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Americans fell in love with trading stocks during the pandemic, pouring billions of dollars into a market that only ever seemed to go up. Now with the Federal Reserve set to start hiking interest rates, experts say making money buying and selling shares is about to get a lot harder. Many novice traders will never know what hit them.

In the past few years, investing has become something of a national hobby. Once the province of Wall Street traders, or at least well-heeled professionals with 401(k)s, stock trading captured the public's imagination with help from apps like Robinhood. Before long, students started sharing their trading tips between classes and people couldn't stop talking about cryptocurrency, even on dating apps.

Options trading — the buying and selling of complicated financial instruments that's usually reserved for professionals — became a go-to move among some non-professionals, and non-fungible token (NFT) enthusiasts began spending thousands of dollars on digital art.

Some estimates say the retail crowd’s share of the overall market more than doubled in 2020, and the numbers kept climbing from there. Fidelity Investments had 31 million total retail accounts in the third quarter of 2021, up nearly 23% from the same time the year earlier.

But the investing boom can't go on forever. And Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has indicated that the central bank will raise interest rates, possibly as soon as March. The move, designed to curtail the amount of money coursing through the economy, could mean fewer dollars chasing the kind of speculative assets that have seen huge price increases in recent years, such as tech stocks and cryptocurrencies.

"Many new investors will be in for a rude awakening," says James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University. "The stock market is not a one-way upward escalator."

It felt almost effortless to make money on risky investments like meme stocks, cryptocurrency and the high-flying tech sector in recent years. But now that easy money is behind us, newer investors will face a challenge: Can they be patient, and turn their fast-moving hobby into a way to build long-term wealth?