We all know how frustrating it can be to watch the stock we failed to trade when the timing was right. I've had some great experiences in the market, but ever since I took a big hit in '08, I hesitate to pull the trigger even when I'm confident in a stock's fundamentals. More often than not, my inaction leads to significant opportunity costs, and pondering "if only" and "what if" can be maddening.

Now, with a new presidency on the horizon and increased consumer confidence in the economy, I'm finally taking a more aggressive approach to my market behavior. I spoke with a friend of mine who's been at one of the largest hedge funds for over a decade, and seems to always know how to take advantage of the market in any period of flux. He told me that it's natural to feel apprehensive, especially after a loss, which is why he uses Real Money, a membership-based website headlined by Jim Cramer, to gain a competitive edge for his personal portfolio as well as for his clients.

When it comes to "pulling the trigger," Jim Cramer is one of the biggest advocates. Along with a staff of over 30 handpicked investing professionals, money managers, advisors, and analysts, he provides both long and short-term actionable investment ideas. Real Money's advisors aren't just journalists reporting the news after it's happened, but a proactive community of Wall Street experts that showcase their experienced perspectives and market-tested strategies in real-time, whether the market is up or down.

On the password-protected site, investors of all levels will find exclusive stock market information, including stock ideas from specialists like sell side technicians and chartists. Real Money's in-house chartist, Bruce Kamich, has a 40-year career with several bulge bracket firms, plus extensive knowledge of commodities, interest rates, equities, and ETFs. He's spotted some huge trends he shared with us, like the gold stocks, NovaGold and Yamana Gold, both for some very big gains. More recently, he made impressive calls on Timken Steel and giants of the oil-and-gas sector including Chesapeake Energy, which has rallied around 33% for he and his followers since his recommendation in October.

One of my favorite parts of the program is the advice and the alerts I receive throughout the trading day so I can act quickly before the news breaks on public domains. Cramer also posts three times each trading day on his daily market blog, which provides useful conclusions in a breezy and readable format, so I can always keep my finger on the market's pulse. You can follow along with the Real Money Ideas section, on the homepage when you login, to see which contributors' ideas pan out so you can decide whose ideas to follow. As a member, you can even contact any site contributor via email, including chief economist for ALM Advisors, Roger Arnold, and Jim Cramer himself.

With Real Money, I realized that there's always money to be made whether the market is bearish or bullish. With advice from professionals who have spent decades in the trenches, and are transparent about their strategies, I've become a more confident investor, and act on stock ideas to stop missing out on returns.

Update: The folks at Real Money are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to get Real Money FREE for 14 days with no obligations! (It's also discounted to just $3/week if you choose to continue your membership.)

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

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