Day Trading 101

Is Day Trading of Stocks for You?

Day Trading 101
March 20, 2014

Day trading is the buying and selling of the same security in one day or selling a security short and buying it back the same day. It is a short-term trading model that aims to profit from the difference between the two transactions. Simply put, day traders rarely, if ever, hold the same position overnight. Before you decide whether day trading is right for you, here is what you need to know.

Day Trading Styles

There is a wide variety of day trading styles. The "scalping" style is when trades are done in literally a few seconds, with a low level of gain per transaction. Investors using the "Trend" style hold on to their positions for minutes to hours, following the current market position to reach the desired upward tick levels. "Counter-Trend" traders go against the market position; for example, they may buy on days when the market is moving downward, while "Range" traders hold positions for just minutes while the market moves sideways.

Some investors stick to one style while others mix it up, depending on their overall goals and personalities. You should always have a basic strategy regarding your entry and exit price points to avoid ending up over your head financially. By setting limits, you can help to curb losses. As the saying goes, “Plan the trade and then trade the plan.”

What Markets Are Available?

You can day trade in various markets, including currencies, stocks, commodities, futures and options. Finding the right markets for you depends on several factors, such as your location, current financial situation and the trading system you want to use. At the beginning, your best bet may be a market that moves at a medium pace with low margin requirements, such as the EUR futures market and the mini Dow Jones futures market. Your margin is how much money you have deposited with the market with which to trade; some markets, such as The Gold 100 troy ounce futures market, require a margin in the $5,000-plus range. Margin requirements vary depending on your trading history, regulatory minimums (see FINRA below), and guidelines set by your brokerage firm or Future Commissions Merchant (FCM).

The Software Investment

Day traders use software to analyze risk and keep on top of news. Day trading software features vary by manufacturer but include market pattern recognition and applications that help the user perfect a trading system. Some programs have mobile access, broker integration to handle day trades directly, and back testing, which allows the user to test strategies on past events and see the potential results.

The right software for you depends on various factors, such as which brokerages you want to deal with and your interface preferences. Review more than one day trading software application before buying to ensure that you are getting what you need.

Pattern Day Traders

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a pattern day trader is a person who makes at least four day-trades in a five-business-day period if the trades total more than 6 percent of their trading activity on that margin account. A broker may also designate a person as a pattern day trader if they have reason to believe they will become one.

Since pattern day traders are exposed to heavy financial risk, FINRA places requirements and restrictions on those designated as such. For example, a pattern day trader can only trade on margin accounts and must have at least $25,000 in one. Consider your day trading activity carefully if you wish to avoid the pattern designation.

Know All the Risks Involved

All investments include some level of risk, but day trading is especially precarious at the start. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, day traders incur substantial risk of financial loss, especially early in their experience curve, and there is no guarantee of profit, no matter how much time is invested.

Consequently, only day trade what you can afford to lose, and avoid using money you need for living expenses. If you are borrowing from a firm as part of your trading activities, make sure that you fully understand the rules and the associated margin call; you must be aware of what will trigger the demand for you to deposit further cash or securities to cover possible losses. For those new to day trading, using the margin is not advisable until you have a lot of practice.

Research any firms you want to use thoroughly before engaging, and be wary of companies or individuals advertising guaranteed or quick profits from day trading. Even educational courses on day trading may be influenced by the presenter's personal interests, so double-check information that you receive.

If you are still unsure as to whether day trading is for you, try a free simulation of the activity. A sim will give you an idea of the hectic pace of day trading and a chance to try out different methods before putting down real money.

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