Disclaimer: This article does not intend to provide individual investing advice, but instead provides general information about investing for general educational purposes. Questions regarding your individual financial circumstances should be directed to a trusted and qualified, certified finance professional.
Investing money is one of the most powerful things you can do to build wealth for you and your family as an immigrant. It is also critical to learn how to begin investing so that you can help your money grow to build enough savings for things like retirement, your kids’ college, and buying a home.
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What is Investing?
There are many types of investments, for example stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate. Investing generally means buying a monetary asset with the idea that it will provide a greater payoff in the future for example by selling at a higher price than what it was originally purchased for or by providing income.
When you invest in a stock, you are buying a piece of that company to own and become what is called a shareholder.
Compared to when you save your money as cash either at home or in a bank account (which actually makes your money lose value over time due to the rate of inflation), investing can allow your money to grow.
How, you may ask? Depending on what type of investment you decide to purchase, your money has the potential to grow if that investment rises in value over time. If you sell the investment
that has grown in value in the future, you will profit from the increase in value. This is called capital gains.
Additionally, your money can also grow through “dividend payments,” which is money that a company pays people as a reward for their investments in the company. Dividend payments
can be reinvested in the investment, making the investment grow even faster.
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A Warning About Investing
Before beginning to invest, it is important to be clear about how you can invest responsibly
and avoid investments that are risky and likely to make you lose money.
First consider the rate of return, or the amount of growth in your money that is reasonably
likely. The average annual rate of return for the American stock market is approximately 7-10%. This means by investing broadly in the U.S. stock market, you can expect your money to grow on average approximately 7% per year. Because this is an average, that means that some years the rate will be lower and some years higher.
There are very few investments, such as stocks or mutual funds, that can perform better than the
7-10% average of the American stock market. Still, there are many people who think that they can “beat” the stock market by making risky investments. By trying to beat the market, risky investors can end up losing lots of money. A smart, long-term, and responsible investing strategy would be wise to simply try to follow the 7-10% average growth of the American stock market instead.
In addition, there are many investment firms that seem to promise high rates of return. But rarely can such firms beat the market. These firms can also charge high fees that reduce the amount of money you earn through investing. It is often more cost effective to invest yourself directly in a fund that broadly tracks the American stock market with a low fee.
Most importantly, investing should be a long-term strategy, such as for 20 or 30 years. The stock
market constantly goes up and down, and in the short-term it is unlikely that your money will grow significantly. It can be scary as an immigrant to trust the market and investing your money for many years, especially if you are coming from a country where the banks and financial institutions cannot be trusted. However, the U.S. stock market has a strong track record of long-term growth. The key to a smart investing strategy is to have a long-term plan to grow your money along with the U.S. stock market over time.
Why Immigrants Living in the U.S. May Want to Invest
Investing is an important tool for immigrants to learn about to build wealth. Although some investments can be risky if they try to beat the market, investing with a smart, reasonable, and long-term strategy can produce wealth that an immigrant family otherwise might not have been able to obtain.
Many immigrants come to the U.S. for economic opportunity with only a little bit of money and the
hope and dreams of working hard for a better life. By saving money alone, an immigrant is not as likely to build wealth than if he or she invests that money to grow with time. When investing is done in a responsible manner, saving money cannot compete.
For example, if you save $100 every month for 30 years in cash, you will have $36,000. However, if you invest the same $100 every month for 30 years in an investment account that grows at the same average annual rate of the American stock market, approximately 7% (this is a conservative estimate), it would grow to be worth $121,997. That’s $85,997 of additional (free) money your money can earn, on top of the $36,000 you saved, just by investing.
Smart, long-term investing can help an immigrant family to go from poverty and struggling financially to potentially a comfortable, middle class lifestyle building generational wealth.
Do Immigrants Need to Have a Green Card, Citizenship, or Social Security Number to Invest?
In order to invest in the U.S. stock market, you need to purchase investments through a brokerage company or firm.
There is currently no legal requirement that a person has to be a citizen or have a certain type of
visa or immigration status to invest and own stocks. But generally, immigrants will have to provide more documentation to open an account.
Some brokerage companies require an individual to have a visa or green card and/or a social
security number to open an investment brokerage account and make investments. These
requirements come from company policies and internal rules, not U.S. law.
The good news it that not all brokerage firms require a certain immigration status or social security
number. Some brokers allow a person to provide an Individual Tax Identification Number
(ITIN) instead of a social security number on a case by case basis. These brokerage firms might require the person to submit a paper application rather than apply online.
The U.S. government’s tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), gives Individual Tax Identification Numbers to foreign nationals who are working in the U.S. and pay taxes. An Individual Tax Identification Number is how many undocumented immigrants pay taxes to the government, which everybody must do regardless of their immigration status.
If you do not qualify for a Social Security Number, consider applying for an Individual Tax Identification Number through federal Form W-7 at the same time you file federal taxes to the IRS. It is available in English and Spanish. By obtaining an Individual Tax Identification Number, you will have more opportunities to make investments in your business.
A person who does not have a social security number but does have an ITIN and is interested in investing can call the brokerage company and ask if they apply by providing an ITIN or other form of identification.
Which Immigrants Are Not Allowed to Invest in the U.S.?
Because there is no citizenship requirement to invest, there are no laws, at least that we are aware of, saying that undocumented immigrants or immigrants with certain types of visas or immigration legal status are not allowed to invest.
People who are from countries that have been sanctioned by the U.S. government or who raise red flags about potential money laundering will likely face challenges in opening an investment account.
What Documents and Requirements Exist for Immigrants to Invest?
To open an account, brokerage companies will usually require a permanent address in the U.S. They may also ask for proof of employment history and a stable history of addresses in the U.S.
Individuals should also be willing to disclose their source of money that is being used for
Immigrants may also have to pay taxes on investments. Speak to a trusted accountant or tax
advisor for more information.
What Happens to an Immigrants’ Investments if They Leave the U.S.?
It will depend on the brokerage company whether a person is able to continue to operate their brokerage account from abroad if they leave the U.S. Some brokerage companies may require the person to maintain a U.S. fixed permanent address.