Wiley | 978-0-470-76926-3 | Datasheet | Wiley Investing Online For Dummies, 7th Edition

Wiley Investing Online For Dummies, 7th Edition
Chapter 1
Getting Yourself Ready for
Online Investing
In This Chapter
▶ Analyzing your budget and determining how much you can invest
▶ Taking the basic steps to get started
▶ Understanding what returns and risks you can expect from investing
▶ Getting to know your personal taste for risk
▶ Understanding your approach to investing: Passive versus active
▶ Finding resources online that can help you stick with a strategy
f you’ve ever watched a baby learn to walk, you’ve seen how cautious
humans are by nature. Babies will hold themselves against a wall and
scoot along before actually going toe-to-toe with gravity and trying to walk.
That skepticism stays with most people as they get older. Before doing
something risky, you probably think good and hard about what you stand to
gain and what you might lose. Surprisingly, many online investors, especially
those just starting out, lose that innate sense of risk and reward. They chase
after the biggest possible returns without considering the sleepless nights
they’ll suffer through as those investments swing up and down. Some start
buying investments they’ve heard others made money on without considering whether those investments are appropriate for them. Worst of all, some
fall prey to fraudsters who promise huge returns in get-rich-quick schemes.
So, I’ve decided to start from the top and make sure that the basics are covered. In this chapter, you discover what you can expect to gain from investing online — and at what risk — so that you can decide whether this is for
you. You also find out how to analyze your monthly budget so that you have
cash to invest in the first place. Lastly, you find out what kind of investor you
are by using online tools that measure your taste for risk. After you’ve gotten
to know your inner investor better, you can start thinking about forming an
online investment plan that won’t give you an ulcer.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
It’s only natural if you’re feeling skittish when it comes to investing, especially if you’re just starting out. After all, it’s been a brutal past 10 years even
for veteran investors. First came the dot-com crash in 2000, then the nasty
bear market in 2007, and then a vicious credit crunch in 2008 that threatened
to drop-kick the economy. The stock market even short-circuited in May
2010, due in part to computerized trading, causing its value to plunge and
largely rally back in just 20 minutes. Don’t let these scary events, though,
scare you off. Prudent investing can be a great way for you to reach your
financial goals. You just need an approach that will maximize your returns
while cutting your risks. And that’s where this book comes in.
Why Investing Online
Is Worth Your While
Investing used to be easy. Your friend would recommend a broker. You’d
give your money to the broker and hope for the best. But today, thanks to the
explosion of Web-based investment information and low-cost online trading,
you get to work a lot harder by taking charge of your investments. Lucky you!
So, is the additional work worth it? In my opinion, taking the time to figure
out how to invest online is worthwhile because
✓ Investing online saves you money. Online trading is much less expensive than dealing with a broker. You’ll save tons on commissions and
fees. (Say, why not invest that money you saved?)
✓ Investing online gives you more control. Instead of entrusting someone
else to reach your financial goals, you’ll be personally involved. It’s up
to you to find out about all the investments at your disposal, but you’ll
also be free to make decisions.
✓ Investing online eliminates conflicts of interest. By figuring out how to
invest and doing it yourself, you won’t have to worry about being given
advice that might be in your advisors’ best interest and not yours.
Getting Started
I can’t tell you how many investors just starting out write me and ask the
exact same question. Maybe it’s the same question that’s running through
your head right now: “I want to invest but where do I start?”
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Getting started in investing seems so overwhelming that some get confused
and wind up giving up and doing nothing. Others get taken in by promises of
gigantic returns and enroll in seminars, subscribe to stock-picking newsletters, or agree to invest in odd get-rich-quick schemes like pay phones, only
to be disappointed. Others assume that all they need to do is open a brokerage account and start madly buying stocks. But as you’ll notice if you look at
the Table of Contents or flip ahead in this book, I don’t talk about picking a
broker and opening an account until Chapter 4. You have many tasks to do
before then.
But don’t let that fact intimidate you. Check out my easy-to-follow list of
things you’ll need to do to get started. Follow these directions, and you’ll be
ready to open an online brokerage account and start trading:
1. Decide how much you can save and invest.
You can’t invest if you don’t have any money, and you won’t have any
money if you don’t save. No matter how much you earn, you need to set
aside some money to start investing. (Think saving is impossible? I show
you computer and online tools later in this chapter that can help you
build up savings that you can invest.)
2. Master the terms.
The world of investing has its own language. I help you to understand
investingese now so that you don’t get confused in the middle of a trade
when you’re asked to make a decision about something you’ve never
heard of. (Chapter 2 has more on the language of online investing.)
3. Familiarize yourself with the risks and returns of investing.
You wouldn’t jump out of an airplane without knowing the risks,
right? Don’t jump into investing without knowing what to expect,
either. Luckily, online resources I show you later in this chapter and
in Chapter 8 can help you get a feel for how markets have performed
over the past 100 years. By understanding how stocks, bonds, and
other investments have done, you’ll know what is a reasonable return
and set your goals appropriately.
I can’t stress how important this step is. Investors who know how investments move don’t panic — they keep their cool. Panic is your worst
enemy because it has a way of talking you into doing things you’ll regret
4. Get a feel for how much risk you can take.
People all have different goals for their money. You might already have
a home and a car, in which case you’re probably most interested in
saving for retirement or building an estate for your heirs. Or perhaps
you’re starting a family and hope to buy a house within a year. These
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
two scenarios call for very different tastes for risks and time horizons —
how long you’d be comfortable investing money before you need it. You
need to know what your taste for risk is before you can invest. I show
you how to measure your taste for risk later in this chapter.
5. Understand the difference between being an active and a passive
Some investors want to outsmart the market by darting in and out of
stocks at just the right times. Others think doing that is impossible and
don’t want the hassle of trying. At the end of this chapter, you find out
how to distinguish between these two types of investors, active and passive, so that you’re in a better position to choose which one you are.
6. Find out how to turn your computer into a trading station.
If you have a computer on your desk and a connection to the Internet,
you have all you need to turn it into a source of constant market information. You just need to know where to look, which you find out in
Chapter 2.
7. Take a dry run.
Don’t laugh. Many professional money managers have told me they got
their starts by pretending to pick stocks and tracking how they would
have performed. It’s a great way to see whether your strategy might
work, before potentially losing your shirt. You can even do this online,
which I cover in Chapter 2.
8. Choose the type of account you’ll use.
You can do your investing from all sorts of accounts, all with different
advantages and disadvantages. I cover them a little in this chapter and
go into more detail in Chapter 3.
9. Set up an online brokerage account.
At last, the moment you’ve been waiting for: opening an online account.
After you’ve tackled the preceding steps, you’re ready to get going. This
important step is covered in Chapter 4.
10. Understand the different ways to place trades and enter orders.
In Chapter 5, I explain the many different ways to buy and sell stocks,
each with very different end results. (You also need to understand the
tax ramifications of selling stocks, which I cover in Chapter 3.)
11. Boost your knowledge.
After you have the basics down, you’re ready to tackle the later parts of
the book, where I cover advanced investing topics. This involves picking an asset allocation (covered in Chapter 9), researching stocks to buy
and knowing when to sell (covered in Chapter 13), and evaluating more
exotic investments (the stuff you find in the chapters contained in the
bonus chapters on the Web).
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
The danger of doing nothing
After reading through the 11 steps for getting started, you might be wondering whether
you’ve taken on more than you bargained for.
Stick with it. The worst thing you can do now
is put this book down, tell yourself you’ll worry
about investing later, and do nothing.
Doing nothing is extremely costly because you
lose money if you don’t invest. Seriously. Even
if you stuffed your cash under a mattress and
didn’t spend a dime, each year that money
becomes worth, on average, 3 percent less due
to inflation. Suppose you won $1 million in the
lottery and stuffed it in a hole in your backyard
with the plan of taking it out in 30 years to pay
for your retirement. In 30 years, all 1 million
greenbacks would still be there, but they’d only
buy $400,000 worth of goods. The risk of inflation is even more relevant in the wake of the
financial crisis of 2008, which paralyzed many
aspects of the banking system. To stabilize the
system, the U.S. government borrowed heavily. Many investors worry that the government
might print large amounts of currency in the
future to pay its bills, which could also cause
Even if you put your extra cash in a savings account, you’re not doing much better.
Because savings accounts usually give you
access to your money anytime, they pay low
levels of interest, around 1 to 2 percent. Even
high-yield savings accounts and certificates of
deposit (CDs) typically pay only slightly higher
interest than the level of inflation or even
below, meaning that you’re barely keeping up
if not falling behind. If you want your money to
grow, you need to move money you don’t need
for a while out of savings and into investments.
Investments have the potential to generate
much higher returns.
Note: The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
offers a free calculator that tells you how much
something you bought in the past would cost
today (www.minneapolisfed.org).
Measuring How Much You
Can Afford to Invest
Online investing can help you accomplish some great things. It can help you
pay for a child’s college tuition, buy the house you’ve been eyeing, retire,
or travel to the moon. Okay, maybe not the last one. But you get the idea.
Investing helps your money grow faster than inflation. And by investing
online, you can profit even more by reducing the commissions and fees you
must pay to different advisors and brokers.
One thing online investing cannot do is make something out of nothing. To
make money investing online, you have to save money first. Don’t get frustrated, though, because you don’t need as much to get started as you might
fear. If you have a job or source of income, building up ample seed money isn’t
too hard.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Scouring the Web for savings help
Even fastidious savers have unavoidable basic
expenses. Investors, though, find ways to be
smart about even these routine costs. These
sites can help you boost your savings:
✓ Feed The Pig (www.feedthepig.org)
urges you to stop wasting money and offers
tips to help you get out of debt by cutting
excess spending. The site can calculate
how to get out of debt and even how much
you can save by packing a lunch instead of
buying one.
✓ Get Rich Slowly (w w w . g e t r i c h
slowly.org) provides tips, calculators,
and online tools to help you save more so
that you can invest more. The site’s front
page has daily entries of note to savers and
✓ The Consumerist (www.consumerist.
com) offers tips to educate consumers. It
explains how to play hardball with service
providers, like cell phone companies, that
sock you with monthly fees.
Turning yourself into a big saver
If you want to be an investor, you must find ways to spend less money now
so that you can save the excess. That means you must retrain yourself from
being a consumer to being an investor. Many beginning investors have trouble getting past this point because being a consumer is so easy. Consumers
buy things that they can use and enjoy now, but almost all of those objects
lose value over time. Cars, electronic gadgets, and clothing are all examples
of things consumers “invest” their money in. You don’t even have to have
money to spend — plenty of credit card companies will gladly loan it to you.
Consumers fall into this spending pattern vortex and end up living paycheck
to paycheck with nothing left to invest.
Investors, on the other hand, find ways to put off current consumption.
Instead of spending money, they invest it into building businesses or goods
and services that can earn money, rather than deplete it. The three main
types of investments are stocks, bonds, and real estate, although I cover
others in the later chapters.
Here are a few things you can do now to help you change from being a consumer to an investor:
✓ Start with what you can manage by putting aside a little each month.
✓ Keep increasing what you put aside. If you do it gradually, you won’t
feel the sting of a suddenly pinched pocket.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
✓ Hunt for deals and use coupons and discounts. Put aside the saved
✓ Buy only what you need. Don’t be fooled into buying things you don’t
need because they’re on sale.
Using personal finance software
The word budget is a real turnoff. It conjures up images of sitting at the
kitchen table with stacks of crumpled-up receipts, trying to figure out where
all your money went. As an investor who prefers to do things online, this
image probably isn’t too appealing.
It’s worth your while to find other ways to see how much money is coming in
and how much is going out. Fortunately, you have a painless option available:
personal finance software, which helps you track your spending and investments.
There used to be two big names in personal finance software: Microsoft
Money and Intuit Quicken. However, in 2009, Microsoft made a surprise move
and discontinued Money, ceding the entire market to Quicken.
Quicken is a great tool for measuring how much money you can afford to
invest. It helps you determine how much money you spend, where it goes,
and how much excess you accumulate each month that you can channel
into investing. You can view the results in charts, such as the one shown in
Figure 1-1. Quicken can also create a budget for you, essentially at the click
of a button. The software alerts you if you’re spending more on a certain category than you budgeted for. The biggest gripe against the software is that
you have to get your transactions into it first. You can type them in by hand,
which is kind of a pain, or you can download them from your credit card
company, bank, or brokerage. Quicken also costs you $60 for the Deluxe edition. Intuit will refund your money if you don’t like the software after using it
for less than 60 days, though. It’s also important to note that Quicken’s online
features, including stock-quote downloads, stop working unless you upgrade
to the latest version every three years.
If you were using Microsoft Money and want to switch to Quicken, it’s much
easier than it used to be. In 2009, Quicken added a converter that does a good
job of importing Money files. I’ve tested the converter, and it works very well.
Quicken does more than help you set and stick to a budget. It helps you with
more advanced topics, such as managing your portfolio and taxes — stuff I
cover later in this book.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Quicken might be the big kid on the block, but it isn’t completely alone. Be
sure to check out these other options (some of which are free!):
✓ Moneydance (www.moneydance.com) comes in versions for Windows,
Macintosh, and Linux. If you’re already using Money or Quicken, no
worries — Moneydance can translate your files. It’s comparably priced
at $40 and offers a trial that lets you use the software until you hit 100
✓ Money Manager Ex (www.codelathe.com/mmex/) tries to make the
power of software like Money and Quicken free. It’s open-source personal
finance software, programmed by hobbyists and offered to the public
as a service. If you like it, you can donate to the programmers who have
created it.
✓ GnuCash (www.gnucash.org) has one big thing going for it: It’s free. The
software is updated and maintained by a host of freelance programmers,
much like Money Manager Ex. Be warned, though, that Gnu Cash lacks the
polish of some of the other personal finance software and is harder to navigate. Some versions of the software are considered “unstable” even by the
programmers who coded them — at least until all the bugs are fixed.
✓ XeCheck (www.xecheck.com) is surprisingly slick and well-designed,
given that it’s not from a massive software company like Intuit. The premiere version, which costs $32, reminds me of Money visually, making it
an option for former Money users.
✓ Buddi (http://buddi.digitalcave.ca/index.jsp) is another free
option. But unlike the other personal finance software, Buddi is designed
to track budgets and spending, not investment portfolios.
Figure 1-1:
allows you
to slice and
dice your
budget and
find out
where your
money is
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Microsoft also provides several helpful budgeting spreadsheets, which you
can find by entering the word budget in the search field of the Microsoft
Office Templates home page (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/
templates/default.aspx). The Web site It’s Your Money (www.mdm
proofing.com/iym/excel.htm) also provides several spreadsheets to
help you manage your money.
Perusing personal finance Web sites
Before you can put personal finance software to work, you often need to
download and install it on your computer. You then need to spend some
time figuring out how to actually use it. If that’s exactly the kind of thing that
scared you away from making a budget in the first place, you might want
to consider personal finance Web sites. Personal finance Web sites’ main
benefits include the fact that they let you see your information from any PC
connected to the Internet, and you generally don’t have to install software to
make them work. Here are a few to check out:
✓ Mint.com (www.mint.com) built a loyal following with its simplicity.
Mint was so successful, in fact, that Intuit bought the company in 2009,
shut down its own Quicken Online site, and turned Mint into its online
personal finance site. Mint pulls in all your bank and brokerage accounts
and imports all your financial information. For users just looking to get
up and running fast, Mint is tough to beat. It’s also free. Mint, however,
lacks many of the powerful investment tracking features in Quicken,
including the ability to precisely track how much you paid for certain
investments — your cost basis — which is very important, as you discover later. And you’ll need to be comfortable handing over all your
account numbers and passwords to a third party.
✓ Mvelopes Personal (www.mvelopes.com) can be your spending cop that
tells you you’re spending too much. Mvelopes is a Web-based spending
tracker that tries to be the digital version of envelope-based budgeting.
Rather than stuffing cash in envelopes set aside for certain expenses,
Mvelopes lets you decide before you get a paycheck how much you’re
willing to spend in certain categories (such as dining out) and plan your
spending for the month. As the month progresses, you download all your
spending from banks and credit card companies and subtract each transaction from the envelopes you set aside. That way, if you’re spending too
much on restaurants, for instance, you know to cut back or to skimp in
other areas. It also comes with some electronic bill payment services. It’s
not a cheap tool, though, and will set you back $130 a year, although you
can consider the 30-day free trial or a two-year plan for $190.
✓ Wesabe (www.wesabe.com) lets you enter your budget and track it. But
it has a twist: Other Wesabe users can see where your money is going
and offer suggestions on ways to save more. It’s free, too, which saves
you some money right away.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
✓ MoneyStrands (www.money.strands.com) tries to make saving your
money hip, if that’s possible. The site is full of colorful cartoons, making
it appear fun to use, which might make it seem less intimidating to some.
The site not only helps you track how you’re doing financially but also
compares you with others and provides savings tips.
✓ Geezeo (www.geezeo.com) is designed for people who want to track
their spending but are more likely to use a cell phone than to sit in front
of a computer. With your permission, the site pulls in your account balances from all your financial institutions. That way, when you’re shopping, you can send a text message to Geezeo and get a message back
that shows all your account balances. Hopefully that will remind you to
not spend money you don’t have. Other users also offer tips on the Web
site on how to save money.
Putting all your financial data online is simple and convenient, but it can be
a bad idea for many investors. First, there are the security concerns with
entrusting all your financial data to strangers over the Internet. But beyond
that, if a Web site calls it quits one day, you might lose access to the historical
financial and investing records you kept on the site. Cake Financial is a case in
point. The investment tracking site was bought by E*TRADE in January 2010
and, without warning, shut down — leaving investors without access to their
financial information. This is a big reason why personal financial software, like
Quicken, may be preferable because your data is stored on your computer’s
hard drive where you can always access it.
Personal finance information sites don’t track your transactions, but they’re still
able to give you the big picture. The following sites are worth checking out:
✓ The Financial Planning Association’s Life Goals (www.fpafor
financialplanning.org/LifeGoals) lets you click on financial
goals, like “Saving for Retirement,” and get advice.
✓ Smartaboutmoney.org (www.smartaboutmoney.org) provides various tips on how to save more and boost your financial strength.
✓ U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission (www.mymoney.
gov) is a government-run site that steps you through everything from
saving more to avoiding frauds. It’s also a good directory of useful information that’s available from other government agencies.
Many financial information Web sites are designed for older investors who
are looking for information on homes, kids, and retirement. If you’re a parent
hoping that your kids will be more responsible with money, check out Young
Money (www.youngmoney.com). You can find advice that’s more targeted for
young adults, such as managing credit card debt or avoiding campus scams.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Saving with Web-based
savings calculators
If personal finance software or sites seem too much like a chore or too Big
Brotherish, you might consider these free Web-based tools that measure how
much you could save, in theory, based on a few parameters that you enter:
✓ MSN Money’s Savings Calculator (moneycentral.msn.com/
home.aspx) asks you a series of questions to help you analyze your
spending and find out how much you can save, how long it’ll take you
to save a certain amount, how much you must save to meet a goal, or
how long it will take to save $1 million.
✓ Young Money’s Home Budget Calculator (www.youngmoney.com/
home-budget) helps you break down where all your money is going so
that you can determine how much you can save. It steps you through all
your major expenses and helps you find ways to waste less.
✓ Bankrate.com’s Saving for a Goal Calculator (www.bankrate.com/
calculators/savings/saving-goals-calculator.aspx) asks
you what you’re saving for, be it college or buying a car. It then breaks
down your financial objective and tells you how much you need to save
to meet said objective.
✓ Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) Savings Calculator
(http://apps.finra.org/Calcs/1/Savings) lets you enter different combinations of variables such as how much you’ve saved already
and how much additional money you intend to save. It then gives you a
realistic estimate of how much you can expect to save.
✓ USATODAY.com’s The Real Person’s Budget (www.usatoday.com/
money/perfi/financial-diet/real-person-budget.xls) is a
spreadsheet developed by a personal finance advisor to help you interactively figure out where your money is going.
Relying on the residual method
Are you the kind of person who has no idea how much money you have until
you take out a wad of twenties from the ATM and check the balance on the
receipt? If so, you’re probably not the budgeting type, and the preceding
options are too strict. For you, the best option might be to open a savings
account with your bank or open a high-yield savings account and transfer
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
in money you know you won’t need. Watch the savings account over the
months and find out how much it grows. That can give you a good idea of
how much you could save without even feeling it. You can find out where
you can get a high rate of interest on your savings from Bankrate.com (www.
Using Web-based goal-savings calculators
All the preceding methods help you determine how much you can save. But
the following sites help you determine how much you should save to reach
specific goals:
✓ Vanguard’s retirement calculator (https://personal.vanguard.
helps you figure out how much you should save by measuring how
much you will need. The site prompts you to enter how much you make
and how long you have until retirement to help you figure out how much
you need to save. Vanguard offers similar tools to help you decide how
much you need to save for other goals, such as paying for a child’s college tuition.
✓ T. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Calculator (www3.troweprice.
com/ric/ric/public/ric.do) uses advanced computerized modeling to show you how much you need to save no matter what the stock
market does. It runs your variables through a “Monte Carlo simulation,”
which simulates what happens to your savings no matter what and gives
you the odds that you’ll have enough money.
✓ Nationwide’s RetirAbility Check (www.nationwide.com/
retirability-check.jsp?wtgo=retirability) asks you some
questions and then rates your ability to retire when and how you plan
to. It also suggests tips on improving your odds of saving as much as
you hope.
✓ Financial Calculators (www.financialcalculators.com) can help
you calculate just about any financial goal you might have — from
buying a home to saving for college.
✓ ESPlanner (https://basic.esplanner.com) helps you make many
of the estimates you’ll need to forecast your retirement needs in the
future. Developed in part by Laurence Kotlikoff, professor of economics at Boston University, ESPlanner steps you through what your actual
spending might look like when you’re retired and uses that information
to help you set savings goals.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Being prepared for emergencies
When creating your budget and moving money
from savings to an investment account, be
sure to keep an emergency fund on hand. This
is money that’s readily available in case of
an emergency, stored in an account you can
access immediately, such as a bank savings
account. A decent guideline is to always have
enough cash handy for at least six months of
living expenses. Add up how much you spend
each month on necessities such as housing
(rent or mortgage and property taxes), food,
utilities, and transportation. Multiply by six to
get a general idea of how much you should
have for emergencies. During the 2008 financial
crisis, some experts increased their recommendation for an emergency fund to 9 to 12 months
of cash on hand.
Deciding How You Plan to Save
After you’ve determined how much you need to save and how much you
can save, you need to put your plan into action. The way you do this really
depends on how good you are at handling your money and saving. The different methods are as follows:
✓ Automatic withdrawals: Ever hear the cliché “pay yourself first”? It’s
a trite saying that actually makes sense. The idea is that before you go
shopping for that big-screen TV or start feeling rich after payday, you
should set money aside for savings. Some people have the discipline to
do this themselves, but many do not. For those people, the best option
is to set up automatic withdrawals, which is a way of giving a brokerage
firm or bank permission to automatically extract money once a month.
When the money is out of your hands, you won’t be tempted to spend it.
✓ Retirement plans: If your goal is investing for retirement, you want to
find out what retirement savings plans are available to you. If you’re an
employee, you might have access to a 401(k) plan. And if you’re selfemployed, you might consider various individual retirement accounts
(also known as IRAs). When you’re starting to invest, taking advantage
of available retirement plans is usually your best bet. I cover this in
more detail in Chapter 3.
✓ On your own: If you have money left over after paying all your bills,
don’t let it sit in a savings account. Leaving cash in a low-interestbearing account is like giving a bank a cheap loan. Put your money to
work for you. Brokers make it easy for you to get money to them via
electronic transfers.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Want to Be a Successful
Investor? Start Now!
The greatest force all investors have is time. Don’t waste it. The sooner you
start to save and invest, the more likely you will be successful. To explain,
take the example of five people, each of whom wants to have $1 million in the
bank by the time they retire at age 65. The first investor starts when she is 20,
followed by a 30-year-old, 40-year-old, 50-year-old, and 60-year-old. Assuming
that each investor starts with nothing and averages 10 percent returns each
year (more on this later), Table 1-1 describes how much each must save per
month to reach his or her goals.
Table 1-1
How Much Each Must Save to Get $1 Million, Part I
An Investor Who Is
Must Invest This Much Each Month to Have $1 Million
at Age 65
20 years old
30 years old
40 years old
50 years old
60 years old
See, youth has its advantages. A 20-year-old who saves less than $100 a
month will end up with the same amount of money as a 60-year-old who
squirrels away $12,914 a month or $154,968 a year! That’s largely due to the
fact that money that’s invested early has more time to brew. And over time,
the money snowballs and compounds, which is a concept I cover later in this
Learning the Lingo
Just about any profession, hobby, or pursuit has its own lingo. Car fanatics,
chess players, and computer hobbyists have terms of art that they seem
to learn through osmosis. Online investing is no different. Many terms, like
stocks and bonds, you might have heard but not completely understood. As
you read through this book and browse the Web sites I mention, you’ll probably periodically stumble on unfamiliar words.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Don’t expect a standard dictionary to help much. Investing terms can be so
specialized and precise that old Webster might not be a big help. Fortunately,
a number of excellent online investing glossaries explain in detail what
investing terms mean. Here are few for you to check out:
✓ Investopedia (www.investopedia.com) has one of the most comprehensive databases of investing terms, with more than 5,000 entries. The
site not only covers the basics but also explains advanced terms in great
detail. It’s also fully searchable so that you don’t waste time getting the
✓ Yahoo! Financial Glossary (http://biz.yahoo.com/f/g) is all about
quick answers. The database, written by Campbell Harvey, a professor
of finance at Duke University, explains most basic investment terms in
one or two sentences.
✓ InvestorWords (www.investorwords.com) has a fully searchable
database of investment terms, but it also makes the dictionary a bit
more interesting with unique features like a “term of the day” and a summary of terms that have recently-rewritten definitions.
✓ Investor Glossary (www.investorglossary.com) covers all the
basics but also attempts to describe some slang terms in the industry,
such as an investing philosophy known as the Dogs of the Dow.
Setting Your Expectations
Have you ever talked to a professional investor or financial advisor? One of
the first things you’ll hear is how much experience he or she has. I can’t tell
you how many times I’ve been told, “I’ve been on Wall Street for 30 years. I’ve
seen it all.”
Some of that is certainly old-fashioned bragging. But these claims are
common because in investing, experience does count. It’s easy to say you
could endure a bear market until you’re watching white-knuckled and sweating bullets as your nest egg shrivels from $100,000 to $80,000 or $50,000.
Experience brings perspective, which is very important.
But if you’re new to investing, don’t despair. Online tools can help you
acquire the brain of a grizzled Wall Street sage. And don’t forget that I’m here
to set you straight as well. In fact, I’m set to start talking about how much you
can expect to make from investing. And you’ll be hearing a great deal about a
little something called the rate of return.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Keeping up with the rate of return
Don’t let the term rate of return scare you. It’s the most basic concept in
investing, and you can master it. Just remember that it’s the amount, measured as a percent, that your investment increases in value in a certain
period of time. If you have a savings account, you understand the concept
already. If you put $100 in a bank account paying 4.5 percent interest, you
know that by the end of the year, you will have received $4.50 in interest.
You earned a 4.5 percent annual rate of return. Rates of return are useful in
investing because they work as a report card to tell investors how well an
investment is doing, no matter how much money is invested.
You can calculate rates of return yourself with the following:
✓ A formula: Subtract an asset’s previous value from its current value,
divide the difference by the asset’s previous value, and multiply by 100.
If a stock rises from $15 to $32 a share, you would calculate the rate of
return by first subtracting 15 from 32 to get 17. Next, divide 17 by 15 and
multiply by 100. The rate of return is 113.3 percent.
✓ Financial calculators: You can use the Hewlett-Packard 12c that
financial types always carry. If you have this calculator, you can find
out how to crunch a rate of return with an easy-to-follow tutorial
located at http://h20331.www2.hp.com/Hpsub/downloads/
HP12Cpercents.pdf. (Look for Example 5.)
✓ Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software: This software, which is available on most computers, calculates rates of return fairly easily. You can
find out how with the instructions at www.office.microsoft.com/
✓ Financial Web sites: Many handy sites can calculate rates of return for
you, including www.moneychimp.com/calculator/discount_rate_
When you calculate the rate of return for a portfolio you’ve added money to
or taken money from, you must take an extra step. I explain how to do that in
Chapter 8.
The power of compounding
Famous physicist Albert Einstein once called compounding the most powerful
force in the universe. Compounding is when money you invest earns a return
and then that return also earns a return. (Dizzy yet?) When you leave money
invested for a long time, the power of compounding kicks in.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Imagine that you’ve deposited $100 in an account that pays 4.5 percent in
interest a year. In the first year, you’d earn $4.50 in interest, which brings
your balance to $104.50. But in the second year, you’d earn interest of $4.70.
Why? Because you’ve also earned 4.5 percent on the $4.50 in interest you
earned. The longer you’re invested, the more time your money has to
You can enter your own information and see how powerful a force compounding is at this site: www.dinkytown.net/java/CompoundSavings.html.
Compounding works on your side to fight against inflation. Financial data and
news provider Bloomberg has a Web-based calculator (www.bloomberg.
com/invest/calculators/returns.html) that tells you whether your
rate of return is keeping you ahead of inflation.
Determining How Much You
Can Expect to Profit
Why bother investing online? To make money, of course. But how much do
you want to make? Understanding what you can expect to earn is where you
need to start. Whenever you hear about an investment and what kinds of
returns it promises, you should be able to mentally compare it with the kinds
of returns you can expect from stocks, bonds, and other investments. That
way, you know whether the returns you’re being promised are too good to be
How do you do this? By relying on the hard work of academics who have
done some heavy lifting. Academics and market research firms have ranked
investments by how well they’ve done over the years. And I’m not just talking
a few years, but for decades — in many cases, going back to the 1920s and
earlier. The amount of work that’s gone into measuring historical rates of
returns is staggering, but if you’re using online resources, you’re just a click
away from finding out how most types of assets have done.
What you expect to earn is a number that can affect most of your investment decisions, usually rather dramatically. The following table is a revised
version of Table 1-1 — the one that showed how five different people could
expect to save $1 million. Table 1-2 looks at how much they must save to
make their goal changes based on how much they think they will earn from
their investments.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Table 1-2
An Investor
Who Is
How Much Each Must Save to Get $1 Million, Part II
Must Invest This
Much Each Month
if She Earns 5%
Must Invest This
Much Each Month
if She Earns 10%
Must Invest This
Much Each Month
if She Earns 15%
20 years old
30 years old
40 years old
50 years old
60 years old
The 20-year-old must save nearly $500 a month extra if she thinks she will
earn only 5 percent a year from her investments instead of 15 percent. But
even scarier, if she saves $15.28 thinking she’ll earn 15 percent a year, but
earns only 5 percent, she’ll have just $30,963 instead of the $1 million she was
counting on.
Studying the past
If someone asks you how stocks are doing, he often means how much they
went up or down that day. Financial TV stations reinforce this preoccupation
with the here-and-now by scrolling second-by-second moves in stock prices
across the bottom of the screen.
But, second-by-second moves in stocks don’t really tell you much. If a stock
goes down a bit and a company didn’t report the news, did anything really
change during that second? Watching short-term movements of stock prices
doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things.
To understand how investments behave, it’s more helpful to analyze their movements over as many years as you can. That way, recessions are blended with
boom times to get you to a real, smooth average. Doing this requires the painstaking method of processing dozens of annual returns of stocks and analyzing
the data. Luckily, some academics and industry pioneers have done much of the
work for you, and you can access their findings if you know where to look. And I
just happen to know a few places where you can start your search:
✓ Bogle Financial Market Research (www.vanguard.com/bogle_site/
bogle_home.html) is the Web site maintained by the founder of
Vanguard, John C. Bogle. Bogle revolutionized the investment industry by creating the world’s largest index mutual fund, the Vanguard
500, which is designed to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 stock
market index. Stock market indexes, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
index and Dow Jones Industrial Average, are benchmarks that let you
track how the market is doing.
Bogle’s site is invaluable because he explains that the market, on average, returns about 10 percent a year. That benchmark will be very
important later as you evaluate different stocks. Indexes are covered in
more detail in Chapter 8.
✓ Russell’s Web site (www.russell.com) lets you look up how all types
of stocks, ranging from small to large in addition to bonds, have done
over the years. You’ll find a handy Index Returns Calculator that lets
you see how different types of stocks have done at different points in
history: www.russell.com/Indexes/data/calculator/index_
✓ Kenneth R. French’s Web site at http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.
This site is complicated but worth the effort. French, a professor at
Dartmouth, along with University of Chicago’s Eugene Fama (faculty.
chicagobooth.edu/eugene.fama/), revolutionized investing with
an analysis that found that essentially three things move stocks: what
the general market is doing, how big the company is, and how pricey the
shares are. Both profs keep statistics on their sites on how stocks move.
✓ Index Funds Advisors (www.ifa.com) compiles much of the research
done by Fama and French and helps explain it in plain language. You can
order a colorful book from the site, Index Funds: The 12-Step Program for
Active Investors, by Mark T. Hebner (IFA). The book explains how different types of stocks perform in the long term and shows how much you
can expect to gain. It also shows long-term returns of bonds. You can
download the book for free if you take the site’s Risk Capacity Survey,
explained later in this chapter.
✓ Robert Shiller’s Web site (www.econ.yale.edu/~shiller) contains
exhaustive data on how markets have done over the long term. You can
view the data and make your own conclusions. Shiller is a well-known
economics professor at Yale University.
✓ Standard & Poor’s Web site (www.standardandpoors.com/indices/
market-attributes/en/us) contains a full record of the returns
from the Standard & Poor’s 500 index going back for decades. This is
invaluable data because you can understand how markets tend to move,
instead of worrying about things that have never happened. Click the
arrow to the left of where it says S&P 500 Monthly Performance Data.
Click the Monthly and Annual Returns link, which then prompts you to
open an Excel file. Scroll down the spreadsheet’s annual returns. That
can give you an idea of how volatile stocks can be, but also what returns
are possible if you stay invested.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
✓ FreeStockCharts.com (www.freestockcharts.com) allows you to
download the stock trading history of most investments. Just enter the
name or symbol of the investment you’re interested in and click the OK
button. If you click the Export Chart icon, which looks like two small cylinders, you can download data into Excel. Figure 1-2 shows you what the
charts look like. The site keeps data on most stocks going back to 1985.
✓ MSN Money (http://moneycentral.msn.com) is another source of
historical stock price data downloads. Enter the investment symbol in
the Name or Symbol(s) blank and click the Get Quote button. Next, click
the Historical link on the left side of the page. You can customize how
far back the stock history should go. Click the Max button to get the
longest trading history possible on the stock or investment. Next, scroll
down quite a bit and you’ll see a small link in the lower-right corner
labeled “View price history with dividends/splits.” Click the link and you
can see the price data, which can be downloaded. One of the site’s greatest strengths is that it keeps data on many stocks going back to their
first days of trading.
Don’t get too hung up if you don’t understand everything on these sites.
Several get pretty sophisticated, especially French’s. Just scan through the
annual returns so that you can get a general feel for how markets behave over
time — the idea here is for you to gain perspective, not cram for an econ Ph.D.
Figure 1-2:
lets you
prices of
stocks and
using dropdown lists.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
What the past tells you about the future
Exhaustive studies of markets have shown us that stocks, in general, return
about 10 percent a year. Through the years, 10 percent returns have been the
benchmark for long-term performance, making it a good measuring stick for
you and something to help you keep your bearings. But long-term studies of
securities also show that, to get higher returns, you usually must also accept
more risk. Table 1-3 shows how investors must often accept more risk to get
a higher return.
Table 1-3
No Pain, No Gain
Average Annual
Relative Risk
9.8% (based on S&P
500 since 1926)
Corporate bonds
Moderately risky
Treasury bills (loans to the U.S.
government that come due in a
year or less)
Least risky
Source: Morningstar
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that investing in stocks guarantees you
a 10 percent return every year, like a savings account. That’s not the case.
Stocks are risky and tend to move in erratic patterns, and they test your confidence with sudden drops. In fact, each year stocks typically posted a total
return, including dividends, somewhere between a loss of 10 percent and a
gain of 28.7 percent, according to the folks at the Index Funds Advisors Web
site (www.ifa.com). And get this, since 1926, the Standard & Poor’s 500
index has gained between 10.0 percent and 10.9 percent only four times and
returned 10 percent only once, in 1966. The market’s brutal decline in 2008,
which chewed up a third of stocks’ value, is a good reminder of how violent
stocks can be in the short term. Don’t let short-term swings in stocks derail
your long-term plan, but do be aware ahead of time of the fact that markets
move in violent ways. That way you won’t be tempted to do something that
you’ll regret later. Volatility is the price you must pay to get returns.
Table 1-4 shows you just how crazy the market’s movements can be in the
short term, using the history of the popular Standard & Poor’s 500 index
since 1928.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
Why knowing the past is valuable
By studying how investments have done in the
past, you get an idea, on average, of what to
expect for the future. This gives you perspective that lets you not only decide whether an
investment is worthwhile but also gives you a
B.S. meter. If you get a flyer in the mail talking
up a “promising new company” that’s expected
to generate 10 percent returns, walk away. Why
would you take a chance on a shaky company if
Table 1-4
you can expect the same return by investing in
a lower-risk, diversified index fund? Similarly, a
return that’s much higher than 10 percent must
be much riskier, no matter what the flyer says.
Also, investments that claim they return 10 percent a year, guaranteed, are also suspicious
because you should expect some major ups
and downs to get that double-digit return.
Wild Days for the S&P 500
Number of days up
11,217 (average gain 0.75%)
Number of days down
9,984 (average loss 0.79%)
Best one-day percentage gain
March 15, 1933, up 16.6%
Worst one-day percentage loss
Oct. 19, 1987, down 20.5%
Best year
1933, up 46.6%
Worst year
1931, down 47.1%
Best month
April 1933, up 42.2%
Worst month
Sept. 1931, down 29.9%
Source: Standard & Poor’s
Gut-Check Time: How Much
Risk Can You Take?
It’s time to get a grip — a grip on how much you can invest, that is. Most
beginning investors are so interested in finding stocks that make them rich
overnight that they lose sight of risk. But academic studies show that risk
and return go hand in hand. That’s why you need to know how much risk
you can stomach before you start looking for investments and buying them
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
Several excellent online tools can help you get a handle on how much of a
financial thrill seeker you are. Most are structured like interviews that ask
you a number of questions and help you decide what kind of investor you
are. These are kind of like personality tests for your investment taste. I cover
several of these in more detail in Chapter 9, where I discuss how to create an
investing road map, called an asset allocation. For now, these questionnaires
are worthwhile to take right away so that you can understand what kind of
investor you are:
✓ Vanguard’s Investor Questionnaire (https://personal.vanguard.
com/us/FundsInvQuestionnaire) asks you ten salient questions to
determine how much of a risk taker you are with your money. It determines what your ideal asset allocation is. Take note of the breakdown.
The closer to 100 percent that Vanguard recommends you put in stocks,
the more risk-tolerant you are, and the closer to 100 percent in bonds,
the less risk-tolerant you are.
✓ Index Funds Advisors Risk Capacity Survey (www.ifa.com/
SurveyNET/index.aspx) offers a quick risk survey that can tell you
what kind of investor you are after answering just five questions. You
can also find a complete risk capacity survey that hits you with a few
dozen questions. Whichever you choose, the survey can characterize
what kind of investor you are and even display a painting that portrays
your risk tolerance.
✓ SmartMoney Asset Allocator (www.smartmoney.com/investing/
basics/the-smartmoney-one-asset-allocation-system17605) couldn’t be much easier to use. You slide a variety of bars to
indicate your financial goals, ranging from your desire to leave money
for heirs to the number of years to retirement. The site then gives you
a general breakdown of where you should invest your money based on
your risk preference.
Passive or Active? Deciding What
Kind of Investor You Plan to Be
Investing might not seem controversial, but it shouldn’t surprise you
that anytime you’re talking about money, people have some strong opinions about the right way to do things. The first way investors categorize
themselves is by whether they are passive or active. Because these two
approaches are so different, the following sections help you think about
what they are and which camp you see yourself in. Where you stand not
only affects which broker is best for you, as discussed in Chapter 4, but also
affects which chapters in this book appeal to you most.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
How to know if you’re a passive investor
Passive investors don’t try to beat the stock market. They merely try to keep
up with it by owning all the stocks in an index. An index is a basket of stocks
that mirrors the market. Passive investors are happy matching the market’s
performance, knowing that they can boost their real returns with a few techniques I discuss in Chapter 9.
You know you’re a passive investor if you like the following ideas:
✓ Not picking individual stocks: These investors buy large baskets of
stocks that mirror the performance of popular stock indexes like the
Dow Jones Industrial Average or the Standard & Poor’s 500 index so that
they don’t worry about whether a small upstart company they invested
in will release its new product on time and whether it will be well
✓ Owning mutual and exchange-traded funds: Because passive investors
aren’t looking for the next Microsoft, they buy mutual and exchangetraded funds that buy hundreds of stocks. (I cover mutual and exchangetraded funds in more detail in Chapters 10 and 11, respectively.)
✓ Reducing taxes: Passive investors tend to buy investments and forget
about them until many years later when they need the money. This
can be lucrative because by holding onto diversified investments for a
long time and not selling them, passive investors can postpone when
they have to pay capital gains taxes. (I cover capital gains taxes in more
detail in Chapter 3.)
✓ Not stressing about stocks’ daily, monthly, or even annual movements:
Passive investors tend to buy index or mutual funds and forget about
them. They don’t need to sit in front of financial TV shows, read magazines, or worry about where stocks are moving. They’re invested for the
long term, and everything else is just noise to them.
Sites for passive investors to start with
One of the toughest things about being a passive investor is sitting still
during a bull market when everyone else seems to be making more than you.
Yes, you might be able to turn off the TV, but inevitably you’ll bump into
someone who brags about his or her giant gains and laughs at you for being
satisfied with 10 percent market returns.
When that happens, it’s even more important to stick with your philosophy.
Following the crowd at this moment undermines the value of your strategy.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
That’s why even passive investors are well served going to Web sites where
other passive investors congregate:
✓ Bogleheads (www.bogleheads.org) is an electronic water cooler for
fans of Vanguard index funds and passive investors to meet, encourage,
and advise each other. They call themselves Bogleheads in honor of the
founder of Vanguard, John Bogle.
✓ Indexfundfan @ Indextown (www.indextown.com) is a blog written for
investors who believe in the long-term success of buying mutual funds
tied to indexes.
✓ The Arithmetic of Active Management (www.stanford.edu/~wf
sharpe/art/active/active.htm) is a reprint of an article by an
early proponent of passive investing, William Sharpe, who explains why
active investing can never win.
✓ Vanguard’s Web site (www.vanguard.com) contains many helpful
stories about the power of index investing and offers them for free, even
if you don’t have an account.
✓ Mad Money Machine (www.madmoneymachine.com) is an Internet
radio show that tries to make the seemingly boring world of passive
investing more exciting. The host, Paul Douglas Boyer, weaves jokes,
music, and facts in a way to keep you investing passively. (The site also
includes articles for your reading pleasure.)
How to know whether you’re
an active investor
Active investors almost feel sorry for passive investors. Why would anyone
be satisfied just matching the stock market and not even try to do better?
Active investors feel that if you’re smart enough and willing to spend time
doing homework, you can exceed 10 percent annual returns. Active investors
also find investing to be thrilling, almost like a hobby. Some active investors
try to find undervalued stocks and hold them until they’re discovered by
other investors. Another class of active investors are short-term traders, who
bounce in and out of stocks trying to get quick gains.
You’re an active investor if you . . .
✓ Think long-term averages of stocks are meaningless: Active investors
believe they can spot winning companies that no one knows about yet,
buy their shares at just the right time, and sell them for a profit.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
✓ Are willing to spend large amounts of time searching for stocks: These
are the investors who sit in front of financial TV shows, analyze stocks
that look undervalued, and do all sorts of prospecting trying to find
✓ Believe they can hire mutual fund managers who can beat the market:
Some active investors think that certain talented mutual fund managers
are out there and that if they just give their money to those managers,
they’ll win.
✓ Suspect certain types of stocks aren’t priced correctly and that many
investors make bad decisions: Active investors believe they can outsmart the masses and routinely capitalize on the mistakes of the great
✓ Understand the risks: Most active traders underperform index funds, some
without even realizing it. Before deciding to be an active trader, be sure to
test out your skills with online simulations, as I describe in Chapter 2, or
make sure that you’re measuring your performance correctly, as I describe
in Chapter 8. If you’re losing money picking stocks, stop doing it. Be sure to
know how dangerous active investing can be to your portfolio by reading a
warning from the Securities and Exchange Commission here: http://sec.
Many investors try, but very few are able, to consistently beat the
market. Consider Bill Miller, portfolio manager for the Legg Mason Capital
Management Value Trust mutual fund. Miller had beaten the market for 15
years and turned into a poster child for active investors and proof that beating the market was possible if you were smart enough. But even Miller’s streak
came to an end in 2006. That’s when his Legg Mason Value Trust fund didn’t
just trail the market, it lagged by a mile, returning just 5.9 percent while the
market gained 15.8 percent. The fund lagged the market by 12.2 percent in
2007 and again in 2008 by 18.1 percent. While the fund beat the market in 2009,
active investors had already lost their hero. There will certainly be another
hot manager to take Miller’s place, though.
Sites for the active investor to start with
Ever hear of someone trying to learn a foreign language by moving to the
country and picking it up through “immersion”? The idea is that by just being
around the language, and through the necessity of buying food or finding the
restroom, the person eventually gets proficient.
Chapter 1: Getting Yourself Ready for Online Investing
If you’re interested in active investing, you can do the same thing by hitting
Web sites that are common hangouts for active investors. By lurking on these
sites, you can pick up how these types of investors find stocks that interest
them and trade on them. These sites can show you the great pains active
investors go through in their attempt to beat the market. A few to start looking at include the following:
✓ Yahoo! Finance (http://finance.yahoo.com) is the finance section
of this general-purpose portal and a great resource for all investors. It
turns out, though, that the portal contains several elements of particular
interest to active investors, such as the Investing Ideas section near the
bottom of the page. Here you can find stocks of interest to active investors for certain reasons. The site also offers active chat rooms on almost
every stock under the Message Board heading on the left side of the
page. I talk about chat rooms in more detail in Chapter 7.
✓ TheStreet.com (www.thestreet.com) collects trading ideas and
tips from writers mainly looking for quick-moving stocks and other
✓ TradingMarkets (www.tradingmarkets.com) explores the details of
complicated trading philosophies. The site highlights stocks that have
moved up or down by a large amount, which is usually something that
catches the attention of traders.
✓ Seeking Alpha (http://seekingalpha.com) provides news and commentary designed for investors of all skill levels who are trying to beat
the market.
Part I: Getting Started Investing Online
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