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Investing All-in-One For Dummies®

To view this book's Cheat Sheet, simply go to www.dummies.com and search for “Investing All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.

Introduction

Successful investing takes diligent work and knowledge, like any other meaningful pursuit. Investing All-in-One For Dummies presents basic investing topics — such as building an emergency fund, determining your financial goals, and choosing a broker (if you’re not a do-it-yourself investor) — but also introduces some slightly more advanced subjects, like fundamental analysis, that can enhance your investing strategies. In between, we explain the basics of investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

This book can help you avoid the mistakes others have made and can point you in the right direction as you build you portfolio. Explore the pages of this book and find the topics that most interest you within the world of investing.

In all the years that we’ve counseled and educated investors, the single difference between success and failure, between gain and loss, has boiled down to two words: applied knowledge. Take this book as your first step in a lifelong learning adventure.

About This Book

To build wealth, you don’t need a fancy college or graduate-school degree, and you don’t need a rich parent, biological or adopted! What you do need is a desire to read and practice the many simple yet powerful lessons and strategies in this book.

This book is designed to give you a realistic approach to making money. It provides sound, practical investing strategies and insights that have been market-tested and proven from more than 100 years of stock market history. We don’t expect you to read it cover to cover. Instead, this book is designed as a reference tool. Feel free to read the chapters in whatever order you choose. You can flip to the sections and chapters that interest you or those that include topics that you need to know more about.

Investing intelligently isn’t rocket science. By all means, if you’re dealing with a complicated, atypical issue, get quality professional help. But educate yourself first. Hiring someone is dangerous if you’re financially challenged. If you do decide to hire someone, you’ll be much better prepared if you educate yourself. Doing so can also help you focus your questions and assess that person’s competence.

Foolish Assumptions

No matter your skill or experience level with investing, you can get something out of Investing All-in-One For Dummies. We assume that some readers haven’t invested in anything other than baseball cards or Pez dispensers and have no clue of where to even start. If that describes you, the first part of the book is custom-made for you and takes extra care to step through all the key points in as much plain English as possible. (When we have no choice but to use investing jargon, we tell you what it means.) But we also assume that more advanced investors may pick this book up, too, looking to discover a few things. The book takes on more advanced topics as you progress through it.

Here are some assumptions we made about you as we crafted this book:

If one or more of these descriptions sound familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book, icons help guide you through the maze of suggestions, solutions, and cautions. We hope the following images make your journey through investment strategies smoother.

investigate We use this icon to highlight an issue that requires more detective work on your part. Don’t worry, though; we prepare you for your work so you don’t have to start out as a novice gumshoe.

remember We think the name says it all, but this icon indicates something really, really important — don’t you forget it!

technicalstuff Skip it or read it; the choice is yours. You’ll fill your head with more stuff that may prove valuable as you expand your investing know-how, but you risk overdosing on stuff that you may not need right away.

tip This icon denotes strategies that can enable you to build wealth faster and leap over tall obstacles in a single bound. (Okay, maybe just the first one.)

warning This icon indicates treacherous territory that has made mincemeat out of lesser mortals who have come before you. Skip this point at your own peril.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, this product comes with a free access-anywhere Cheat Sheet that can set you on the path to successful investing. To get this Cheat Sheet, simply go to www.dummies.com and search for “Investing All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.

Where to Go from Here

If you’re a new investor, you may want to consider starting from the beginning. That way, you’ll be ready for some of the more advanced topics we introduce later in the book. But you don’t have to read this book cover to cover. If you have a specific question or two that you want to focus on today, or if you want to find some additional information tomorrow, that’s not a problem. Investing All-in-One For Dummies makes it easy to find answers to specific questions. Just turn to the table of contents or index to locate the information you need. You can get in and get out, just like that.

Book 1

Getting Started with Investing

Contents at a Glance

  1. Chapter 1: Exploring Your Investment Choices
    1. Getting Started with Investing
    2. Building Wealth with Ownership Investments
    3. Generating Income from Lending Investments
    4. Considering Cash Equivalents
    5. Where to Invest and Get Advice
  2. Chapter 2: Weighing Risks and Returns
    1. Evaluating Risks
    2. Analyzing Returns
    3. Compounding Your Returns
  3. Chapter 3: The Workings of Stock and Bond Markets
    1. How Companies Raise Money through the Financial Markets
    2. Understanding Financial Markets and Economics

Chapter 1

Exploring Your Investment Choices

IN THIS CHAPTER

check Defining investing

check Seeing how stocks and real estate build long-term wealth

check Understanding the role of lending and other investments

check Selecting investment firms and brokers

In many parts of the world, life’s basic necessities — food, clothing, shelter, and taxes — consume the entirety of people’s meager earnings. Although some Americans do truly struggle for basic necessities, the bigger problem for other Americans is that they consider just about everything — eating out, driving new cars, hopping on airplanes for vacation — to be a necessity. In reality, investing — that is, putting your money to work for you — is a necessity. If you want to accomplish important personal and financial goals, such as owning a home, starting your own business, helping your kids through college (and spending more time with them when they’re young), retiring comfortably, and so on, you must know how to invest well.

It’s been said, and too often quoted, that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. To these two certainties we add one more: being confused by and ignorant about investing. Because investing is a confounding activity, you may be tempted to look with envious eyes at those people who appear to be savvy with money and investing. Remember that everyone starts with the same level of financial knowledge: none! No one was born knowing this stuff. The only difference between those who know and those who don’t is that those who know have devoted their time and energy to acquiring useful knowledge about the investment world.

Getting Started with Investing

Before we discuss the major investing alternatives in the rest of this chapter, we want to start with something that’s quite basic yet important. What exactly do we mean when we say “investing”? Simply stated, investing means you have money put away for future use.

You can choose from tens of thousands of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other investments. Unfortunately for the novice, and even for the experts who are honest with you, knowing the name of the investment is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath each of these investments lurks a veritable mountain of details.

remember If you wanted to and had the ability to quit your day job, you could make a full-time endeavor out of analyzing economic trends and financial statements and talking to business employees, customers, suppliers, and so on. However, we don’t want to scare you away from investing just because some people do it on a full-time basis. Making wise investments need not take a lot of your time. If you know where to get high-quality information and you purchase well-managed investments, you can leave the investment management to the best experts. Then you can do the work that you’re best at and have more free time for the things you really enjoy doing.

An important part of making wise investments is knowing when you have enough information to do things well on your own versus when you should hire others. For example, investing in foreign stock markets is generally more difficult to research and understand compared with investing in domestic markets. Thus, when investing overseas, hiring a good money manager, such as through a mutual or exchange-traded fund, makes more sense than going to all the time, trouble, and expense of picking your own individual stocks.

We’re here to give you the information you need to make your way through the complex investment world. In the rest of this chapter, we clear a path so you can identify the major investments and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Building Wealth with Ownership Investments

tip If you want your money to grow faster than the rate of inflation over the long term and you don’t mind a bit of a roller-coaster ride from time to time in your investments’ values, ownership investments are for you. Ownership investments are those investments where you own an interest in some company or other asset (such as stock, real estate, or a small business) that has the ability to generate revenue and profits.

Observing how the world’s richest have built their wealth is enlightening. Not surprisingly, many of the champions of wealth around the globe gained their fortunes largely through owning a piece (or all) of a successful company that they (or others) built.

In addition to owning their own businesses, many well-to-do people have built their nest eggs by investing in real estate and the stock market. With softening housing prices in many regions in the late 2000s, some folks newer to the real estate world incorrectly believe that real estate is a loser, not a long-term winner. Likewise, the stock market goes through down periods but does well over the long term. (See Book 1, Chapter 2 for the scoop on investment risks and returns.)

And of course, some people come into wealth through an inheritance. Even if your parents are among the rare wealthy ones and you expect them to pass on big bucks to you, you need to know how to invest that money intelligently.

remember If you understand and are comfortable with the risks and take sensible steps to diversify (you don’t put all your investment eggs in the same basket), ownership investments are the key to building wealth. For most folks to accomplish typical longer-term financial goals, such as retiring, the money that they save and invest needs to grow at a healthy clip. If you dump all your money in bank accounts that pay little if any interest, you’re likely to fall short of your goals.

Not everyone needs to make his money grow, of course. Suppose you inherit a significant sum and/or maintain a restrained standard of living and work well into your old age simply because you enjoy doing so. In this situation, you may not need to take the risks involved with a potentially faster-growth investment. You may be more comfortable with safer investments, such as paying off your mortgage faster than necessary.

Entering the stock market

Stocks, which are shares of ownership in a company, are an example of an ownership investment. If you want to share in the growth and profits of companies like Skechers (footwear), you can! You simply buy shares of their stock through a brokerage firm. However, even if Skechers makes money in the future, you can’t guarantee that the value of its stock will increase.

Some companies today sell their stock directly to investors, allowing you to bypass brokers. You can also invest in stocks via a stock mutual fund (or an exchange-traded fund), where a fund manager decides which individual stocks to include in the fund.

remember You don’t need an MBA or a PhD to make money in the stock market. If you can practice some simple lessons, such as making regular and systematic investments and investing in proven companies and funds while minimizing your investment expenses and taxes, you should make decent returns in the long term.

However, don’t think that you can “beat the markets”; you certainly can’t beat the best professional money managers at their own full-time game. This book shows you time-proven, non-gimmicky methods to make your money grow in the various financial markets. We explain more about stocks in Book 3 and mutual funds in Book 5.

Owning real estate

People of varying economic means build wealth by investing in real estate. Owning and managing real estate is like running a small business. You need to satisfy customers (tenants), manage your costs, keep an eye on the competition, and so on. Some methods of real estate investing require more time than others, but many are proven ways to build wealth. See Book 8 for more on investing in real estate.

John, who works for a city government, and his wife, Linda, a computer analyst, have built several million dollars in investment real estate equity (the difference between the property’s market value and debts owed) over the past three decades. “Our parents owned rental property, and we could see what it could do for you by providing income and building wealth,” says John. Investing in real estate also appealed to John and Linda because they didn’t know anything about the stock market, so they wanted to stay away from it. The idea of leverage — making money with borrowed money — on real estate also appealed to them.

John and Linda bought their first property, a duplex, when their combined income was just $35,000 per year. Every time they moved to a new home, they kept the prior one and converted it to a rental. Now in their 50s, John and Linda own seven pieces of investment real estate and are multimillionaires. “It’s like a second retirement, having thousands in monthly income from the real estate,” says John.

John readily admits that rental real estate has its hassles. “We haven’t enjoyed getting calls in the middle of the night, but now we have a property manager who can help with this when we’re not available. It’s also sometimes a pain finding new tenants,” he says.

Overall, John and Linda figure that they’ve been well rewarded for the time they spent and the money they invested. The income from John and Linda’s rental properties also allows them to live in a nicer home.

tip Ultimately, to make your money grow much faster than inflation and taxes, you must take some risk. Any investment that has real growth potential also has shrinkage potential! You may not want to take the risk or may not have the stomach for it. In that case, don’t despair. We discuss lower-risk investments in this book as well. You can find out about risks and returns in Book 1, Chapter 2.

Generating Income from Lending Investments

Besides ownership investments (which we discuss in the earlier section “Building Wealth with Ownership Investments”), the other major types of investments include those in which you lend your money. Suppose that, like most people, you keep some money in your local bank — most likely in a checking account but perhaps also in a savings account or certificate of deposit (CD). No matter what type of bank account you place your money in, you’re lending your money to the bank.

How long and under what conditions you lend money to your bank depends on the specific bank and the account that you use. With a CD, you commit to lend your money to the bank for a specific length of time — perhaps six months or even a year. In return, the bank probably pays you a higher rate of interest than if you put your money in a bank account offering you immediate access to the money. (See Book 2, Chapter 4 for more on CDs.)

As we discuss in more detail in Book 4, you can also invest your money in bonds, another type of lending investment. When you purchase a bond that’s been issued by the government or a company, you agree to lend your money for a predetermined period of time and receive a particular rate of interest. A bond may pay you 4 percent interest over the next ten years, for example.

An investor’s return from lending investments is typically limited to the original investment plus interest payments. If you lend your money to Skechers through one of its bonds that matures in, say, ten years, and Skechers triples in size over the next decade, you won’t share in its growth. Skechers’s stockholders and employees reap the rewards of the company’s success, but as a bondholder, you don’t; you simply get interest and the face value of the bond back at maturity.

remember Many people keep too much of their money in lending investments, thus allowing others to reap the rewards of economic growth. Although lending investments appear safer because you know in advance what return you’ll receive, they aren’t that safe. The long-term risk of these seemingly safe money investments is that your money will grow too slowly to enable you to accomplish your personal financial goals. In the worst cases, the company or other institution to which you’re lending money can go under and stiff you for your loan.

Considering Cash Equivalents

Cash equivalents are any investments that you can quickly convert to cash without cost to you. With most checking accounts, for example, you can write a check or withdraw cash by visiting a teller — either the live or the automated type.

Money market mutual funds are another type of cash equivalent. Investors, both large and small, invest hundreds of billions of dollars in money market mutual funds because the best money market funds historically have produced higher yields than bank savings accounts. The yield advantage of a money market fund over a savings account almost always widens when interest rates increase because banks move to raise savings account rates about as fast as molasses on a cold winter day.

Why shouldn’t you take advantage of a higher yield? Many bank savers sacrifice this yield because they think that money market funds are risky — but they’re not. Money market mutual funds generally invest in safe things such as short-term bank certificates of deposit, U.S. government-issued Treasury bills, and commercial paper (short-term bonds) that the most creditworthy corporations issue.

Another reason people keep too much money in traditional bank accounts is that the local bank branch office makes the cash seem more accessible. Money market mutual funds, however, offer many quick ways to get your cash. You can write a check (most funds stipulate the check must be for at least $250), or you can call the fund and request that it mail or electronically transfer you money.

tip Move extra money that’s dozing away in your bank savings account into a higher-yielding money market mutual fund. Even if you have just a few thousand dollars, the extra yield more than pays for the cost of this book. If you’re in a high tax bracket, you can also use tax-free money market funds. (See Book 2, Chapter 4 to find out about money market funds and savings accounts.)

Where to Invest and Get Advice

Selecting the firm or firms through which to do your investing is a hugely important decision. So is the decision about from whom to get or whom to pay for investing advice. In this section, we address both of these topics.

Finding the best fund companies and brokers

Insurance companies, banks, investment brokerage firms, mutual funds — the list of companies that stand ready to help you invest your money is nearly endless. Most people stumble into a relationship with an investment firm. They may choose a company because their employer uses it for company retirement plans or they’ve read about or been recommended to a particular company.

When you invest in certain securities — such as stocks and bonds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) — and when you want to hold mutual funds from different companies in a single account, you need brokerage services. Brokers execute your trades to buy or sell stocks, bonds, and other securities and enable you to centralize your holdings of mutual funds, ETFs, and other investments. Your broker can also assist you with other services that may interest you.

Deciding which investment company is best for you depends on your needs and wants. In addition to fees, consider how important having a local branch office is to you. If you want to invest in mutual funds, you’ll want to choose a firm that offers access to good funds, including money market funds in which you can deposit money awaiting investment or proceeds from a sale.

tip For the lowest trading commissions, you generally must place your trades online. But be careful. A low brokerage fee of, say, $7 or $10 per trade doesn’t really save you money if you trade a lot and rack up significant total commissions. Also you pay more in taxes when you trade more frequently and realize shorter-term (one year or less) profits. For more about online investing, see Book 6.

warning Trading online is an easy way to act impulsively and emotionally when making important investment decisions. If you’re prone to such actions, or if you find yourself tracking and trading investments too closely, stay away from this form of trading, and use the Internet only to check account information and gather factual information.

Among our top investment firm selections are firms that offer mutual funds and ETFs and/or brokerage services.

Broker

Phone Number

Website

E*Trade

800-387-2331

https://us.etrade.com

Muriel Siebert

800-872-0711

www.siebertnet.com/index.aspx

Scottrade

800-619-7283

www.scottrade.com

T. Rowe Price

800-638-5660

www.troweprice.com

Vanguard

800-992-8327

www.vanguard.com

TD Ameritrade

800-934-4448

www.tdameritrade.com

Finding an admirable advisor

We encourage you to educate yourself before engaging the services of any financial advisor. How can you possibly evaluate the competence of someone you may hire if you yourself are financially clueless? You’ve got this book, so read it before you consider hiring someone for financial advice.

By taking the themes and major concepts of this book to heart, you’ll greatly minimize your chances of making significant investment blunders, including hiring an incompetent or unethical advisor. You may be tempted, for example, to retain the services of an advisor who claims that he and his firm can predict the future economic environment and position your portfolio to take advantage. But financial advisors don’t have crystal balls; steer clear of folks who purport to be able to jump into and out of investments based upon their forecasts.

warning Finding a competent and objective financial advisor isn’t easy. Historically, most financial consultants work on commission, and the promise of that commission can cloud their judgment. Among the minority of fee-based advisors, almost all manage money, which creates other conflicts of interest. The more money you give them to invest and manage, the more money these advisors make. That’s why we generally prefer seeking financial (and tax) advice from advisors who sell their time (on an hourly basis) and don’t sell anything else.

Because investment decisions are a critical part of financial planning, take note of the fact that the most common designations of educational training among professional money managers are MBA (master of business administration) and CFA (chartered financial analyst). Financial planners often have the CFP (certified financial planner) credential, and some tax advisors who work on an hourly basis have the PFS (personal financial specialist) credential.

Advisors who provide investment advice and oversee at least $100 million must register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); otherwise, they generally register with the state that they make their principal place of business. They must file Form ADV, otherwise known as the Uniform Application for Investment Adviser Registration. This lengthy document asks investment advisors to provide in a uniform format such details as a breakdown of where their income comes from, their education and employment history, the types of securities the advisory firm recommends, and the advisor’s fee schedule.

You can ask the advisor to send you a copy of his Form ADV. You can also find out whether the advisor is registered and whether he has a track record of problems by calling the SEC at 800-732-0330 or by visiting its website at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov. Many states require the registration of financial advisors, so you should also contact the department that oversees advisors in your state. Visit the North American Securities Administrators Association’s website (www.nasaa.org), and click the Contact Your Regulator link on the home page.

Chapter 2

Weighing Risks and Returns

IN THIS CHAPTER

check Surveying different types of risks

check Reducing risk while earning decent returns

check Figuring out expected returns for different investments

check Determining how much you need your investments to return

Awoman passes up eating a hamburger at a picnic because she heard that she could contract a deadly E. coli infection from eating improperly cooked meat. The next week, that same woman hops in the passenger seat of her friend’s old-model car that lacks airbags.

We’re not trying to depress or frighten anyone. However, we are trying to make an important point about risk — something that everyone deals with on a daily basis. Risk is in the eye of the beholder. Many people base their perception of risk, in large part, on their experiences and what they’ve been exposed to. In doing so, they often fret about relatively small risks while overlooking much larger risks.

Sure, a risk of an E. coli infection from eating poorly cooked meat exists, so the woman who was leery of eating the hamburger at the picnic had a legitimate concern. However, that same woman got into the friend’s car without an airbag and placed herself at far greater risk of dying in that situation than if she had eaten the hamburger. In the United States, more than 35,000 people die in automobile accidents each year.

In the world of investing, most folks worry about certain risks — some of which may make sense and some of which may not — but at the same time they completely overlook or disregard other, more significant risks. In this chapter, we discuss a range of investments and their risks and expected returns.