Stop-Loss vs. Stop-Limit Order: What's the Difference?

Stop-Loss vs. Stop-Limit: An Overview

Traders can have more control over their trades by using stop-loss or stop-limit orders. A stop-loss order triggers a market order when a designated price is hit. A stop-limit order triggers a limit order when a designated price is hit. Whereas a standard market order executes instantly regardless of the underlying security's price, a stop-order and stop-limit order both execute only when a target price has been met.

Both types of orders are used to mitigate risk against potential losses on existing positions or to capture profits on swing trading. While stop-loss orders guarantee execution if the position hits a certain price, stop-limit orders build in the limit price the order gets filled at. An investor can enter into either a stop-loss or stop-limit order whether they are long or short, though the type of order they set will depend on their position and the current market price.

These types of orders are very common in stocks, especially in leverage trading or forex markets. In volatile markets where large price swings may quickly occur, stop-loss orders and stop-limit orders both hedge uncertainty. Both orders are also useful for risk-averse average investors looking to guarantee part of a trade.

When triggered, a stop order guarantees a transaction will occur but does not guarantee the price it will execute at. Alternatively, a stop-limit order guarantees the price a transaction will occur at but may not execute a transaction.

Key Takeaways

  • Both types of orders are used by traders to mitigate downside risk or to capture upside profits when certain price targets are met.
  • Stop-loss orders execute a market order when triggered, and execution of the contract is guaranteed when the stop-loss price is met.
  • Stop-limit orders execute a limit order when the initial stop-loss order is triggered, providing investors more control over execution price.
  • The price of a stop-loss order is not guaranteed, as the contract may execute below the stop-loss price.
  • The full execution of a stop-limit order is not guaranteed if the limit order price is not triggered.


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Stop Limit Orders

Stop-Loss Strategy

A stop-loss order is commonly used in a stop-loss strategy where a trader enters a position but places an order to exit the position at a specified loss threshold. A stop-loss order can also be used by short-sellers where the stop triggers a buy order to cover rather than a sale.

For example, if a trader buys a stock at $30 but wants to limit potential losses by exiting at a price of $25, they would enter a stop order to sell at $25. The stop-loss triggers if the stock falls to $25, at which point the trader's order becomes a market order and is executed at the next available bid. This means the order could fill lower or higher than $25 depending on the next bid price.

Stop-Loss Trigger Price

When a stop-loss is triggered, it will execute the contract at the market price, not the stop-loss price. There is an increased risk of the execution price for higher volatility securities to be below the stop-loss price.

A stop-loss order converts into a market order once the stop price is triggered. If an investor wants more control over the price the trade gets executed at, they can modify their stop-loss order into a stop-limit order.

Stop-Limit Orders

A stop-limit order is technically two order types combined. First, there is a stop-loss order that triggers the contract when a target price is met. Second, there is a limit price order that fills the contract only if the security price reaches that target. Both contracts are entered into at the same time, though the limit price order is not triggered until the stop-loss order is filled.

For example, if the trader in the previous scenario enters a stop-limit order at $25 with a limit of $24.50, the order triggers when the price falls to $25 but only fills at a price of $24.50 or better.

This type of order, depending on the limit price entered, could end up being triggered but then not filled. In the example above, the security's price could hit $25, triggering the stop-loss portion of the order. However, if the security's price drops to only $24.75, the limit order portion will not fill as the trigger price of $24.50 has not been met.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of orders. In general, both offer potential hedge protection for unfavorable security price movement. However, there are key characteristics about how these orders execute (or don't execute), fees, and execution standards.

Advantages

Stop-Loss Orders
  • Protects against further downside for poor performing securities

  • Guarantees a trade will occur

  • Hedges against short-term volatility

  • Serves as protection to limit losses if a security moves opposite an investor's position

Stop-Limit Orders
  • Protects against extreme price volatility

  • Guarantees a minimum price a trade will execute at

  • Provides flexibility as investors can reconsider their position if the limit price is missed

  • Serves as protection to limit losses if a security moves oppose an investor's position

Disadvantages

Stop-Loss Order
  • Offers minimal to no flexibility as the order is guaranteed to trigger if stop loss price is met

  • Executes at market price when triggered; this might be less than the stop order loss price based on open market trades

  • Exposes investors to the risk of other investors trying to take out their stop levels

  • Requires insight into price determination practices as different brokers have different standards for triggering and executing positions

Stop-Limit Order
  • Offers no guarantee to be executed even if trigger price is met (due to the difference between trigger price and limit price)

  • Exposes investors to the risk of other investors trying to take out their stop levels

  • Requires potentially high commission fee if service not offered by broker for free

  • Requires insight into price determination practices as different brokers have different standards for triggering and executing positions

Should I Put A Stop-Loss Order on My Stocks?

Investors that want to minimize the potential loss on their stocks can place a stop-loss order to mitigate investment risk. If you're risk-averse or have a short-term investment horizon, a stop-loss order may be more suitable for your investment needs.

What's the Difference Between a Market Order, Limit Order, and Stop Order?

A market order is a trade that executes immediately at whatever the prevailing price in the market is. A limit order is a trade that is triggered if a market price is hit but does not fully trigger until the limit price is met. A stop order is triggered when the stop-loss price is met, though the trade may execute at below this stop-loss price.

Is a Stop-Loss Order Risky?

A stop-loss order is typically a risk mitigation tool to minimize potential losses. Though not inherently risky, there are disadvantages and downsides to stop-loss orders.

Should Regular Investors Use Stop-Loss Orders and Stop-Limit Orders?

If investors want to protect against unfavorable price movements or want to ensure capture of gains, they can use stop-loss or stop-limit orders. Many investors may find their current broker offers stop-loss orders for free, though stop-limit orders may come at an additional brokerage fee.

The Bottom Line

Stop-loss and stop-limit orders can provide different types of protection for both long and short investors. Stop-loss orders guarantee execution, while stop-limit orders guarantee the price.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Investor Bulletin: Stop, Stop-Limit, and Trailing Stop Orders."

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