Have you thought about buying stock in a certain company but just didn’t have the capital to make a trade? Or perhaps you heard news about a company and thought to yourself that the stock price was poised to rise? Or maybe have you have always just wanted to know more about picking stocks? Thanks to virtual stock exchange technology, stock market simulators that let you pick securities, make trades and track the investment results — all without risking a penny — are as close as your mobile device or keyboard.

What Types of Trading Simulators Are Available?

There are a host of stock market simulators to choose from — each offering a variety of features and benefits. Some are easy to use and offer only basic investment choices and trading strategies. Others are more complex, offering more advanced securities such as options and currency trading. Some are simply tutorials that help investors learn to trade, while others sponsor contests that provide an opportunity to test your skills against other users and even win real money.

The simulator that’s right for you will depend on your skill level and reasons for trading. You may start out with a basic offering and move on to a more sophisticated platform once your skill level improves. When you are ready to give it a try, the following simulators have all received high marks from various reviewers.

How the Market Works

How the Market Works is advertised as "the web’s most popular free stock market game." Like most of the simulators, to sign up, you enter your email address and age, opt in or out of third-party contact, choose how much virtual cash you'd like to start with, and then you're ready to trade.

On this site, investors can buy stocks, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the U.S. and Canadian markets. Currency trading and short-selling enables investors to practice more advanced investing strategies. The penny stock area even provides detailed insight into the potential dangers investors face when trading penny stocks. You can now also practice trading global stocks, options, and futures, from exchanges in Toronto, London, India, Mexico, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Australia and more international markets.

Several trading modes are available, providing everything from real-time hours that match the stock market (including extended-hours trading for those seeking to replicate the live-market experience) to fun mode that permits trading twenty-four hours a day.

How the Market Works provides an extensive library of educational articles to help new investors get started and a variety of contests that pit would-be traders against each other in a test of virtual trading skills. To facilitate various trading strategies, it also provides data on the most-actively traded stocks, and a summary of the direction the financial markets are moving in. For investors who are ready to dig a little deeper and begin researching individual securities, the site’s research area provides the same level of detail available in real brokerage accounts, including company news and analyst recommendations.

While the site has a significant number of attractive features, more sophisticated investors may not appreciate the limited selection of order types. Market orders, limit orders and trailing stops are the available trading selections. 

Wall Street Survivor

Wall Street Survivor is another popular stock market simulator offering virtual stock trading. After signing up, novice investors can upgrade their skills with a variety of educational courses, including several on "Getting Started in the Stock Market." With offerings ranging from "Understanding Stock Market Indexes" to "The Initial Public Offering," this site covers the bases with insightful information. An array of tutorials, articles and videos rounds out a solid package.

The site is geared towards entry-level investors with a social-media style design, and simple informational displays. Information such as analysts ratings and stock research are presented in an easy to understand format with few words or complex charts. Users can earn badges and compete for prizes while learning how to invest.

Investors that are familiar with standard brokerage accounts may find the information and data presented on Wall Street Survivor to be too basic. While the navigation is simple and user-friendly, it is a less-than-perfect match for users seeking to replicate the look and feel of an actual brokerage account. While the interactive community chat room is an interesting feature that compliments the social-media theme and design, it tends to be filled with some off-topic and unhelpful commentary.

Investopedia's Stock Simulator

The Investopedia Stock Simulator is well-integrated with the financial education site’s familiar content and starts off investors with a virtual balance of one hundred thousand dollars for trading. The simulator includes a series of "how to guides" on topics such as purchasing stocks, advanced trade types, and covering short positions.

The actual trading occurs in the context of a game, which can involve joining an existing game or creating a custom game that allows the user to configure the rules. Types of games include U.S. stocks, Canadian stocks, those targeted to beginners, those designed for more advanced investors and self-designed sessions that let you practice a custom set of skills.

Options, margin trading, adjustable commission rates and other choices provide a variety of ways to customize the games. From there, players can review holdings, trade and check their rankings, research investments and review their awards (which can be earned for completing various activities).

The Bottom Line

Stock market simulators provide a safe, structured environment where would-be investors can teach themselves about investing without risking any money. With time and practice using the simulators, the transition to actual trading in a real brokerage account can become seamless. Just remember, once you leave the virtual world and start trading with real money, mistakes can be costly and a bad trade can result in the loss of real dollars.

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