10 mistakes first-time investors make

Learning to invest is the same as learning anything – you may not do things right the first time. Here are some common first-time investor mistakes to avoid.

1. Not shopping around for an advisor

It’s common for first-time investors to use the same advisor as their parent, friend, relative, etc. However, the advisor that’s right for someone else may not be right for you. Before you choose an advisor, consider your needs, the types of clients they work with, and how involved you want to be in your investing decisions.

Before you choose an advisor, ask these eight questions.

2. Not understanding how an investment works

Research investments before you make a decision. This is an important step because it ensures you:

  • understand the risks associated with the investmentInvestment An item of value you buy to get income or to grow in value.+ read full definition, including the potential losses or returns;
  • consider how it fits in your existing portfolioPortfolio All the different investments that an individual or organization holds. May include stocks, bonds and mutual funds.+ read full definition; and,
  • know the fees you will pay and any penalties for early withdrawal.

Learn about different investment products – how they work, their risks, and whether they may be right for you.

3. Investing in something “trendy”

Some investments become popular through the media, through celebrity endorsements, or because they are new to the market. Friends may also recommend investments to you because they’ve chosen them for themselves. While it might be tempting and comforting to go along with decisions of a larger group, individual investors should be careful about participating in this sort of ‘herd behavior’.

Learn more about herd behaviour and ways to avoid it.

4. Not having a plan

Creating a plan will help you reach your financial goals. Set a regular time to review your investment plan, and ensure that if your financial goals (the reasons you are investing) have changed, your plan can change too. Having a plan will also help you choose your assetAsset Something of value that a company or an individual owns or controls. Examples: buildings, equipment, property, a car, investments, or cash. Can also include patents, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property.+ read full definition allocation for short- and long-termTerm The period of time that a contract covers. Also, the period of time that an investment pays a set rate of interest.+ read full definition goals.

Your plan should be specific and realistic, and include information on your risk tolerance, investment strategy, asset allocation, and when and how your portfolio should be rebalanced. Learn more about creating an investment plan.

5. Not paying attention to fees

Understanding the fees you pay when you investInvest To use money for the purpose of making more money by making an investment. Often involves risk.+ read full definition is important because they reduce your return. Ask questions before you invest and consider your optionsOptions An investment that gives you the right to buy or sell it at a set price by a set date. The buy right is termed a “call” option, and the sell right is termed a “put” option. You buy options on a stock exchange.+ read full definition. For example, two investments may carry similar risk and expected returnExpected return Estimated value of your investment in the future. Tells you the overall profit you might expect – either as income (interest or dividends), or as capital gains (or losses). Often expressed as a percentage.+ read full definition, but one may have higher fees – all else equal, the fees would affect your returns.

6. Being overconfident

Many investors overestimate their ability to “beat the market” by trading frequently, leaving them with lower returns than they would get by just holding a broad set of investments.

Our overconfidence can get compounded by the way we look at new information—we tend to look at this information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs. Thus, during a bull marketBull market A strong market where stock prices rise and investor confidence grows. Often tied to economic recovery or an economic boom, as well as investor optimism.+ read full definition when investments generally perform well, we might decide that it’s our trading decisions that are getting us higher returns. And during a bear marketBear market A weak market where stock prices fall and investor confidence fades. Often happens when an economy is in recession and unemployment is high, with rising prices.+ read full definition when investments perform poorly, we’ll blame the market, and hold onto our belief that we’re still good traders.

Learn more about overconfidence and how it can affect your ability to reach your financial goals.

7. Chasing performance

Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. This is a major lesson for new and experienced investors alike. If an investment did well last year, it may do poorly this year.

Focus on finding investments that fit well in your overall financial planFinancial plan Your financial plan should cover every aspect of your finances: saving and investing, paying down debt, insurance, taxes, retirement planning and estate planning.+ read full definition and that fit your risk level. See how chasing performance can affect your portfolio with this chart.

8. Not compounding returns

You can grow the money you save by investing it to earn a return. You can make your money grow faster if you also invest the money you earn (your return) along with the money you started out with. This is called compoundingCompounding A way to grow your money faster. Instead of spending the money you make investing, you reinvest it so it can grow.+ read full definition. Compounding works for both guaranteed and non-guaranteedNon-guaranteed Investments that do not guarantee what you will make. You could lose some or all of your money. Examples include mutual funds, stocks, real estate, gold and income trusts.+ read full definition investments.

Not reinvesting your returns can limit your ability to grow your savings faster and meet your financial goals when you want to. Learn more about growing your savings with compound interest.

9. Not reading account statements

You should receive monthly or quarterly accountAccount An agreement you make with a financial institution to handle your money. You can set up an account for depositing and withdrawing, earning interest, borrowing, investing, etc.+ read full definition statements that show the activity in your account and provide an update on your investments. You may receive statements in the mail or you may be able to view them online. When you receive your account statements:

  • Check that the investments bought and sold are correct.
  • Check that the fees and commissionsCommissions What you pay to a broker or agent for their services. Often called a “sales commission”. For example, you pay a fee to someone who buys or sell stocks or real estate for you.+ read full definition charged are correct.
  • See how much your investments have gained or lost.

Contact your financial representative if anything in your account statements is unclear or seems incorrect.

10. Lack of diversification

DiversificationDiversification A way of spreading investment risk by by choosing a mix of investments. The idea is that some investments will do well at times when others are not.+ read full definition (holding investments from a variety of different asset categories, industries, and geographies) can help reduce the overall risk in your portfolio. Here are some reasons to diversify:

  1. Not all types of investments perform well at the same time.
  2. Different types of investments are affected differently by world events and changes in economic factors such as interest rates, exchange rates and inflationInflation A rise in the cost of goods and services over a set period of time. This means a dollar can buy fewer goods over time. In most cases, inflation is measured by the Consumer Price Index.+ read full definition rates.
  3. Diversification enables you to build a portfolio whose risk is smaller than the combined risks of the individual securities.

If your portfolio is not diversified, it will be unnecessarily risky. You will not earn a higher average return for accepting the unnecessary risk.

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