Basics of Investing in Four Simple Ideas

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Investing can be a great part of your financial picture if you understand a few key points.

Spend an hour watching one of the Wall Street or stock market TV channels and you’ll think investing is extraordinarily complicated. That confusion can keep you from taking advantage of investing as a long-term way to prepare for big goals. In fact, the basics you need to get started are pretty simple. Here are four fundamentals.

1. Understand the terms.

Companies sell slices of ownership in the form of shares of stock, the values of which go up or down over time depending on the success of the company. You make money with stocks when you sell after the price has gone up, and sometimes also in the form of dividends, which are periodic payments where companies may choose to give a little of their earnings to shareholders. Companies and governments can also borrow money using bonds, for which they agree to pay interest as they repay the debt. That interest is paid to the bondholder (That’s you!) and, unlike stocks, the amount you make is more fixed over time.

2. Invest broadly through funds.

Individual stocks can grow or fall in value, or even become worthless, so many investment companies try to smooth out the risk by packaging stocks together in what are called mutual funds. Funds might focus on an industry, geographic region or company size. You buy a share of a fund just as you do a stock, and make or lose money as the fund’s value rises or falls. Investment companies charge fees for managing mutual funds. Index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are similar, but may have much lower fees because they don’t depend on experts picking stocks; they simply follow an index, or group of stocks, like the S&P 500.

3. Reduce your risk.

All investing involves risk because the markets rise and fall. So investors use a technique to try to reduce risk: diversification. It means having a variety of products in your portfolio, such as stocks, bonds and funds, with varying levels of risk. United States government bonds, for example, are considered a relatively low-risk investment, while international stocks allow you to diversify outside the U.S. You preferably would want a mix of investment types, and as you get older, generally you may want less risk in the mix. 

Diversification can be simple. “You can get considerable diversification with just three funds: a total stock market index fund, which covers the entire U.S. market; a total international index fund, which covers the rest of the world; and a bond fund,” explains Barbara O’Neill, Rutgers Cooperative Extension specialist in financial resource management and a professor at Rutgers University. O’Neill is the author of Investing on a Shoestring.

4. Pay Uncle Sam when you sell.

When you sell part or all of your portfolio, you’ll pay taxes on the money you’ve made (hopefully after an extended period, as investing is a long-term strategy). But the amount of tax varies: it depends on your income as well as whether your investments are part of something like an IRA or 401(k) program, which have their own tax rules.

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Even if it can be fairly straight-forward, is investing worth it? Probably—based on history. Judging by the past, holding a portfolio of stocks and bonds offers the opportunity to grow your money over time. Interest rates in a savings account are often lower than the rate of inflation, but the return on investments can be higher than inflation.

According to investment research company, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a measure of the earnings of a particular group of stocks, earned an average 9% each year between 1918 and 2018. But those returns included years or periods of several years, when the stocks had negative returns—sometimes as low as -52.7%.

Investing can increase your holdings over the long term, but risk of loss in any one-year period (or even five or more) is real. And just because those growth rates were true in the past doesn’t mean they’ll continue. It's important to realize that past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. All investing involves risk, including loss of your investment.

Speak with a Huntington Financial Advisor, who can help you select the investments that may work for you, based on your specific goals, your risk tolerance, and your need for income.

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Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. All investing involves risk, including loss of principal.

The information provided in this document is intended solely for general informational purposes and is provided with the understanding that neither Huntington, its affiliates nor any other party is engaging in rendering tax, financial, legal, technical or other professional advice or services or endorsing any third-party product or service. Any use of this information should be done only in consultation with a qualified and licensed professional who can take into account all relevant factors and desired outcomes in the context of the facts surrounding your particular circumstances. The information in this document was developed with reasonable care and attention. However, it is possible that some of the information is incomplete, incorrect, or inapplicable to particular circumstances or conditions. NEITHER HUNTINGTON NOR ITS AFFILIATES SHALL HAVE LIABILITY FOR ANY DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES (DIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, INDIRECT OR OTHERWISE) RESULTING FROM USING, RELYING ON OR ACTING UPON INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT EVEN IF HUNTINGTON AND/OR ITS AFFILIATES HAVE BEEN ADVISED OF OR FORESEEN THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES.

O’Neill, Barbara. Interview. December 2018.

Dow Jones 100 Year Historical Chart. Calculated by adding return each year from 1918 to 2018 and dividing by 100.