Stock brokers are people or firms licensed to buy and sell stocks and other securities via the stock market exchanges. Back in the day, the only way for individuals to invest directly in stocks was to hire stock brokers to place trades on their behalf. But what was once a clunky, costly transaction conducted via landline telephones now takes place online in seconds, for a fraction of what full-service brokers used to charge for the service. Today, most investors place their trades through an online brokerage account. (A little lost? Check out our explainers on brokerage accounts and buying stocks.)

The exchange may offer privileged services like high-frequency trading to larger clients like mutual funds and asset management companies (AMC), and earn money accordingly. There are provisions for regulatory fee and registration fee for different profiles of market participants, like the market maker and broker, which form other sources of income for the stock exchanges.

Since Betterment launched, other robo-first companies have been founded, and established online brokers like Charles Schwab have added robo-like advisory services. According to a report by Charles Schwab, 58% of Americans say they will use some sort of robo-advice by 2025. If you want an algorithm to make investment decisions for you, including tax-loss harvesting and rebalancing, a robo-advisor may be for you. And as the success of index investing has shown, if your goal is long-term wealth building, you might do better with a robo-advisor.

Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.

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A stock split is when a company increases its total shares by dividing up the ones it currently has. It is typically done on a 2:1 ratio. For example, if you own 100 shares of a stock priced at $80 per share, after the split, you'll have 200 shares priced at $40 each. The number of shares changes, but the value remains the same. Stock splits occur when prices are increasing in a way that deters and disadvantages smaller investors. They can also keep the trading volume up by creating a larger buying pool to trade. If you invest in a stock, expect to experience a stock split at some point.
Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.