need a $25,000 minimum balance to gain access to Blended Portfolios. Annual management fees range between 0.65% and 0.90%, depending on the total amount of money invested under the service.

TD Ameritrade offers investors three levels of managed portfolios. Essential Portfolios is the firm’s robo-advisor option, offering five goal-oriented ETF portfolios. The minimum investment is $5,000 and the annual management fee is 0.30%.

Selective Portfolios offers more personalized service, and invests in both ETFs and mutual funds. A financial consultant helps you set investing goals, and a support team that regularly updates you on how the account is tracking towards those goals. The minimum investment is $25,000, while annual fees range from 0.55% to 0.90% depending on account balance.

Personalized Portfolios provides TD Ameritrade’s highest level of service, with tailored advice and portfolio construction. It gives you a one-on-one relationship with a financial consultant, plus extra guidance and support from a team of investment professionals. The minimum investment is $250,000, and annual fees range from 0.60% to 0.90%, depending on portfolio type and the total amount invested.

E-Trade advantages

  • If you are a high-volume stock trader, after you do 30 trades in a quarter, the cost per trade drops to $4.95 from $6.95. TD Ameritrade offers only a flat fee of $6.95 per trade.
  • E-Trade offers its clients access to solid research tools including market news, recordings and transcripts of earnings calls as well as the ability to analyze companies with fundamental stock research, technical research and bond, mutual fund and ETF research tools.
  • E-Trade has a “better” bonus for new clients. For a deposit of only $10,000 you get $600 and up to 500 free trades. While TD Ameritrade offers 60 days of free trades for only a $3,000 deposit, you need to deposit $250,000 to get a $600 cash bonus.

TD Ameritrade advantages

  • TD Ameritrade does not impose a minimum balance to open an account. At E-Trade, the minimum initial investment to open an account is $500.
  • Some transfer fees at TD Ameritrade are lower. For example, there is no charge for a partial account transfer while E-Trade imposes a $25 fee.
  • TD Ameritrade has 364 branches located around the country to provide customer support. E-Trade has only 30 branches.
  • TD Ameritrade offers investors access to more mutual funds and ETFs that are free of transaction fees. For example, TD Ameritrade offers more than 13,000 mutual funds, nearly three times the number of mutual funds at E-Trade(4,400).

E-Trade vs. TD Ameritrade: Which is best for you?

When the time comes to choose between E-Trade and TD Ameritrade, E-Trade is likely to appeal to high volume traders, since the cost per trade drops to $4.95 after 30 trades in a quarter. Similar price cuts are available for options as well. TD Ameritrade will appeal to investors who are looking to trade foreign exchange and cryptocurrency. And for investors who are looking for stronger portfolio consulting options, TD Ameritrade offers a wider choice of customized investing advice for larger account balances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Peter Fleming
Peter Fleming |

Peter Fleming is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Peter here

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Investing

Where Investing in Housing Outperforms the Stock Market

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The housing market has come a long way since the Great Recession. The demand for homes has reached such a fever pitch that in certain U.S. metro areas, the equity you have in a home outperforms investments in index funds tracking the S&P 500 — long considered one of the most reliable vehicles for investors and a strong indicator of how the stock market is performing as a whole.

Key takeaways

  • We examined the performance of home prices in 20 U.S. metro areas from 2012 to 2018. Of these 20 areas, housing appreciation in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami and Seattle markets outpaced the S&P 500 over this period.
  • San Francisco outperformed the S&P 500 by the greatest margin, growing approximately 127 percentage points from 2012 to 2018, compared with the S&P 500’s gain of nearly 98 percentage points.
  • Among the five metro areas that outperformed the S&P 500, only Los Angeles has a majority of homes occupied by renters rather than by owners. Renters obviously don’t reap any benefits from the explosive growth in home values — in fact, they often see their rents rise as landlords see the growing value of their real estate.
  • From 2012 to 2018, the housing markets in all 20 cities we looked at increased in value. The slowest-growing market, Cleveland, still rose by almost 22 percentage points.

How we know housing markets have outperformed the stock market

Among the most reliable and most widely cited indices used to measure housing markets are the Case-Shiller indices, calculated each month by Standard & Poor’s and CoreLogic. There are several Case-Shiller indices, but we chose the Composite 20 index, which tracks housing values in the following 20 metropolitan areas:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Charlotte
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Phoenix
  • Portland (OR)
  • San Diego
  • Tampa
  • Washington D.C.

The index examines the change in home prices for each of these cities by looking at residential home sales and running that data through an algorithm. To learn more about the Case-Shiller index, there’s plenty of information from Standard & Poor’s here.

In the 2012-2018 time period of our study, the Case-Shiller Composite 20 index showed a growth in average home values in all 20 metropolitan areas. You can then compare the Case-Shiller index to the growth in the S&P 500, an index of roughly 500 stocks that often serves as a bellwether for the U.S. stock market as a whole.

The chart above indicates that according to the Case-Shiller Composite 20 index, the housing markets of five metro areas grew quicker than the S&P 500 in the 2012-2018 period, which saw a rise of 97.97 percentage points:

  • San Francisco (+127.26 percentage points)
  • Los Angeles (+111.57 percentage points)
  • Seattle (+110.95 percentage points)
  • Miami (+109.10 percentage points)
  • San Diego (+98.67 percentage points)

That means in theory, the equity you have in a home in one of these markets may have appreciated by a greater amount than if you had invested it in an index fund that tracks the S&P 500 — a common stand-in for the entire stock market.

Good news for homeowners, bad news for renters

While homeowners may be celebrating, our study gives the renters living in these five metro areas little reason for joy. As the value of a home goes up, landlords increase rents to reflect the broader housing market (as much as they are able under the constraint of local housing laws and regulations). The chart below estimates the performance of rents in the five metro areas that outperformed the stock market from 2012 to 2018:

In San Francisco, for example, the average rent rose nearly 46% during the time period in question from $2,359 to $3,433 a month. While the City by the Bay offers the most dramatic example of rent increases, tenants in the other four metro areas also had to pay more for the privilege of renting in a hot housing market.

Another concerning consequence of rising home values in these cities is that homeowners in these markets tend to already be wealthier than their non-owning neighbors, which means real estate appreciation widens the wealth gap. For example in Los Angeles, only approximately 31% of renters have an income of $75,000 or more a year, compared with 63% of homeowners. Homeownership also has a racial disparity in these metro areas: Almost 71% of African American households in Seattle rent, compared with just 36% of white households.

Why stocks are still a better bet than housing

Despite the value of housing outpacing the growth of the stock market in certain metro areas, homeowners should think twice before funneling funds earmarked for their investment accounts into hearth and home.

The most obvious difference is the relative liquidity of investment securities and a house (especially one that’s your primary residence). Selling a house comes with a litany of costs that eat up both your time and your money, while cashing out on your investments can usually happen in a matter of days (not that selling an investment in an index fund or stock is without potential tax costs and other potential losses).

There’s also the matter of putting all of your eggs in one basket. The ability to diversify your investments is one of the greatest advantages of investing in markets. By placing your money in a diverse array of securities, from stocks, to bonds, to money market accounts, it can help shield you from volatility in any one particular market. But if you put all of your money in your home as an investment and the housing market crashes (like it did most recently in 2008), then your nest egg is scrambled.

Finally, owning a home comes with property taxes you need to pay every year. In the city and county of San Francisco, the property tax rate for the financial year of 2018-2019 was 1.1630%. With investments, you typically only pay a capital gains tax one time: when you sell it.

Methodology

Data on change in S&P 500 value over time comes from the Stern School of Business at New York University. Data on home value for each of the metro changes comes from the Case-Shiller Index of home values and is pulled from the Federal Reserve Economic Data. Data was analyzed over the 2012-2018 time period.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here