Are there Guaranteed Returns?
There is no guarantee that you’ll make money from investments you make. But if you get the facts about saving and investing and follow through with an intelligent plan, you should be able to gain financial security over the years and enjoy the benefits of managing your money.
What is Savings?
Your "savings" are usually put into the safest places or products that allow you access to your money at any time. Examples include savings accounts, checking accounts, and certificates of deposit. At some banks and savings and loan associations your deposits may be insured by Deposit Insurance. But there's a tradeoff for security and ready availability. Your money is paid a lower rate as it works for you. Most smart investors put enough money in a savings product to cover an emergency, like sudden unemployment. Some make sure they have up to 6 months of their income in savings so that they know it will absolutely be there for them when they need it. But how "safe" is a savings account if you leave all your money there for a long time, and the interest it earns doesn't keep up with inflation? Let’s say you save a dollar when it can buy a loaf of bread. But years later when you withdraw that dollar plus the interest you earned, it might only be able to buy half a loaf. That is why many people put some of their money in savings, but look to investing so they can earn more over long periods of time, say three years or longer.
What is Investing?
When you "invest," you have a greater chance of losing your money than when you "save." Unlike insured deposits, the money you invest in securities, mutual funds, and other similar investments are not insured. You could lose your "principal," which is the amount you've invested. That’s true even if you purchase your investments through a bank. But when you invest, you also have the opportunity to earn more money than when you save. But what about risk? All investments involve taking on risk. It’s important that you go into any investment in stocks, bonds or mutual funds with a full understanding that you could lose some or all of your money in any one investment. While over the long term the stock market has historically provided around 10% annual returns (closer to 6% or 7% “real” returns when you subtract for the effects of inflation), the long term does sometimes take a rather long, long time to play out. In America, those who invested all of their money in the stock market at its peak in 1929 (before the stock market crash) would wait over 20 years to see the stock market return to the same level. However, those that kept adding money to the market throughout that time would have done very well for themselves, as the lower cost of stocks in the 1930s made for some hefty gains for those who bought and held over the course of the next twenty years or more. The same can be true of events today.
What is Diversification?
It is true that the greater the risk, the greater the potential rewards in investing, but taking on unnecessary risk is often avoidable. Investors best protect themselves against risk by spreading their money among various investments, hoping that if one investment loses money, the other investments will more than make up for those losses. This strategy, called “diversification,” can be neatly summed up as, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Investors also protect themselves from the risk of investing all their money at the wrong time by following a consistent pattern of adding new money to their investments over long periods of time. Once you’ve saved money for investing, consider carefully all your options and think about what diversification strategy makes sense for you. A vast array of investment products exists—including stocks and stock mutual funds, corporate and municipal bonds, bond mutual funds, certificates of deposit, money market funds, and Treasury securities. Diversification can’t guarantee that your investments won’t suffer if the market drops. But it can improve the chances that you won’t lose money, or that if you do, it won’t be as much as if you weren’t diversified.
What is Risk Tolerance?
What are the best saving and investing products for you? The answer depends on when you will need the money, your goals, and if you will be able to sleep at night if you purchase a risky investment where you could lose your principal. For instance, if you are saving for retirement, and you have 35 years before you retire, you may want to consider riskier investment products, knowing that if you stick to only the "savings" products or to less risky investment products, your money will grow too slowly—or given inflation or taxes, you may lose the purchasing power of your money. A frequent mistake people make is putting money they will not need for a very long time in investments that pay a low amount of interest. On the other hand, if you are saving for a short-term goal, five years or less, you don't want to choose risky investments, because when it's time to sell, you may have to take a loss. Since investments often move up and down in value rapidly, you want to make sure that you can wait and sell at the best possible time.
What is a Mutual Fund?
A mutual fund is a pool of money run by a professional or group of professionals called the “investment adviser.” In a managed mutual fund, after investigating the prospects of many companies, the fund’s investment adviser will pick the stocks or bonds of companies and put them into a fund. Investors can buy shares of the fund, and their shares rise or fall in value as the values of the stocks and bonds in the fund rise and fall. Investors may typically pay a fee when they buy or sell their shares in the fund, and those fees in part pay the salaries and expenses of the professionals who manage the fund. Even small fees can and do add up and eat into a significant chunk of the returns a mutual fund is likely to produce, so you need to look carefully at how much a fund costs and think about how much it will cost you over the amount of time you plan to own its shares. If two funds are similar in every way except that one charges a higher fee than the other, you’ll make more money by choosing the fund with the lower annual costs.
What is Buying on Margin?
With a “margin” account, you can buy securities by borrowing money from your broker for a portion of the purchase price. Be aware of the risks involved with buying stocks on margin. Beginning investors generally should not get started with a margin account. Make sure you understand how a margin account works, and what happens in the worst case scenario before you agree to buy on margin. Unlike other loans, like for a car or a home, that allow you to pay back a fixed amount every month, when you buy stocks on margin you can be faced with paying back the entire margin loan all at once if the price of the stock drops suddenly and dramatically. The firm has the authority to immediately sell any security in your account, without notice to you, to cover any shortfall resulting from a decline in the value of your securities. You may owe a substantial amount of money even after your securities are sold. The margin account agreement generally provides that the securities in your margin account may be lent out by the brokerage firm at any time without notice or compensation to you.
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