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Why Do I Need a Broker? If you want to buy stocks, you're going to need a broker. Also, who wouldn't want to own stocks? There is no place over the past 100 years where your long-term savings would have fared better than the stock market -- not in bonds, not in real estate, and not in gold.

However, before you start tracking the Dow's every move; before you run the numbers on a company's cash flow, you should set some expectations.

One good rule of thumb is that if you've got money you won't need for at the very least, five years, and hopefully longer, then you should invest it in the stock market. Money earmarked for earlier use (such as a down payment on a house, or a graduating senior's college tuition) should be put in a short-term savings vehicle like a money market account, savings account, or certificate of deposit (CD). Also, if you have high-interest credit card debt, send all your extra money directly to your lender and pay off that bill.

For the long-term money, there is no place where you historically could have gotten a higher rate of return than in the stock market, especially recently. As measured by the S&P 500, the market has returned a whopping 19% with dividends reinvested over the past 10 years. In fact, it crushes the historical (since 1926) average annual S&P return of 11% (which still isn't too shabby). But this trend won't continue forever, and before you start investing, you should consider that.

Nevertheless, over the long term -- during bull markets, bear markets, Depressions, recessions and elections -- the stock market has been the place to be, and a discount brokerage account will get you there

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