Investing is one of the best ways to increase your wealth, but there are a lot of misconceptions about it that keep people from giving it a chance. One of these is that investing takes a lot of time, which many in today's fast-paced society can't spare. While becoming an active trader does require a serious commitment, there are other ways to invest that require almost no effort on your part, once you get your account set up. Here are four tips to help you get started.
Use your 401(k)
401(k)s are a great vehicle for investing because they enable you to contribute pre-tax dollars toward your retirement savings. You can stash up to $18,500 in a 401(k) this year if you're under 50, or $24,500 if you're 50 or older. The money you contribute every year will accrue interest over time and then that interest will begin to earn interest, resulting in exponential growth. A single $10,000 investment could grow into over $76,000 in 30 years, assuming the investments earn 7% annualized. And you don't have to pay a dime in taxes until you take the money out.
If your employer offers a 401(k), this is one of the easiest places to begin investing. Once you choose your investments and set the percentage of your income that you want to contribute, there's nothing else you have to do other than check in periodically and modify your contributions as needed.
You should definitely start here if your employer matches your contributions. The match will vary by company. Most match will contributions of a certain percentage of your salary -- generally somewhere between 3% and 6% -- but this may not be a dollar-for-dollar match. It could be $0.50 on the dollar for the first 6% of your income, for example, which adds up to 3% overall. If you can afford it, you should contribute at least enough to get the full match, so that you can take advantage of that free money.
Set up automatic deposits
Many investing platforms these days give you the option to set up automated deposits on a recurring schedule -- daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc. After you set up your investment account and link it to your bank account, that money will automatically be deposited and invested according to your preferences.
Apart from saving you time, automating your investments can also help you to avoid emotional decisions, such as selling off historically high-performing assets just because their value has taken a short-term dip. Automated deposits eliminate the need to look at your portfolio as often as someone who has to manually add and invest funds, so you're less likely to impulsively buy or sell based on recent performance.
Invest in ETFs and target-date funds
If you don't have time to research dozens of individual stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a wise choice. Most of these funds track a stock market index, but there are also some that invest in bonds, commodities, and other types of assets. Index ETFs track a benchmark index like the S&P 500. They're well-diversified, and they do a good job of replicating the historically high returns of the index, plus they have low expense ratios. An expense ratio is an annual fee that the ETF charges shareholders to cover administrative costs. It's usually expressed as a percentage of the assets you've invested in the fund. Actively managed funds may have expense ratios exceeding 1% because their administrative costs are higher, but index funds are passively managed, so their expense ratios can be as low as 0.04%.
Target-date funds are another option for busy investors who don't have much time to manage an investment portfolio. You choose these funds based on the date you intend to withdraw the money. As the date gets closer, the funds will automatically become more conservative, so there's less chance that you'll lose your investment.
Consider a robo-advisor or financial planner
Another option for hands-off investors is a robo-advisor. You answer a few questions to help determine your risk tolerance, and then a pre-built portfolio will be chosen for you. You add your funds, and then the computer will take charge of periodically rebalancing your portfolio to ensure it stays in line with the asset allocation that you initially agreed to. In exchange, you pay a small fee, usually a percentage of the amount you have invested.
If you'd like more personalized advice, consider hiring a financial planner. They will be able to look at your unique situation and goals and make suggestions on the best investments for you. They'll take responsibility for managing and rebalancing your investments, and they'll check in with you periodically to keep you updated on how it's going. You will also have to pay a fee for their services, but the fee structure varies from one financial advisor to the next. Ask for a copy of their fee schedule so you understand exactly what you're getting into before you hand over your money.
Investing doesn't have to be complicated. The suggestions above will hardly take any time out of your day once you get them set up, and they can make a big difference in your net worth over time.
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