Wondering how to buy stocks in Canada, but have no idea where to start? Investing in stocks is easier and more affordable than ever, but you still need to know what you’re doing before you begin.
The stock market is volatile and investing is a higher-stakes game than simply stashing money in a savings account. But the reward is higher returns! The stock market has an average annual return of 10%. If you’re wondering how to buy stocks, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to buy stocks in Canada.
How to Invest in Stocks: A Step-By-Step Guide
Step 1: Open an Online Brokerage Account
Discount brokerages provide an excellent online trading platform for DIY investors to buy and sell securities on their own instead of relying on a human broker to execute transactions. The fees for discount brokerages are rock-bottom, and with a little know-how, DIY investors can take advantage of:
- The flexibility to choose and manage your own investments,
- Low- or even commission-free trading
- Low ETF management fees (around 0.15% to 0.5%)
- Access to real-time data, research tools and analysis
Every big bank in Canada has its own discount brokerage arm, and for many self-directed investors, this can be the most convenient way to start investing on their own. However, there are more affordable options available. For instance, Questrade and Wealthsimple Trade are Canada’s leading low-cost brokerages in Canada.
DIY investors have been using Questrade for its low fees and excellent customer service for more than 20 years. Opening an account is simple, just use our link to sign-up for an account and you’ll get $50 in free trades. With their affordable trading fees, including free ETF purchases, and super-easy online trading platform, Questrade is consistently our top pick for the best online brokerage in Canada.
Wealthsimple Trade is also a great option, as it doesn’t charge any commissions on buying individual stock or ETFs trades. Plus, you can take advantage of our exclusive promo offer: open a new Wealthsimple Trade account, and get a $50 cash bonus + $0 commission trades. All you have to do is deposit and trade at least $150.
Not sure what platform works best for you? Read our comprehensive comparison on Wealthsimple Trade vs. Questrade.
Step 2: Open a Tax-Sheltered Investment Account
If you’re just getting started with investing you need to decide whether to invest inside of an RRSP, TFSA, or a non-registered account.
An RRSP gives you a tax deduction on contributions, but you’ll pay income taxes on withdrawals in retirement. In contrast, you don’t get a tax deduction for TFSA contributions, but you can withdraw funds tax-free at any time. Both RRSPs and TFSAs tax-shelter your investments. Meaning there are no taxes on your investment income like dividends, capital gains, or interest earned within the account.
Debating TFSA vs. RRSP? A general rule of thumb is that an RRSP makes sense for high-income earners, while a TFSA makes sense for lower-income earners. And if you can afford to contribute to both, that’s great! If you’re leaning towards a TFSA, check out The Best TFSA Investments in Canada to help you get started. Only once you’ve maxed out your RRSP and TFSA, you can open a non-registered or taxable account to invest.
Most online brokers support multiple account types such as joint investment accounts, corporate accounts, or Locked-in Retirement Accounts (LIRAs), allowing you to manage all your investments in one place.
Step 3: Fund Your Account
You can’t invest in stocks without money! Once your brokerage account has been opened, you need to fund it. Ideally, you should be starting with at least $1,000 in your account to invest in the stock market, but more is always better.
Once you make your initial deposit to your investment account, you should also set up an automatic monthly or bi-weekly contribution. This ensures you are consistently building your portfolio and always have cash to take advantage of market dips!
Step 4: Pick Your Investing Approach
When it comes to investing in the stock market, you need a plan. If you don’t have a trading plan, you’re likely to make emotional decisions instead of financial ones, and can end up worse off than if you had not invested at all! Here are some approaches to investing to consider:
The easiest approach to take is a relatively hands-off index investing or passive investing approach. With an indexing strategy, you simply buy an ETF or index mutual fund that tracks a broad stock market index, like the S&P 500 or TSX Composite Index. You can build a diversified portfolio with just one-to-four ETFs that make up the Canadian, U.S., and International stock markets, plus corporate or government bonds.
Index investing is stress-free because your portfolio will do whatever the market is doing. It removes human error and emotion from the investing experience. The only downside is it’s little boring. But for most people, boring is good!
Dividend investing is one of the most popular investment strategies because everyone loves a passive income stream. There are pros and cons to dividend investing, but overall, dividend stocks tend to perform exceptionally well over the long term.
Sticking with blue-chip dividend stocks can help investors weather any market storm, as those steady dividend payments keep coming in even when markets are rocky. If you like the stability of regular cash flow, then dividend investing is a great portfolio strategy.
For those with more risk tolerance and who want greater control over their portfolios, then choosing individual growth stocks is the way to go. Whether it’s Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, or Tesla, we all have our favourite “story” stocks and it can be enjoyable to invest your money in these companies and go along for the ride.
Growth stocks tend not to pay dividends until they become more mature (like Apple) but have the potential to earn capital gains. If you don’t need a steady cash flow and want some excitement in your life, growth stocks are the way to do it.
Step 5: Research Stocks and ETFs to Buy
Once you have an idea of your portfolio strategy, it’s time to research your investments. Doing so is fairly straightforward, and can even be done directly in your brokerage account.
I personally like to use a website like Yahoo! Finance or Marketwatch to research my stocks. You can look up stocks directly in your brokerage like Questrade or Wealthsimple Trade, but the stock prices typically lag 15 minutes behind the actual market data, which is why I choose financial websites instead.
When you look up a stock, the most important information will be shown in the summary, including current price, 52-week range, dividend, and more. You can dig deeper into the financials of the stock of your choice right there or view official documents on their website under “investor relations”.
Doing your due diligence is an important part of being a good investor, but it definitely takes works. Here are a few things to consider when buying a stock:
- Price: What is the current stock price? Is this a recent high or low for the stock? Is it a fair price for the value you will be getting?
- Dividend: If you are a dividend investor you will want to know, does the stock pay a dividend? If so, how much? Does the dividend payout ratio suggest the dividend is sustainable or is there a risk of it being cut in the future?
- Market and Industry trends: How is the industry expected to perform going forward? Will this company be able to hold its own and grow?
- Performance: How has the stock performed over time, particularly relative to competitors? Are there any concerns about management?
- Future projections: How is the stock expected to perform going forward? Is there lots of room for growth or is it expected to cool down from here?
Step 6: Make Your Trades
Once you’ve established your portfolio strategy and chosen your investments, it’s time to make your trades!
The first thing to note is that you can only make trades during stock market hours. Both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange are open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4pm EST and closed for Canadian or US holidays, respectively.
If you are not able to trade during regular market hours, you can always set up trades outside of market hours to be executed when the market opens. This is also a great way to automate your portfolio so you avoid making emotional buy or sell decisions.
Before you make your first trade, there are a few things you need to know:
The stock price displaced in your brokerage account or on a website sharing market data is the price of the stock at its last trade. For very actively traded stocks, you may see the price fluctuate every few seconds by small amounts. For less actively traded stocks, the price changes less frequently but may do so at larger amounts. The stock price isn’t necessarily the price you will pay or get for a stock when you trade it, that is determined by the bid or ask price.
The Bid Price is how much buyers are willing to pay or what they are “bidding” for the stock. This is the amount you will get when you sell a stock in a market order. If you think the bid price is too low, you can set up a limit order for a higher sale price and see if it gets filled.
The ask price is how much the seller is asking for a stock. This is the amount you will pay when you buy a stock with a market order. If you think the ask price is too high, you can set up a limit order for a lower purchase price and see if it gets filled.
The Bid-Ask Spread is the difference between the bid and ask prices for a security. This can be very narrow or very large depending on the price of a stock, its trading volume, and time of day. The bid ask spread is how market makers, usually employed by brokerages, and experienced traders make money.
A market order is a trade that will be executed at the market price. Market orders to buy a security are executed at the ask price. Market orders to sell a security are executed at the bid price. Market orders are efficient because they are executed immediately. They make the most sense for long-term investors who are planning to buy and hold a security and aren’t worried about getting it at a slightly lower or higher price.
A limit order is a trade that will be executed if the price of a security reaches the “limit” that you set. You can set limit orders for maximum or minimum prices, depending on if you are buying or selling a stock. Limit orders ensure you get the best price possible when making a trade, but because your trade doesn’t go through unless the limit price is reached. Limit orders make the most sense for active traders, especially those trading large amounts, for whom even a few cents in a stock price can make a big difference to their bottom line.
Step 7: Optimize Your Portfolio
Once your portfolio is set up and your money is in the market working for you, you need to do some regular maintenance to keep things running smoothly. Here’s how to optimize your investment portfolio:
Rebalance Your Portfolio
You should rebalance your portfolio at least once per year, and up to 4 times per year on a quarterly schedule depending on your needs and your trading activity. Rebalancing your portfolio is the practice of selling securities in overweight allocations and buying securities in underweight allocations to get your portfolio back in line with your original selections.
Turn on some DRIPs
DRIP stands for Dividend Reinvestment Plan, and is a way to automate the re-investment of dividends into more shares of the same security. DRIPs often give you a discount on a stock’s price, and let you avoid trading commissions when they are used to buy more shares, keeping your investing costs very low.
Review your goals and risk tolerance
At least once per year you should review your portfolio to see if it still aligns with your goals and risk tolerance. You will likely find that your needs and wants change with your age, investing experience, and lifestyle. Do an annual check-in to make sure your investment strategy and your portfolio are still working for you!
Last Word on How to Invest in Stocks
All said and done, choosing between different online brokerages or robo advisors comes down to finding the one that best suits your needs. If you’re comfortable with DIY investing and you’re ready to pick stocks, give an online brokerage like Questrade a try. Since you get $50 in free trades when you start investing with Questrade, it’s an excellent way to test-drive the trading platform.
If you’re worried about the time it takes to learn about how to invest in stocks in Canada, consider starting with a robo advisor like Wealthsimple that can set up a portfolio of ETFs until you figure out the ins and outs of DIY stock picking. For a limited time, Young & Thrifty readers get an exclusive $100 cash bonus deposited into their account when they open and fund a Wealthsimple Invest account (min. $1000 initial deposit). It’s a good way to test the waters before starting to pick your own stock with an online brokerage like Questrade.
Whatever you decide, experts agree that investors with the patience to hold a broadly diversified portfolio of investments over a long period, say 20 years, have the best chance of positive gains Don’t let the fear of the stocks keep you from the rewards that come from investing. It takes a while to learn how to swim, but if you invest early and invest often, you’ll find that you can keep swimming until you eventually reach a beautiful sunny little beach.
Here are a few key terms and core concepts of Stock Market Terminology you should know before diving into the investment world: