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The best time to start investing is when you can. The second best time to start is now.

That’s what financial experts will tell you, and the math behind the advice is solid. Getting your money into the market earlier gives it more time to work its powerful magic.

However, there are many reasons that can keep you from investing. You may feel that you need to devote more money to other financial goals, such as paying off senior debt. Or the uncertainty of the new market has made you hesitant to invest your money.

As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will feature stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can they are real life.

A common reason investors hesitate: Opening an account at an online brokerage can be difficult and intimidating. If that sounds like you, follow this step-by-step guide to make sure you’re putting yourself on the path to a better cash-strapped future. to your original investment account.

Step 1: Choose a brokerage

When choosing a brokerage, if you know the name of the company (Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, E*Trade, etc.) it’s hard to go wrong.

Thanks to a decade-long price war, nearly every major brokerage now offers commission-free stock and exchange-traded funds, stable listings of various funds. you can sell with no purchase price or transaction fees, good trading platforms and lots of educational resources. for investors.

The first thing to consider is where your company retirement account is kept, if you have one.

“If your 401(k) is in one main site, it’s possible to use your other accounts there, so you can look at them side by side,” says Christine Benz, director of personal finance and with a vacation plan at Morning Star. “Trying to narrow down your number of providers is a great first step in your search.”

Step 2: Choose an account type

“A good start is to think about your goals for money,” says Benz.

If you have a short-term goal, such as saving for a down payment on a home, you may want to open a tax-deferred account. You’ll owe taxes on the gains and dividends earned on your investments in that account, but most importantly, there are no rules about when or how you can withdraw them. money. “This type of account just gives you flexibility,” Benz said.

If you’re saving for a long-term goal, such as retirement, look for an individual retirement account. Contributions you make to a traditional IRA are deductible from your taxable income in the year you make the contribution, but you can’t withdraw the money without penalty until you’re 59 ½.

A Roth IRA, in other words, is funded with money you’ve already paid taxes on, so you don’t get an early tax break. In return, your money grows tax-free, and if you follow the rules, you can withdraw the money tax-free during retirement.

Step 3: Sign up and fund your account

Once you decide on an account, you will need to fill out an application. You must provide some form of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, as well as your Social Security number, and other personal financial information.

You need to figure out how to fund your account. Usually, you can make a deposit by linking a bank account, ordering a wire transfer, cutting a check or transferring money from another bank account.

Brokerages allow you to make a deposit without paying a fee, but be sure to read the fine print before investing your money, Benz said. “Find the least expensive way,” he said.

Once you find a method that works for you, consider setting up backups. Almost every brokerage offers a step-by-step guide on how to do this.

“I’m a big believer in budgeting,” Benz said. “That way it’s not a one-and-done thing. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate learning into your investment strategy.”

Step 4: Choose and buy your investment

When you transfer money to your account, it will be held in what is called a “sweep account” – a low-interest vehicle. You can use that money to buy any type of investment offered by your brokerage, but if it’s your first time investing, focus on broad exchange and keep your costs low.

The easiest solution for long-term investors, says Benz, is a diversified portfolio. All of these funds depend on the age you expect to retire and hold a wealth group that will grow more conservative as you age. If you are shopping between different funds, start with the list of “NTF” funds – investments that can be bought without interest or interest.

You may also consider low-risk ETFs, which track the performance of broad market indexes. Unlike mutual funds, which can come with very small holdings, ETFs can be bought one share at a time, like stocks.

Once you receive your investment, congratulations. Besides checking occasionally to make sure your portfolio is balanced, you can sit back and watch the returns roll in.

Don’t forget: Do you want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work and life? Sign up for our latest newsletter!

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