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The stock market may be like a scary thrill ride at times, but investors who hold on tight find that stocks are a great way to grow your money.

Maybe that's why pollsters say more than half of Americans (54%) are in the market, either through individual stocks, the baskets of stocks called "mutual funds," or retirement accounts.

If you're not already in that group and don't have access to a 401(k) or other retirement account where you work, getting into stock investing is easier than you might think.

Investing in individual stocks

A graph on an investment app.
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In 2018 you can carry your broker in your pocket.

Buying individual stocks is risky, similar to going to the racetrack and putting all of your money on one horse.

But if you've done your research, have found a company you like and aren't going to wager all of your savings on it, you might buy some shares through a brokerage or a stock-trading app.

Brokerage accounts are offered by variety of both longtime and newer financial institutions, including Charles Schwab, E-Trade and Ally.

Before opening a brokerage account, compare costs, including any regular fees and the commissions you'll pay on stock trades. Explore the minimum deposits needed to get started, and review each broker's tools (like calculators) and stock research resources.

Stock-trading apps, such as Robinhood and Stash, charge low or no commissions or fees, and the account minimums are minimal. You can start investing with Stash for as little as $5.

It's easy to link the apps to your bank account. Maybe too easy. You need to do your homework and understand what you're doing — and be willing to lose your money if your stocks crash.

Another option for buying individual stocks is through the companies themselves, if they have direct stock purchase plans. The costs tend to be lower than trading through a broker. Companies offering these plans include The Home Depot and Walt Disney.

Investing in stocks through mutual funds, ETFs

When you invest in stocks by buying mutual funds, you spread your risk around. A fund is a collection of different stocks, and you own portions of each. A mutual fund manager oversees the mix of investments in the fund.

The big advantage with mutual funds is that your investment is unlikely to suddenly become worthless, which could happen if you put all of your money on one stock.

A disadvantage is that your investment in a mutual fund is unlikely to make you a quick killing.

You can invest in mutual funds through a fund company, such as Vanguard or Fidelity, or through a broker.

ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, are similar to mutual funds, though they're traded on a stock exchange, similar to individual stocks. If you like the idea of following a single stock but don't feel confident in your stock-picking abilities, you might try an ETF.

ETFs are available through brokers, or through apps including Stash and Betterment.

No matter how you choose to invest in stocks, the important thing is to just do it already. The market tends to go up over time, so you need to jump in and start making money.

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