7 investing myths and realities about stocks

Investing may be less complicated than you think.

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Key takeaways

  • You don't always have to take on a lot of risk to hit your financial goals.
  • You don't have to be an expert to invest in the stock market—you don't even have to manage your own investments. You can get low-cost investment management in several ways.
  • Investing is for everyone—no matter how much or how little money you start with.

Would you rather have $100 today or $125 in one year? Rationally, earning $25 in one year on a $100 investment represents a 25% annual rate of return, not typical for the stock market. But research has found that a lot of people would take the $100 today when you frame the question this way.

"The future is nebulous," says Andy Reed, vice president of behavioral economics at Fidelity. "But we know what our needs are today. So some people feel more comfortable sitting on a pile of cash because they know exactly what it can buy them today versus jumping into the market and who knows what it'll turn into," he says.

But to reach your goals it may be necessary to invest for growth. Could your financial beliefs be holding you back? See if you believe any of these commonly held myths.

Myth #1: Investing in the stock market is too risky

Investors react much more strongly to losses than to gains. The fear that putting money into the stock market could lead to financial ruin keeps many people out of the market and that may keep them from reaching their goals.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage the amount of risk when investing. For instance, some types of risk can be mitigated with diversification. If all your money was in one stock and the company went out of business, you would have lost your entire investment. But if you own many different stocks, one company likely represents only a small portion of your portfolio. Similarly, adding different types of investments, like bonds and short-term investments, can also reduce the amount of risk in your mix.

When it comes to investments, stock picking is not necessary—or even encouraged. Investing through mutual funds or exchange-traded funds lets you invest in many companies at once—getting professional management and diversification. Keep in mind that diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss. That's why it's important to build a mix of investments that you can live with—with the potential to hit your goals.

To find out more, read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: The guide to diversification

The amount of time you plan to allow your investments to stay in the market makes a difference too. With a very long time in the market, history suggests that your chance of permanently losing money in a diversified mix of investments goes down. That's because stocks have tended to rise over time. And as long as you don't sell your investments, they may recover from market downturns.

Myth #2: It's safer to keep money in a savings account

Many people believe cash is safe. But having too much of your money in cash or a low-yielding savings account can mean your purchasing power shrinks due to inflation. Some people may be more likely to have a lot of cash in savings or checking accounts than others. For instance, Fidelity's research on women and money has found that 56% of women who have significant savings outside of their retirement accounts and emergency funds do not invest those savings in the market.2

Since 1985, the average annual inflation rate has been 2.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Right now, inflation is less than 2% but it could rise in the future, given rising government deficits and stronger economic growth.

Prices on things like housing, food, and education tend to go up over time. If you have $100 today, it may buy less in 5 years than it does now. If prices increased by the annual average inflation rate each year, an item that cost $100 today would cost $114.25 after 5 years. Investing $100 at a .5% rate of return yields just $3 after 5 years.3 By investing in assets that offer the potential to earn a return above the rate of inflation, you have the chance to keep up with price increases.

So the potential boost from investing part of your savings in riskier investments like stocks could help. You don't have to bet the farm looking for double- and triple-digit returns—slow and steady may really win the race.

The key is to find a mix of investments, blending stable investments with those that are more risky, that you are comfortable with and could stick with over time.

  Saver Investor
Annual contribution $15,000 $15,000
Years contributing 40 40
Average annual rate of return 2% 7%
Accumulated balance after 40 years $924,150 $3,204,144

This hypothetical illustration assumes that the saver and the investor each make one annual contribution of $15,000 at the beginning of the year. Taxes and fees are not considered. This example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any security. Consider your current and anticipated investment horizon when making an investment decision, as the illustration may not reflect this. The assumed rate of return used in this example is not guaranteed. Investments that have potential for 7% annual rate of return also come with risk of loss.

Myth #3: Investing is too complicated and time consuming

Investing can be really complicated. But it's only as complicated as you want to make it. You can build and maintain a diversified investment mix made up of mutual funds or ETFs—or for many investors it may be easier to turn to a target date fund for retirement goals or an asset allocation fund to handle the investment decisions.

Both types of funds offer a professionally managed, diversified mix of investments based on your goals and financial situation but target date funds gradually shift to a more conservative mix over time. Asset allocation funds maintain a consistent level of stock investments.

To learn more, read: Diversification through a single fund

Managed accounts are another way to get professional investment management. Some types of managed accounts offer ongoing advice to help you stay on track with your finances. Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: 4 benefits of financial advice

Robo advisors are a type of managed account—they generally only manage the investment piece for you without advice. The benefit is low-cost, hands-off investing. Generally you can get an investment mix that fits your goals and financial situation with rebalancing done for you at regular intervals.

Myth #4: You need a lot of money to start investing

This used to be true. Back when it cost $50 to place a trade and you had to call a stockbroker, investing was out of reach for many people.

But these days, competition has driven the cost to invest way down. Investment minimums are nonexistent for many mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offer another way to invest with no minimum fees.

At many financial institutions, it's possible to start investing with just a few dollars—even with professional investment management if you choose a robo advisor.

Myth #5: I can wait for the best time to get in the market

Timing the market is difficult or even impossible. Rather than waiting for the best time to invest, it can often be a better idea to just get invested. Waiting for the best time can lead to a lot of missed opportunities.

If you're extremely nervous about investing a lump sum of money, consider dollar cost averaging, or investing a set amount at regular intervals over time. Studies have found that, most of the time, investing a lump sum results in higher returns. But if you need to ease into the market, other research has found that dollar cost averaging may mitigate some risk.4 It's important to understand though that periodic investment plans—like dollar cost averaging—do not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

At the end of the day, whatever helps you get invested and stay invested may be the best strategy for you. That's because missing just a couple of the best days in the market can have significant impact on long-term returns.

Myth #6: Investment advisors are just trying to sell products

Some people feel comfortable managing their investments, others are happy to choose diversified, professionally managed funds, while another group may prefer the services offered by financial professionals. But many people don't know who they can trust in the financial services world and that could keep them from investing.

The good news is that there are several different models for the way financial professionals are paid and the services they provide. Some are paid a commission when they sell certain products or do trades, others may charge an hourly fee or a flat fee, while still others charge a percentage of the money you invest with them. There are even more ways they can be paid as well.

There isn't one model that is best for everyone and their financial situation. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a thorough series on how to evaluate investment professionals and questions to ask.

The important thing to understand is that you can and should ask how they are compensated, how much you pay directly, and what it means for their recommendations to you.

Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: 4 tips for your first meeting with a new advisor

Myth #7: Men make better investors

Men and women grow up with constant messages about what men are good at and what women are good at. Those messages can be damaging—to your self-esteem and net worth. But while women have historically taken a backseat to the men in their lives when it comes to finances—research shows that as a group, they are better investors.6

That may be because women investors, on average, tend to trade less frequently and invest in more age-based allocation of investments than their male counterparts.

Because women, on average, live longer than men it's really important to understand how to manage money. Luckily women are investing nearly as much men: 58% of men say they own stocks vs. 52% of women.7

The bottom line

Investing is for everyone and it can help you reach your financial goals. When investing, you don't have to have tons of money, trade a lot, or employ sophisticated strategies. Just doing the "boring" thing of determining an appropriate asset mix, owning well-diversified, professionally managed investments, avoiding the tendency to "tinker," and sticking with that asset mix over time may help you reach your goals. Whether that's through a managed account, a target date fund, or your own hand-picked mix of mutual funds, using this tried-and-true approach has the potential to lead to excellent results.

Next steps to consider



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