Good to Know

Avoid individual stocks if you’re a beginner

Everyone has heard someone talk about a big stock win or a great stock pick.

“What they forget about is that often they’re not talking about those particular investments that they also own that did very, very poorly over time,” Keady says. “So sometimes people have an unrealistic expectation about the kind of returns that they can make in the stock market. And sometimes they confuse luck with skill. You can get lucky sometimes picking an individual stock. It’s hard to be lucky over time and avoid those big downturns also.”

Remember, to make money consistently in individual stocks, you need to know something that the forward-looking market isn’t already pricing into the stock price. Keep in mind that for every seller in the market, there’s a buyer for those same shares who’s equally sure they will profit.

“There are tons of smart people doing this for a living, and if you’re a novice, the likelihood of you outperforming that is not very good,” says Tony Madsen, CFP, founder of NewLeaf Financial Guidance in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

An alternative to individual stocks is an index fund, which can be either a mutual fund or an exchange traded fund (ETF). These funds hold dozens or even hundreds of stocks. And each share you purchase of a fund owns all the companies included in the index.

Unlike stock, mutual funds and ETFs may have annual fees, though some funds are free.

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