I bought my first shares of stock when I was 18 using the money I made from a part time job. I saved about $400 and ran down to my local brokerage company office to buy stock in person. Online investing wasn’t available to the regular person at the time (cough). And I decided it was an important event so I wanted to do this in person. But…
One quick note I should mention. I’m not a financial planning professional. I’m sharing what’s working for me as part of my investing strategy. Always do your own research and consider your own circumstances before making any financial decisions. You could also check with your favorite financial professional to understand what would be best for your situation.
I paid huge trade commission rates
Yes, I knew buying stock in person would have a higher fee than if I phoned it in. Honestly, I thought I would make the money back. The stock price would go up and with dividend reinvestment, the value would snowball into a nice increase.
I didn’t consider the trade commission cost was almost the price of a whole stock share. The stock price would need to raise about $8 before I broke even on the fee. For example, if each share cost $40, it would need to raise 20% to cover the commission. Of course, that will happen, but it usually takes a long time.
Good news! Today online trading is available at a reasonable rate. And even more recently the major brokerage companies reduced their commission charges from $5 to $7 per trade down to $0. Yes, ZERO! Double-check the brokerage company you want to use, but now commissions shouldn’t be a barrier for you to get started.
I didn’t buy enough shares to create a new reinvestment share in a reasonable amount of time
In my head, I somehow thought I’d be rolling in free dividend money even though I only bought a couple of shares.
I didn’t think to do the math. I didn’t check how much I would receive in dividends per quarter on 3 to 5 shares of stock. And then how much that dividend would potentially turn into when it comes to converting to shares.
For example: 4 shares of a stock that paid $0.20 per share per quarter means a $.80 quarterly payment. If the stock was worth $40 at the time, I might get a partial share of 0.02. Yes, actually that tiny. Per year maybe I’ll have less than a tenth of a share. So that meant it would take me at least 10 years to get to one complete share.
Related: Check out my Simple Dividend Calculator Spreadsheet to help you do the math.
When you move stock between brokerage houses, they liquidate the partial shares
I kept my stock at the one brokerage house for a few years before they decided to focus on larger accounts (i.e. they started charging annual account fees for accounts under a certain value). Their target account value was larger than anything I could put together within a year or two. I hate paying account fees so I moved my account.
When brokerage houses transfer stock they transfer the full shares, liquidating the partial shares. So all of my patience of waiting to grow my tiny partial shares was completely wiped out. It was cheaper to transfer the shares than sell them, even though they were underwater (worth less than what I paid).
The other gotcha on this: a tax event. Those tiny shares counted as a stock sale so it was reported to the IRS and I had to report them on my next tax return. YEAY, more paperwork I didn’t expect.
You have to pay taxes on dividends each year (if it’s in a non-IRA account)
I’m not sure how I missed this and I thought if I reinvested the dividend then I wouldn’t have to pay extra taxes until I sold the shares. That’s not the way it works.
The actual tax rate depends on what type of stock it is, and how long you’ve held it. You may have noticed on your 1040 a couple of boxes about qualified and ordinary dividends. The qualified dividends are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary, which are taxed at your regular income tax rate. Check with the IRS or your favorite tax professional for more information on this.
Granted, this part won’t stop me from buying stock in a non-IRA account. This is more of an FYI.
Fast forward to today
I think I bought 5 or 6 different stocks at the time. 2 of which I actually still have and have since added to. The others were less than spectacular. I held them for years before finally giving up and selling them mostly at a loss. Maybe if I held them another 8+ years I would have finally made money on them.
Ultimately it was a good learning experience and I have to admit that when I made my first restart at stock investing 4 years ago I did something similar where I purchased in blocks of $500. Again it was unlikely that I would make a huge profit, but it was enough to help me put my toes into the investing waters and get a little more comfortable with the idea. At least this time the commission fees were much less so the stock price didn’t need to raise as much to cover my costs.
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