How to Invest: A Basic Guide to Making Your Money Grow


Investing is more than just saving for the future — it’s about creating a wealth-building strategy to truly make your nest egg grow. That’s because investing typically earns you a higher interest rate than if you put all of your money in a traditional savings account.

young lady investing

While historically low rates are great for when you need to borrow money, they’re pretty dismal when you’re ready to start saving. Investing does come with a higher risk, but it can generally be mitigated with diversified holdings and long-term positions. Plus, it’s easier than ever.

You’re not limited to working with an expensive brokerage or saving a huge amount to reach a minimum investment threshold. Now you can even invest by using an app on your smartphone with the leftover change from your checking account.

Ready to learn how to invest? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.

The Benefits of Investing

The reason why money grows so aggressively through investing is that it’s powered by compound returns. Investments are generally meant for a long-term strategy, rather than taking out money every few months.

When you leave your money untouched in an investment vehicle that offers greater returns than a savings account, your gains continue to compound.

No matter what age you are, it’s a good time to start investing. If you’re younger, you can create a strong foundation to truly accumulate wealth over the coming years.

Even if you’re older, you may be able to catch up faster because of those higher returns. Don’t worry about getting started — even if you can only contribute a small amount each month, you’ll set up the infrastructure and challenge yourself to contribute more as you begin to earn more.

How to Reduce Your Risks in Investing

When investing long-term, you can’t think about your every day gains and losses; instead, think about how your allocations are performing in the long run. You do want to review your investment choices as you reach different stages in your life; in particular, becoming less aggressive as you get older.

In fact, most investors don’t partake in volatile day trading. They spread their money over diversified investment types to help reduce risk and maximize returns over time.

There will always be economic cycles with highs and lows. But even downturns can be mitigated in your investment portfolio by spacing out your money over different product categories as well as different economic sectors. This can go a long way in protecting your money over time.

If you do want to try out some riskier investments, make sure you view that money as discretionary risk capital, meaning your livelihood and well-being won’t be impacted if you lose it all.

How to Invest Your Money

Diversification is important as is setting reminders to review the performance of your picks, such as a quarterly review. It also helps you adjust your asset allocation based on your own financial goals. Are you trying to retire earlier than you initially planned? Are you able to contribute more each month?

With these strategies in mind, here is a comprehensive review of different investment vehicles you can take advantage of to accumulate wealth over time.

Retirement Accounts

Probably the most common and most accessible type of investing, you can sometimes access a retirement account through your employer or simply open your own account. Each type comes with different tax treatment, so review the details carefully.

Traditional IRA

A traditional IRA is a tax-advantaged account that allows you to deduct your contributions each year. Once you start making retirement withdrawals, you’ll pay the IRS based on the tax bracket you’re in at that time.

They do have annual contribution limits. For 2021, it’s $6,000 unless you’re 50 years or older, in which case you can contribute up to $7,000.

If you want to take a distribution before you reach the age of 59 ½, you’ll have to pay a 10% penalty on top of your taxes. There are a few exceptions to the penalty, such as when you use the funds for a down payment on a house or for qualified college expenses.

Another plus is that there is no income limit for qualifying, unlike other IRA options.

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is another tax-advantaged retirement account, but comes with a few key differences compared to a traditional IRA. You don’t get a tax deduction when you make your contributions, but you do get to deduct your withdrawals once you reach retirement age.

If you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket once you hit retirement, this could be a useful tool to save on your taxes later in life. For Roth IRAs, the contribution limit is between $6,000 and $7,000 depending on your age.

However, there’s another qualification you’ll have to meet: the income limit.

The more you earn, the less you’re able to contribute. Your contribution limit is reduced when you earn more than $189,000 for those married filing jointly and more than $120,000 for those filing single or as head of household.

Rollover IRA

A rollover IRA is one way to transfer an existing 401(k) from your employer once you decide to leave the company. Sometimes an employer lets you leave it there or transfer your funds to a retirement plan at your new place of work. Whether those two scenarios don’t apply to you or you prefer the flexibility of an IRA, a rollover may be a good option for you.

Both traditional and Roth IRAs generally allow you to bring in transfer retirement accounts. Just be sure to check your eligibility for either type as well as any relevant fees you may incur during the transfer process.


This type of IRA is designed specifically for self-employed individuals. While traditional and Roth IRAs are often used to supplement retirement savings accrued through employer plans, a SEP IRA allows for higher contribution limits when you work for yourself. The contribution is the lesser of either 25% of your income or $55,000.

Its tax treatment is the same as traditional IRAs. If you have employees, however, you must provide each one with their own SEP IRA and contribute the same salary percentage as you contribute to your own. Still, this can be a strong option to speed up your retirement investments, particularly if you don’t have employees or only have a few.


Investing in individual stocks is only a move for an active investor, and ideally, one who already has experience in the stock market. If you’re just getting started, consider your stock investments as play money, rather than something you need to rely on to meet your future financial goals. Because individual stocks are riskier, at least be sure to diversify the ones you choose to invest in.

Buying and selling individual stocks can result in hefty commission fees. Consider a buy-and-hold approach to avoid accumulating too many expenses, especially when you’re first getting started.

While you no longer need an established broker to execute trades, you can instead create an account with one of the larger brokerage firms. Your best bet is to compare fees as well as available research to help you make informed trading decisions.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds combine your money with other investors to purchase securities for the entire group. The portfolio is professionally overseen by a manager, who then selects different types of stocks, bonds, and other securities on your behalf.

You can gauge the performance of a particular mutual fund by comparing it to its chosen benchmark, such as the S&P 500. If it regularly performs better over the course of a three to five year period, then it could be a good investment choice.

Mutual funds are a popular choice because you generally don’t need a lot of money to get started. You can often choose one within your retirement account to get around any minimum requirements, or even set up a recurring investment amount.

Plus, mutual funds are extremely diversified, often holding as much as 100 securities in each one. This helps to minimize your risk as well as the amount of time you spend managing your portfolio.

young investor

Index Fund

An index fund is a popular type of mutual fund that follows a predetermined investment methodology rather than having a portfolio manager pick and choose the included securities.

For example, you could choose a Dow Jones Industrial Average index fund, which includes 30 powerhouse companies in the U.S. Whiles that’s a large-scale example, different investment firms create their own index funds for investors to conveniently choose from.

Another benefit of investing in an index fund is that transaction costs are often lower, as are their mutual fund expense ratios. Many index funds are also geared toward investors with lower balances. While some firms have high minimum opening balances of $100,000 or more, you can get started with much less when you pick an index fund.


An exchange-traded fund, or ETF, trades the same way a stock does while tracking a certain basket of assets. There are countless types of ETFs to choose from based on your investment goals.

Common options include market, bond, commodity, foreign market, and alternative investment ETFs. They’re bought and sold like stocks throughout the day but a major difference is that ETFs can issue and redeem its shares at any point.

There are many benefits that go along with an ETF. For starters, you have more control over when you pay your capital gains tax. There are also lower fees, although you’ll still pay brokerage commissions. Finally, while mutual funds can only be settled after the stock market closes for the day, an ETF allows you to trade at any time.


Bonds are a good tool to have in your investment portfolio because they are a low-risk option. Different types of bonds include corporate, municipal, and Treasury bonds. They pay out on a fixed schedule, so you know exactly what to expect when those payout dates come throughout the year. Such predictability does come with a few downsides, though.

First, bonds come with a fixed investment period. If you invest in a longer-term bond, then you’re stuck with it until it matures — unless you decide to sell. But there’s a bit of risk involved there involving the interest.

Bond rates aren’t locked in, so yours could be devalued if the same issuer bumps up the interest rate at a later time. So if new investors get a better interest rate than you did, you’re still locked into your lower rate. In general, bonds generally come with lower growth than other investments, but that’s considered the trade-off for a lower risk vehicle.

Real Estate

People always need a place to live, so real estate investing can be an attractive option for investors. There are several ways to do this that account for your desired risk-level as well as your desired level of involvement.

Investment Properties

If you feel the drive to own property, an investment property is one way to make a real estate investment. Depending on how you choose to manage your property, this can amount to a steady stream of passive income.

Over time, you could also benefit from market appreciation, although that’s not necessarily guaranteed. There are, of course, risks involved with investment properties. Unlike investing in a stock or fund, a physical property involves expenses, such as upkeep, marketing, and a management firm if you want a hands-off experience.

You’ll also need some cash to get started since most investment property loans require at least a 25% down payment. On top of that, the mortgage is considered part of your debt-to-income ratio, which could affect your future financing opportunities.

If you ever want to cash out on your investment, you’ll be subject to the market value of that moment. Plus, it’s a cumbersome, illiquid way to invest money. Still, the returns can be much greater than traditional investments, making investment properties an attractive option to some people.


If you want to invest in real estate without the hassle of acting as a landlord, consider a real estate investment trust, or REIT. These are traded on the stock exchange and can also be offered in the form of a mutual fund or ETF.

Returns can increase as property values rise and generally focus on a portfolio of commercial properties. Shareholders also benefit because REITs don’t pay corporate tax, which helps boost returns as well.

You can pick what sector you want to invest in, such as healthcare, residential, hotel, or industrial REITs. Each comes with separate risks that should be weighed thoughtfully. REIT shares can be purchased through a broker, and each one will have its own fee structure to review as well.


Real estate crowdfunding is a type of peer-to-peer lending that is growing traction among investors of all levels. New fintech companies are popping up to compete with REITs, claiming better returns. So what’s the difference between REITs and real estate crowdfunding sites?

The biggest difference is that instead of choosing a portfolio of properties within a certain asset class, you can literally choose specific commercial properties in which to invest. While individual investors traditionally wouldn’t be able to invest directly in projects like these, crowdfunding lets you enter these markets with a much smaller amount of cash.

One of the benefits is that you can do much more specialized research to determine what property to invest in. The process is much less passive than REITs. On the downside, however, the risk potential could be higher since your money is riding on one single building, rather than a diversified portfolio.

Platforms for Investing Your Money

There are many different ways to start investing your money. A financial advisor, though charging extra fees, may provide you with much-needed guidance and education, especially if you’re a beginner. But if you prefer a little less hand-holding, you can consider two other options as well.


Enlisting the help of a robo-advisor can be helpful for beginning investors, or anyone who wishes to utilize a “set it and forget it” mentality for their portfolio.

Robo-advisors don’t use human financial advisors; instead, they rely on computer algorithms to determine your portfolio allocations. Many of them also use tax harvesting strategies to decrease your tax burden at the end of the year.

Service fees are low and generally charged as a percentage of your invested funds. The transparency is great for new investors and you can also benefit from the low minimum balances. Different robo-advisors offer different investment vehicles you can choose from. You can also pick one based on their investing strategy; most, for instance, pick from ETFs and index funds.

Online Brokers

Online brokerages give you the convenience of investing online with the added benefit of having control over what you invest in. It’s definitely a more hands-on process than the robo-advisor. Like robo-advisors, however, most online brokers don’t have a minimum balance requirement, so they’re still quite accessible to all types of investors.

Instead of paying a percentage of your funds, online brokers usually charge transaction fees for trades, as well as one-off fees. On the plus side, you’re not limited to your choosing certain funds as you are with a robo-advisor. If you want, you can even select individual stocks. Online brokers and robo-advisors really cater to two completely different types of investors, so the best choice depends on your specific goals.

Bottom Line

There are a slew of intricacies when it comes to building your investment strategy and making your money work for you. Start off with a plan that makes sense for your risk appetite, while still leaving room for growth.

You can access countless resources, from free online tutorials to paid financial advisors to make sure you have a robust investment plan that will generate a passive income strategy to meet your goals.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a Crediful writer whose aim is to give readers the financial tools they need to reach their own goals in life. She has written on personal finance issues for over six years and holds a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.