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How to invest in the S&P 500

A benchmark for not only the largest publicly traded companies in the US, but also the market's overall health.


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How do I get started with the S&P 500?

The S&P 500 is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the leading 500 publicly traded companies in the US. But you can’t directly invest in it.

Rather, you can buy the stocks of the companies that make up the S&P 500 or buy an index fund — such as a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund — that tracks the overall performance of the S&P 500 index.

4 steps to invest in an S&P 500 fund

Some index funds track the performance of all 500 S&P stocks, whereas others only track a certain number of stocks or are weighted more towards specific stocks.

  1. Find an S&P 500 ETF or mutual fund. Select a fund that best suits your investment goals from popular options that include:
    • SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)
    • Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFIAX)
    • Fidelity 500 Index Fund (FXAIX)
    • iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV)
    • Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
  2. Open a stock trading account. Look for a broker, platform or mutual fund issuer that supports the index fund you’re interested in. Many digital options allow you to trade from your computer or smart device.
  3. Deposit funds. Fund your trading or brokerage account with money from a bank account or, if available, another brokerage account. If your broker charges a deposit fee, it’s worth shopping around for a different company that doesn’t.
  4. Buy the index fund. As soon as your account is funded, you can buy the S&P 500 index fund. While most brokerage accounts these days waive commissions per trade, you might pay a small annual fee — called the net expense or management expense ratio — to invest in an ETF or index fund.

How to invest in S&P 500 stocks

An alternative way of investing in the S&P 500 is to buy individual stocks in companies listed in the index. Buying the stocks follows a very similar process as buying an ETF — the only difference is the ticker symbol.

Devise your own stock-selection criteria or pick favorites in each of the 11 stock market sectors:

  • Communications. Phone, Internet and cable providers as well as satellite companies.
  • Consumer discretionary. Nonessential goods like entertainment, leisure or travel and high-end cars.
  • Consumer goods. Personal and household staples like food, hygiene products and appliances.
  • Energy. Companies involved in exploring, digging, drilling and developing oil and gas reserves.
  • Financials. Banks, brokers and similar companies involved in borrowing and lending.
  • Health care. Medical services, manufacturers and insurance.
  • Industrial goods. Companies whose equipment and machines are used in construction and manufacturing rather than sold direct to consumers.
  • Information technology. Companies involved in the R&D necessary to produce software, computers and other technology services.
  • Materials. Companies involved in acquiring, refining and otherwise processing raw materials like wood, gold and minerals — the raw materials needed for construction and technology.
  • Real estate. Companies involved the buying and selling of personal and commercial properties, buildings and developments.
  • Utilities. Basic amenities like water, sewage and electricity.

Other strategies involve filtering the 500 by divident yield or a combination of valuation ratios.

You’ll also find ETFs for subcategories within the S&P 500, including each market sector and high-yielding dividend stocks.

What stocks are in the S&P 500?

The S&P 500 comprises 500 of the largest US companies by market capitalization, which means it includes some of the most recognizable and popular stocks in the world, like:

Compare S&P 500 trading platforms

Name Product Available asset types Stock trade fee Option trade fee Annual fee
Stocks,Mutual funds,ETFs,Forex
$20 per year
Get a personal advisor when you open an account with at least $50,000.
Make unlimited commission-free trades in stocks, funds, and options with Robinhood Financial.
TD Ameritrade
Stocks,Bonds,Options,Mutual funds,ETFs,Forex,Futures
or $25 If it is broker-assisted
$0 + $0.65/contract,
or $25 Broker-assisted
TD Ameritrade features $0 commission for online stock, but watch out for high short-term ETF and broker-assisted trading fees.
Stocks & ETFs: $1/contract to open, $0 to close, $10 max/leg
Futures: $2.50/contract to open, $0 to close
Trade stocks, options, ETFs and futures on mobile or desktop with this advanced platform.

Compare up to 4 providers

Why should I invest in the S&P 500?

The S&P 500 features some of the largest and most successful companies in the world, and it often mirrors the health of the entire stock market. The return produced by the index historically been the benchmark for success in investing. And index funds and ETFs generally offer low management fees, making investing in an S&P 500 fund an efficient way to invest in the stock market.

Historically, the S&P 500 has had an average annual compounded return of 7.5%. Since 2009, the index has been profitable every year but for 2018. It remains to be seen how it fares in 2020.

Disclaimer: The value of any investment can go up or down depending on news, trends and market conditions. We are not investment advisers, so do your own due diligence to understand the risks before you invest.

Bottom line

Indices like the S&P 500 are one way to help diversify your stock portfolio, helping you to weather financial storms through a mix of investments, like stocks, bonds and CDs. Compare your investment options to learn more about other ways to grow your hard-earned money.

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