Tag: Tax Advantages

What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)?

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a convenient way to store funds specifically for medical expenses. If you qualify for an HSA, you will get to enjoy a few tax advantages as well. While this might sound like an ideal setup, not everyone is eligible for a health savings account. To qualify for a health savings account, you must be enrolled in a high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP). The details of these plans are revised every year by the Internal Service Revenue (IRS), which sets the bar for:

  • The minimum deductible a plan must have to be considered a HDHP.
  • The maximum amount that a customer who purchases a plan is able to spend out-of-pocket.

The benefits of a health savings account

Here are some of the key advantages of having a health savings account:

  • It covers a large variety of medical expenses: There are many different kinds of medical expenses that are eligible, such as medical, dental and mental health services.
  • Pretty much anyone can make contributions: Contributions to your health savings account don’t have to be made by you or your spouse. Employers, relatives, friends or anyone who would like to contribute to your account can do so. There are limits, however. For example, in 2019, the limit for individuals was $3,500 and $7,000 for families.
  • Pre-tax contributions: Since contributions are generally made at your employer pre-taxes, they are not considered to be part of your gross income and are not federally taxed. This is usually the same case when it comes to state level taxes as well.
  • After-tax contributions are tax-deductible: Any contributions made after taxes are deductible from your gross income on your tax return. Doing so minimizes the amount you would owe on taxes for that year.
  • Tax-free withdrawals: You can withdrawal money from your account for approved health care costs without having to worry about federal taxes. Most states do not tax, either.
  • Annual rollover: Any unused HSA funds that are left over by the end of the year get rolled over to the following year.
  • Portability: Even if you change health insurance plans, employers, or retire, the money in your health savings account will continue to be available for qualifying health care expenses.
  • Having a health savings account is convenient: Most of the time, you will receive a debit card that is connected to your health savings account. This way, you can use your debit card to start paying for eligible expenses and prescription drugs on the spot.

The drawbacks to having a health savings account

While there are many advantages to having a health savings account, there are a few things to consider. For one, in order to qualify for an HSA, you must hold a high-deductible health insurance plan. The tax benefits might entice you to purposely sign up for insurance coverage under one of these health plans but think before doing this. Here are some of the disadvantages to having a health savings account:

  • The High-Deductible Health Plan: These types of health plans can end up being a lot more expensive in the long run, even with an HSA. If you have other options for health insurance that offer lower deductible, definitely consider those and don’t only choose a High-Deductible plan so that you can open an HSA.
  • You need to stay on top of your spending: If you have an HSA, you need to be willing to hold yourself responsible for recordkeeping. Keep track of all of your receipts so that you can prove you spent your HSA funds on eligible expenses.
  • Taxes and penalties: Using money from your HSA on other expenses that do not qualify as eligible health care expenses could result in you owing taxes. If you do this before the age of 65, you will have to pay taxes with a 20% penalty tacked on. If you are 65 or older, you will be responsible for paying taxes, but the penalty gets waived.
  • Fees: Sometimes, health savings accounts will charge additional fees, either per month or per transaction. Check with your HSA institution for more information on extra fees.

How an HSA works

In many cases, if your employer offers high-deductible health plans, they probably offer health savings accounts as well. Talk to your employer to find out what they offer. If your employer doesn’t offer HSAs, then you can sign up for a separate one through a different institution.

You get to decide how much you would like to contribute to your HSA annually, but keep in mind that you cannot exceed the HSA contribution limit. Once you are set up with an account, you will either receive a debit card or a series of checks that are linked to your HSA. Right away, you will be able to use the funds in your account for:

  • Deductibles
  • Copays
  • Coinsurance
  • Other eligible health care expenses that your insurance does not cover.

Generally, you cannot use HSA funds to pay your insurance premiums.  HSAs are not the same as flexible spending accounts, because HSAs rollover. Once you turn 65, you are no longer eligible to make contributions to your account, but you can still use the available funds for eligible out-of-pocket expenses. If you use the funds for non-eligible expenses, you will owe taxes on these amounts.

Investment Opportunities

Another benefit of HSA that you may or may not have heard of is that you can invest the money in mutual funds and stocks. If this is something that you are interested in, seek advice from a financial advisor for more information.

What is a Health Savings Account (HSA)? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

If you have a special child in your life, you may be wondering what to put under the tree this year. One long-lasting and truly meaningful way to show the child in your life that you care is by taking a few minutes to set up a UGMA/UTMA account and give them a leg up in life.

The earlier you open a UGMA or UTMA account for a child, the longer your initial gift has to grow, thanks to the magic of compound interest. For example, investing just $5 a day from birth at an 8% return could make that child a millionaire by the age of 50. By setting up a UGMA/UTMA account, you’re really giving your beneficiary a present that grows all year round. Now, that’s a gift they’re sure to remember!

What is a UGMA/UTMA account?

UGMA is an abbreviation for the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act. And UTMA stands for Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. Both UGMA and UTMA accounts are custodial accounts created for the benefit of a minor (or beneficiary).

The money in a UGMA/UTMA account can be used for educational expenses (like college tuition), along with anything that benefits the child – including housing, transportation, technology, and more. On the other hand, 529 plans can only be used for qualified educational expenses, like summer camps, school uniforms, or private school tuition and fees.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that you cannot use UGMA/UTMA funds to provide the child with items that parents or guardians would be reasonably expected to provide, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Another important point is that when you set up a UGMA/UTMA account, the money is irrevocably transferred to the child, meaning it cannot be returned to the donor.

 

Tax advantages of a UGMA/UTMA account

The contributions you make to a UGMA/UTMA account are not tax-deductible in the year that you make the contribution, and they are subject to gift tax limits. The income that you receive each year from the UGMA/UTMA account does have special tax advantages when compared to income that you would get in a traditional investment account, making it a great tax-advantaged option for you to invest in the child you love.

 

Here’s how that works. In 2020, the first $1,100 of investment income earned in a UGMA/UTMA account may be claimed on the custodian’s’ tax return, tax free. The next $1,100 is then taxed at the child’s (usually much lower) tax rate. Any income in excess of those amounts must be claimed at the custodian’s regular tax rate.

A few things to be aware of with UGMA/UTMA accounts

While there’s no doubt that UGMA/UTMA accounts have several advantages and a place in your overall financial portfolio, there are a few things to consider before you open up a UGMA/UTMA account:

 

  • When the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21, depending on the specifics of the plan), the money is theirs, without restriction.
  • When the UGMA/UTMA funds are released, they are factored into the minor’s assets.
  • The value of these assets will factor into the minor’s financial aid calculations, and may play a big role in determining if they qualify for certain programs, such as SSDI and Medicaid.

Where you can open a UGMA/UTMA account

Many financial services companies and brokerages offer UGMA or UTMA accounts. One option is the Acorns Early program from Acorns. Acorns Early is a UGMA/UTMA account that is included with the Acorns Family plan, which costs $5 / month. Acorns Early takes 5 minutes to set up, and you can add multiple kids at no extra charge. The Acorns Family plan also includes  Acorns Invest, Later, and Spend so you can manage all of the family’s finances, from one easy app.

 

During a time where many of us are laying low this holiday season due to COVID-19, remember that presents don’t just need to be a material possession your loved one unwraps, and then often forgets about. Give the gift of lasting impact through a UGMA/UTMA account.

The post Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

How to Start Investing in the Stock Market

Although investing in the stock market can feel intimidating at first, it could be the key to achieving your financial goals. Short of hitting the lottery or building a thriving business that you can sell, buying securities that increase in value over time is usually the easiest path to wealth. 

After all, the average savings account pays out a paltry 0.05% APY according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, yet the average stock market return is around 10% per year before accounting for inflation. 

Unless you want your money to languish in a savings account where it’s worth less with each passing year, learning to invest should be at the top of your to-do list.

6 Steps to Start Investing in the Stock Market

But, how do you start down a path that is notoriously complicated and has the potential to leave you with less money than you started? Here are a few top steps you should take to get started.

1. List Your Goals

Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by investing in the stock market. A few examples of investment goals might include: 

  • Making a quick profit by investing in the short-term, and reselling stocks at a higher price,
  • Creating a source of passive income you can use later on,
  • Growing investment earnings so it can cover your retirement, or
  • Saving money for a specific goal.

As you list out your goals, make sure you have the extra money to invest on a regular basis, while also having cash set aside for emergencies. If you have a lot of credit card debt or other high-interest debt, you might even consider paying it off before you begin investing. After all, the average credit card interest rate is currently over 16% —  and you might not get an investment return anywhere close to that.

2. Start With Retirement Savings Accounts

There are advantages that come with investing in a retirement account. Accounts, like a workplace 401(k), a SEP IRA, or a Solo 401(k) are tax-advantaged, giving you the chance to reduce your taxable income (and thus, pay less in taxes) when you contribute. 

With a 401(k) plan from your job, for example, you can contribute up to $19,500 in 2020 and again in 2021. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also contribute another $6,500 each year which is called, a “catch-up contribution”. The amount you contribute is taken off of your taxable income, so your tax liability is lower.

You might also qualify for an “employer match” on contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement account. Check with your company’s human resource department to learn if your employer offers this benefit. 

Other retirement accounts to consider include a traditional or Roth IRA. You can deduct your full traditional IRA contribution from your taxable income, if you don’t have a retirement plan at work. Another option is funding a Roth IRA which lets you contribute using after-tax dollars instead. This means you won’t get a tax deduction for contributing, but Roth IRA funds grow tax-free and you can take distributions at retirement age without paying any taxes. 

In 2021, contribution limits for IRAs stay the same as 2020. You can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 and older. 

3. Open a Brokerage Account

In addition to investing for retirement, you can also open a taxable brokerage account. You won’t get any upfront tax advantages for opening a brokerage account, but you get the chance to buy and sell stocks and other securities, or buy and hold them for the long-term.

There are excellent brokerage account options for beginners or experienced investors, many of which let you invest in some capacity without any fees. Some of the top firms to consider include: 

  • Betterment: Best for Beginners
  • Robinhood: Best for No Minimum Balance Requirement
  • M1 Finance: Best for Free Trades

4. Compare Costs and Fees

You might not have a lot of options if you’re investing in your workplace retirement plan at first. If you have the option to select a brokerage firm, you’ll need to compare the fees and costs involved in investing. Fees and costs to watch out for include:

  • Investment management fees. These fees can be nonexistent or as high as 1% of your account balance (or more).
  • Expense ratios. Specific funds, like index funds or mutual funds, might carry this fee.
  • Transaction fees. You might pay transaction fees when buying or selling a stock or another security.
  • Front-end loads. This fee can be charged on some investments upfront.
  • Annual account fees. A charge that’s tacked on just for using your brokerage account.

These are just some of the main fees to watch out for, but there are plenty of others. If you want to figure out how much you’re paying in fees on your investment accounts, the free retirement fee analyzer tool from Personal Capital is a good place to start.

5. Start Off With Simple Investments

You’ve probably heard plenty about the “hot stocks” of the last few years, and how investors who got in early have gotten rich by being in the right place, at the right time. Unfortunately, most “regular” investors don’t hear about hot stocks until it’s too late.

As a beginning investor, it’s usually best to keep your stock market strategy simple by investing in what you understand. Some beginning investments to consider include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are made up of various investments that track an index or focus on a specific industry sector. You could even stick to index funds, which are another type of investment that tracks an index and are mostly “hands-off” for the investor.

Target-date funds are another type of simple investment to consider. These funds include a selection of stocks and bonds that adjust for less risk over time. If you purchase a target-date fund that’s meant to last until 2050, for example, your risk would be high at first but slowly taper down as you approached 2050 or whatever “target date” you choose for retirement.

6. Research Before Jumping on Complex Strategies

If you’re curious about more complex investing options, you’ll need to learn more about how and when to invest. Some resources to turn to include investing books, like:

  • The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle
  • Investing All-In-One for Dummies by Eric Tyson

You could also check out top investing forums like Seeking Alpha or the Bogleheads forum, taking the time to read through questions and answers from investors at the top of their game.

Blog posts that can help you get started with some investing basics include: 

  • How to Invest Essentials for Beginners & Intermediates
  • How the Stock Market Works
  • How to Buy Stock Online

The Bottom Line

Investing in the stock market can be nerve-racking, but starting with common-sense investments in place (e.g. employer-sponsored retirement account) and uncomplicated investments (like index funds), lets you ease into the process slowly.

Over time and with more experience, you’ll have a better sense of when — and when not to — shy away from the risks of the stock market.  

The post How to Start Investing in the Stock Market appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com