Tired of savings accounts that lose you money? Want more growth and less fees than your bank’s mutual funds can offer? Thinking about giving the S&P 500 a whirl, but don’t know where to start? This post is for you!
Last week, we looked at stock markets and how their purpose is to let the public buy and sell shares in publicly traded companies. I mentioned that to invest in the S&P 500, you’ll need to buy an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), like Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund.
In order to buy and sell shares on a stock market, you need an stock broker, someone who has gone through various training programs and is regulated by the stock exchanged they work on. A stock broker is traditionally a person who takes buy/sell orders from individuals and fulfills those orders on the stock market floor by yelling and screaming at other stock brokers. Stock brokers usually charge a commission on every trade, that means if you want to buy some shares in company A and sell shares in companies B, that would be 2 separate trades, and your broker will charge you for each.
These days, the job of stock broker has been largely replaced by computers. So what we really need is a web broker. For you and I, a web broker is a website where we fill out a form specifying how many shares to buy or sell, at what price, etc. We then hit ‘Enter’ to buy and sell stocks. The web broker then trades your money with another web broker. The whole transaction could take seconds.
There are dozens of web brokers to chose from and every major bank in Canada has one, they are cheap and easy to use. How cheap are they? Well, that depends on what kind of investing you’re going to be doing and how often. As I mentioned, they will typically charge you per trade and web broker prices currently range from limited-time-free to $10 per trade.
The cost of a web broker is a fee, the third prong in the trident of costs (taxes and inflation being the other 2) and means that if you want to invest money every month, that could be $120 per year, which won’t be that big in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to some mutual fund fees. But I suggest planning on buying shares of TSE:VFV every 3 or 4 months to cut down on fees. Some web brokers can set up automated buying so all you need to worry about is having money in the bank.
Finding and opening a web broker account is easy. I would go to whoever your current bank is and tell them you’d like to open a web broker account. Here is a list of the 5 big banks and their web brokers:
If you aren’t with any of the above banks, you can still open a web broker account with them, or google around for another one. As long as the web broker allows you to trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE or TSX), you should be fine.
To open a web broker account, I would suggest physically walking into your bank and telling them that you want to open a web broker account, and someone will meet you to go over whatever steps are needed to setup an account. The banks do all the work for you, but there are quite a few forms they have to fill out, the process can easily take 30 minutes.
I would open up a web broker account for your TFSA, and a second web broker account for your RRSP. This will allow you to transfer money into your tax sheltered accounts, and buy and sell as much as you want without incurring any taxes. You would only pay taxes when you withdraw money from your RRSP web broker account. You will never pay any taxes on money withdrawn from any TFSA account, and you are able to withdraw money from your TFSA whenever you want.
Once your account is open, and you have a trading password, you are ready to buy a stock! The stock we want to buy is Vanguard’s S&P 500 ETF I mentioned earlier. It trades under the symbol: TSE:VFV.
This means <stock exchange>:<company stock symbol>, so TSE is the stock exchange, VFV is the symbol of the fund or company we want to invest in.
Things you’ll need to know to buy stock on any exchange:
- The account the funds to make the purchase are coming from.
- The action you wish to take (buy, sell, other stuff we don’t care about).
- The company symbol.
- How many shares you want to buy.
When deciding how many shares to buy, remember to factor in any web broker fees. If you have $1000, you can only buy 9 shares that cost $100 (9 x $100 = $900, + $6 (web broker fee) = $906)
You can buy VFV from your web broker’s website, or you can phone up the web broker directly and have a human to actually make the trade for you. Note that web brokers are neutral parties when buying/selling shares. They will not give you investment advice, so don’t bother asking them if buying particular shares is a good idea.
Don’t bother trying to time when you buy the S&P 500, in the long run, that won’t matter. Once you’ve bought your shares, hold them. Literally do nothing for decades and watch the value of your investment grow.