How to get started investing


If you’re just starting to invest, who can you trust? And if you don’t have a lot money, who wants to work with you?

Merrill Lynch has long been a thorn in my side. Perhaps the biggest stock brokerage in the country, Merrill Lynch was able to strong arm a law through that says stockbrokers don’t have fiduciary responsibility to their clients.

In plain English, that means a broker can do what would financially harm you — such as steering you to a very high cost investment — if it will pad their pocket with more commissions.

But wait, it gets even worse. Merrill Lynch has now instructed brokers not to waste time with clients who have less than $250,000. If a broker does so, they won’t earn any commission on the peons.

Talk about not putting the interest of customers first. And they’re owned by Bank of America to boot!

If you’re starting out, the industry isn’t interested in you unless they can commission and fee you to death. So where do you start? I suggest drilling down to the basics:

  • Set money aside each and every pay period. If you have access to a 401(k) at work, that’s the easiest way to get started.
  • Start small if you feel like you have no money: Put in 1%. Then every six months, step it up 1%. Believe me, you won’t miss one penny out of a dollar if you do it slowly enough.
  • What should you put your money in? One word: Target retirement funds. You simply pick the year closest to retirement and set it and forget it. The fund’s manager adjusts the investments through the years from risky to less risky as you age. See my investment guide for my favorite target retirement fund picks.
  •  If you don’t have a 401(k) at work, set up a Roth IRA account. You can start with as little as $100 at Charles Schwab or $1,000 at Vanguard. See my investment guide for my favorite low-cost mutual fund picks.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be rocket science. There a lot of wolves out there, but there also those who are ethical. In spite of Merrill Lynch’s corporate culture, many people at that particular brokerage are hard working, ethical and decent — but you’re looking for the needle in the haystack at that.

Editor’s note: This segment originally aired Jan. 27, 2012

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