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  • Brokers, Investing, Investments

    How to Buy Stocks

    Jan. 30, 2019

    Brokers, Investing, Investments

    At NerdWallet, we adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.


    Buying a stock — especially that first time you become a bona fide part owner of a business — deserves its own celebratory ritual.

    But before we pick out shareholder party hats and rent a ticker tape confetti cannon, let’s review how to buy stocks online.

    Step 1: Open a brokerage account

    Wondering where to buy stocks? Movies love to show frenzied traders shouting orders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, but these days very few stock trades happen this way. Today, the easiest option is to purchase stocks online through a brokerage.

    Opening a brokerage account is as easy as setting up a bank account: You complete an account application, provide proof of identification and choose how you want to fund the account. You may fund your account by mailing a check or transferring funds electronically. (We have a step-by-step guide to opening a brokerage account here.)

    How do you find a broker that’s worthy of your dough? It’s not just about finding the one with the cheapest trading commissions. Paying a few bucks more per trade at a brokerage that provides high-quality customer service is worth it, especially when you’re new to buying stocks.

    Some other things to consider:

    • How much money you have. Many online brokers have a $0 minimum requirement to set up a traditional individual retirement account or Roth IRA. For a regular brokerage account, the minimums can range from $0 to $2,000 or more.
    • How frequently you plan to trade. At most brokers suitable for new investors, stock trading commissions run between $5 and $10. Low commission costs will be more important to active traders, those who place 10 or more trades per month. (Learn more about the ins and outs of stock trading.) Infrequent traders should steer clear of brokers that charge inactivity fees.
    • How much support you want. Consider the broker’s offerings of educational tools, investment guidance, stock-trading research and access to real, live humans via phone, email, online chat or branch offices.

    To compare your brokerage options, review NerdWallet’s 2019 list of the best online stock brokers, or simply use the brokerage comparison tool here:

    Get the best broker recommendation for you by selecting your preferences

    Investment TypeStep 1 of 5
    What do you want to invest in?

    Investors who trade individual stocks and advanced securities like options are looking for exposure to specific companies or trading strategies.

    Mutual funds and ETFs are typically best suited to investing for long-term goals that are at least 5 years away, like retirement, a far-off home purchase or college.

    Beginners and long term investors often look to get exposure to whole markets and don't have a preference on which type of securities to trade.




    Account Minimum

    Current Offers

    Start Investing

    Ally Invest

    Ally Invest

    Impressive platform and research depth; low commissions


    per trade

    Up to $3,500

    in cash bonus with a qualifying deposit


    on Ally Invest's secure website

    Merrill Edge

    Merrill Edge

    Breadth of research from other providers and own offering


    per trade


    free stock and ETF trades


    on Merrill Edge's secure website



    Free management of first $5,000 (for NerdWallet readers); advanced tax optimization strategies.


    management fee


    amount of assets managed for free


    on Wealthfront's secure website


    Step 2: Select your stocks

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

    Don’t let the deluge of data and real-time market gyrations overwhelm you as you conduct your research. Keep the objective simple: You’re looking for companies of which you want to become a part owner.

    Warren Buffett famously said, “Buy into a company because you want to own it, not because you want the stock to go up.” He’s done pretty well for himself by following that rule.

    Start with the company’s annual report — specifically management’s annual letter to shareholders. The letter will give you a general narrative of what’s happening with the business and provide context for the numbers in the report.

    After that, most of the information and analytical tools that you need to evaluate the business will be available on your broker’s website, such as SEC filings, conference call transcripts, quarterly earnings updates and recent news. Most brokers also provide tutorials on how to use their tools and even basic seminars on how to pick stocks.

    To learn more about evaluating companies for your portfolio, see NerdWallet’s feature on how to research stocks.

    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 — really small — by purchasing just a single share 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 the shareholder swagger.

    Step 4: Choose your order type

    Don’t be put off by all those numbers and nonsensical word combinations on the order page. Refer to this cheat sheet:

    Basic stock trading terms

    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.

    There are a lot more fancy trading moves and complex order types. Don’t bother right now — or maybe ever. Investors have built successful careers relying solely on two order types: 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. Because a market order puts no price parameters on the trade, your order will be executed immediately and fully filled, unless you’re trying to buy a million shares and attempt a takeover coup.

    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 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 companies.

    Good to know:

    • A market order is best for buy-and-hold investors, for whom small differences in price are less important than ensuring that the trade is fully executed.
    • If you place a market order trade “after hours,” when the markets have closed for the day, your order will be placed at the prevailing price when the exchanges next open for trading.
    • Check your broker’s trade execution disclaimer. Some low-cost brokers bundle all customer trade requests to execute all at once at the prevailing price, either at the end of the trading day or a specific time or day of the week.

    Limit orders

    A limit order gives you more control over the price at which your trade is executed. If XYZ stock is trading at $100 a share and 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.

    Limit orders are a good tool for investors buying and selling smaller company stocks, which tend to experience wider spreads, depending on investor activity. They’re also good for investing during periods of short-term stock market volatility or when stock price is more important than order fulfillment.

    There are additional conditions you can place on a limit order to control how long the order will remain open. An “all or none” (AON) order will be executed only when all the shares you wish to trade are available at your price limit. A “good for day” (GFD) order will expire at the end of the trading day, even if the order has not been fully filled. A “good till canceled” (GTC) order remains in play until the customer pulls the plug or the order expires; that’s anywhere from 60 to 120 days or more.

    Good to know:

    • While a limit order guarantees the price you’ll get if the order is executed, there’s no guarantee that the order will be filled fully, partially or even at all. Limit orders are placed on a first-come, first-served basis, and only after market orders are filled, and only if the stock stays within your set parameters long enough for the broker to execute the trade.
    • Limit orders can cost investors more in commissions than market orders. A limit order that can’t be executed in full at one time or during a single trading day may continue to be filled over subsequent days, with transaction costs charged each day a trade is made. If the stock never reaches the level of your limit order by the time it expires, the trade will not be executed.

    Step 5: Optimize your approach

    We hope your first stock purchase marks the beginning of a lifelong journey of successful investing. But if things turn difficult, remember that every investor — even Warren Buffett — goes through rough patches. The key to coming out ahead in the long term is to keep your perspective and concentrate on the things that you can control. Market gyrations aren’t among them. What you can do is:

    About the author

    Dayana Yochim

    Dayana is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. Her work has been featured by Forbes, Real Simple, USA Today, Woman's Day and The Associated Press. Read more

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  • Governor Ned Lamont

    Edward Miner “Ned” Lamont, Jr. was sworn into office on January 9, 2019 as the 89th governor of Connecticut.

    Lamont got involved in public service shortly after college, founding a weekly newspaper in a town hit by the loss of its largest employer. Covering town meetings and the Board of Selectmen, he helped to bring voice and transparency to a community working to recover from job losses and reinvent itself. Later, as a member of both the Greenwich Board of Selectmen and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, Lamont worked in a bipartisan effort to safeguard a multimillion-dollar budget and deliver results for constituents. For four years, Lamont also served as Chairman of the State Investment Advisory Council, overseeing a multibillion-dollar state pension fund.

    Lamont started his own company, taking on the large and established giants of the telecom industry. Under his vision and stewardship, the company grew to serve over 400 of America's largest college campuses and 1 million college students across the nation.

    As a volunteer teacher, Lamont sought to give back to his community by volunteering at Harding High School in Bridgeport. In an effort to spark entrepreneurship, Lamont taught students about the inner-workings of small businesses, bringing in local businesspeople to share their own experiences, and helping to place students in local internships. Lamont is on the faculty of Central Connecticut State University as an adjunct professor of political science and philosophy, where he also helped to found a popular business start-up competition. In early 2009, he helped lead an initiative to bring together Connecticut leaders from across the business, nonprofit, and labor sectors to unite in a strategy to create new jobs in the state.

    As a candidate for United States Senate in 2006, he stood up for his convictions and challenged the political establishment. Taking on long-time incumbent Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination for United States Senate, Lamont campaigned on the platform that wars in the Middle East were draining resources and attention that could be better focused on pressing domestic issues like the economy, education, and healthcare. As a private citizen, he fought for the issues in which he believes, serving on the boards of Mercy Corps and the Conservation Services Group, non-profits which seek to make a difference in the humanitarian and renewable energy fields, respectively.

    Lamont was born on January 3, 1954, in Washington, D.C. to Camille Helene and Edward Miner Lamont. The eldest of three children, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and served as president of the student newspaper, The Exonian. After graduating Phillips Exeter in 1972, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Harvard College in 1976 and a Master of Business Administration from the Yale School of Management in 1980.

    Lamont married his wife Annie on September 10, 1983. They have three children: Emily, Lindsay, and Teddy.

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  • Mayor Luke Bronin

    Luke Bronin is the 67th mayor of the City of Hartford. He was sworn in on January 1, 2016.

    Mayor Bronin is a husband, a father, a veteran, and an attorney, and he is committed to building a stronger Hartford for all of Hartford’s residents.

    Mayor Bronin has had the opportunity to serve in senior positions in both federal and state government. In 2013, he was appointed by Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to serve as General Counsel. In his position as the governor’s chief lawyer, Bronin partnered with legislators and state agency officials to advance the Governor’s agenda, and he was deeply involved in developing policies to combat veterans’ homelessness, expand economic opportunities, reform our criminal justice system, and protect our environment.

    Prior to his role in Governor Malloy's office, he served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. In that role, he helped lead the federal government's efforts to isolate and disrupt international terrorist groups, and advanced U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.

    Previously, he served as the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, as an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, and as Chief of Staff to the President of Property and Casualty Operations at the Hartford Financial Services Group, one of the capital city’s largest employers. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was a member of the military's anti-corruption task force during his deployment to Afghanistan from September 2010 to April 2011. Most recently, Bronin worked as a partner at the law firm Hinckley Allen. Prior to his election, Bronin proudly served on the boards of the Hartford Public Library and the Amistad Center for Arts and Culture.


    Bronin earned his B.A. and J.D. from Yale University and his M.A. from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He and his wife Sara live in Hartford with their three young kids.

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