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What Is Common Stock and What Is Preferred Stock? Stock Types and Their Differences Explained

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When you step into the investing jungle, what will you find there? Lions (stocks) and tigers (bonds) and bears (cash), for sure. But they're not as scary as you think.

These three are the main investment classes, but the one we'll be tracking exclusively in this guide is the king of the jungle: stocks.

You may have heard stocks referred to as equities or securities. The reason they're called equities is that you purchase an equity, or ownership, share of a company. Stock is also called a security for the same reason, because you're securing a share of ownership in the company. That's right; you'll be a business owner just like you've always dreamed!

But, as you know from everyday life, there are terrifically run businesses and there are businesses that make you say, "I'll never go back there again!" How do you know the difference before you buy the stock? That's what this guided tour will be teaching you.

So when you buy stock, you become part owner of the company -- maybe only a very small part, but still an owner. The size of the part you own, by the way, is irrelevant to your personal objectives.

We won't cover bonds in this guide, but it's important for you to know that they're out there in the investing jungle. When you buy a bond, you don't become part owner of a company -- you're the bank! You lend the company, or others, money. When companies, counties, municipalities or the U.S. government need to raise money, but not raise taxes or prices, they have bond offerings.

Bonds are loans, with a maturity date, and a percentage rate, promised to you, the Bank of I.O.U.! The maturity date and set percentage rates can make bonds an attractive investment as part of a stabilizing influence in your investment portfolio. But you don't want just bonds in your portfolio -- over the long haul, stocks outperform bonds. If you want to purchase and own bonds, it's very important to have quality bonds in your portfolio. If you want to continue to learn about bonds, see "Why Buy Bonds?"

When financial advisers suggest you diversify, or vary your investments, they're advising you to spread out any potential risk, or decline, in your investment portfolio. Your investment portfolio is a collection of all of your investments, which could include assets from each of these three classes.

It's like a nutritionist telling you to eat a little bit of each type of food to maximize your health. A balance of green vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and whole grain breads keep you physically and mentally healthy. Likewise, you want to invest your money in a variety of assets in your portfolio: stocks, bonds and cash products. Cash investments include products such as certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market mutual funds that keep you financially healthy.

Ready then? Get out your compass.

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Beyond Wall St.