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I'm a 30-year-old living in NYC with a decent job, not married / no kids. I've now saved $30K and it's just sitting in a savings account, earning next to nothing. I have never invested in the stock market or anything like that, but I'm starting to try and learn about it as it seems like a possible way to get some return?

Some other info: I have no debt (college and credit cards all paid off in full for years now). I am already maxed out on a 401K. At this point I feel very curious about the stock market and I'm just not sure where to start. Can I invest on my own through a website? Do I have to hire (and pay) a financial advisor? What should be a next possible step?

Thank you in advance for all of your thoughts!

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    It's from a UK resident, but I think the overall approach in the answers will be the same as you might receive here. money.stackexchange.com/questions/44249/… – BobbyScon Aug 31 '15 at 20:48
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    Yes you can invest on your own, no you don't have to hire and pay a financial advisor. Financial advisors and money managers are not expensive. And at this point are on par with the fees you will accrue making passive investments int he stock market yourself. – CQM Aug 31 '15 at 20:49
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    Pay attention to #1- Put 6 months worth of living expenses in to a savings account - a rainy day fund. Read, EMERGENCY FUND – AbraCadaver Aug 31 '15 at 20:50
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    How is the 401(k) invested? If you've never invested in stocks, what is this account invested in? – JoeTaxpayer Aug 31 '15 at 22:43
  • The 401k is invested in stocks, I've just never personally considered that "investing in stocks" even though it obviously is. It just feels different what I'm currently looking to do with this money that is sitting in savings. – Sam Sep 1 '15 at 3:28
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First, two preliminaries, to address good points people made in comments. As AbraCadaver noted, before you move your $30k to something that might lose money, make sure you have enough cash to serve as an emergency fund in case you lose your income. Especially remember that big stock market crashes often go hand-in-hand with widespread layoffs. Also, you mentioned that you're maxed out in a 401k. As JoeTaxpayer hinted, this could very well already be invested in stocks, and, if it isn't, probably a big part of it should be.

Regarding your $30k, you don't need to pay anybody. In general, fees and expenses can form a big drag on your investments, and it's good to avoid them as much as possible. In particular, especially with "only" $30k, it's unlikely that advisers can save you more than they cost. Also, all financial advisers have a cost: the "free" ones usually push you into investing in expensive funds that make them money at your expense. In that regard, keep in mind that, unlike a lawyer or a doctor, a financial adviser is not required by law to give advice that's in your best interest.

When investing, there is a pretty short list of important considerations that you should keep in mind:

  • As I said above, watch out for expenses. Expenses come in many forms, including both explicit fees for advice and for making transactions, and, more subtly, as an "expense ratio" for mutual funds and similar products. All funds have an expense ratio, which you can always find in the fund's information. The lower the better: 1% is very expensive, and you should shoot for much lower than that number.
  • Diversification is important. Don't invest in just a small handful of stocks. Don't invest in just a handful of sectors. In general, if you're not invested in a broad spectrum of assets, you're exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. This diversification risk isn't even the kind that makes you more money. Note that there are mutual funds that are diversified all by themselves; diversification doesn't mean you need to have a complicated portfolio.
  • Match your risk with your life needs. If you may need (or would really like) a big chunk of the money sooner rather than later, your investment plan needs to account for that fact to make sure it will be there. On the other hand, if the plan is for the money to sit and grow for 30 more years, you can tolerate a lot more risk.

(If anyone has any other points they think are similarly important, feel free to suggest an edit.)

Practically speaking, I'd suggest investing in index funds. These are mutual funds that invest very broadly, in a "passive" way that doesn't spend a lot of effort (and money) trying to pick individual high-performing stocks or anything like that. Index funds provide a lot of diversification and tend to have low expense ratios. (Other, "actively managed" funds tend to be more expensive and often don't outperform index funds anyway.) If you're saving for retirement, there are even target date funds that are themselves composed of a small number of index funds (often domestic and international stocks and bonds), and will increase the proportion invested in bonds (safer) as they get closer to a target retirement date. See, for example the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 fund. A fund like that one might be all you need if you are saving for retirement.

Finally, you can invest online without paying any advisers. Not all companies are created equal, however; do your research. I personally highly recommend Vanguard, since they have a wide variety of no-load index funds and tend to have very low expense ratios. (No-load means you don't have to pay a fee to buy and sell.) Part of why they are inexpensive is that, unlike most financial companies, they are actually a cooperative owned by those who invest in their funds, so they don't need to try and milk a profit out of you. (Don't let that suggest that they're some "small-potatoes hippie firm", though: they're actually one of the largest.)

I hope I helped. Keep posting if you have more questions!

  • All of these suggestions are very helpful. I feel very unfamiliar with a lot of the lingo, so perhaps I should take a class or something to learn about this? – Sam Sep 1 '15 at 3:29
  • @Sam You can certainly take a class if you'd like. You can also find out a fair amount by independent research. You can look up terms online, or read a book. I don't have any book recommendations for you, but you might ask others. – Mike Haskel Sep 1 '15 at 18:07

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