Investing Terms to Know Before You Invest: A Beginner’s Guide

Steven Spielberg

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When you’re just getting started with investing, it’s easy to become confused by the jargon. And unfortunately, the overwhelm this creates is enough to convince many new investors not to get started at all. Instead, they convince themselves that investing is too complicated and better left to the pros.

But the truth is that investing is for everyone. Not only is it available to everyone, but it’s a necessity if you plan to retire someday.

Pro Tip

Investing isn’t just for the experts. Knowing the right terms can help make investing more accessible and help you reach your financial goals.

To help remove some of the confusion and overwhelm from investing, we’ve rounded up some of the top investing terms. These will help you through from your very first steps, to some of the more advanced investing strategies out there.

Investing Terms You Might Want to Know

1. 52-Week High

The 52-week high of a particular security is the highest point it’s traded at during the past year. It’s based on the security’s price at the close of the trading day. The 52-week high is considered a technical indicator, meaning investors and analysts can use it to predict future price movements.

2. 52-Week Low

Just like the 52-week high, the 52-week low is a technical indicator that can be used to predict the future price movements of a security. But rather than the security’s highest price during the past year, the 52-week low represents its lowest trading price during the past year.

3. 401(k) Plan

A 401(k) plan is a tax-advantaged retirement account offered by many private employers in the U.S.. It allows workers to make tax-deferred contributions to an investment account, which can grow during their working years. Then, the funds can provide a taxable income to the investor during retirement.

4. Asset Allocation

Asset allocation refers to the mix of securities within your investment account. When you decide on your asset allocation, you’re dividing your assets across different stocks, bonds, funds, and other investments based on what you think will best meet your financial goals. In most cases, your asset allocation will change over time based on your time horizon.

5. APR

APR — or annual percentage rate — is the price you’ll pay to borrow money from a bank or lender. The APR on a loan is the interest rate and other fees combined. In the case of credit cards, your interest rate and APR are usually the same numbers.

6. APY

Just as your APR is the amount you’ll pay to borrow money, your APY — or annual percentage yield — is the amount you can earn on your money. APY refers to the rate of return in savings accounts and certificates of deposit. APY usually takes into account the compound interest you’ll get on your interest earnings.

7. Bear Market

A bear market is a period of sustained price declines in the stock market. A bear market is generally used to describe a drop of 20% or more. They often indicate a larger economic event, such as a recession.

8. Blue Chip 

Blue chip is a term used to describe certain stocks issued by established companies. The firms that issue blue chip stocks have usually been around for a long period and have shown they can bounce back from economic downturns. They have more public confidence than many other companies in the market.

9. Bonds

A bond is a type of debt security that companies and government entities use to raise capital. When an organization issues bonds, it’s essentially borrowing money from its investors. In return, investors receive interest payments during the life of the bond, and their full investment back once the bond reaches maturity.

10. Bull Market

A bull market is the opposite of a bear market, meaning it’s a prolonged period of economic growth. Bull markets can last for months or years and can be highly profitable for investors. Bull markets are often an indicator of what’s happening in other areas of the economy. For example, they’re often accompanied by strong economic growth and low unemployment.

11. Capital Gain (or Loss)

A capital gain or loss is the difference between your cost basis in an investment (usually the amount you bought it for) and the amount you sold it for. It can help you determine your rate of return on investment. Capital gains are usually subject to taxes, while a capital loss can reduce your tax burden.

12. Cash

In the world of investing, cash doesn’t necessarily refer to the bills and coins in your wallet. Instead, it refers to money that’s stored in either bank accounts or short-term investments. Cash is considered a safe investment and is an important part of a diversified investment portfolio.

13. Certified Financial Planner

Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is a special designation reserved for financial professionals who have met certain requirements. To become a CFP, someone must enroll in a certain educational program, meet minimum work requirements, and pass a rigorous exam. CFPs are considered the gold standard in financial advice and can provide comprehensive financial services.

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14. Cryptocurrency

A cryptocurrency is a digital asset created using blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies are secured using cryptography and exist on a decentralized network. Rather than being an actual fiat currency, cryptocurrencies are considered assets similar to other investments and are treated that way for tax purposes.

15. Diversification

Diversification is the process of spreading the funds in your investment portfolio across many different assets. Diversification is considered an essential step in building an investment portfolio, as it reduces your overall risk. You can diversify both across different asset classes and within specific asset classes.

16. Dividend

A dividend is a company’s way of passing on a share of its profits to its investors. Dividends are often distributed on a quarterly basis, though not all companies issue dividends. Many companies — especially newer and less established ones — choose to instead reinvest their profits back into the company. Investors who receive dividends can also opt to reinvest rather than pocket them.

17. Dividend Aristocrats

Dividend aristocrats are those companies in the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends over 25 consecutive years. There are only 65 dividend aristocrats, and the list is made up primarily of well-established companies that have shown resilience even in market downturns.

18. Dividend King

Dividend kings are those companies in the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends over 50 consecutive years. This list is even more exclusive than that of dividend aristocrats, given the steep requirements a company has to meet to earn the title of dividend king. 

19. Dollar-Cost Averaging

Dollar-cost averaging is the process of making equal investments at regular intervals over a long period of time. Dollar-cost averaging is the opposite of timing the market since you maintain the same strategy no matter what the market is doing. It’s considered one of the best ways to build wealth over your lifetime.

20. Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average — often known simply as the Dow — is a stock market index made up of 30 companies across multiple sectors. Next to the S&P 500, the Dow is considered one of the best indicators of the performance of the overall stock market.


EBITA stands for earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization. It’s a term used to describe the profitability of an investment, especially when compared to others in your portfolio. EBITA is often thought to give a more accurate picture of just how profitable a company is.

22. Emergency Fund

An emergency fund refers to money you have set aside for emergency expenses. These cash reserves can help to cover the cost of unplanned expenses, such as vehicle repairs. Your emergency fund can also be used to replace your income if you lose your job. Financial experts generally recommend an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of expenses or more.

23. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

Environmental, social, and governance make up a criteria used to determine how socially-responsible an investment is. ESG factors judge companies based on their environmental efforts, social policies, and internal governance. Many investors use ESG criteria to help them choose companies to invest in that fit their values.

24. Equities

Equities are another term for stocks. Equity represents the portion of a company that’s owned and funded by its shareholders. When you buy shares in a particular company, you get equity (aka ownership) in that company.

25. Exchange-Traded Fund (ETFs) 

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is an investment vehicle that holds many underlying investments. This basket of securities can be made up of stocks, bonds, other asset classes, or a combination of some or all of them. ETFs trade throughout the day on exchanges, just like stocks. Many ETFs are passive funds, meaning they track the performance of a particular underlying index or sector.

26. Expense Ratio

An expense ratio is a fee that’s charged on investments like mutual funds and ETFs. The expense ratio for a given fund depends on the company that offers it and the level of professional management required. Understanding expense ratios is an important part of investing because high fees reduce your overall investment returns. Looking for investments with low fees can go a long way in your financial journey.

27. Hedge Fund

A hedge fund is a pooled investment that allows multiple high net worth investors to come together and invest in alternative and higher-risk investments. Hedge funds are generally only open to accredited investors, meaning those who have met certain income and net worth requirements. The goal of hedge funds is to exceed the returns from the stock market.

28. Index

An index is a measure or statistical indicator of an underlying group of assets. Indexes are often used in the stock market to provide benchmarks for market performance, either of the market as a whole or of a particular sector of the market. One of the most popular indexes is the S&P 500, which measures the performance of the 500 largest stocks in the U.S. market.

29. Index Fund

An index fund is a mutual fund or ETF that tracks the performance of an underlying index, such as the S&P 500, the total stock market, the Russell 2000, and others. Index funds are considered one of the best long-term strategies for building wealth. Index funds seek to match the overall market, not beat it.

30. Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

An individual retirement account (IRA) is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle designed to help workers save for retirement outside of their employer-sponsored plan. IRAs can be used for either traditional or Roth — meaning pre-tax or after-tax — contributions. The money in the account grows tax-free, and depending on how the contributions were taxed, may be subject to income taxes during retirement. 

The IRS allows workers to contribute up to $6,000 per year or 100% of their income, whichever is lower, to an IRA each year. There are some income restrictions that dictate who can contribute to a Roth IRA and who can deduct their traditional IRA contributions.

31. Inflation

Inflation is an increase in the price of goods and services. Inflation is often a measure of how the economy is growing, but also the cost of living. It can reduce your purchasing power since each dollar doesn’t go as far. The opposite of inflation is deflation, which is a decrease in the overall cost of goods and services. While deflation increases your purchasing power, it’s also a sign of economic decline.

32. Interest Rate

An interest rate is the cost of borrowing money. It can work either for you or against you since you’ll pay interest on the money you borrow and earn interest on the money in certain bank accounts. The interest rate you’ll pay on borrowed money is usually based on the type of debt you’re taking on and your creditworthiness.

33. Large-Cap Stocks

Large-cap stocks are those issued by companies with a market capitalization of at least $10 billion. Market capitalization refers to the value of all the stocks a company has issued. Large-cap stocks are the largest companies in the stock market, and usually make up a significant portion of people’s investment portfolios, including the entire S&P 500. 

34. Liquidity

Liquidity describes how easy it is to convert an investment into cash. The money in your bank account is the most liquid since it’s instantly available to you. On the other end of the spectrum, physical assets like real estate are far less liquid, since it could be difficult and time-consuming to sell them and recover your cash.

35. Long-Term Investment Strategy 

A long-term investment strategy is one that’s focused on sustained growth over many years rather than quick wins and immediate profits. A long-term investment strategy is consistent with a buy-and-hold strategy, where you put your money into certain investments and allow them to grow for many years.

36. Market Capitalization

Market capitalization (also known as market cap) refers to the value of all of a company’s stock. It’s found by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the price per share. Companies with a high market capitalization are the largest in the market and are referred to as large-cap stocks. Market capitalization can be used to compare the value of two companies.

37. Market Price

Market price refers to the price at which an asset can be bought and sold on the open market. The market price of any given asset is based on current market factors, including supply and demand. As supply decreases and demand increases, the market price of the asset also increases.

38. Mid-Cap Stocks

Mid-cap stocks are those issued by companies with a market capitalization between $2 billion and $10 billion. Mid-cap companies aren’t exactly small or new to the market, but they aren’t as large as large-cap stocks. Similarly, their risk level generally falls somewhere between small-cap and large-cap stocks.

39. Mutual Fund

A mutual fund is a pooled investment that holds many underlying assets. Many investors pool their money together in the fund, which then buys the stocks and bonds that make up the fund. Each investor owns a share of each underlying asset that’s proportional with their ownership in the fund. Mutual funds are issued by mutual fund companies. Unlike stocks and ETFs, they trade at the end of the day rather than throughout the trading day.


The NASDAQ is a stock exchange where investors can buy and sell securities. The NASDAQ is the second-largest stock exchange after the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It holds stocks across various sectors but tends to attract technology companies.

41. Net Asset Value (NAV)

Net asset value (NAV) refers to the net value of an investment company (usually a mutual fund). It’s found by subtracting the fund’s liabilities from its assets. You can also calculate the net asset value per share (per share NAV), which is a fund’s total NAV divided by the number of shares outstanding.

42. New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is the oldest and largest stock exchange currently operating in the U.S. The NYSE is an equities-based exchange, meaning it’s where investors can buy and sell stocks. There are more than 2,000 companies currently listed on the NYSE.

43. Portfolio

A portfolio is your entire collection of investments, including stocks, bonds, funds, and more. An investment portfolio isn’t necessarily a single account. Instead, it’s made up of all of your holdings across all of your accounts. Looking at your portfolio as a whole can help you calculate your net worth and determine whether you’re on track to meet your financial goals.

44. Price-To-Earnings Ratio (P/E Ratio)

Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is a way of calculating a company’s value. The P/E ratio is found by dividing the company’s stock price by its earnings per share. A company’s P/E ratio can help investors determine whether they want to buy its stock, especially when compared to the P/E ratio of similar companies.

45. Recession

A recession is a period of sustained economic downturn. It’s a regular part of the business cycle that is often accompanied by high unemployment and a decline in the stock market. Recessions are usually defined by two consecutive quarters of a declining gross domestic product (GDP). A recession could be relatively short and last only two quarters, while others can last years.

46. Risk Tolerance

Risk tolerance describes the level of risk you feel comfortable with in your investment portfolio. Investors with a high risk tolerance are generally willing to accept increased risk for the chance of higher returns. On the other hand, investors with a low risk tolerance are willing to accept lower returns for a lower amount of risk. Your risk tolerance is different from your risk capacity, which is your ability to take on risk based on your financial situation.

47. Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is a type of individual retirement account that allows investors to enjoy tax-free growth and withdrawals on their investments. Roth IRA contributions are made with income that’s been taxed, but then you’ll never be taxed on those dollars again, including when you withdraw them during retirement. Because of the Roth IRA’s powerful tax advantages, the IRS only allows investors to contribute to a Roth IRA if they have an annual income below a certain limit. If you exceed that limit, you can opt into a backdoor Roth IRA.

48. Russell 2000

The Russell 2000 is a stock market index that tracks the performance of 2,000 small-cap stocks. The companies in the Russell 2000 represent a portion of the Russell 3000, which is made up of most of the stock market, including small-cap, mid-cap, and large-cap stocks. The Russell 2000 presents an opportunity for investors, because small-cap companies, while they present more, also may experience larger growth than large-cap companies.

49. Sinking Funds

Sinking funds are a budgeting tool where you set aside money each month for a specific purpose. They are a way to spread a single expense out over a longer period of time. For example, rather than budgeting for an annual expense in the month it hits your bank account, you set aside money for it each month so you have the full amount saved by the time the expense arises.

50. Small-Cap Stocks

Small-cap stocks are those issued by companies with a market capitalization of less than $2 billion. Small-cap stocks are often newer and less established companies. Small-cap companies tend to experience rapid growth, meaning they’re a great addition to an investment portfolio. However, they also have more risk and volatility than larger companies, meaning they should make up only a portion of your portfolio, rather than the whole thing.

51. Share

A share represents a single piece of ownership in a company. When a publicly-traded company goes public, they issue shares to investors. The more shares you purchase, the greater ownership you have in the company. Owning shares also comes with other benefits, including the potential for dividend payments and the right to vote in shareholder elections.

52. Stock

Stock is a general term that refers to equity investments. In general, a single stock is the same thing as a single share of ownership in a company. However, it’s also used to describe the asset class as a whole. There are several different types of stock, including common stock and preferred stock.

53. Stockholder

A stockholder, also known as a shareholder, is someone who owns stock in a company. Because stock represents equity, stockholders are also owners of the company. Stockholders have certain rights within a company, including voting power, dividends, and more.

54. Stock Market

The stock market is made up of all publicly-traded stocks that are available for sale. The stock market isn’t a particular place or market. Instead, it consists of all markets and exchanges where investors can buy shares in companies. The stock market is often seen as a proxy for the economy overall since the performance of the stock market often corresponds to what’s happening in the economy overall.

55. Stock Market Sectors (11)

The stock market is made up of 11 sectors, each of which shares similar characteristics or operates within certain industries. The 11 stock market sectors are energy, materials, industrials, consumer discretionary, consumer staples, healthcare, financials, information technology, communication services, utilities, and real estate. Every company in the stock market falls into one of those sectors.

56. Stock Options

A stock option is a contract between two parties where one has the right to buy or sell a specific stock at price (known as the strike price) before a certain date (known as the expiration date). Options trading is an advanced investing strategy where traders essentially bet on the future price of a stock. However, stock options can also be used to describe employee stock options, which are used as an employee benefit and give them the right to buy stock in the company, often at a discounted rate.

57. Stock Split

A stock split is when a company splits each of its shares into two or more separate shares. For example, a 2-for-1 stock split for a stock worth $100 per share would mean there is double the number of shares, and each is worth $50. Companies often use stock splits as their stock price rises as a way to make shares more accessible to individual investors.

58. Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Tax-advantaged accounts are investment accounts that have tax advantages that aren’t present with the standard taxable brokerage account. Most tax-advantaged accounts are retirement accounts, and they’re given a tax advantage as a way to incentivize people to save for retirement. Common tax advantages include tax-deferred investment growth in retirement accounts and being able to deduct your contributions to certain accounts.

59. Valuation

Valuation in terms of investing refers to the process of determining a company or asset’s value. Valuation can be used when determining whether to buy a stock, as well as during mergers and acquisitions among companies. There are several different valuation methods, including the dividend discount model and the capital asset pricing model.

60. YTD

YTD — or year-to-date — is often used to describe investment returns. YTD returns are calculated based on the profit since the first day of the year. Investors and analysts use YTD to measure returns in an investment portfolio and to compare the returns of different assets.

61. Standard & Poor’s Index (S&P 500)

The Standard and Poor’s 500, more commonly known as the S&P 500, is a stock market index made up of 500 large-cap companies in the U.S. stock market. The S&P 500 is the most popular stock market index and is often seen as a proxy for the market overall. The S&P 500 is capitalization-weighted, meaning companies with higher market caps make up a larger percentage of the index.

62. Target-Date Fund

A target-date fund, also known as a lifecycle fund, is a type of mutual fund that corresponds to a certain year and adjusts its asset allocation as it gets closer to that date. Target-date funds are a popular tool for retirement savings. Investors can put their money in a target-date fund that corresponds to their retirement year and won’t have to worry about picking investments or adjusting their asset allocation. 

Millionaire investor, Jeremy Schneider, says that if he had to start investing again, he’d invest entirely in a target-date fund. He tells NextAdvisor, “The target date index fund is actually, truly the most optimal, simple, low-cost investment strategy.” 

63. Volatility

Volatility is a measure of the change in asset prices over a period of time. In general, the more volatility there is for a particular asset or market, the more price movement there is, both upward and downward. Highly-volatile investments are generally considered higher-risk since there’s a greater chance of the asset price going down.

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