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Investing in Stocks: 4 Simple Strategies for How to Pick Them

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Selecting a stock is not unlike shopping for most big purchases. You research the product, compare it to others for fit, quality, relative value and so on — perhaps compromising in some areas but not in others. Over time, you may become savvy enough to spot value or a prized possession easily.

You can approach stocks by looking to “buy what you know,” but you should also know what you’re buying from an investment standpoint. There are many lenses through which to view stocks, strategies to compare them and ways to hold them. Your goals as an investor can help determine how you analyze and hold stocks.

Here are some essential strategies to help you learn how to pick stocks.

1. Investment styles: Growth, income and value

For some investors, stock picking is all about finding stocks that fit a certain investment style.

Growth investors are looking for the next big thing, and are usually willing to pay a high price for a stock with future potential value. Companies in growth mode are reinvesting earnings and expanding quickly through hiring, new products, acquisitions and capital appreciation. Growth stocks tend to be more aggressive — as more investors drive up the price, it amplifies the risk that they won’t meet growth expectations for their valuation.

Income investors seek companies paying regular income to shareholders in the form of dividends. Even if you don’t need the income now, reinvested dividends function like regular returns that can help grow your investment. Income stocks tend to be found in older, more established firms, which may already be past peak growth years but are profitable and generally well run.

Value investors attempt to find underpriced bargains; that is, companies with underlying value not reflected in the share price. Specifically, they look for stocks with lower price-to-earnings ratios than the overall market, hoping the price will rebound. These are shares of companies that may no longer be in growth mode or may just have fallen out of favor. Value stocks are also more likely to pay dividends.

2. For long-term investors: Fundamental analysis

If you are looking for companies to invest in for an extended period of time, digging into the fundamentals can be a good way to understand its financial health and get to know the stock. Even if you’re not a business whiz, understanding these concepts and tracking them over time can help you compare the stocks of similar companies against one another.

Company fundamentalWhat it isWhat it tells you
Revenue How much money is coming into the company.If the company is growing. Increasing revenue year-over-year is generally a sign of growth, although it doesn’t necessarily mean increased profits.
Earnings per share (EPS)The company’s earnings divided by the total number of shares outstanding.How much of the company’s profits are returned to shareholders.
Price-to-earnings (P/E) ratioThe market value of the stock (or current price) divided by EPS.How much of a multiple investors are willing to pay for a share of the stock. A P/E ratio of 20 to 25 means investors will pay $20 to $25 for every $1 of earnings. High P/E can be a sign the stock will continue to grow or it may be overpriced. Low P/E may indicate a stock is undervalued.
Price/earnings to growth (PEG) ratioThe stock’s P/E ratio divided by expected 12-month growth.If the stock is fairly valued. While P/E ratio doesn’t account for a company’s growth, PEG does. A PEG of one is thought to be fairly valued, greater than one is expensive and less than one is undervalued.
Return on equity (ROE)Net income divided by average shareholder equity (which represents the company’s total assets minus liabilities).How efficient management is at passing earnings on to shareholders. ROE is expressed as a percentage. Investors may tend to stick to a percentage near the S&P 500, which was about 15.6% in 2017.

Many publicly traded companies file annual audited 10-K financials with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), along with quarterly 10-Q updates. In these documents, investors can see a company’s revenue, debt, cash flow management and other metrics. Many financial websites and online brokerage platforms will provide fundamentals as part of their basic stock quote information, as well as access to analyst research and recommendations. Analyst reports often help add qualitative information to your research, such as competition, new products or brand equity.

3. For active investors: Technical analysis

Short-term investors and active traders making bets on what will happen shortly rely on something called technical analysis, which ignores the fundamental value of a stock and instead pays attention to moves in stock price or other types of trading data.

Technical analysis assumes that all information to be known about the stock is built into its price, and prices tend to follow certain repetitive patterns or trends due to investor psychology. These trends may come in the form of tides lasting a year or more, waves lasting one to three months or ripples lasting less than a month.

Investors chart a stock’s trading activity in different ways to uncover certain trend lines and that may be predictors of future moves:

  • Line charts track a stock’s closing price over longer periods, providing a broad view of the stock’s performance.
  • Bar charts give a sense of a stock’s daily movements, or opening price, high price, low price and closing price (OHLC). This view can provide a sense of a stock’s volatility.
  • Candlestick charts are similar to bar charts, with clear illustrations of the stock’s opening and closing prices. If the stock price closes higher than it opens, the difference or “wick” is positive.

A stock experiencing increasingly higher highs and higher lows over time is considered to be on an upward trend, and descending highs and lower lows would signal a downward trend. A sideways trend means that prices have been moving in the same general range. Looking at these charts, investors attempt to find levels of resistance, meaning points at which the stock may stop trending higher, or levels of support, meaning there’s strong enough demand to keep a stock from trending further downward.

Technical analysis can be complicated, which is why many active investors rely on tools offered by online brokers to help spot technical trends.

4. Broad stock picking: Diversified stock portfolios

An easy way to pick stocks is to buy many at once through an exchange-traded fund (ETF). These investments offer mutual fund-like diversification, but they trade like stocks. That means you can buy shares of the Standard & Poor’s 500 or NASDAQ 100 in the same way you might buy shares of Coca-Cola or Apple.

But ETFs come in many other shapes and sizes: You could use a handful of sector ETFs to build a full stock portfolio or balance stock holdings with a bond ETF. Interested in dabbling in commodities, currencies or hedge funds? There are ETFs covering alternative investments as well.

You can purchase ETFs through a broker, which means you might pay a transaction fee when you buy and sell them. Otherwise, ETFs tend to be very low-cost for investors who buy and hold.

Bottom line

Figuring out how to pick stocks seems to be as much about talent as skill, and even the most brilliant stock analysts can’t see around every corner. For the average person, investing in an ETF or mutual fund allows you to own stocks without having to select individual shares. You may not get the same shopper’s high, but there’s also less of a chance you’ll regret your purchase.

If you are determined to own individual stocks, it makes sense to start small and build slowly as your confidence in stock investing grows. You can even start with no money and a completely hypothetical portfolio. There are many stock market simulators online to help you experience stock trading without the risk. Either way, until you understand your appetite for volatility, individual stock investors should only risk excess or “fun money” you can afford to lose.

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.

Melissa Phipps
Melissa Phipps |

Melissa Phipps is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melissa here

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Should You Pay Off Debt or Save Your Money?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

You have a regular source of income, you’re paying your bills on time and you have some extra dollars left over each month. What should you do with that extra cash?

If you don’t have debt (lucky you!), then the choice is simple — save or invest as much as possible. If you have debt, however, the choice can be a bit murkier: Should you pay off your debt first or save? Here are some things to consider when asking yourself that question.

Three times that saving your money might be smarter

1. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund

Just when you’re cruising along, life can throw some unexpected and expensive curves your way. A sudden job loss, medical bills or car repairs can pop up out of the blue, and if you don’t have the funds to pay for them, you can end up seriously in the red. To cover unexpected costs, some may resort to high-interest credit cards and loans. Those kinds of moves can dig you into a financial hole that can take years to pay your way out of.

Saving up a healthy emergency fund can protect you in instances like these. How much should you save? Experts generally suggest that you should save an amount equal to between three and six months of living expenses. Depending on your individual circumstances, however, you may need more than that. (Check out this article to figure out how much to save and where to keep it.)

2. Your employer offers matching retirement contributions

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers a retirement plan with matching contributions, then consider making that method of saving a priority.

For example, if your employer offers to match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 6% of your salary in a 401(k) plan, then contribute at least that much, if possible. The money can then grow in a tax-free or tax-deferred 401(k) until you withdraw it in retirement — all that compound interest can really add up over the years. If you don’t contribute up to that amount, you’re leaving free money on the table.

Note, however, that If you need to withdraw these funds early (before the age of 59 and a half and before the account is five years old) there will be penalties to pay. That makes this a better tool for long-term savings rather than for the short-term or as an emergency savings fund.

3. Your debt has a very low interest rate

Debt gets a bad rap — often for good reason — but in some cases, carrying your low-interest debt and investing or saving your funds instead may be more beneficial. For example, the current fixed interest rate for direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans is 5.05%, and the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is about 4.3%. The stock market, on the other hand, has gone up an average of 10% a year since 1926.

Beyond comparing interest rates, however, you also need to assess how much risk you’re willing to take and how much access to your savings that you’ll need. Of course, there are no guarantees that your investments will perform well, and paying down debt comes with zero risk. Savings accounts are a less risky saving option, but the average interest rate is often less than 1 or 2%. Other options, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), have restrictions on how the funds can be used outside of retirement.

Four times debt repayment may be more beneficial

1. You have high-interest debt

It’s hard to get ahead of high-interest debt, because compound interest is working against you. Credit card interest rates, for example, average between 15 and 20% — an amount which adds up quickly. If you make the minimum payment, you may not even be making a dent in the principal amount owed, and you can spend years just paying interest. Calculators like this one can help you figure out just how much interest you’ll pay and how long it will take to pay off.

If you have high-interest debt, make sure you explore all the options for paying it down, including consolidating your debt and researching balance transfer cards.

2. Your debt doesn’t offer any benefits

Though your debt is costing you in interest, you might find that some loans may offer useful perks. For example, federal student loans may offer tax benefits and even loan forgiveness programs for eligible borrowers. Similarly, there are tax write-offs for mortgages and in many cases, the money you invest in a home will pay off down the line when you sell your property.

On the other hand, the debt on the credit card you maxed out to pay for that trip to Cabo comes with no benefits — just a bunch of interest. High-interest debt with no benefits should be at the top of your pay-off priority list.

3. You want to raise your credit score

While there are many factors that go into determining your credit score, the amount of debt you carry is an important component. If you plan to buy a home or secure a loan in the near future, take a look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which many lenders consider before approving you for a loan. If your DTI is high, you may want to consider paying off some debt before applying for that new loan, which may result in lower interest rates for you later.

4. Your debt stresses you out

Debt can take an emotional and physical toll on people, ranging from depression to insomnia and more. When it feels like a black cloud hanging over your head and it’s affecting your life in negative ways, it may be in your best interest to prioritize paying debt off first.

Should you pay off debt or save?

Of course, saving vs. paying off debt early doesn’t have to be an either/or situation — ideally, you can do both at the same time. If, however, a choice must be made between the two, there are many factors to consider. As with most financial moves, there are no cut-and-dry rules, and the best one for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

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.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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How to Make Money in Stocks

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Putting money in the market is well-worn financial advice for a reason: Investing in stocks is one of the best steps you can take toward building wealth.But how, exactly, is that wealth built? How is money earned by purchasing stock market holdings, and what can you do to maximize the gains you make from your own portfolio?

How to make money in stocks: 5 best practices

The way the stock market works — and works for you — is as simple as a high school economics class. It’s all about supply and demand, and the way those factors affect value.

Investors purchase market assets like stocks (shares of companies), which increase in value when the company does well. As the company in question makes financial progress, more investors want a piece of the action, and they’re willing to pay more for an individual share.

That means that the share you paid for has now increased in price, thanks to higher demand — which in turn means you can earn something when it comes time to sell it. (Of course, it’s also possible for stocks and other market holdings to decrease in value, which is why there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.)

Along with the profit you can make by selling stocks, you can also earn shareholder dividends, or portions of the company’s earnings. Cash dividends are usually paid on a quarterly basis, but you might also earn dividends in the form of additional shares of stock.

Micro-mechanics of how stocks earn money aside, you likely won’t see serious growth without heeding some basic market principles and best practices. Here’s how to ensure your portfolio will do as much work for you as possible.

1. Take advantage of time

Although it’s possible to make money on the stock market in the short term, the real earning potential comes from the compound interest you earn on long-term holdings. As your assets increase in value, the total amount of money in your account grows, making room for even more capital gains. That’s how stock market earnings increase over time exponentially.

But in order to best take advantage of that exponential growth, you need to start building your portfolio as early as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to start investing as soon as you’re earning an income — perhaps by taking advantage of a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

To see exactly how much time can affect your nest egg, let’s look at an example. Say you stashed $1,000 in your retirement account at age 20, with plans to hang up your working hat at age 70. Even if you put nothing else into the account, you’d have over $18,000 to look forward to after 50 years of growth, assuming a relatively modest 6% interest rate. But if you waited until you were 60 to make that initial deposit, you’d earn less than $800 through compound interest — which is why it’s so much harder to save for retirement if you don’t start early. Plus, all that extra cash comes at no additional effort on your part. It just requires time — so go ahead and get started!

2. Continue to invest regularly

Time is an important component of your overall portfolio growth. But even decades of compounding returns can only do so much if you don’t continue to save.

Let’s go back to our retirement example above. Only this time, instead of making a $1,000 deposit and forgetting about it, let’s say you contributed $1,000 a year — which comes out to less than $20 per week.

If you started making those annual contributions at age 20, you’d have saved about $325,000 by the time you celebrated your 70th birthday. Even if you waited until 60 to start saving, you’d wind up with about $15,000 — a far cry from the measly $1,800 you’d take out if you only made the initial deposit.

Making regular contributions doesn’t have to take much effort; you can easily automate the process through your 401(k) or brokerage account, depositing a set amount each week or pay period.

3. Set it and forget it — mostly

If you’re looking to see healthy returns on your stock market investments, just remember — you’re playing the long game.

For one thing, short-term trading lacks the tax benefits you can glean from holding onto your investments for longer. If you sell a stock before owning it for a full year, you’ll pay a higher tax rate than you would on long-term capital gains — that is, stocks you’ve held for more than a year.

While there are certain situations that do call for taking a look at your holdings, for the most part, even serious market dips reverse themselves in time. In fact, these bearish blips are regular, expected events, according to Malik S. Lee, CFP® and founder of Atlanta-based Felton & Peel Wealth Management.

So-called market corrections are healthy, he said. “It shows that the market is alive and well.” And even taking major recessions into account, the market’s performance has had an overall upward trend over the past hundred years.

4. Maintain a diverse portfolio

All investing carries risk; it’s possible for some of the companies you invest in to underperform or even fold entirely. But if you diversify your portfolio, you’ll be safeguarded against losing all of your assets when investments don’t go as planned.

By ensuring you’re invested in many different types of securities, you’ll be better prepared to weather stock market corrections. It’s unlikely that all industries and companies will suffer equally or succeed at the same level, so you can hedge your bets by buying some of everything.

5. Consider hiring professional help

Although the internet makes it relatively easy to create a well-researched DIY stock portfolio, if you’re still hesitant to put your money in the market, hiring an investment advisor can help. Even though the use of a professional can’t mitigate all risk of losses, you might feel more comfortable knowing you have an expert in your corner.

How the stock market can grow your wealth

Given the right combination of time, contribution regularity and a little bit of luck, the stock market has the potential to turn even a modest savings into an appreciable nest egg.

Ready to get started investing for yourself? Check out the following MagnifyMoney articles:

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.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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