There are few guarantees in life. But, through historic data and personal experience, we know that stock market investing has proven effective as a way to grow wealth. Still, millions of Americans choose not to invest at least some of their savings.
An April 2022 Gallup survey found, 58% of Americans reported owning stocks, up slightly from 2021. Before the “Great Recession,” (2001 to 2008) an average of 62% of American adults reported owning stock.
For the poll, Gallup asked respondents about owning individual stock and stocks included in a mutual fund or retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA.
Those with higher incomes and more formal education tend to own more stock, the research showed:
- 89% of adults in households earning $100,000 or more.
- 79% of those with postgraduate education said they owned stock.
- 25% of respondents in households earning less than $40,000 reported owning stock.
Let’s bust this myth: You don’t have to be wealthy – or a financial expert – to invest. You do need to be in it for the long haul and have most pieces of your financial house in order.
Cover Your Financial Bases
Once you’ve built an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses – which you can stash in a high-yield savings or money-market account – you may put a portion of your money to work earning for the future with investments.
One note: Don’t invest money you will need in the short-term, which is in the next five to 10 years. If you have high-interest credit card debt, work to pay down those balances by making more than the minimum payment every month.
How to Get Started
One of the easiest ways to start investing is through an employer-sponsored 401(k), which is a tax-advantaged investment account used to save money for retirement.
Since December is typically part of open enrollment season for employee benefits, this is the perfect time to contact your employer’s HR department to find out if your company offers a 401(k) or other match. Be sure to ask the percentage of your income needed to grab all of those matching dollars. Fill out the necessary forms and you should be on your way.
Want to make things even easier on yourself? One option is target-date retirement fund. This is a mutual fund with the proper allocation of stocks and bonds, based on your retirement date.
Here’s how they work: The target date fund manager typically invests more heavily in stocks the further you are from your retirement and rebalances the investments to be more conservative as you get closer to retirement. For most people, this method works much better than trying to pick stocks.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) analyzed 24 million 401(k) retirement accounts and found:
- 21% of investors within 10 years of retirement had 90% of their money in stocks. When the markets collapsed those folks lost a bundle.
- Target-date fund investors only had 51% of their money in stocks within a decade of retirement. The market plunge hurt them, but not nearly as much.
Open an IRA
If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement savings plan, you can visit a financial institution, such as your credit union, to start one. The IRS has rules about who can offer the accounts and annual contribution limits. Visit Investopedia.com for a thorough explanation of the various accounts and guidelines.
Need More Direction?
A financial advisor can often help you navigate the best way to invest for your personal retirement goals. If you have a retirement account through your employer, they also should have staff available to walk you through the process. If you don’t have outside help, this could be the right time to enlist the assistance of a professional. Consider a fee-for-service financial advisor. The XY Planning Network (www.xyplanningnetwork.com) is a good place to locate advisors close to where you live. Your local credit union may also offer similar services as part of your membership.
With reporting by Casandra Andrews