Stock trading is the act of buying and selling securities, whereby short-term strategies are employed to maximize profits. Active traders take advantage of short-term fluctuations in price and volatility. Casual investing involves buying and holding securities, with the investor focusing on long-term strategies to maximize wealth. Moving from casual investing to active trading is a big step.

Therefore, it is important to understand the implications of making the switch, such as paying larger commissions, which could wipe out your gains before you begin.

Key Takeaways

  • Trading focuses on short-term investing to generate maximum profits, while investing focuses on long-term investing to build wealth.
  • Switching from casual investing to active trading can be complicated and can generate extra costs, such as increased commissions.
  • There is no set amount required to begin trading as costs vary depending on the type of securities wanted.
  • Some brokerages set a minimum amount to begin trading or to unlock margin or options trading.

Trading Expenses

Commissions are likely to be the greatest cost you will assume as an active trader. Other expenses, such as software, Internet, and training costs, could also be high, but they are dwarfed by the cost of commissions. A trader may make over 100 transactions per month, and the commissions will vary widely depending on the broker. Savvy investors shop around for the best software, execution speeds, and customer service, as well as favorable commission costs.

Brokerage Requirements

Although there is no hard and fast rule for how much you should have in your account to start trading, many brokerages will set this amount for you. For example, a brokerage may say that you need a minimum of $3,000 to open a margin account, the type of account you would need to make short sale trades or to purchase or sell options.

For a good start, be sure to look out for account minimums at the brokerages you investigate. This number usually is set for a reason because it is in the brokerage's best interest to keep you trading for as long as possible to ensure that they continue to collect commissions.

These minimums often are put into place to reduce the risk of you burning up your entire account in just a few trades, or even worse, getting a margin call. In the case of the latter, you would have to deposit more funds into your account in order to keep your current position open.

Special Considerations

The amount of money you need to begin day trading depends on the type of securities you want to buy.

Stocks typically trade in round lots, or orders of at least 100 shares. To buy a stock priced at $60 per share, you will need $6,000 in your account. A broker may let you borrow half of that money, but you still need to produce the other $3,000.

Options and futures trade by contract. A contract represents some unit of the underlying security. In the options market, one contract is good for 100 shares of the stock. These contracts also trade in round lots of 100 contracts per order.

You can buy less than the usual round lot for a security, but you will probably have to pay a high commission and receive poor execution of your order. Thus, the returns on each trade tend to be small; so, make sure you have enough funds to trade your target asset optimally.

Bonds trade on a per bond basis, not in fractional amounts, and each bond has a face value of $1,000. Some trade for more or less than $1,000 depending on how the bond’s interest rate differs from the market rate. Many dealers have a minimum order of 10 bonds, making the minimum order $10,000.

Other Things to Look For

Many online brokerages are now shifting to commission-free trading. That means $0 cost to trade most stocks and ETFs. This trend began with app-based Robinhood and now has spread to big players like E*Trade, TD Ameritrade, and Schwab.

Free trading means that these companies must make their money from other sources, so you should be on the lookout for how that may affect you. For instance, are these companies selling your order flow, in which case you may not be getting the very best price possible on your trades. Or are they selling your personal information and data for marketing purposes? Are they no longer crediting you interest on your cash balances?