Q: I’m doing well financially, with no credit card debt, my retirement accounts funded, a taxable brokerage account and an emergency fund. Now what? Should I invest in real estate? Invest more money in stocks? Make extra payments on my 5.5 percent mortgage?
A: Any of those options could serve you well. Paying down your mortgage is the least risky and would be like earning a guaranteed 5.5 percent return, since whatever principal you pay off will avoid interest charges.
Look into whether refinancing your mortgage makes sense, too, if you’re not planning on moving anytime soon.
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Think about whether you want to put in the time and work involved in real estate or stocks. Will you enjoy keeping up with your properties or your investments? If not, perhaps pay down the mortgage, or invest in a simple, broad-market index fund, such as one based on the S&P 500.
Q: I’ve been investing directly in a certain company’s stock for a long time without paying any broker commission fees. Can I do that with other companies?
A: You sure can. You’re using a direct investing plan or dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). These plans are offered by hundreds of major companies. Learn more at
The best way to increase your odds of becoming a successful investor is to keep learning about investing. By reading broadly about it, you’ll be able to put market moves in perspective, understanding that there are always occasional pops and drops.
So what, exactly, should you read?
Here are a few gems, beginning with the most accessible:
• “One Up on Wall Street” by Peter Lynch and John Rothchild (Simon & Schuster, $17), “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by John Bogle (Wiley, $23) and “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist” by Roger Lowenstein (Random House, $19) will introduce you to investing and some of the best investors ever.
• Learn about some powerful investing approaches with “The Little Book of Value Investing” by Christopher H. Browne (Wiley, $20), “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits” by Philip Fisher (Wiley, $23), “John Neff on Investing” by John Neff (Wiley, $30) and “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham (Collins Business, $23).
• More-sophisticated investors can learn about investing and economics with “Stocks for the Long Run” by Jeremy Siegel (McGraw-Hill, $40), “Quality of Earnings” by Thornton O’Glove (Free Press, $17), “You Can Be a Stock Market Genius” by Joel Greenblatt (Touchstone, $16) and “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek (University of Chicago, $17).
Technology-heavy stocks can be extra-risky, as the technology landscape can change quickly.
Still, some companies are performing well and seem attractively valued, presenting good opportunities for risk-tolerant investors seeking growth. Meet flash-memory chipmaker SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK).
The company’s profit margins have been growing as it sells more high-margin items. Its two biggest customers are Apple and Samsung, with SanDisk supplying flash memory for the iPhone 5, for example.
That lets SanDisk benefit from these companies’ growth, but also makes it dependent on them.
Rapid smartphone growth in China is another expected tail wind, as SanDisk is looking to tap Chinese smartphone makers with its iNAND embedded flash offering.
SanDisk has also seen robust growth in solid-state drives (SSDs) and expects these to account for 25 percent of revenue in the current fiscal year. (Solid-state drives are replacing many traditional hard drives. With no moving parts, they’re faster, quieter, run cooler and use less energy.)
SanDisk has struck some promising partnerships, but it does face able competition.
With the company’s five-year growth rate pegged at double digits by analysts and its forward-looking price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio near 11, the stock is appealingly priced. It even offers a 1.3 percent dividend yield.