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The Best Ways to Invest $5,000

May 24, 2016
Investing, Investing Strategy, Investments
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

A $5,000 windfall is unlikely to change your life, but it is likely to change how you invest — or give you a jumping-off point to start investing, if you’re not already.

How to invest money
If you want to make your money grow, you need to invest it. Learn the fundamentals, how best to reach your goals, as well as plans for investing certain sums, from small to large.   Read more »

With $5,000, you’ve turned the investing corner. The snags that investors with lesser amounts often hit — too high account and investment minimums, too little money to diversify adequately — are not big issues for you.

The bigger issue, potentially, is making a choice when you have a lot of choices. That’s why we’ve narrowed things down to the five best ways to invest $5,000. One of these is bound to suit your risk tolerance and goals, and all of them are within reach.

1. Invest in your 401(k) and get the matching dollars

If you have a 401(k), your company offers to match your contributions and you’re not taking it up on that offer, this decision is a no-brainer: Go after that match. Many companies match half or all of your contributions, up to 3% to 6% of your salary. It’s the highest guaranteed return in investing.

You typically can’t deposit a lump sum like $5,000 into your 401(k), but you may find that having that money in the bank gives you room in your budget to start grabbing those matching dollars. Those 401(k) contributions will make your paycheck smaller, but you can repay yourself from that $5,000, either after each paycheck or whenever money runs short for the month.

» Are you on track for retirement? Find out with our 401(k) calculator.

2. Use a robo-advisor

You could build a portfolio of ETFs, or you could have one of these computer-driven advisors manage a pre-built portfolio for you.

You’ll pay for taking the easy way out, generally a management fee of 0.25% to 0.35% of your account balance per year on top of the ETF expense ratios. However, there are a few free options. Wealthfront has a $500 minimum and manages up to $10,000 for free. WiseBanyan has no minimum and is free indefinitely. Charles Schwab’s advisor, Intelligent Portfolios, requires $5,000 and uses its own funds but charges no management fee.

» Ready to call in the robots? Our picks for the best robo-advisors

3. Open or contribute to an IRA

The annual IRA contribution limit is $5,500, so you’re just a hair away from reaching it. Being that close might motivate you to pinch together the last $500, but even if it doesn’t, an individual retirement account is the best home for this money if you don’t have a 401(k) or you’ve already gotten your matching dollars.

Like a 401(k), an IRA is a retirement account, but you don’t need an employer to have one. You can open an IRA at any online broker. Many don’t have an account minimum; those that do either require much less than $5,000 or waive their minimum for an IRA.

» Read our picks: The best IRA account providers.

4. Buy commission-free ETFs

A $5,000 investment gets you past most standard mutual fund and index fund minimums, which typically hover between $1,000 and $3,000. But one or two mutual funds do not a diversified portfolio make. (The exception is target-date funds, which are inherently diversified so you can put your full investment in a single fund. These can have high expense ratios but are one option for investors who prefer to be hands-off.)

Investing in five $1,000-minimum index funds would buy you an equal share of the five kinds of investments tracked by those funds, which probably isn’t the portfolio you want.

Enter exchange-traded funds, which you can buy through that IRA or an online brokerage account. ETFs are index funds that trade like a stock. You avoid the whole song and dance with minimums and instead buy in for a share price that is, in most cases, much lower than the typical fund minimum. You can buy more funds, get more diversification and spread your money in a way that makes sense for your age and risk tolerance.

ETFs tend to have low expense ratios, but you’ll want to focus on commission-free ETFs so you’re not paying a fee each time you buy or sell. Those fees can run up to $10 and really drag down a small investment. Most brokers offer a list of commission-free ETFs.

» View the best brokers for ETF investors

5. Trade stocks

Trading stocks has a kind of allure, and if you’ve been feeling the pull, now may be the time to do something about it — with a very small percentage of your portfolio. We recommend limiting buying stocks to 10% or less and dedicating the rest of your money to low-cost funds geared toward retirement.

» Learn more: How to buy stocks

Those pesky commissions pop up again here, too. Avoid or limit fees by using a low-cost broker or free trading app like Robinhood — here are our picks for the best online brokers.

OK, what’s next?

We stressed making sure you do all you can toward your retirement, and a key part of that is opening and contributing to an IRA. There are two varieties here — Roth and traditional — and we’ve highlighted their similarities and key differences to help you pick which is right for you.

Read: Is an IRA right for me? »

Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @arioshea.

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