The following is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice.
Traditional savings accounts don’t earn you very much money and there’s no reason to believe that will change any time soon. If you’re looking to get more out of the money you already have, you may want to consider creating an investment plan.
If you’ve never invested your money before, it may be worth your while to speak with a trained financial advisor to get their expert advice. In the meantime, however, here’s a short guide to three of the most common investment vehicles, so you can better understand the tools at your disposal.
A bond is essentially a loan you give to a government or company. And just like any other loan, it accrues interest over time. Bonds come with a pre-determined maturity date, which is when the “loan” comes due and you’re repaid your initial investment. Interest earned on the bond is paid out periodically until maturity. The frequency of the payments depends on the terms of the bond.
Bonds are issued most often by governments in need of funds for largescale projects. They’re usually very stable (if not quite completely guaranteed), making bonds one of the safest investment options available. They’re so safe, in fact, that the return on your investment can be pretty miniscule – in some cases not much better than a traditional savings account.
You also won’t be able to access the money you’ve invested into a bond until the maturity date, so that should always be a consideration when investing. You may be able to sell your bond, however, should you need funds immediately. Just keep in mind that there are usually fees associates with selling a bond before its maturity date. In either case, you'll want to make sure you have enough liquid (i.e. easily accessible) assets on hand in case of emergency or unforeseen circumstances.
Finally, not all bonds are created equal. There are multiple companies that rate bonds (such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s). A highly rated bond represents high credit quality and a safe investment. A poorly rated bond (also known as a junk bond) is a very risky investment, usually because they’re being issued by a company in financial distress. Because they’re so risky, however, these lower quality bonds usually pay much higher yields (presuming they pay at all).
A stock is a stake in a company. Purchasing stock in a company makes you a part owner in that company and usually grants you some measure of control over the company’s affairs – often in the form of an invitation to shareholders’ meetings and the ability to vote on key decisions. (Your influence really depends on the quantity of stock you own.)
You generally make money on stocks in one of two ways. You might receive dividends, which are a portion of the company’s profits that have been designated for shareholders. Not all stocks offer dividends, however, in which case you will likely only make a profit if the value of the stock you own increases and you then sell that stock.
Because the profitability of your stock depends entirely on the success of the company you’ve invested in, it’s a riskier form of investment. Should the company falter, the value of the stock could plummet overnight. Because of this, it may be dangerous to place too much of your available money into the stock market.
That said, stocks have much higher potential where return on investment is concerned. You can also sell your stock and recover your investment at any time
A mutual fund is a collection of stocks and bonds overseen by an investment specialist. Because mutual funds include a variety of investments, they are diversified, which reduces the risk should any one particular stock or bond fail.
Mutual funds can pay off in a number of different ways. You might earn dividends or interest payments on individual stocks and bonds. If the account manager sells certain stocks or bonds for a profit, that money may be distributed to investors directly. Finally, if the overall value of the fund increases (as stock values rise), you can sell your stake for a profit. Like a stock, shares in a mutual fund are liquid, meaning you can sell them any time.
Despite all these positives, a mutual fund is far from perfect. There are many fees associated with maintaining a mutual fund, which can cut significantly into your earnings. You can (and should) maintain a diversified portfolio of investments all on your own, so ultimately the value of a mutual fund (aside from the convenience) is tied closely to the performance of the manager. As such, it may be a great option for the first-time investor looking to get their feet wet, but eventually you may want to manage your investments directly.