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The first-timer’s guide to buying stocks

Plus, our shortlist of outstanding online brokers

STEP 1:

Find a broker that you like

There are a lot of online brokers out there. So many, in fact, it can be overwhelming to weed through all the options — good and bad — and then confidently choose one.

Broker

Highlights

Commissions

Account Minimum

Current Offers

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NerdWallet rating

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Breadth of research from other providers and own offering

Commissions

$6.95

per trade

Current Offers

300

$0 online stock and ETF trades, no minimum deposit required

on Merrill Edge's secure website

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NerdWallet rating

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Top research; two powerful trade platforms; educational content

Commissions

$6.95

per trade

Current Offers

60

days of commission-free trades with qualifying deposit

on TD Ameritrade's secure website

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NerdWallet rating

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Sophisticated platform; exceptional research and analytical tools

Commissions

$5

per trade

Current Offers

None

No promotion available at this time

on TradeStation's secure website

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Want to automate your portfolio?

Robo-advisors offer portfolio management - informed by computer algorithms and your personal investing preferences - all at an affordable rate.

STEP 2:

Pick your stocks

Once you’ve set up and funded your brokerage account, it’s time to pick stocks. A good place to start is by researching the companies you already know as a consumer.

step 3:

Decide how many shares to buy

You should feel absolutely no pressure to buy a certain number of shares or fill your entire portfolio position in a stock all at once. Consider starting small to get a feel for what it’s like to own individual stocks and whether you have the fortitude to ride through the rough patches with minimal sleep loss. You can add to your position over time as you master stock trading.

step 4

Choose your order type

There are two order types that successful investors rely on all the time: market orders and limit orders.

Market Orders

With a market order, you’re indicating that you’ll buy or sell the stock at the best available current market price. Don’t be surprised if the price you pay — or receive, if you’re selling — is not the exact price you were quoted just seconds before. Bid and ask prices, as they’re called (see our cheat sheet below), fluctuate constantly throughout the day. That’s why a market order is best used when buying stocks that don’t experience wide price swings — large, steady blue-chip stocks as opposed to smaller, more volatile ones.

LIMIT ORDERS

A limit order gives you more control over the price at which your trade is done. If XYZ stock is trading at $100 a share, but you think a $95 per-share price is more in line with how you value the company, your limit order tells your broker to hold tight and execute your order only when the ask price drops to that level. On the selling side, a limit order tells your broker to part with the shares once the bid rises to the level you set.

step 5:

Learn the lingo

Get help navigating through all the numbers and stock trading terms. Spruce up your vocab with this trading terms cheat sheet.

Ask

For buyers: The price that sellers are willing to accept for the stock.

Bid

For sellers: The price that buyers are willing to pay for the stock.

Spread

The difference between the highest bid price and the lowest ask price.

Market order

A request to buy or sell a stock ASAP at the best available price.

Limit order

A request to buy or sell a stock only at a specific price or better.

Stop (or stop-loss) order

Once a stock reaches a certain price, the “stop price” or “stop level,” a market order is executed and the entire order is filled at the prevailing price.

Stop-limit order

When the stop price is reached, the trade turns into a limit order and is filled up to the point where specified price limits can be met.

final step:

Start buying stocks

High five! Now you’re ready to invest. To get started choosing a broker, check out our list of standouts above to find the right one for you.

A little bit about us

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Insights you can bank on

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Up-to-date reviews

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