Investors most commonly buy and trade stock through brokers.
You can set up an account by depositing cash or stocks in a brokerage account. Firms like Charles Schwab and Citigroup’s Smith Barneyunit offer brokerage accounts that can be managed online or with a broker in person. If you prefer buying and selling stocks online, you can use sites like E-Trade or Ameritrade. Those are just two of the most well-known electronic brokerages, but many large firms have online options as well.
Once you open an account you will tell your broker how many and what types of stocks you’d like to purchase. The broker executes the trade on the your behalf. In turn, he or she earns a commission, normally several cents per share. Online trading sites typically charge lower commission fees, because most of the trading is done electronically.
After selecting the stocks that you want to purchase, you can either make a “market order” or a “limit order.” A market order is one in which you request a stock purchase at the prevailing market price. A limit order is when you request to buy a stock at a limited price. For example, if you want to buy stock in Dell at $60 a share, and the stock is currently trading at $70, then the broker would wait to acquire the shares until the price meets your limit.
While purchasing stocks through a broker has its advantages, there are other ways to buy stock. You can purchase stocks directly through the company. Sites like DRIPInvestor.com will show a list of companies that allow direct-buy of stocks.