You generally sell stock, bonds and similar securities through a brokerage. In some cases, like if you have a stock grant from an employer, you may not be able to sell it until it is fully vested over a period of time.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You'll usually sell stock through a brokerage, but selling through employee stock plans and direct purchase plans are other options.
Selling Stock Through a Brokerage
If you own stock and have it in your account at a brokerage, you can generally ask the brokerage to sell it. Depending on the brokerage and your account, you can do this online or over the phone.
Probably the simplest way to sell stock through a brokerage is with what's called a market order, where you ask to sell it at the current market price. You can also place what are called limit and stop orders, where it will only be sold if the price meets a certain requirement, so you can either dump your shares before the price goes too low or sell your holdings when the price gets high. In some cases, if a stock isn't heavily traded, you may not be able to sell as much as you wish, and in these cases you can tell the brokerage whether to sell a limited amount of stock or none at all.
Generally, you'll be charged a commission each time you buy or sell stock, but the commission will be the same regardless of the number of shares of each stock, so it can make sense to do larger transactions rather than smaller ones.
Selling Through a Direct-Purchase Plan
Some companies offer what are called direct stock purchase plans, where you can buy stock in the company directly from the company itself rather than using a brokerage as a middleman. The fees are generally different from a brokerage, so it's worth comparing the prices to see if this is a good deal for you or not. If you did buy stock through such a plan and you want to sell it, you can either ask the plan to sell it for you or transfer it to a traditional brokerage, where you can make the sale.
Selling Through Employee Stock Plans
Some companies offer compensation in the form of stock or the option to buy company stock at a good rate. These options and grants often vest over time, meaning that the shares or options gradually become available to you as you continue to work for the company. You generally can't sell them until this happens.
If the company isn't publicly traded, there may also be restrictions on when and how you can sell the shares. The company might have the right of first refusal on buying your shares or be able to block sales to other parties.
- 20SomethingFinance: Direct Stock Purchase Plans (DSPP) & DRIP’s: An Overview
- Charles Schwab: 3 Order Types: How and When to Use Them
- Charles Schwab: Stock Order Types: Getting to Know the Basics
- Retire Before Dad: Transferring Stock From Computershare to TD Ameritrade
- Fortune: The Complete Guide to Understanding Equity Compensation at Tech Companies
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.