Anyone can join! Joining our stock market contests is completely free, so Sign Up Today! If you are under 18, by joining this contest you imply that you have obtained your parent’s permission to participate.
How Can I Participate?
The only thing you need is a completely free HowTheMarketWorks account, Click Here to register! If you are already logged in to an account, clicking any of the stock market contest “join” buttons will automatically enter you into the contest – just switch to your contest portfolio and start trading.
What can I win?
There are two great ways to win prizes:
The top 5 finishers with the highest portfolio returns will each win a $100 Amazon Gift Card
To celebrate Economics Education Month on HTMW, everyone who completes the Economics Assignment will win free access to the Investing101 Beginners Investing Course ($99 value!)
Once I’ve Joined, How Do I Make Trades In My Contest Portfolio?
If you are joined into more than one stock contest, you can switch between your portfolios using the drop-down menu you’ll find near the top of most pages:
Just select the contest you want to start trading in, and you’re set!
Is there a cost?
Nope! No costs, everything we have is completely free! The prizes are sponsored by the brokerage industry to help promote financial literacy and early investment. However, if you do want to support our team,Buy a T-Shirt from our store!
Is there any educational value to the contests?
Of course! Everything we do is centered on education. The HowTheMarketWorks Team participates in all contests, and all of our team gives live updates on our portfolio holdings, what kinds of trades we made, and why we made them. No one on our team can win prizes, but we want to give new investors an idea of what kinds of things to look for.
Every month we also celebrate a different aspect of personal finance and economics with a different theme to the contest. We also add educational articles, videos and more to help all of our participants learn!
Teachers can also create their own custom contests for their class, and use all HowTheMarketWorks features, research tools, and classroom perks as part of their mathematics, social studies, economics, and personal finance classes, and its all completely free!
Each individual is allowed only one portfolio in any contest
Winners will be contacted by email to receive their prize. This must be the email address associated with your account. If you need to change your email address, contact email@example.com
Every contest has a starting portfolio value of $100,000 USD, allows only US equities and ETFs.
Day trading and short selling are permitted in all contests
9999 max trades per account
25% position limit
All winners will be audited, and disqualifications will take place at our team’s sole discretion
Winners must claim their prize within 30 days of the results being announced
We may ask winners to provide a photo ID upon claiming their prize as part of our auditing process.
HowTheMarketWorks is all about education – we want students to learn about investing and personal finance by managing their virtual portfolio with carefully-selected trades.
How It Works
Every time your students place a trade, they will be prompted to enter their “Trade Notes” – a short sentence mentioning why they are placing this trade (almost like a tweet, but we allow up to 300 characters).
Students can review their Trade Notes later from their Transaction History and Order History page. They can also add a note to any trade at a later time to explain if it was a good investment, or if they took a big loss.
Help The Learning Process
Most teachers already include a writing project for students to show how their portfolio moves over time – the only drawback is that students can always look back at their portfolio with 20/20 hindsight.
To make sure students can always review their critical thinking skills, teachers have two powerful new tools with trade notes.
First, you can make the notes optional or required for your class. If you require trade notes, students will need to enter a note every time they trade. If it is optional, students can enter trade notes as often as they want.
To protect students from themselves, trade notes cannot be deleted. This means they cannot realize a mistake and change their reasoning later! Students can always add extra notes to the same trade, but as the teacher you will have a time stamp showing when the trade was placed, and when each note is added.
Enabling Trade Notes For Your Class
Trade Notes are optional on all classes, so your students can start taking notes right away! If you want to make Trade Notes required, create your new contest, or edit your existing contest, and set the “Trade Notes” rule to “Yes”.
Viewing Trade Notes
You can also see the trade notes for every student in your class. Just visit your class Rankings page and click “View” next to the student you want to review. This will show you everything about that students’ portfolio – including their trade notes!
The most challenging aspect of starting to invest is picking the first few stocks to add to a portfolio. Every investor has their own techniques and strategies, but we want to give you the tools you need to place your first trades, and get your portfolio off to a running start.
Before choosing your first stock, the first step is deciding what your goals are for your portfolio.
Risk and Reward
The biggest choice you will make will be balancing risk and reward – investing all your cash in very risky assets with high growth (or loss) potential, or focus on companies that you believe can be strong in the long run.
Once you consider how risky you are feeling, next decide how you want to diversify your portfolio, which will help you decide how much cash to invest in each symbol. Your challenge may do this automatically – most challenges include a “position limit”, meaning you can only invest a certain percentage of your cash in any single stock. You can check if your contest has a Position Limit rule on the Account Balances page.
Once you establish the minimum number of securities you need, you can now start handpicking stock symbols by using a trading strategy. You can also create a mix of these strategies to get the best of each strategy.
Trading Strategies for Beginners
Your goal with your Trading Strategy is to get a list of stocks or ETFs that you might want to invest in. The purpose is just to get a “wish list” of stocks – at the end of the day, you will probably add half (or fewer) of your initial picks to your permanent portfolio. Once we get that initial list of possibilities, we will take a look at how to narrow the list down.
“Invest in what you know” strategy
The best way to start when buying stocks is to buy what you know, not trying to follow stock tips or read a bunch of technical analysis that you cannot follow. Think of it this way: if you already know a company, they have done well enough in the past to already become a household name today. This gives you, as the investor, a big advantage; you can see how that company is doing just by looking at their stores and reading normal business news.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Have they started to open new stores around me lately, or are they closing some shops?
Does there seem to always be a lot of people you know using their products, or are they still more obscure?
Does their current news look positive or negative?
If all three of these are positive, then this might be a good place to invest.
An investor can always handpick stocks based on the earnings calendar. To do so, you would have to know your investment time horizons, and flip through the earnings calendar to find gems (i.e. stocks that you can buy and that will soar during its earning season, or stocks that will tank and that can be shorted beforehand).
The Earning Strategy is somewhat of an evolution of the “Invest in what you know” strategy – you will be looking for companies that you believe will have high earnings announcements coming up soon, which can cause their stock price to rise.
Once you have found your stocks, it is very important to analyze them and back-up your assumption of how the market will react to their earnings report.
An example of a well executed trade based on the earnings’ expectations would be Nvidia (). Before the presentation, NVDA was trading around 102 and soared continuously every since to 149.44 on the 7th of June 2017!
You can compare with other stocks with recently-released earnings using our Quotes Tool.
The Passive strategy
If you are not sure which specific stock to select, you can always invest in ETFs and market indices. These products are already diversified for you and will track a specific market for you.
As an example, let’s say you want to invest in a gaming company, but don’t know which company in specific. You can always invest in an ETF that will track the gaming market for you. In this situation, you can invest in the PureFunds Video Game Tech ETF (), which tracks this market for you. Based on their website, they have invested in gaming software firms such as Ubisoft, Activision, Konami, etc., which means the stock picking and allocation tasks has been already taken care of by the Fund Managers of this ETF.
Many investors also start with a passive strategy, and slowly break out. This would mean starting your portfolio by picking ETFs in 5 industries you want to invest in, then looking at each of those industries in detail using some of the other strategies here. Once you identify some stocks within those industries, you can sell off some of the ETF holding, and use the cash to invest in the stocks you have researched.
Stock screeners strategy
You can also use stock screeners to find good purchases and short sales. A Stock Screener is a program or website that will ask you some questions about what you are looking for in a stock, and return a list of stocks that match your criteria. You can then do extra research on these stocks to determine if they should be added to your portfolio.
One of the best stock screeners is Chaikin Analytics, which offers free 90 day usage for beginners (but the free period expires after that). Check it out here.
Getting Trading Ideas
We also have a “Trading Ideas” page that will help you review the overall market’s health and help you adjust your stock picks. The Trading Ideas page has the following information:
Today’s Market Summary
This page is very useful for the start of your research. It presents the day’s market summary. It is useful because it tells you how the overall market is doing today. As an example, on May 17th, 2017, you would notice that indices such as SPY dropped 5 points due to the “Trump-Russia” investigation. This can be used as a signal to certain investors to buy more. If an investor purchased SPY during the dip, he/she would have gained more than $5 per share! It is always important to review how the overall market is doing and the market news today. This can help you to capture the perfect timing to buy stocks at their lowest price (or to short sale them at their peak).
This page presents stocks’ quarterly earnings pre-announcements with the current estimate and new range. A stock’s volatility increases when it is near the earnings report.
The Analyst Ratings page presents the recommendations given by brokerage firms and financial analysts. This page will be useful to analyze a stock’s recommendation trend and the current average recommendation.
Looking for an ETF? This page is a great place to see what ETF is currently doing well and what ETF is not well performing. These ETF can signal current market trends and help you make choices based on that.
Wondering what other users are trading? This page presents our popular stocks and mutual funds. We also present top gainers and losers and hot stories that is moving the market today. You can also find our random stock generator, which generates 3 random stock ideas!
The Upgrade/Downgrade page presents all the changes in analysts’ recommendation of symbols.
The last common strategy for beginners is to sign up for investing newsletters to get trading tips from professionals. You can sign up for one of the newsletters below:
Picking Stocks – Intermediate Analysis
Now that you have a couple of stocks in mind, you should perform a more advanced analysis of your stock picks. This extra step of your research will be useful for two major reasons:
You will verify if these stocks are truly good investments. They can be rejected if you discover that they are in fact not good investments.
You will back up your assumptions about these stocks. If your Investors, Professor or Classmates has any questions about the reasoning behind your stock picks, you will be able to elaborate a robust and solid argument.
This is where you can pick the stocks that actually go into your portfolio for the long-run. If you started with a Passive strategy, your portfolio might already have some industry ETFs, but now we will be looking at specific companies to replace part of those investments.
We will explore a couple of basic research methods that will complement your findings on your stock picks.
Technical analysis is the process of determining patterns and trends with the use of historical data for a security and charts of a specific timeframe. Charts are clearly an efficient way to visually notice a pattern and act upon a specific trend. We will visit a couple of basic chart patterns and put them in real-life situation context as well. Most of the technical analysis tools make use of the charts you can find in the Quotes Tool.
Trends & Trend lines
A trendline is a straight line that connects the stock’s price movement together and creates an upward or downward pattern. It is often recommended to connect more than 2 points to have a stronger trend line.
Trendlines are useful to give you a general idea of how the stock’s price is generally moving. A positive trendline does not mean it will keep going up forever, but can be an indication that there are some strong underlying business foundations.
Support & Resistance
A support line represents a price level at which the stock never went below. In other words, it is the point at which the stock struggles to go under. On the other side, a resistance line represents the price level for which the stock cannot breakthrough.
Stocks near their Support lines tend to rebound, so they might make a good investment (at least in the short term). Stocks near their resistance line tend to fall back down, so they might signal a shorting opportunity.
When a stock breaks through their support or resistance lines, it is called a “Breakout”.
This pattern consists of two trend lines which are symmetrical to the horizontal and are convergent. To prove a symmetrical triangle, one must have oscillation between the two lines.
A triangle pattern indicates that the price is about to move – but a symmetrical triangle does not give a clear indication that the price will go up or down.
The Ascending Triangle pattern refers to two converging trend lines. The first line is an upward slant which is the support and the other is a horizontal resistance line. To validate the ascending triangle, there must be an oscillation between the two lines.
This triangle implies a bullish continuation pattern.
The Descending Triangle pattern refers to two converging trend lines. The first line is an downward slant which is the support and the other is a horizontal resistance line. To validate the ascending triangle, there must be an oscillation between the two lines.
This triangle implies a bearish continuation pattern.
Fundamental analysis is the process of examining the fundamental aspects of a firm. It involves reviewing key ratios and sections of a company’s financial statements to define its health and attractiveness – since financial statements are standard between companies, this can help compare two potential investments apples-to-apples. To make things easier, you can directly find most of the ratios by clicking on “Key Ratios” in the Quotes Tool.
One of the most popular and simple fundamental analysis is the DuPont model. The DuPont Analysis breaks down the firm’s Return on Equity (ROE) based on its profitability decisions, how efficiently their assets are utilized and their financial leverage. The model focuses on the profitability of a firm using the following equation:
This equation can be re-written as:
To analyze a company using the Dupont Model, you can use the following tables:
Analysis of Company XYZ from 2014 to 2017
DuPont Model Components
Average Total Assets
Average Shareholders’ Equity
Analysis of Company XYZ with Industry Competitors
DuPont Model Components
Average Total Assets
Average Shareholders’ Equity
These tables will allow you to see the evolution of the firm in terms of their profitability. This can be useful for you to conclude that your company is profitable over the long-term. You will also have the bird’s eye view of your firm and its competitors in the same industry. By doing this, you might find a competitor that would be a better stock pick or reassure yourself that your stock pick is the best in its category.
An “Investing Strategy” is a plan for how to save money to help it grow. Sometimes an “investing strategy” can just mean “plan for trading stocks”, but it really means a lot more.
Liquidity, Risk, and Potential Returns
All investments balance liquidity (how easily it can be converted into cash for other use), risk (the chance of the investment to lose value), and potential returns (how fast your investment can grow).
The balance between these three items is up to your own individual taste, but it is this balance that will determine what kinds of investments you choose.
The “Security Type” is what you are holding as an investment. These can be a very wide range, but every full portfolio should have a mix of a couple.
Cash And Bank Deposits
Liquidity: Very High Risk: Low Potential Growth: Zero or Negative
Cash, believe it or not, is an investment in and of itself. Cash, and bank deposits you can withdraw right away, are the most liquid assets, since liquidity is basically how quickly you can convert any investment into cash.
Being able to always use cash for whatever you want is something valuable – this is why “Emergency Funds” exist as cash and bank deposits, not as bars of gold. On the other hand, cash does not grow, and loses value over time due to inflation.
Certificates of Deposit
Liquidity: Low Risk: Low Potential Growth: Low
A Certificate of Deposit is like a savings account with a locked-in interest rate, but you cannot withdraw the cash for a certain period of time. These are very safe investments, but on the other hand they have a very low potential for growth.
Liquidity: High Risk: Medium Potential Growth: High
“Stocks” is usually what comes to mind when thinking about investments. As far as an investment strategy is concerned, mutual funds and ETFs which hold stocks are all the same thing – buying a piece of one or many companies in exchange for a share of their profits.
For more information on why to invest in stocks, Click Here.
Liquidity: Medium Risk: Low Potential Growth: Medium
Bonds come in three “Flavors” – Corporate Bonds, Treasury Bonds, and other Government Bonds. Unlike stocks, a bond is a loan that you make to a company or government, and they need to pay it back plus interest. Corporate bonds from large companies and treasury bonds are usually very safe investments (and so there is a lower return), but there are also “Junk Bonds”, or bonds which have a higher risk of not being paid back in full. In exchange for the higher risk, organizations who sell Junk Bonds offer higher interest rates to people who buy them.
Liquidity: Low Risk: Medium Potential Growth: Medium
Real Estate includes land and buildings. Until fairly recently, the bulk of “retirement savings” was in the form of the house you lived in. People would buy a house and hope that the value grew enough over the next 30-40 years to sell it and use the profits for retirement. Others buy damaged or discounted houses and do repairs, then sell them for profit (this is known as ‘house flipping’).
Since the housing marked crash in 2007, people are more wary of real estate investing, but owning a home is still a very popular investment.
Liquidity: High Risk: Medium Potential Growth: Medium
This includes buying Gold and Silver. Many investors try to buy gold and other precious metals as an investment (and to protect against inflation), but this has also backfired in recent years as a “Gold Bubble” popped, making the prices of the metals more volatile than before. Holding precious metals as a safeguard against market uncertainty in other security types is still very popular, however.
Liquidity: Medium Risk: High Potential Growth: High
Derivatives that normal investors can purchase include stock options and futures. Being a “Derivative” means that it “derives” its value from something else – a stock option has value because the stock that it lets you buy has value (but the contract itself is useless unless you use it). Futures are good for commodities like oil delivered at a future date.
Derivatives are most useful for hedging (such as buying a stock option for a stock you think will go up in value, but you don’t want to necessarily buy right now).
Tips and Tricks
Many years ago, a common piece of investment advice was that if you are building an investment strategy for retirement, a large chunk of your “Nest Egg” would be held in your house, which will mature with the market rates.
For the rest of the assets, financial planners would recommend a “rule of thumb” to balance your assets between stocks and bonds according to your age. Basically take 100, subtract your age, and that should be the percentage of your portfolio in stocks (with the rest in bonds). This means an 18 year old would have 82% of their savings with 18% in bonds.
This advice is a bit out-dated, but it does have a couple important kernels of wisdom that all investors should be aware of.
Don’t Keep All Your Eggs In One Basket
Diversify at a few different levels. Split your assets between a few different security types. In the classic example, the saver would have about 50% of their savings stored in Real Estate, with the remaining 50% divided between Stocks and Bonds. This means that if there is a fall in housing prices, they are protected by having lots of savings in stocks and bonds. If the stock market starts to fall, they’re still OK because they have their house and bonds. The value of bonds is determined by the prevailing interest rates, so they are insulated from this as well with their other security types.
On the other hand, they also benefit if there is a surge in housing prices, stock prices, and interest rates.
Use An Evolving Portfolio
The old suggestion of “more bonds as you get older” is based on the idea that as you get closer to retirement, your portfolio should get more conservative. If you have lots of stock that lose value when you’re 25, you still have 40 years of income to make up for it. If you have lots of stocks that lose value when you’re 62, it becomes a lot more difficult to make up that income.
Common Investing Strategies
If you’re ready to start investing, there are a couple big ones to keep in mind. Most long-term investing strategies are based on one, or a combination, of these.
Buy And Hold
“If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes.” – Warren Buffet
The “Buy and Hold” strategy is based on the idea that you do extensive research on what you’re buying, choosing your investments for solid long-term reasoning, then buy it and hold on to it, regardless of what its market price does. The only time to sell for a “Buy and Hold” investor is either:
When the underlying reasons why you bought the stock change (such as the company’s management changing to a team with a different business strategy you don’t like), or
When you plan on exiting the market entirely
Warren Buffet is generally considered the most famous Buy and Hold investor.
“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” –John Maynard Keynes
Even if all your research is great, and even if what you invested in does regain all its value in the long run, you still have a deadline of when you need that money to live on in retirement. You also have a very real chance of just being wrong in your choice, and with a Buy and Hold strategy you might take a huge loss before admitting defeat.
“Know what you own, and know why you own it.” – Peter Lynch
“Value Investing” is looking for stocks that are under-valued compared to the rest of the market. This means looking for companies that seem to be growing strongly but have not yet attracted much market attention, or new players with solid foundations and the potential for growth. You will buy and sell stocks more often with value investing – as soon as your picks start looking “priced in” or “over-valued”, you’ll start thinking about selling and moving on.
Peter Lynch was made famous by his use of Value Investing while acting as the primary manager of the Magellan Fund Fidelity Investments.
“The four most expensive words in the English language are, ‘This time it’s different.’” – Sir John Templeton
Value investing requires you to pay close attention to companies and re-evaluate how much you think they’re worth regularly. If you’re wrong a few times in a row, you could have trouble ”bouncing back”.
“Understanding the value of a security and whether it’s trading above or below that value is the difference between investing and speculating.” – Coreen T. Sol
“Active Trading” is when you are buying and selling stock regularly (“Day Trading” is when you buy or sell in the same day), trying to take advantage of market swings to earn a profit. Active trading requires more advanced knowledge of chart patterns, fundamental and technical analysis, and an appetite for risk. In exchange, you can make huge returns with active trading by riding market trends.
“The individual investor should act consistently as an investor and not as a speculator.” – Ben Graham
Active trading can get big returns quickly, but it can get big losses even faster. Most professional investors and financial advisers suggest using only a very small portion of your portfolio for active trading, since the damage can be hard to undo.
Income is more than just wages and salaries too. If you earn rents from rental properties, investment income, interest on your savings account or bonds, or any other revenue stream, you will probably owe some income tax on it.
How are income taxes paid?
For most people, income taxes are straightforward – employers are required to withhold the appropriate income tax amount from your paycheck, which is then paid to the government without any extra steps.
If you are self-employed or work as an independent contractor (like a driver for Uber), it can be a bit more complicated. In this case you are required to report your income and pay any taxes owed at the same time.
Who needs to file an income tax return?
All US citizens and everyone working and living in the United States needs to file an income tax return each year. By extension, all citizens and workers in the US need to report their income, even if that income is earned in another country. US citizens use their Social Security Number to file their taxes.
Even US residents who do not work need to file income taxes if they received some sort of income or compensation over the previous year. This includes things like rental earnings and even unemployment benefits.
Workers who work in the United States without a Social Security Number (both legal immigrants and undocumented workers) are still required to pay income taxes. Since some of these workers may not have Social Security Numbers, they can request an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS to use to file their taxes.
US Citizens who live and work in other countries are also required to file their US income taxes each year or risk heavy fines. While citizens do need to file their taxes, most citizens living and working outside the US are exempt from actually owing any tax, unless they have exceptionally high incomes.
What do I need to file my income taxes?
In addition to a Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number, there are additional forms needed at the minimum to file your income tax.
The W-2 form is a document all hourly and salaried employees will receive from their employer at the end of the year (usually in January, covering the previous year). The W-2 form is a fairly basic form outlining the total wages earned in the previous year, along with how much Social Security and Income Tax was already withheld by the employer and paid. Employees receive their W-2 form already filled out from their employer.
You will usually receive 3 copies of your W-2 form – one for your personal records, one to be submitted with your federal tax return, and one for your state tax return.
You can file your income taxes with just a W-2 form if you received no other income or compensation in the previous year.
Form 1099 is used when a person needs to self-report income. This includes independent contractors, and anyone receiving income from a source that did not provide a W-2.
Form 1099 is more complicated than the W-2, both because there are many more types of income that can be reported, and because anyone who uses it may need to fill out all the information themselves (although whoever pays you might provide you with a pre-filled version). This requires more skills at keeping detailed financial records than the basic W-2.
The 1040 Income Tax Return Form
The basic income tax return form in the United States is known as the Form 1040. The basic use of the form is to add up all your income from the year from all sources, calculate how much tax you have already paid, subtract any deductions you qualify for, and see how much of a tax return you should receive or how much tax you currently owe.
The Form 1040 can be long and complicated as you have more sources of income to report and more deductions to claim. To make the process of filing a tax return easier for people with no dependents and few investments, the simplified 1040 EZ form was developed.
The 1040 EZ
“EZ” is short for “easy” – the 1040 EZ is a simple one-page tax return, designed to make filing taxes as fast and painless as possible for young people and those with few deductions.
Parts of the EZ
There are four basic parts of the 1040 EZ
Contact Information – This will include your name, address, and Social Security Number. You can file the 1040 EZ form jointly with your spouse if you are married, in which case you would provide his or her information as well.
Income – This information should come directly off of your W-2 form any any interest tax forms your bank sends you for savings accounts. This also includes any unemployment compensation you may have received.
Payments – This also comes from your W-2, which lists how much tax was already withheld and paid by your employer. This is also where you can calculate the total amount of tax owed.
Refund or Tax Owed – The final calculations show how much refund you should receive, or how much income tax you need to pay. If you should be getting a refund, you can provide your bank routing number for a direct deposit. If you owe tax, there are instructions included on how to pay it.
When not to use the EZ
The Form 1040-EZ is a simple and attractive way for many people to file their taxes, but there are many situations where it is not accepted.
Income from a Form 1099 – If you have income to report on a form 1099, you need to use the full Form 1040
Dividend or Investment income
Filing with dependents
Earned interest over $1,500
Filing with a ITIN instead of a SSN
Collecting your return
It is easy to collect your return. All income tax return forms include a place where you can put your bank routing information to get your return direct deposited to your bank account with no extra steps.
If you prefer receiving a check, the IRS will mail a check to the address you posted at the top of the form.
Income Tax Corrections
Taxpayers have 7 years in the United States to file any corrections. Usually this would be to claim deductions you may have missed, or report income later to avoid tax evasion penalties.
To file an amended tax return, use the Form 1040-X, which is designed specifically for later corrections on a previous return.
The IRS may also apply corrections directly based on their own calculations of your taxes owed. If this is the case, they will generally mail you a letter explaining how their calculation differs from theirs, along with a method to dispute their calculation.
The IRS has been known to adjust returns both up and down – they are mainly checking for errors in the deduction amounts and arithmetic to ensure the returns are processed correctly.
There is a small chance that your income tax could be audited by the IRS, in which case they will ask you to bring in supporting documents. Audits are designed both to ensure the tax returns are using all the correct values, and to prevent fraudulent claims. Audits can happen up to 6 years after your taxes have been filed, so you should be sure to keep all your supporting documents for at least that long.
State income taxes
Most states also levy an income tax, but the actual tax amount and thresholds will vary quite a lot from state to state. Steps for filing state income taxes are very similar to the federal taxes, and generally require the same documentation (which is why you will typically receive 3 copies of a W-2 form).
A key first step for any entrepreneur is setting up an organization that will be used to formally embark on the business journey, but many new business owners struggle to identify the best way to move forward. These are the most common ways to organize a business, from the simplest through the most complex.
A sole proprietorship is the most basic form of business ownership, where there is one sole owner who is responsible for the business. It is not a legal entity that separates the owner from the business, meaning that the owner is responsible for all of the debts and obligations of the business on a personal level. In exchange for that liability, the owner keeps all the profits gained from the business. This form of business ownership is easy and inexpensive to create and has few government regulations, making it a more flexible type of ownership with complete control at the discretion of the owner. In addition, profits are taxed once, and there are some tax breaks available if the business is struggling. Sole proprietorships often are limited to the resources the owner can bring to the business. For these reasons, sole proprietorships are often most appropriate during the early stages of a business where the owner has little capital/resources to work with but also has few debts to pay.
Partnerships are a form of business ownership where two or more people act as co-owners. There are two forms of partnerships, which are General Partnerships and Limited partnerships, differentiated primarily by the liability coverage by the owners. In a general partnership, all owners of the business have an unlimited liability in the business (the same as a Sole Proprietorship). For a limited partnership, at least one of the partners has a limited liability, meaning they are not personally responsible for the debts of the business. Regardless of the type of partnership, they are relatively easy and cheap to create, have few government regulations and are only taxed once, like a sole proprietorship. The added benefit of a partnership is the combination of knowledge and resources that are brought to the table thanks to the additional owners. Profits do have to be shared between owners and there is always the potential for conflicts to arise between partners over business decisions. This type of ownership is often useful in the early stages of the business where multiple people are involved. Due to the sharing of profits and the additional resources, this type of ownership is often expected to yield higher growth rates then a sole proprietorship.
Unlike the previous two examples, Corporations are a form of ownership that is a legal entity separate from its owners. This creates a limited liability for all owners, but results in a double taxation on profits (first as a corporate income tax, then as a personal income tax when the owners take their profits). Corporations tend to have an easier time raising capital then sole proprietors or partners in large part due to the greater sources of funding made available to them, such as selling stock. However, this does result in greater government regulations for corporations, such as requirements for more extensive record keeping. In addition, setting up a corporation is much more difficult, requiring more resources and capital to cover expenses and create legal documentation. This ownership form is best suited for fast growing or mature organizations that have owners looking for limited liability.
Limited Liability Company
A form of business ownership that is taxed like a partnership but enjoys the benefits of a limited liability like a corporation is a “limited liability company”. In comparison to a corporation, it is simpler to organize and does not receive double taxation. While simultaneously receiving more credibility then a partnership or sole proprietor when it comes to gathering resources such as working capital. Unfortunately, this form of ownership is usually reserved for a group of professionals such as accountants, doctors and lawyers.
A lesser known ownership style, an S corporation is a type of business ownership that allows its owners to avoid double taxation because the organization is not required to pay corporate taxes. Instead, all profits or losses are passed on to owners of the organization to report on their personal income tax. This form of ownership does allow for limited liability, similar to a corporation, but without the double taxation. The disadvantages of this organization’s special nature is the increased level of government regulations and the restrictions on the number and type of shareholders it may have. This type of ownership is used in the mature stage of a businesses lifecycle and often by private organizations due to the restrictions on ownership.
Franchising is a form of ownership far different from the ones previously mentioned. This form of ownership allows a franchisee to borrow the franchisor’s business model and brand for a specified period. It comes with a list of advantages including: training on how to operate your franchise, systems and technologies for day-to-day operations, guidance on marketing, advertising and other business needs, and a network of franchise owners to share experiences with.
The main disadvantages to this ownership structure are franchising fees, royalties on sales or profits, and tight restrictions to maintain ownership. Franchise owners also have limited control over their suppliers they can purchase from, are forced to contribute to a marketing fund they have little control over. If a franchisee wants to sell their business, the franchisor must approve the new buyer. Despite these disadvantages, franchises are great for owners who are looking for an ‘out of the box’ to owning their own business.
Cooperatives are organizations that are owned and controlled by an association of members. This form of ownership allows for a more democratic approach to control where each share is worth the same amount of votes, similar to a corporation with common stock. It also offers limited liability to its owners and equal profit distribution based on ownership percentage. Disappointingly, the democratic approach to decision making results in a longer decision making process as participation from all association members is required. Conflicts between members can also arise that can have a big impact on the efficiency of the business. Co-operatives are often used when individuals or businesses decide to pool resources to achieve a common goal or satisfy a common need, such as employment needs or a delivery service.
Type of Corporation
· Easy and inexpensive to create
· Flexibility and control to your liking
· Few Government regulations
· Tax advantages if struggling
· Profits taxed once
· Unlimited liability, meaning business debts are personal debts
· Limited source of financing
· Limited resources
Partnerships (General/Limited Partnerships)
· Easy to organize
· Combined knowledge, skills and resources
· Few Government regulations
· Taxed once
· Unlimited liability for some partners*
· Possible conflict development between partners
· Shared profits
· Limited liability
· Easier to raise capital due to greater sources of funding
· Being taxed twice (as a legal entity and as an owner)
· Greater Government regulations to adhere to
· More expensive to set up
· Extensive record keeping required
Limited Liability Company
· Simple to organize and operate
· Flexible in nature
· Taxed as a partnership
· Generally only available to a group of professionals such as lawyers or accountants
· Limited liability for owners
· Greater credibility for financing
· No double taxation
· Greater Government regulations to adhere to
· Restrictions on number and type of shareholders
· Superior training and systems offered
· Guidance on marketing, advertising, financing, accounting etc.
· Franchise networks to share experiences (great knowledge base)
· One-time Franchising Fee for owning a franchise location
· Recurring royalty fees as a percentage of sales or profits
· Tight restrictions that limit control
· Purchases must be made from specific suppliers
· Contributing to marketing fund, but having no control over it
· Selling franchise location requires approval from franchisor
“Price Controls” are artificial limits that are put on prices. If the limit is put in place to prevent prices from getting too high, they are called Ceilings. If they are in place to prevent the price from getting too low, they are called “Floors”.
Price Ceilings are controls put in place to prevent the price of some good or service from getting too high. This type of control is most common with food, where there might be a maximum price that businesses can charge for things like flour or electricity.
These controls are put in place to protect consumers and to prevent price gouging, particularly so the poor are able to afford basic goods and services. When there is a price ceiling, suppliers cannot sell above a certain price, and this creates a Market Shortage.
With a Market Shortage, the quantity producers are willing to supply is less than the total quantity that consumers demand at the given price. This can result in rationing, or lottery systems to determine which consumers are able to buy.
In extreme cases, it can result in “Bread Lines”, where essential goods are not supplied in sufficient amounts, so consumers need to join waiting lists to get their necessary share.
Price Floors are the opposite – a control put in place to ensure that a certain amount of something is produced by making sure producers are guaranteed at least a certain price for what they supply. These types of control are common for milk.
These controls exist to prevent shortages, by making sure suppliers get at least a certain price, it encourages production. When there is a price floor, the producers are willing to supply more than consumers demand at a given price, creating a Market Surplus.
With a Market Surplus, the government needs to buy the excess production, or else the market price will collapse back down. In the case of milk, the government typically buys the excess production and stores it, uses it as part of disaster relief, or tries to sell it on international markets.
The Business Cycle is the broad, over-stretching cycle of expansion and recession in an economy.
The Business Cycle is concerned with many things – unemployment, industrial expansion, inflation rates, but the most important indicator is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth. Below you can see a graph of the GDP growth rate in the United States since 1946 – the grey bars highlight periods of a recession.
The Business Cycle can also be thought of as how Real GDP moves above and below its Potential Levels.
What Is Real GDP?
GDP, or “Gross Domestic Product”, is the total amount of finished goods and services produced in an economy during a given year (for more information, read our full article on Common Economic Indicators). If you just add up the value of all the finished goods and services in one year, you will have the Nominal GDP.
Unfortunately, you cannot directly compare the Nominal GDP of one year with the Nominal GDP of another year, because the same goods and services change price over time. If we want to compare the GDP of different years, we need to adjust the Nominal GDP by the Inflation Rate. Once you adjust your Nominal GDP by the Inflation Rate between years, you have the Real GDP, which you can use to directly compare different years.
What is the Potential Level of GDP?
The “Potential Level” of GDP is the total output an economy can sustainably produce in a year. This is the potential output if every laborer is using their skills the most efficiently, with businesses using their capital goods to the best of their design at the current levels of technology, and public institutions are operating at their peak efficiency. Every time workers learn new skills, technology increases that allows us to make new goods (or the same goods but more efficiently), or changes to the government or culture take place that promote economic growth, the Potential Level of GDP increases.
The Real GDP growth rate swings above and below the Potential GDP growth rate, which is called the Business Cycle.
Running Below Potential Levels
It is easy to see how an economy can be running below the potential levels – if workers are not matched with jobs that make the best use of their skills, or if machines are not properly maintained, or even if the government has poor leaders that make less-than-optimal laws and policies, it will cause the Real GDP growth rate to fall below the potential level. If it falls too far below, the economy could enter a Recession. Inflation is usually low when an economy is running below its potential levels.
Running Above Potential Levels
The economy can also run above Potential Levels. Remember – the Potential Level is based on what can be sustainably produced. This means that if current growth levels are the result of over-borrowing, or asset bubbles, output might actually be growing at a higher-than-sustainable rate. Economies very often run above their potential levels for short periods of time with no problems, but going too far above for too long can result in a crash. Inflation is usually higher when the economy is running above its potential, which serves to bring the Real GDP back down to its potential levels.
Expansions and Recessions
When the GDP growth rate is positive and unemployment is relatively low, it is called an Expansion. If the GDP growth rate is very low or negative, with higher unemployment, it is called a Recession.
Most of the time, the economy is an “Expansion” phase. This does not mean everyone is doing well – even during very strong expansions, the unemployment rate usually stays around 5% (meaning 1 out of every 20 people who wants a job can’t find one), with the underemployment rate (people who are working part-time but want a better job) is usually much higher.
What an Expansion does mean is that new jobs are being created, and the total value being produced by an economy is going up. Growth also promotes growth – the more resources that are available, the more resources can be allocated towards researching new technologies and building new skills.
Recessions typically occur every 7-15 years, often following an asset bubble bursting, followed by a large loss of value in an economy. Recessions typically have higher levels of unemployment, with low or negative GDP growth. Even if GDP growth is never negative, recessions hurt. Other than GDP, the biggest indicator of a recession is a sharp decrease in consumer spending, and inflation tends to fall.
Higher unemployment rates mean that people lose their jobs, and new workers have a hard time finding their first position. Losses in the financial sector hurt retirement accounts and individual savings and investments, which can severely disrupt life plans. Thankfully, recessions are temporary, and the business cycle can usually move back into an expansion phase fairly quickly.
Credit cards is a form of unsecured credit (meaning a loan without collateral) that you can use to make everyday purchases. All credit card purchases are made using a loan – you borrow money from your credit card issuer, and later pay it back with interest.
Credit Cards Vs Debit Cards
Credit cards can be used at all the same places as debit cards. In fact, some business only take credit cards (like most car rental companies and many hotels) specifically because it works as a line of credit – a business accepting a transaction from a credit card knows it will be paid immediately. If you have both a debit card and a credit card, you should choose carefully which you use most for your everyday transactions.
Advantages over Debit Cards
There are some good reasons to use credit cards for every-day purchases instead of your debit card:
Your debit card may have a transaction limit or transaction fees – credit cards typically do not
Credit cards often offer “Cash back” and other rewards programs for most purchases
Credit cards are accepted more widely than debit cards (especially if you are travelling overseas)
Using your credit card will build your credit history, which can lower your interest rate and increase your credit limit on other loans
You can “Float” credit card purchases, using it as a short-term loan before your next paycheck
Disadvantages over Debit Cards
There are also some good reasons to use your debit card instead of a credit card:
If you miss your grace period, your purchases will be charged interest with a credit card, making them more expensive
Since you do not need to pay the full balance on credit card purchases every month, it makes it easier to over-spend
If you start to fall behind on your payments, it can be very difficult to fully escape credit card debt
Credit card billing cycles are usually 20-25 days instead of one month, making it more difficult to schedule payments compared to other types of bills.
Credit Balance Types
When you use your credit card, there are several different types of balances that will appear on your credit card statement:
Your new purchases are the things you’ve bought using your credit card during the current billing cycle. You will not be charged interest on this balance until the end of your grace period, so it is usually a good idea to pay off this balance first and avoid finance fees. If you miss your grace period, you will be charged interest on the balance for every day you had it.
If you don’t pay off all your purchases in a month, the remaining balance will carry over to the next month as a Balance Transfer. Balance transfers do not have a grace period, so they will accumulate interest for the entire billing cycle.
This is the most expensive type of charge you can make on your credit card. Cash advances are when you take money out of an ATM using your credit card. Cash advances also typically do not have a grace period, and they usually have a higher interest rate than balance transfers.
Finance Charges and Interest Rates
Credit card companies have finance charges as a condition to using the credit card – the most important one is your interest rate. Each one of your balance types has a different way interest is charged
How Interest is Calculated
Different credit cards may calculate the interest you owe differently, and this difference might make a big difference on your bill. The two most common methods are “Daily Balance” and “Average Daily Balance”.
The previous balance method uses your balance at the beginning of the billing cycle to calculate your interest. This means that payments you make during the billing cycle will not lower your total interest payment, but will only impact your bill next month.
This method is similar to the previous balance, but also subtracts any payments you make. This method gets you the lowest total interest charges, but is very rare for credit card companies to offer it.
The ending balance adds your balance transfer to all the charges you made during this billing cycle, and subtracts any payments you made. The interest is then calculated based on that final total.
Average Daily Balance
This method is the most common. Your credit card company takes the average balance of all days and multiplies that by your daily interest rate, then adds it together for every day in the billing cycle.
Every credit card has a grace period, usually about 21 days. If you pay off any new purchases within 21 days of making them, you will not get an interest charge for those purchases. If you miss the grace period, you will be charged the full interest amount. There is no grace period for balance transfers and cash advances, so you will be charged for every day you have a balance outstanding on these balances.
Your credit card will have a minimum payment every month, which is the absolute least you can pay to keep your account in good standing. Your minimum payment is based on your outstanding balance. The payment is generally enough to pay off new interest, plus some of the principle balance.
Just making the minimum payments is the absolute longest way to pay off credit card debt, and it will result in the absolute highest possible amount you pay in interest.
Note that there are some conditions that can cause your minimum payment to be less than interest, in which case you will never fully pay off the debt. If your minimum payment is lower than or equal to your interest charge, you can continue making payments on interest forever without ever paying off your debt.
Missing your credit card payments can result in defaulting on your account. Defaulting on your account has a few impacts:
If you had any promotional interest rate, you will retroactively lose it (meaning all your previous outstanding balances will now use the higher interest rate instead of the promotional rate, making your bill even higher)
You will get “Late Payment” fees, which is added to your balance transfer into the next billing cycle
Missed payments are reported to the credit reporting agencies and will lower your credit score
Your credit card may also lower your credit limit and increase your interest rate
If you miss a certain number of payments, your credit card may cancel your line of credit entirely, and send your case to a collections agency. This will further damage your credit score, and make it extremely difficult to get any new credit cards or loans for the next several years.
The CARD Act of 2009
In 2009, the federal government passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009, which bans certain types of behavior from credit card companies. It also gives credit card holders more tools to help keep their credit cards in good standing.
The CARD act bans credit card companies from:
Increasing your interest rate on existing balances (so if your rate goes up, it only applies to new purchases). This doesn’t apply to removing promotional rates
Your interest rate cannot go up in the first year of holding your account (except if you have a variable rate credit card, then your base rate can’t do up but the variable rate can)
Processing your payments late (all payments must be processed on the day they are received)
Charging fees for different methods of payment
Using a double billing cycle (where you would be charged interest based on the last period’s balances instead of just the current period)
Issue credit cards to people under 21 without a co-signer
As the card holder, you also get new rights with your credit card:
If you default on one credit card, credit card companies can’t automatically charge you a higher “penalty rate” on other cards you have
You have at least 21 days after your bill is mailed to pay it without any interest charge
If you pay more than the minimum payment, all the extra is paid towards your balance with the highest interest charges first (so if you make higher than the minimum payment, the extra would go towards your cash advances before your balance transfer)
You can opt-out of over-the-limit fees. If you do, trying to charge more than your credit limit would result in a declined transaction instead of letting it go through with a fee
You can opt-out of interest rate increases. If you do, your credit card will be cancelled once you pay off your balance (this might impact your credit score).
If you want to start building your first workable budget, it is important to know exactly what should be in it, how to keep it updated, and the specific reason you want to have this budget.
What does a budget look like?
A budget is usually a spreadsheet or table. On one side or column, you will list your planned expenses, while on the other side you list your planned income.
You can use a budget for many different things, depending on the budget type. Using a mix of different budget types, as each situation finds appropriate, can be one of the most effective ways to reach your short term financial goals.
There are two types of budgets, each of which has its own place in your personal finance toolkit.
The Project Budget
A project budget is something you make just once for a specific purpose. For example, you might make a single-use budget when evaluating apartments you might move to (outlining costs of rent and transportation between a few different alternatives).
The project budget is the easiest budget to make because you do not necessarily need to keep managing it in the long term – this is a “one and done” way to address a specific problem.
The first budget most people make is a project budget to help look at their current expenses and see what adjustments need to be made. The problem with this approach is that project budgets work very well for short-term thinking, but tend to be difficult to follow for longer periods of time.
Project Budget Components
Your project budget is looking at a snapshot in time. This means you are comparing some known fixed expenses to a specific amount of income or money you can dedicate towards paying for it. The specific components are:
Itemized list of known expenses for this period in time
Total expected income or starting cash you have to allocate to this period in time
Surplus – the total income minus the total expenses.
The purpose of the Project Budget is to maximize that surplus, or the money you have left over to allocate to other things.
Common uses for a Project Budget
Comparing alternative apartments (building a sample budget for each alternative to compare)
Planning a vacation
Paying off short-term debt
Other short-term crisis or goals
The Living Budget
Unlike the Project Budget, a Living Budget is meant to “grow” and adjust over time. These budgets are not designed for a specific goal or purpose, but instead to help you keep a general idea of where your money is going from month to month, and help you adjust your spending to reach your financial goals.
One of the major differences with a Living Budget is that while you make them looking forward, you also should look back regularly and make adjustments (not start over as needed).
Living Budget Components
Your living budget needs to be regularly adjusted and updated. To set up an effective living budget, you will need the following components:
Regular monthly income (things like your paycheck)
Variable income (gifts, one-off payments, ect)
Regular monthly expenses
Regular contributions to savings or other financial goals
Expected variable expenses
Using Your Living Budget
Unlike the Project Budget, the goal of the living budget is not necessarily to maximize your surplus. Instead, your Living Budget has your savings and other financial goals built in, and you can adjust these every month or two along with your variable expenses.
With your Living Budget, having a big surplus every month is not necessarily a good thing, since that might be a sign that your financial goals might be set too low.
With the Living Budget, you will notice that there is a difference between “regular”, or fixed, income and expenses with the “variable” income and expenses. When you set out to outline your budget, it is important to keep these distinctions separate.
There are 2 types of expenses, which each have 2 flavors.
Most people new to budgeting only consider needs and wants, but without fully breaking down where your money is going, it will be much harder to build a workable budget.
Each category has its own place in your budget, and when you want to reach a specific savings goal, these separations make it much easier to hit your targets.
Your “Fixed Needs” are things like paying rent, utilities, car payments, and groceries. These costs should not change very much from month to month.
When you are engaging in short-term financial planning, there is not much you can do to change your Fixed Needs expenses. With mid-term and long-term planning, finding ways to cut down or reduce these costs (or any increases to them, like getting a better apartment or car) will likely make the biggest changes impacting your long-term goals.
Your “Fixed Wants” are the costs that add up quickly over time, but most beginners frequently forget to include in their budgets. This includes things like morning coffee from Starbucks, going out for lunch with your friends or co-workers instead of bringing lunch from home, having dessert after dinner, and any other regularly-occurring expenses.
Your “Fixed Wants” include all the little pleasures or extras that you normally get in your day-to-day life – things that you know you could probably live without, but removing them would really sour your days.
Your “Variable Needs” are expenses that are important, but you may not have them every month. This includes the extra money you will probably spend on heating in the winter, or semi-annual visits to the dentist, or Christmas/birthday gifts for friends and family.
Unlike your Fixed Needs, even with long-term financial planning, there probably will not be very much you can do to change your Variable Needs costs in the long run – you will always need heat in the Winter, always need your teeth fixed when they break, and always need oil changes on your car.
“Variable Wants” are your expenses that come more “spur of the moment” – things like a night out for drinks with friends, shopping for some new clothes, or buying a new video game.
You usually will not be able to make a line-item budget for your variable wants, but you can estimate how much you spend each month based on your receipts and account reconciliation from the previous month. Once you know how much your Variable Wants are costing you, the next step is taking steps to make sure those costs are under control.
How To Use Your Living Budget
When you are making your Living Budget, you should do so shortly after your latest account reconciliation, where you lay out your 10 or 20 biggest purchases over the last month and consult your bank account. You may know off hand how much you spend on rent and electricity, but building realistic estimates for your variable expenses (both wants and needs) means you need to look at exactly how much you are already spending.
Once you have your expense breakdown from the previous month, you can build your budget for moving forward. This means setting some specific financial goals:
Deposit $300 per month into your savings account
This means you need to already have a surplus of $300, or make a separate goal to get this money from somewhere else
Reduce Fixed Wants costs by $50 per month by brewing your own morning coffee 3 times per week
Increase surplus by $100 per month to afford a nicer apartment
Reduce Variable Wants costs by $75 per month, and apply that savings towards a yearly vacation savings fund
Putting Your First Goals Into Practice
To help make sure you hit your savings goals, split your “Savings Targets” in half for your budget. One half should go into your “Fixed Needs” category – this is money you are setting aside as soon as you get paid. The other half should be filed as a “Variable Want”, meaning a target you are setting, but until you have a few months of practice adjusting your budget, you might not be able to reach.
One common problem beginners face is combing both of these items together, then simply trying to increase their surplus by the amount they want to save per month. This tends not to work, simply because there is no concrete line item that you can admit to not reaching – it becomes easy to just roll over that goal by saying “I can just save more next month to make up for it!”.
By separating your first goal into smaller parts, it makes both parts easier to obtain. Having the fixed necessary savings means that you will make progress towards your goal even if everything else goes poorly, while the second half works as an extra incentive showing you have effective money management.
As you become more experienced building your Living Budget, you can shift a bigger percentage of your savings goals into your Fixed Needs category to have more stability, and more effective planning for the future.
If you have ever wanted to protect your portfolio on HowTheMarketWorks from losses, you have definitely used Stop Orders. The biggest downside of stop orders is, of course, the fact that you have to constantly update them as your investments grow to “lock in” your gains…
What are Trailing Stop Orders?
Trailing Stop orders work a lot like regular stop orders evolve with the market. This means you can set a Trailing Stop sell order to sell if your stock’s price falls by $2.00, or even 2%. As your stock’s price grows, the trailing stop price goes up with it. It will only execute when the stock’s price falls by your Trailing Stop threshold from its peak – meaning you lock in your gains without constantly updating your stop orders.
How Does It Work?
Good question! Check out our tutorial video below to see how to use Trailing Stops with your portfolio.
Do your students have a hard time getting started with their portfolio? Do you want a place where you can see all your tools in one place? Us too, which is why we added the new Dashboard to HowTheMarketWorks!
The dashboard is just the newest addition to our new design, with your entire suite of tools at your fingertips.
We have divided up all the tools into 5 categories:
My Portfolio – here you can find things you own, your assignments, account balances, and graphs
Trading – Make a trade, or see your transaction histories
Contests – See your ranking, join a new contest, or create your own
Research Tools – Start doing some investment research, with a wide range of tools to choose from
Trading Ideas – See the most popular stocks and mutual funds, what the brokers are saying, and a lot more
We have more great new features coming, so stay tuned!
We add new articles to the Education Center every week, but when we add new items to the Assignments, you know they are special!
Articles we add to Assignments can be integrated with your HowTheMarketWorks contest – you can assign these as reading to your students, and track their progress. These articles have been written to cover topics that are part of the National Standards for Personal Finance and Economics, part of the Common Core curriculum.
“Credit” is when you have the ability to use borrowed money. This can come in many different forms, from credit cards to mortgages. There is a wide range of ways to use credit, which means that it is often a challenge for beginners to learn all the different ins and outs of using credit.
Basic Credit Terms
Before diving in to how each piece works together, you should know some of the basic terms that come up a lot with credit.
This is the amount of money that you need to re-pay. This includes the amount you originally borrowed, plus any extra interest.
This is how much you are charged for the right to use borrowed money. This is an annual interest rate.
Your credit limit is the total amount you are allowed to borrow.
This is the time between when you borrow money and when interest begins to be charged on the principle.
This is the least amount you can pay back per month before your credit card company considers you defaulting on your debt. This is a percentage of your total principle balance.
How Does Credit Work?
Credit works based on trust. You, as the borrower, ask a lender for a “line of credit”, or the ability to borrow money to use for your own needs, and you promise to pay it back. The lender will agree, with certain terms and conditions. These terms are generally based on what you intend to buy, how likely you are to make all repayments on time, how trustworthy you have proven yourself in the past with borrowed money, your income, the overall conditions of the market, and a few other factors.
At the end of the day, the more trustworthy you have proven yourself to creditors, the better terms you can get when borrowing money, because they see it as a lower risk. If creditors do not see any reason to think you’re trustworthy (or if you have proven yourself untrustworthy in the past), you will get worse terms.
What Are My Credit Terms?
Your credit terms refers to how much you can borrow, and how expensive it is to borrow. Having “Good Terms” generally means higher credit limits (meaning you’re allowed to borrow more money at a time), lower interest rates (making it less expensive to borrow), and other perks like cash back and flight miles. For beginners, focusing on lower interest rates should be your biggest concern when shopping around for credit cards or car loans.
How Can I Improve My Terms?
Since your credit terms are determined by trust, the best way to improve your terms are by using credit and reliably paying it back. This shows creditors that you are able to manage regular payments and will very likely be able to pay back your borrowed money on.
From a creditor’s point of view, every time they lend money it is an investment. Their return on investment would be the interest rate you are charged to borrow money, while their risk is the likelihood you are not able to pay back on time, or not at all. If you have shown that you can reliably make your payments, they believe you’re a safer investment, and so you get better terms. If they don’t have much credit history, or (worse) a credit history with lots of late or missed payments, they see you as riskier, so they charge more to use the service.
Creditors use credit reports to share information with each other about who does, and who does not, pay their bills, so you won’t be able to get out of a bad credit history by switching to a different lender.
Credit In Practice – A Credit Card
When you use your credit card to buy something, say a television at $300, you open a new principle balance for $300, which you borrow from the credit card company. You can only borrow up to your Credit Limit, we will assume your credit limit is $300 in this example so the TV used it all up.
The credit card company then gives you a Grace Period, or time between when you first make the purchase and when they start charging you Interest. The grace period is usually 3-4 weeks, but this can vary a lot depending on your credit card company
After the Grace Period ends, the credit card company will start charging you an Interest Rate. The interest rate is a percentage of the principle balance that is added as a charge – this is the primary cost of borrowing money. The Interest Charge is added to your Principle Balance.
You will need to make at least your Minimum Payment every month in order to remain in good standing with the credit card company. The minimum payment is a percentage of the Principle Balance, but beware – if your minimum payments are less than the amount being added by interest and fees, you will never fully pay off your debt. Many young people have been stuck paying off relatively small credit card debts for many years by only making the minimum payments, meaning they ended up paying many times extra in interest more than they originally borrowed! You can always pay more than the minimum payment.
As you make payments to reduce your principle balance, you can use the difference between your principle balance and your credit limit to continue making extra purchases on your credit card.
Once your principle balance is zero, no more interest will be charged, and you will be back to the beginning. To see how this works out, check out our Credit Card Payments Calculator.
Credit In Practice – A Mortgage
If you need to buy a house or property, you will have a mortgage. The biggest difference between a mortgage and a credit card is that with a mortgage, you are borrowing the money for a very specific purpose, usually to buy a house. The house you are buying then becomes collateral in the loan, meaning that if you fail to pay back, the creditor can take your house.
This risk of losing your house works both ways – it also means that your creditor has a lot lower risk in lending you the money, since they are able to claim something back if you aren’t able to repay. This means that with a mortgage, you will have much higher credit limits and better interest rates than a credit card, even with the same credit score and credit history.
Otherwise most of the mechanics are the same as a credit card – minimum payments, interest and principle all work the same.
Unlike credit cards, there are two types of interest rates used with mortgages, Adjustable and Fixed.
Fixed-Rate mortgage is how it sounds, the mortgage interest rate is fixed for the entire duration of the mortgage. This means your rates and payments will be predictable for the entire duration of the mortgage. As a trade-off, fixed-rate mortgages might be (on average) slightly higher than adjustable.
With an adjustable-rate mortgage, your interest rate can move up and down over the term of your mortgage based on the overall market rates. Lenders prefer these – it means they can increase or decrease how much they’re charging based on prevailing market rates.
For lenders, you lose some predictability in your payments. However, to compensate, banks generally offer lower average adjustable rates than fixed rates (but this may not always be the case).
What Else Impacts My Credit?
There are a lot of other factors besides your credit history that will impact your credit and payments. The biggest of these can be the “Extra fees”, or money credit card companies charge for using certain services. These can be tricky and add up fast.
Fees vary widely, both in type and amount, between credit card companies, so should definitely be on your list of things to check when shopping around.
Other factors are more mundane, like your income and the general market. If you earn more money, you will likely have higher credit limits and lower interest rates, since creditors see that you have a greater ability to pay. If interest rates in the overall market are low or high, this will also play a significant role on the rates you get.
Another hidden cost could be your interest rate calculation. Some creditors will make one calculation per month, others will charge per day. These differences can make a big impact on how your payments work- if there are monthly calculations, you benefit by making a big payment once per month right before the calculation. If it is daily, you benefit most by making many smaller payments throughout the month.
Building Credit From Scratch
Watch this great video from Bank of America showing how to start building credit from scratch.
Credit Reports are basically a report that contains your credit history – both the good and bad. If you watch late-night TV, you have probably seen a few commercials offering free credit reports, so you might know that these are important. Most people, however, don’t know just how big a role a credit report can play.
What is a Credit Report?
A credit report, at its core, is a document that keeps a record of (most) of your regular bill payments. There are three main organizations that provide credit reports in the United States: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Each of these organizations is specially licensed to collect information on all individuals in the US related to their credit and payment history, criminal record, bankruptcies, and lawsuits. Your “Credit Report” is basically your file that they have on all of these activities for the last 7-10 years.
Companies and organizations from whom you are requesting credit can then ask one of those 3 agencies for a copy of your credit report to help them assess your application for credit. This would include any time you want to open a credit card, take out a loan, get insurance, or renting a home. Sometimes even potential employers might request a copy of your credit report, although in this case you need to provide consent.
What is the difference between a “Credit Report” and a “Credit Score”?
Your credit report is a complete credit history, meaning the bills you have paid (or didn’t pay), and their amounts. A “Credit Score” is a single number.
Since a credit report can have a lot of different information from different sources, this is consolidated by using what is called the “FICO score”. The “FICO score” basically distills all your credit history down to a number – the bigger this number is, the more likely the credit agencies think you will pay your bills on time. If you have a clean credit report you will have a high credit score. On the other hand, if you have a poor credit score, you probably have a lot of late payments or complaints in your credit report.
Your income does not impact your credit score, but repeated requests to review your score do have a negative impact, since the credit rating agencies assume that if you are trying to get a lot of different credit from a lot of different places, your financial position might be unstable.
Why Do I Need To Care?
Your credit report, and credit score, are important, and can have a huge impact on your financial life. Anyone who would need to assess your financial trustworthiness will probably be looking at your credit report, so it is absolutely in your best interest to keep it looking good.
Applying For A Credit Card
The first time your credit report might come up is when you apply for a credit card. Based on the length credit history (meaning the total size of your credit report), your credit score, how well you have kept up with any previous payments, and your income, you will have a very wide range of credit options available.
Generally speaking, people with a poor credit history have lower spending limits, higher interest rates, and less likely to get any leeway with their credit card company with late payment forgiveness or credit card perks. On the other hand, if your credit report looks good, you will have a wide pick of different credit card companies offering increasingly attractive terms to attract your business.
Applying For A Mortgage
When you want to buy a house, you will see the same kinds of terms as when you apply for a credit card, but with much higher stakes. This means more banks and lenders willing to lend to you in the first place, better interest rates (which can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan), and more flexible down payments.
Renting an Apartment
When you rent an apartment, your potential landlord will probably look up your credit report. Renters often use the credit report to compare different candidates and determine the size of the security deposit. Remember – a person renting an apartment is primarily concerned with making sure the rent is paid on time. If you have a poor credit report, they might rather wait for the next applicant than take a risk.
While it might not play as large a role as direct lines of credit, insurers also look at your credit report when they determine your premiums and deductibles. This is because they want to make sure all of their clients are paying on time. The entire idea behind insurance is that the insurance provider is taking in at least as much money from premiums as they are paying out in claims, so they need to make sure all of their clients are paying their premiums on time.
If the insurance company suspects that you will lapse on your coverage, just to start catching up right before filing a claim, they will likely charge you higher premiums to make up for it.
Applying For A Job
More and more employers are requesting the credit history from potential job applicants. This trend first started in the finance and banking industry, but has been spreading to other sectors as well. Potential employers see your credit history as your overall professional trustworthiness, particularly if you have a long history of late payments.
What Exactly Is In My Report?
Your credit report follows your basic payment history to creditors. This includes:
Credit Card Payments
Cell Phone Payments
In-Store Financing For Large Purchases
Unpaid Parking Tickets
If You Have Been Sued
Any Other Outstanding Debt
Utilities (Gas, Phone, Water)
If You Have Declared Bankruptcy
Pay Day Loan Payments
Items in your credit report do not stay there forever, so even if you make credit mistakes when you are young, you might not need to suffer from them forever. Generally speaking, missed bill payments, collections, and most other items expire after 7 years. Bankruptcies and other civil judgments (like unpaid taxes) usually have a longer expiration, up to 10 years.
How Does This Information Get In My Credit Report?
The three credit reporting agencies get all of this information from your creditors, meaning everything in your report was given to them by someone you did business with (or sued you). Not every creditor supplies this information. For example, if you rent an apartment, the payments might not appear in your credit report unless your landlord makes a point to report it. This is sometimes unbalanced, since landlords might not always report timely payments (or even late payments), but almost certainly will report judgments and collections.
Your creditors report this information, which is linked to you through your Social Security Number and your address. The Social Security Number is the main way it is linked, but they address is also used to help prevent fraud and identity theft.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
All of these details so far have been helpful for creditors and employers, but you also have some control over your credit report that comes from the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This is a law that gives all consumers certain rights to their credit report, along with restrictions on businesses on what they can include in the report (and how they can use that information).
Once you have your credit report, you can also dispute any claims on it if you feel they are not legitimate. This means you can call the agency who provided the report and file a “dispute”. You also need to contact the lender who made the report to ask them to issue a correction if it is inaccurate. If the claim was because of an error, it will be removed from your report.
Even if a claim is not an error, you can contact the business who filed the claim and try to get it removed – if the person who files the claim withdraws it, it also is removed from your report. This is most often the case when people move out of their home without paying the final utility bills. If you contact the utility company and pay the outstanding bills (plus a fee), they may withdraw the claim entirely from your report. If you do have any such claims, it is always in your best interest to find them and take care of them as soon as possible, since it will impact your overall ability to obtain credit. For more information on disputing claims, visit http://consumer.ftc.gov.
If a potential employer wants to see your credit report, they need to get your written permission, only use it for the purposes of hiring you (and tell you what those exact purposes are), give you a copy of the report if they decide not to hire you (or fire you), and give you an opportunity to dispute any outstanding claims before they make their final decision.
If you get denied credit (or a job) because of the contents of your credit report, you also have the right to get a free copy for your own reference.
Businesses who order credit reports also have limits on how they use them. Generally speaking, a business who orders a credit report must:
Only use the report for deciding the terms of your financial agreement
Notify someone if something in their credit report affected their final decision
Tell the consumer which company they got the report from so the consumer can verify it.
Data Provider Responsibilities
People and businesses who provide the data that is included in credit reports also have their own responsibilities. The most important of which is to make sure all the information they report is accurate and up-to-date.
This means that if you file a dispute, the data provider has 30 days to verify that the claim is accurate, or else it is removed from your report until they do so. The data provider must also take some safeguards to prevent against data theft. This is why they require both a social security number and an address, so these items can be cross-referenced to check for identity theft.
The data providers also need to tell consumers before they file a claim and give them a chance to resolve it before it appears on their credit report.
Watch this great video from Bank of America showing how to find mistakes on your credit report, and get them corrected.
The Bottom Line
Your credit report is important, so don’t forget about it. You get one free look at your credit report each year (note – this report does NOT include your credit score), so you should take advantage of it. Some studies have shown that up to 30% of credit reports have some inaccurate information, and it is always in your best interest to have these resolved as soon as possible.
Have you ever been working on a trading assignment on HowTheMarketWorks, only to be frustrated when you want to check your progress on a mobile device?
Mobile Assignments Are Here
Whether you are trading on an Android tablet, Windows smartphone, or Apple Watch, you can monitor your assignment progress from anywhere!
As always, no software to download, app to install, or other restriction between you and your portfolio. Just log in to HowTheMarketWorks from any mobile device, and select “Assignments” from the main menu!
TeachPersonalFinance.com is a new resource for teachers that opened in the last year. It is a collection of recommendations, resources, and suggestions from a veteran personal finance teacher with over 30 years of experience.
There is a “Personal Finance Toolkit” of recommended resources and supplements for teachers (including HowTheMarketWorks!), along with the best ways to add both free and paid supplements to any personal finance class.
There are also recommendations for setting up personal finance-focused after school programs, crash courses for teachers, textbook recommendations, and much more.
Frustrated with the delay between the updates in your portfolio value, and how fast you move on the rankings page?
Real Time Rankings on HowTheMarketWorks
In the past, we needed to check everyone’s account and revalue them in a loop to update the rankings page – a process that could take up to 2 hours! We sped this up a few months ago by only showing people who have placed at least 1 trade, but get ready for true high-speed competition!
The value showing on the rankings page now updates every time you place a trade, and your position with it. This means every buy, sell, short and cover can move you up or down in real time. Users who don’t log in or trade are still updated every hour.
This also means we are now including every participant in every contest in every ranking – a feature teachers have been dying for, so now it only takes a second to see who is – and who is not – correctly registered in your contests.
“Economics” is often called the Dismal Science – it studies the trade-offs between making choices. The purpose of economics is to look at the different incentives, assets, and choices facing people, businesses, schools, and governments, and see if there is any way to improve outcomes.
This is done by looking at how supply and demand are related throughout the economy, exploring different allocation methods, and investigating how to change (and what impacts there are from changing) the distribution of wealth.
Examining Costs and Benefits
The central problem in all economics is exploring different costs and benefits of choices made by everyone in an economy. This is not just the dollar cost of an action, but also what is being given up.
Every time a road is built in one place, that means there are not enough resources to build it somewhere else, so governments need to carefully plan construction to make sure each project gets the most possible benefit given all available alternatives. Likewise, if a school decides to build a new computer lab, they cannot use that money to hire a new teacher, do renovations on classrooms, or improve the school lunch menu.
Every choice made is a balancing act – trying to make sure the benefit you get from one action is greater than the benefit you would get from any other alternative.
Supply and Demand Throughout The Economy
At a bigger scale, when there are many people making the same kinds of decisions all at the same time, the economy as a whole also needs to balance everyone’s choices. This is how “Supply” and “Demand” appears, and how prices are determined.
Supply and Demand together are called “Market Forces“, large trends that result in one market outcome or another (such as the price of a good, and how much pollution is made in the production of those goods). When the supply and demand result in a particular number of goods to be produced and sold at a certain price, this is called a “Market Outcome“.
Just like how different Market Forces can produce one Market Outcome, all of the different Market Outcomes in an economy will result in different “Resource Allocations“. Resource Allocations refers to everything from how many people work in coal mines, to how long (on average) students stay in school, to how much workers earn, and everything in between.
This means that all of the Market Outcomes are related – if a change in supply or demand cause the price of a good to go up, the people who make that good will earn more, and more people will start making it. This means that the income of those people goes up, which means the goods they like will have an increase in demand, and the cycle continues. The specific market outcome, and resource allocation, depends mostly on the total resources available (all raw materials, all available capital, and the entire work force number and skill level), previous market outcomes, and government policies.
Not Just Prices – Different Allocation Methods
Using “Prices” is just one of many possible ways to allocate the total resources available. Depending on what market outcome we are focused on, a different allocation method might be better or worse. Economists often try to determine what the best allocation method is for particular goods or services to try to improve market outcomes.
“Prices” let individuals measure their own individual level of demand against a prevailing market price – how much they have of a good or service depends on how much others are willing to make it, and how much everyone else values it.
Auctions are commonly used when there is a large imbalance between the number of potential buyers and sellers of a good or service, and the quantity available is limited. Economists spend a lot of time analyzing auction systems
For sellers, individual goods or services are left for potential buyers to “bid” on. This means that the person who values the good or service the most (in this case, who is able to pay the most) will get the good, and the seller gets the best possible price.
Auctions can also go in the other direction – a buyer could ask for sellers to “bid” to sell their good at a particular price, and the buyer will take the offer of the seller who can offer the lowest price. This is generally the case when a government hires a contractor to build a road – many competing companies provide “bids”, and the government makes its choice based on the bid price and the expected quality of the work.
Entitlements is a different allocation method – everyone gets a certain amount of a good or service, which is then paid for by taxes. This allocation method is generally used for “Essentials”, or otherwise things where it is impossible to charge someone based on their usage. The availability of public parks, drinking water, and clean air all use an “Entitlement” distribution system. Certain levels of basic housing and food is also generally provided as an Entitlement.
Even in a normal supply and demand system, price controls can be put in place by the government if a society is not satisfied with the pure market price allocation. This can be things like adding extra taxes to increase the price, giving subsidies to decrease the price, or telling sellers they can’t sell a good or service above or below certain prices.
Changing The Distribution Of Wealth
The distribution of wealth is more complicated than just how much the top 1% earn compared to the bottom 99% – it also examines how wealth is distributed between industries in an economy, how much different skill levels are worth relative to others, how taxes are paid and collected, and much more. When economists look at changes in the distribution of wealth, it is usually by making subtle changes to these smaller factors which add up to changes on a bigger scale, rather than trying to find a single way to transfer wealth from the “Rich” to the “Poor”.
Taxes and Transfers
Taxes and Transfers refers to the last point – taking money directly from the rich through taxes, and refunding that money directly to the poor through a subsidy or other transfer. This is the most blunt way to change the distribution of wealth, but it also has the largest implication for the total market allocation in an economy.
For example, the Rich use most of their income for investment, while the Poor use almost all of it for direct consumption. This is because the rich generally don’t get much benefit out of an extra $100 worth of groceries in a month, but that might be a very large boost in living standards for the poor.
By giving a single rich person an extra $10,000 in taxes, and using that revenue to give $100 directly to 100 people, those 100 people will almost certainly be made much better off than the one rich person was made worse off. However, that means that $10,000 would not be invested to help new companies grow, which in turn means fewer jobs are created to help build new wealth. A central problem of economics is trying to balance the consumption and benefit of people today against taking measures to help more growth for the future.
Economists also try to influence the distribution of wealth through government spending. This includes things choosing to use government money between giving grants to start-up businesses to create new jobs, or using that money to give scholarships to students to get a college education. Both outcomes are directed towards growth, but it is challenging to determine how to balance different spending alternatives to encourage different kinds of growth.
Another example comes from direct government spending – some countries spend a large amount of money on biotechnology research to build a new sector of their economy, while other countries spend more on building more public housing connected to public transit, to try to help the poor get better jobs in economic sectors that already exist.
Every part of economics is measuring these trade-offs – the benefits and costs of one choice versus another.