Personal finance

Investing isn’t hard. Here are some free online tools to help you make more money

Tony Elion, Jr. taught himself how to invest by utilizing free resources

Tony Elion, Jr.

When law student Tony Elion, Jr. decided he wanted to take on investing, he knew he could learn how to do it without spending a ton of money.

In fact, a lot of what he came across he found for free. “It’s just about taking time to understand what is going on in this world of money in the stock market,” said Elion, who wrote about his investing experience in his self-published book, “From Sailor to Student.”

“Once you can figure that out, it is not as complicated as people make it out to be.”

Yet many people fear investing.

In BlackRock’s annual Global Investor Pulse survey, released last February, 27% of non-investors said they are afraid of losing everything. Of those who aren’t invested, 64% said they found information about investing difficult to understand. The firm interviewed 27,000 respondents in 13 countries in the summer of 2018.

Financial advisor Mitch Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy in Melville, New York, thinks people are worried about “throwing their money into some black box.”

“People are comfortable with collectibles, with real estate, with tangibles, but when it comes to paper assets, I think there’s a missing link in novice investors’ minds that is not taking them to the point of understanding what a paper asset is,” he said, referring to things such as stocks, bonds and money market accounts.

Yet it’s important to be invested in some way so that you can save for retirement, especially since a low-interest savings account won’t grow your money as much as a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds will.

There are also a variety of options, such as stock index funds, which mirror a specific index such as the S&P 500, and target date funds,which are mutual funds that are geared towards growing assets over a specific time period, such as your estimated retirement date.

If you want to start dipping your toe into buying specific stocks, start with a small amount that you are comfortable seeing fluctuate, Goldberg said.

Before you dive in, it’s a good idea to get educated. Here are free, or inexpensive, resources to help you learn how to invest or become a better investor.

Financial news websites

Start reading about what’s happening in the world of finance.

There are a number of financial news websites that offer basic information on investing and personal finance.

While Investopedia, for example, has online courses in its Academy for $199, it also has free content — like its dictionary of investing and financial terms.

More from Invest in You:
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99% of Americans don’t use a financial advisor — here’s why

Popular news sites also have the latest stock market news, which will help you become familiar with investing terms and how the market works, as well as information about public companies.

If you invest with a firm that caters to retail investors, such as Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade or Fidelity, you can find educational content on their websites.

If you are a more visual learner, Napkin Finance has 30-second videos on many topics such as ETFs, trust funds, compound interest and blockchain.

Apps, news alerts

Download the apps of financial news sites onto your smartphone. That will allow you to keep up with news and stock prices on the go. Be sure to sign up for alerts so that news comes across your phone when it happens.

“If you don’t have the app and you are not aware of what’s going on and not being active, then you are are going to let the market pass you by,” Elion said.

“Make watch list of things that you enjoy, things you would like to buy stocks in.”

There are also basic investing apps that will allow you to not only start putting money away, but also have educational content — think names like Acorns, Robinhood, Betterment and Stash.

Your employer

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If you have a 401(k) through your employer, you likely have access to free educational tools through the plan’s provider.

They may have articles, videos or podcasts explaining things like how to plan for retirement, how to create a budget and how to build an investment strategy.

Your local library

Not only can you check out some basic investing and finance books, some locations even offer online resources, courses and events.

For example, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the American Library Association have partnered up to bring a national traveling exhibition, Thinking Money for Kids, to 50 libraries around the country. The Los Angeles Public Library has a Money Matter$ initiative that includes online resources and in-person tutorials.

Government and non-profit websites

Two regulatory bodies that oversee the market — the private sector Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission — also have educational tools for investors.

FINRA’s Investor Education Foundation has research, videos, quizzes and other tools at its website, SaveAndInvest.org.

The SEC has details on different investment terms and products, as well as tutorials on topics such as how the market works and retirement strategies, on its website, Investor.gov.

Non-profits also have free resources available. Organizations like the Women’s Institute for Financial Education and Savvy Ladies cater to women investors and feature things such as money clubs and free help lines.

You may also be able to get advice for free, or at least at a reduced fee, from a professional. The Foundation for Financial Planning offers pro bono financial planning through its local chapters to those in need. You can also call investment advisors and see if they are taking on any pro bono or reduced-fee clients.

Social media

Follow one or two finance sites on social media.

“You can pick up little things, and it can become a little easier every day,” Elion said.

There are also a bevy of tutorials available on YouTube — just do your due diligence on the teacher.

“They might be great at making YouTube videos, but are they qualified to give financial advice and make recommendations?” said Goldberg, who gives general advice on his YouTube channel, ClientFirst Strategy.

A registered financial advisor, for example, has to follow stringent rules set by regulators and their advice has to be signed off by the firm’s compliance department, he explained.

Research the person giving the information. Both the SEC and FINRA allow you to check out an advisor’s track record.

The bottom line? Be patient and keep learning.

“It takes experience and repetition to become a better investor,” Goldberg said.

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CHECK OUT: Why January is a particularly great time to invest your money via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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