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Investing

What Is Preferred Stock?

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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Investing is one of the best ways to grow your nest egg — and one of the only ways to make more money without logging extra hours at work.

But it also can be pretty confusing. Once you figure out what the stock market is and how it works, you still have to learn about the different types of assets out there. You’ll also want to do your research before you make any purchases.

Even if you feel fairly confident about investing in stocks, you may not realize that these basic securities actually come in two different flavors: common and preferred.

So what is preferred stock, and why would you consider investing in it? Read on to learn more about this unique asset category and the benefits that make it attractive to some investors.

Preferred stock vs. common stock

In many ways, preferred stock and common stock are the same. In both cases, you purchase a small “share” of ownership in the company, which has the potential to create profit based on the success of the enterprise.

But as the name suggests, preferred stock owners enjoy preferential treatment in some regards. Although they may not be eligible to vote on shareholder issues like those who own common stock, they’re paid fixed dividends on a regular basis — and they’re paid immediately after bonds but before common stock.

That means buying preferred stock puts you at a lower level of risk since your dividends outrank common shareholders’ if the company should fail or endure major losses. Of course, that pendulum swings in both directions: Since the dividends on preferred stocks don’t fluctuate with the company’s market value, you may miss out on higher earnings if the company should see a sweeping success.

You can think about it as a kind of hybrid between common stock — which is the stock you’re probably thinking about when you talk about the market — and fixed-interest securities like bonds. Preferred stock offers a way to invest in equity that provides some of the same security as other fixed-interest securities. However, preferred stocks generally offer higher growth potential than bonds do, and in many cases, they can be held indefinitely (as opposed to the predefined, shorter-term lifespans of most bonds).

 Common StockPreferred Stock
Dividend PayoutDecided by boardPaid at regular intervals
Dividend AmountDetermined by profitability of company/market performanceFixed dividend amount that may respond to changes in interest rate
Voting Privileges for ShareholdersLikelyUnlikely or reduced
Callability (Issuer Can Recall)NoYes
Par ValueNoYes
RiskinessModerate to highHigher than bonds but lower than common stock
Growth PotentialHighHigher than bonds but potentially lower than common stock

Pros and cons of preferred stock

Like any other prospective investment, preferred stock comes with both benefits and drawbacks to consider before you add it to your portfolio.

Benefits of preferred stock

  • Predictability. Preferred stock is paid on a regular basis and often at a fixed dividend rate, which means you’ll have a better idea of what to expect as far as returns are concerned than you might with common stock.
  • Less vulnerability to market volatility. Although preferred stocks’ fixed dividend rates can respond to changing interest levels, these securities have a face value, sometimes known as a “par value,” like bonds. Unlike common stocks, their worth is not determined by market fluctuations.
  • More security in the case of insolvency. Because preferred stock dividends are paid before those of common stocks, you’ll be in a better position to recoup your losses should the company you’re investing in fail.

Drawbacks of preferred stock

  • Reduced or nonexistent voting rights. Unlike common stocks, preferred stocks may not come with voting rights for shareholders — or may confer only reduced voting privileges.
  • Less exponential growth potential. Although you generally know what you’re getting in return for your investment in preferred stock, your growth potential usually is capped at the predefined dividend payout. In the case of an outstanding success, you might have earned more if you’d purchased common stock.
  • In many cases, the issuer has the right to recall or redeem preferred stock at a preset price after a certain amount of time. This is known as “callability” and can create unexpected shifts in your long-term investing strategy.

When is preferred stock advantageous?

As you can see, preferred stock inhabits a bit of a gray area. It’s usually not considered as safe as a bond and doesn’t offer quite as much earning potential as common stock.

So when is it a good idea to choose this hybrid option?

  • Investing in preferred stock might be a good option for those who have a low risk tolerance but still would like to see greater returns than those available through bonds.
  • Preferred stock can create a source of steady income, which can be attractive to investors with higher cash-flow needs or a shorter investment horizon.
  • Preferred stock can add another layer of diversification to your portfolio, which can help your investments withstand market fluctuations and dips.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is a more advanced sort of investment than common stock or even bonds — which is why it’s purchased less frequently than common stock, said Malik S. Lee, certified financial planner at Felton & Peel Wealth Management.

Although the differences we’ve outlined above hold true generally, preferred stocks vary considerably in their individual features, which means it’s extra important to do your research before you make an investment. For example, not all preferred stocks are callable, but some are; dividends might be cumulative (i.e. stackable if one is deferred) or noncumulative.

In short, “they’re complicated,” as Lee put it. “Each preferred stock will have different characteristics to it. You’ve really got to dive into the prospectus and look into what you’re buying.”

Should you invest in preferred stock?

Ultimately, the only person who can decide if preferred stocks are right for your investment portfolio is you. (Although talking with a qualified financial advisor probably wouldn’t hurt, either.)

If you do decide to invest in preferred stocks, you’ll purchase them the same way you would common stocks or other securities: through a brokerage firm, which may levy certain trading and commissions costs at the time of purchase. To learn how to get started, check out our step-by-step guide to investing for beginners.

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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Investing

How to Invest: A Guide for Novice Investors

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.

You’ve heard this line over and over again: To be smart with your money, you need to both build your savings and invest. The savings part is easy: Stash money away in a savings account — a little at a time — to pay for a particular goals, like an emergency fund or a new car. Investing is a different story, and learning how to buy securities that will grow in value over time isn’t quite so simple.

Investments are made for the long-term, and investing involves taking on risk. That might make you nervous, but investing is essential for your financial health. Compound interest and market gains can help your money grow a much higher rate than a savings account, helping you build long-term wealth for your retirement.

How to invest in 5 easy steps

The idea of investing might be intimidating, but don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think. In fact, you can learn how to invest and get started in just five simple steps.

1. Start investing early

When you’re young, time is on your side. That’s especially true when it comes to investing. And the earlier you start the better, according to Dr. Brandon Renfro, a certified financial planner and an assistant professor of finance at East Texas Baptist University.

“Earnings from investments compound over time,” Dr. Renfro said. “The longer you give yourself to earn that compound return, the more money you will have when you reach a goal, such as retirement.”

For example, let’s say you invest $1,000 when you’re 25 in an investment account that earns 5% interest, compounded annually. Even if you don’t save another dime, your account will be worth $2,653.30 by the time you’re 45. Without you doing anything at all, your money more than doubled. If you continue to contribute some money to your account each month, your money could grow even more, and the longer you let your money sit in an investment amount, the more it will increase in value.

The market fluctuates, moving up and down, dramatically sometimes. But over the long term, the market produces regular returns. According to the financial firm Morningstar, the long-term average return from the stock market is near 10%.

Investing while you’re young allows you to ride out any short-term losses so you can take advantage of gains over the long-term. Even if the market dips over the near term, over the 20- to 30-year timeframe, you’ll see reliable growth rates.

2. Decide how much to invest

When deciding how much to invest, it’s important to take your goals into consideration. If you have high-interest debt or if you don’t have an emergency fund, it may make more sense to pay down your debt and build a small savings account before you invest.

After that, think about your long-term goals, such as planning for retirement. You’ve likely heard experts recommend that you save millions of dollars, but don’t let that scare you. When you’re just starting out, it’s important to start saving whatever you can and to keep contributing consistently.

Vanguard, one of the biggest investment companies, recommends that you save 12% to 15% of your income for retirement. If that sounds impossible right now, save what you can afford, even if it’s just $25 per month. Over time, those small amounts will snowball, helping you build a sizeable nest egg.

If your employer offers a 401(k) retirement plan and matches contributions, try to contribute enough to qualify for the full match. That’s free money you’d otherwise leave on the table.

3. Understand what you invest in

When you’re ready to start investing, it’s important to think about what kind of account you want to open. There are three core investment account types:

  • Employer-sponsored plans: Some employers offer retirement investment accounts to their employees, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). You may even be eligible for an employer contribution match, putting more money toward your goals. There are tax benefits to contributing to these plans, helping you save money at tax time.
  • Individual retirement accounts (IRA): An IRA is a great way for you to start saving for retirement on your own, outside of an employer-sponsored plan. There are traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, which both offer tax benefits.
  • Individual investment accounts: Another way to save is by investing in an individual taxable account. There are no tax benefits to these accounts, but they also don’t have limitations on contributions or withdrawals like employer-sponsored plans or IRAs do. If you’re saving for a goal beyond retirement, like buying a home, an individual investment account is the best choice.

According to Natalie Pine, a certified financial planner and managing partner of Briaud Financial Advisors, IRAs and employer-sponsored accounts are strong starting points.

“There is no wrong way to save, but when you are young, a Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b) is a great option,” Pine said. “You pay low taxes now and have tax-free growth for the rest of your life and the lives of your beneficiaries.”

Once you’ve chosen an account structure, you can think about what type of asset classes and investments you want to make. There are several different investment options:

  • Stocks: When you buy a stock, you’re purchasing a share of a company like Apple or Google. Your gains or losses are dependent on the company’s performance and trends in the stock market.
  • Bonds: Bonds are loans you make to the government or corporation in exchange for interest payments over a set time period.
  • Mutual funds: With a mutual fund, you pool your money together with other investors to purchase a mix of stocks, bonds, and other securities that would otherwise be too expensive to purchase on your own.
  • Exchange traded funds (ETFs): Like mutual funds, ETFs are pooled investment options that allow you to invest in a diversified portfolio. However, they’re traded like stocks on the stock exchange.
  • Index funds: An index fund follows the performance of a specific market benchmark, such as the S&P 500 Index. The fund’s manager will a preselected collection of hundreds or even thousands of stocks and bonds, diversifying your portfolio.
  • Options: When you invest in options, you create a contract that allows you to buy or sell a security at a fixed price within a specific period of time.
  • Cryptocurrency: Cryptocurrency is a digital representation of assets used to buy and sell goods; one of the most well-known versions is bitcoin. It’s a very risky and volatile investment options, but it’s gaining popularity.

4. Choose an investment strategy

Next, think about your investment strategy. Consider your own risk tolerance. Some people are comfortable taking on more risk, thinking it’s worth it to potentially see high returns. Others get panicky when they see the market dip, and prefer more conservative investments that offer lower, steadier returns. Choose an investment strategy that works for your comfort level.

When it comes to your financial goals, consider how long you have until your target date. For example, if you’re planning on retiring in 30 years, you can choose a more aggressive portfolio that’s more heavily invested in stocks.

If your goal is in the short-term, like you plan on buying a home within the next five years, you want to invest more conservatively. You may put your money in a high-yield savings account or invest in low-risk bonds.

The most important part is simply getting started.

“While it is important to plan, don’t let the details overwhelm you to the point of inaction,” advised Dr. Renfro. “It’s better to get started now understanding just the basics than to keep putting it off.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider investing through a robo-advisor. With this approach, an online broker like Betterment or Wealthfront reviews your financial goals and risk tolerance and comes up with a comprehensive investment plan for you.

The robo-advisor will invest your portfolio in a range of ETFs, mutual funds, stocks, or bonds, and will rebalance your portfolio as you approach your investment target dates. Many robo-advisors have low fees, and have no account minimums, so you can invest even if you don’t have a lot of money.

Check out the best robo-advisors of 2019 to get started.

5. Automate your investments

According to Pine, consistency is key to your success as an investor.

“With regard to investing, consistency is essential to avoid emotions driving decisions that ultimately lead to poor performance,” she said. “If you stick with a system, whatever that may be, you are more likely to weather various storms than if you trade around a lot and catch investments at the wrong time.”

Making regular contributions will help you build long-term wealth. When you’re short on cash each month, finding extra money to invest may feel impossible. However, there are different strategies you can use to invest, even if you don’t have a lot of cash:

  • Pick an investment account with a low minimum: Some discount brokers have very low account minimums. For example, Fidelity and Charles Schwab have $0 minimums, so you get started with just a few dollars.
  • Invest your spare change: Investment apps like Acorns allow you to engage in micro-investing, where you invest your extra change. The app syncs to your bank account or credit card. Every time you make a purchase, the app rounds it up to the next dollar, and deposits the difference to your investment account. For example, if you pay $2.53 for a cup of coffee, the app would deposit $0.47 into your investment account. Over time, those small amounts can add up.
  • Set up recurring contributions: If possible, set up recurring withdrawals into your investment account. Setting up automatic deposits will take out the money before you can mentally spend it, helping you stay on track.
  • Deposit windfalls: If you receive any money unexpectedly, such as a bonus at work, your tax refund, or a gift from a relative, deposit that money directly into your investment account. It’s extra cash, so you won’t need it to make ends meet, and it can help you reach your long-term goals.

Always keep learning

As a new investor, the most important thing to do is to get started as soon as possible. The earlier you invest, the more time your money has to grow.

After you’ve opened an account and made your initial investment, spend some time learning about your investment options. There’s always something new to learn, and growing your knowledge base can help you make more informed investment decisions, which can pay off over the long run. And keep reading on MagnifyMoney to learn more about investing!

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.

Kat Tretina
Kat Tretina |

Kat Tretina is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kat here

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Investing

Ally Invest Review 2019

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.

If you’re looking for an online discount broker with no minimum investment requirement, Ally Invest may be perfect for you. Ally Invest is an ideal choice not just because you don’t need a fortune to open an account, but also because commission fees for trades are well below many competitors — especially for active traders who can earn discounts.

While Ally Invest is missing some common tools for investment research and their mobile app isn’t as feature-rich as some competitors, their full-featured online platform makes up for what the mobile app lacks. And, there’s a wide range of account options with Ally Invest, so you’re covered whether you want a taxable account, a retirement account, or an account for your kids.

Ally Invest
Visit AllySecuredon Ally Invest’s secure site
The Bottom Line: Ally Invest is an affordable discount broker with a wide range of investments to choose from.

  • Commissions are just $4.95 or $3.95 if you’re an active trader.
  • There’s no minimum deposit required for a self-directed trading account, and no minimum account balance requirement.
  • Ally Invest offers tons of investment options, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, futures and forex.

Who should consider Ally Invest

If you’re looking for an affordable investment account, Ally Invest should be at the top of your list. You’ll have many choices for different types of accounts with Ally Invest, including traditional and Roth IRA, IRAs for the self-employed, taxable investment accounts, 529 Plan, and more. And, you won’t have to make a minimum deposit to open your account — it’s free.

Once you’ve got your account open, Ally Invest makes trading affordable for most investments. Commissions for stock trades are among the lowest of any online discount broker, and Ally Invest offers more than 100 commission-free ETFs. If you’re looking to buy Mutual funds though, you’ll pay a transaction fee, whereas some competitors offer ample fee-free options.

Ally Invest’s online trading platform is easy to use, and their research tools are good. While you won’t find earnings transcripts, SEC filings, earnings press releases or audio calls, you can still dig into technical data using free screeners and other tools powered by Recognia.

If you don’t want to manage all the investments on your own, you can opt for a managed account. This is Ally’s robo-advisor option — but you’ll need a minimum of $2,500 if you’d prefer this hands-off approach rather than a self-directed trading account.

Ally Invest fees and features

Current promotions

New Ally Invest accounts accounts receive 90 days of commission-free trades, up to $500 in value, regardless of deposit amount. Cash bonuses are available for new accounts starting at $50 for if you deposit or transfer at least $10,000.

Stock trading fees
  • $4.95 per trade
  • $3.95 per trade (30+ trades per quarter or daily balance of $100,000 or more)
Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures / commodities
  • Forex
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $50 full account transfer fee
  • $50 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
  • 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)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android , Windows phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email

Strengths of Ally Invest

Ally Invest has plenty of strengths to help it stand out from the competition, including the following:

  • Low commissions: You pay just a $4.95 commission with Ally Invest, which is one of the lowest commissions charged by discount brokers and well below the $6.95 charged by competitors including E-Trade and TD Ameritrade. Plus, if you make more than 30 trades per quarter or have a daily balance of $100,000 or more, your commission is even lower — it drops to just $3.95.
  • No minimum deposit required: While competitors such as E-Trade require a $500 minimum deposit to open an account, Ally doesn’t have any minimum initial deposit requirement. You can also earn a cash bonus for opening an Ally Invest account if you deposit or transfer just $10,000, compared with a $25,000 minimum to earn a cash bonus with E-Trade or $20,000 with Merrill Edge.
  • Powerful tools and intuitive trading platform: Ally Invest’s online site offers you powerful tools to screen investments. Its trading platform is intuitive and provides the features necessary to be an informed investor. This includes a dashboard you can customize to your preferred view, as well as real-time streaming quotes and up-to-date data.
  • Responsive online and phone customer service: You can contact Ally Invest via phone 24/7. There’s also an online chat feature, where you can get answers within seconds from helpful customer service agents. Email support is available as well.

Drawbacks of Ally Invest

Ally Invest also has some downsides to consider:

  • Mutual fund transaction fees: Ally Invest charges a $9.95 transaction fee per trade for no-load Mutual funds. But many competitors offer options without any transaction fees, including E-Trade, which offers more than 4,400 fee-free funds.
  • A mobile app with minimal features: While you can do the basics with Ally Invest’s mobile app, it offers far fewer features and investment tools than competitor apps such as TD Ameritrade Mobile.
  • No physical branches: Ally Invest is an online-only company. There are no physical branches, unlike for competitors such as Merrill Edge, or E-Trade which has more than 30 branches spread across the country.

Is Ally Invest safe?

Ally Invest is a trusted online brokerage with more than $4.7 billion in assets under management. It’s a member of the FDIC and SIPC, so you can rest assured that the cash in your accounts is safe. And since the company has passed its FINRA broker check, you can count on the fact it’s in full compliance with regulations.

Since Ally Invest is online-only, it’s important to review Ally’s data protection policies. The good news is Ally promises that they use “multiple levels of security” to keep your info safe. This includes 128-bit SSL encryption for any exchange of data from your browser and Ally’s servers if your personal information is being transmitted. The downside, however, is that Ally’s privacy policy does permit Ally to share your information with third-parties. While this is a common policy, it’s still disappointing.

Of course, once you invest your money, there’s always a risk of losses. Research what you’re investing in carefully and diversify your portfolio to minimize risks you’re taking.

Bottom line

Thanks to the fact it has no minimum deposit requirement, Ally Invest is a great choice if you’re looking to get started investing and you don’t have a ton of money. Affordable commissions and commission-free ETFs also give you a diverse offering of low-cost or no-cost investment options. But if you’d prefer to buy Mutual funds without paying transaction fees or want a physical branch to visit, alternatives such as E-Trade or Merrill Edge may be a better choice to meet your needs.

Open an Ally Invest accountSecured
on Ally Invest’s secure website

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.

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here