As investors, we have many investment vehicles to choose from to add to our portfolio, ranging from stocks to real estate to bonds. For most investors, the goal is to achieve high returns on investments (ROI), however, other factors are important to consider. When you are trying to figure out where to put your money, understanding your risk profile will play a big role in how you allocate each asset in your portfolio.
Typically, financial vehicles that have a high return on investment in a short period of time also have high risk, whereas safe investments have lower risks but also lower yields. As an individual investor, finding the right balance is crucial. You can use this guide as a stepping stone to compare different financial vehicles and weigh their risks versus returns.
- All investments carry risks, but some are more riskier than others. How much risk you end up taking will depend on your risk tolerance, financial literacy, and personal goals.
- We’ll cover examples of low-risk investments (savings accounts, bonds, and certificates of deposit), medium-risk investments (dividend stocks, real estate investment trusts, and index funds/exchange-traded funds), and high-risk investments (growth stocks, penny stocks, options, and cryptocurrency).
3 Low-Risk Investments
Investing in low-risk options is a great way to maintain a balanced portfolio. Below are 3 choices to consider if you value predictability and security.
High-Yield Savings Account
A high-yield savings account is a federally insured investing vehicle that offers a decent rate of return per year without any meaningful risks. If you open a high-yield savings account with your bank, it is likely insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which means even if your institution fails, the government will keep up to $250,000 of your cash safe and accessible. As of May 2021, some of the best high-yield savings accounts available offer anywhere from 0.2% to 0.5% annual percentage yields (APYs), which is much better than the national average of 0.06%.
Banks you could open high-yield savings accounts with include Ally Bank, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, American Express National Bank, Capital One, etc. Though the annual returns may not be as appealing as the returns of high growth stocks, high-yield savings accounts are very liquid, which allows you to access your money easily and quickly. You can typically add or remove your funds at any time, however, some banks may have monthly withdrawal limits. If you want to hold cash in case of emergencies, putting your money into a high-yield savings account is a safe bet.
- Stashing your emergency fund
- A virtually risk-free vehicle for holding cash
U.S. Savings Bonds
One of the lowest-risk investments currently available is the U.S. savings bond, which is issued by the Department of the Treasury. When you purchase a savings bond, you are giving the government a loan to finance federal expenditures such as capital projects. They are considered one of the safest options because you will be paid a fixed rate of interest over a set period of time in exchange for loaning your money. By buying a government bond, you will know exactly what to expect before you invest.
There are 2 types of savings bonds:
- Series EE Bonds By purchasing a Series EE bond, you are guaranteed to earn a fixed interest rate, which is set bi-annually, for up to 30 years. They are sold at face value and are long-term investments.
- Series I Bonds By purchasing a Series I bond, you will earn interest based on both inflation and a fixed rate.
- Money you do not need until the maturation date
- Excess cash that is not insured by the FDIC (more than $250,000)
Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
Certificates of deposits are an investment contract you make with your credit union or bank to receive a fixed rate of return when you deposit your money with them for a predetermined time period. Similar to a high-yield savings account, you will earn interest on your deposit and they are FDIC insured for up to $250,000, however, the biggest difference is that CDs are illiquid. Once you make the deposit, you will not be able to withdraw your money for the specified time period, which can range from 90 days to 10 years. If you decide to withdraw before the maturity date, or the date when the contract ends, you will be penalized. There are virtually no risks with CDs and the more you deposit as well as the longer the time frame, the higher your return will be.
- Money you do not need for the specified time frame
- A good rate of return without the risks
3 Medium-Risk Investments
If the rates of return for the low-risk options above were not appealing enough, consider looking at assets that provide a greater return on your investment, but with a bit more risk. Below are 3 options you can look into.
High Dividend Stocks
If you want to invest in the stock market, but are unsure where to begin, searching for high dividend stocks is a great starting point. Large companies that have a long history of financial stability, low volatility, and steady profits may choose to share their profit with shareholders by paying out dividends regularly. These dividends can then be invested back into the stock market through a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP) or be used as passive income.
By investing in the right dividend stocks, you can benefit from a decent ROI with limited risks. They are also a comforting option during market downturns as most companies continue to give dividend payments out even if share prices fall. In times of uncertainty, they are also a great source of stability and reliability in the long term.
Examples of companies that have consistently paid out dividends for over 20 years include Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola. Dividend-paying stocks are a great way to make money regularly, especially since most of them pay dividends every quarter. You can purchase dividend stocks through brokerages such as Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Webull, and TD Ameritrade.
- Growing a passive income stream
- Lower-risk option for investing in the stock market
- Investing for retirement
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)
REITs are companies that own and/or manage income-generating properties. If you want to invest in real estate, but do not have the money to purchase properties or the knowledge to manage them, investing in REITs is an easy and low-cost way to get started. Similar to mutual funds, REITs pool together capital from investors to buy and/or manage properties, ranging from apartments to hotels to data centers. They typically offer above-average returns and are registered with the SEC.
Generally, a REIT specializes in a specific sector of real estate, but some REITs hold different types of real estate. As the value of the properties owned by a REIT rise, so do your returns. As an individual investor, investing in REITs is a great way for you to earn dividends from real estate without having to buy or manage them yourself. You can invest in REITs through your brokerage or a business like Funrise.
- Real estate investors with limited capital and/or knowledge
- Investors looking for a low-cost opportunity to buy real estate
Index Funds/Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
The stock market can be extremely volatile, but an easy way to minimize some of the risks is to invest in index funds or ETFs. An index fund is a type of mutual fund that tracks a specific index or benchmark whereas an ETF represents baskets of assets. By investing in these two options, investors can instantly diversify their portfolio, thereby lowering risk, while still getting attractive returns. Though there is still the potential to lose your initial investment, you will be less affected when one or a few individual stocks in your portfolio go down since you have spread your cash across tens or hundreds of companies through these funds.
According to Bankrate, some of the best funds are the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV), Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), and SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY). These funds track the broader stock market, but you can also invest in specific sectors, such as clean energy, innovation, or healthcare. Most of the time, you can expect to pay an expense ratio or fee, but some are completely free. For the ones that do have an expense ratio, they are typically just a small percentage of your investment, which is a low cost to pay for all the benefits of investing that you gain. You can search for these funds through your brokerage, but certain funds are exclusively offered in specific brokerages only.
- Diversifying risk across securities
- Getting attractive returns over the long term
- Purchasing many securities with limited cash
4 High-Risk Investments
If you have a high risk tolerance and an appetite for gambling in the hopes of getting high returns, these options could be right for you.
A growth stock is any share in a publicly traded company that is expected to grow at a rapid rate. Common traits include unique product lines, new technology, and innovations. Generally, they do not pay dividends because the companies are reinvesting their profit in themselves to accelerate growth and provide greater value in the future. Oftentimes, growth stocks have high valuations and trade at high P/E ratios in anticipation of potential profits. While they may be considered expensive compared to value stocks, investors believe that their performance in the future will vastly outpace the market average and provide benefit through capital gains.
Examples include Tesla, Zoom, Square, Amazon, Fiverr International, and Roku. Though there is potential for a high return on your investment, growth stocks also have significant risks. During bear markets, they tend to decline much faster, as seen with the rotation from growth to value stocks in early 2021. They also have higher volatility and are at a greater likelihood of underperforming in the stock market. Growth stocks also face execution and scaling risks and can go out of style if investors move toward safer alternatives.
- Investors who are comfortable with high price swings or volatility
- People who are not depending on dividends as a steady stream of income or income for retirement
- People with their personal finance under control
- People with a long term time horizon
A penny stock refers to a company this is small and trades at a share price of $5 or less. Generally, they have low trading volume and low liquidity, which can make it difficult for investors and traders to go in and out of a position quickly. While the cost per share is low, they are considered highly speculative, meaning that you can lose a lot from trading and investing in them. Some factors to consider are that these companies are likely headed towards bankruptcy, are in a lot of debt, or have other serious financial issues.
Because penny stocks typically have low liquidity, they can easily be used for pump-and-dump schemes, in which inexperienced investors are encouraged through social media and news to buy shares to lift the price up, and then are left holding onto them as bad parties dump the shares for a profit. Other scams to look out for include short-and-distort scams, reverse merger deceptions, mining scams, and guru scams.
To mitigate some of these potential downsides, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself. For example, you could set aside a specific amount for these types of risky bets, do your own due diligence before investing, and set up a game plan for when to exit your positions. While there is a lot of risks associated with this type of investment, there is potential to win big if you bet on the right company. Generally, they are seen as a way to get rich quickly and are not meant to be held for years. You can search for penny stocks to purchase through your brokerage.
- Investors who like to do research on the stock market
- Investors who have a high-risk tolerance
- Investors who like to make big gambles
Options trading refers to traders and investors buying or selling options contracts. There are two types of options trading calls and puts. A call option gives you the right to purchase shares of a stock at a specific strike price, while a put option gives you the right to sell shares of a stock at a set price. Options contracts are set for a predetermined length of time, ranging from days to years, and each contract typically equals 100 shares of the underlying stock. You have a right to exercise an option contract any time before it expires, but most options are not exercised.
While they are a good way to get a high ROI and generate income, options contracts are extremely risky and complicated. You could expect to lose all of your initial investments and more if you make the wrong bet or make a mistake when buying or selling an option. You can purchase options through your brokerage, but some may incur a fee.
- Investors seeking a high rate of return or high ROI
- Investors willing to take on a huge gamble for potential profit
- Investors looking for another stream of income
Cryptocurrencies are a type of digital currency that runs on blockchain technology, which are decentralized networks that are distributed across many computers. They can be used as an asset to buy goods and services online and as a store of value. Most cryptocurrencies are not issued by central governments, which allows them to exist without any government interference or control. Because cryptocurrencies are secured by cryptography, that also makes it more difficult to create counterfeits.
Created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, Bitcoin (BTC) is the first invention of cryptocurrency. It remains valuable and popular today, with a market cap of over $1 trillion. Other popular cryptocurrencies, or “altcoins,” include Ethereum (ETH), Dogecoin (DOGE), Cardano (ADA), and Solana (SOL).
There are many advantages and disadvantages to investing in crypto.
You can make transactions without using third parties, such as a bank or credit card company. These transactions are secured by public and private keys and various types of incentive systems, which can provide more anonymity and privacy protections than currencies issued by governments. Cryptocurrencies can also be used as a hedge against inflation and as a way to diversify your portfolio beyond the stock market and real estate.
However, using cryptocurrencies carry greater risks. The exchange rates fluctuate constantly, which makes the prices extremely volatile. With thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence today, some can carry critical vulnerabilities in their underlying infrastructure and others have been deemed as “scams” or “Ponzi schemes” on social media. Crypto transactions are also one-way only, which means if you make a mistake when you are transferring crypto or get scammed, you will lose your assets.
Thus, while there is potential for huge gains by investing in certain cryptocurrencies, there is also potential for huge losses. Currently, you can purchase cryptocurrencies on brokerages like Webull or Robinhood, exchanges such as Coinbase, Gemini, or Kraken, and on crypto lending platforms such as Celsius and BlockFi.
- Investors with a decent understanding of how cryptocurrency works
- Investors who can withstand high volatility
Frequently Asked Questions
What investments have the highest returns?
Investments that you can include in your portfolio to get high returns include high-yield savings accounts, CDs, money market funds, REITs, index funds, ETFs, and dividend stocks.
What is the highest safest return on investments?
The best safe investments include high-yield savings accounts, bonds (U.S. Treasury Bond, Corporate Bond, Series I Savings Bond), real estate, and CDs.
What is a good rate of return on investments?
Currently, the average stock market return ranges from 6% to 8% so using an average annual return of 6% as your benchmark for performance is a good start. After a few years of investing, you can then compare your portfolio to the average performance of the stock market over time as well as your personal average annual return each year.
How do I determine my risk tolerance?
Your risk tolerance is based on several factors including your investment goals, level of experience, initial capital, and investment time frame.
The biggest goal for most investors is to generate a high return on investment to build wealth. This could be for short-term financial goals, such as saving for a vacation or big-ticket expense, or longer-term goals, such as retirement. Having a good rate of return on your investments allow you to continuously expand and raise the value of your portfolio. However, this process could take years as there are many factors that you need to consider before investing. As described in this article, there is a multitude of options to choose from and each carries its own risks and benefits. Thus, as an investor, finding the right balance that works for you is important to create a good rate of return while not overextending yourself.