When making a trade, the time it takes to receive a confirmation after an order has been placed varies depending on the type of order, the liquidity of the market being traded, and whether a market is open for regular trading or not. Getting your order executed is called a fill, and several considerations go into how quickly you'll get your fills back from your broker.

Key Takeaways

  • A fill is when you receive back the prices and amounts of the trades you've entered with your broker, the timing of which will be impacted by order type and market conditions.
  • Market orders provide for fairly immediate fills, but you cannot control the prices you'll receive on your orders.
  • Limit orders guarantee a price, but you may not get filled until the stock price reaches your limit.
  • Once orders are filled, they can take an additional couple of days to go through the clearing and settlement process, although you'll see them in your account pretty much right away. 

Market Orders: Immediate Fills

Orders placed between 9:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Monday to Friday on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq are sent to the market right away. Unless specifying that an order is an extended market order, orders to buy and sell stock placed outside these times sit until the market reopens.

A market order in a liquid stock such as Apple (AAPL) or Facebook (FB) is almost always filled and confirmed immediately. However, an order with a smaller, less-liquid stock may take longer to fill and receive confirmation from a broker. It's impossible to tell exactly how long; it all depends on if there's an "ask" on the other side of the "bid" (or vice versa) that can fill the trade. If the trade is a limit order, the trade could take significantly longer to fill—if it's filled at all.

Stock Orders That May Take Longer to Fill

Orders with conditions such as limits, stop-losses, stop-buys and all-or-nothing may sit for an indeterminable amount of time before being filled, or they may never be filled at all. Market orders for large amounts of stock in thinly traded markets may receive several partial fills over a period of time, which varies depending on the amount of stock available.

It is almost always advisable to buy or sell using limit orders, even if the limit is 20 or 30 cents above the market price (for a buy order) to ensure the receipt of a fair fill. There are instances when liquidity may disappear (even in shares such as AAPL or FB) for a short time period, causing investors to get filled with market orders at a much higher or lower price than expected. Orders for large amounts of stock should either be broken up or made using limit orders.

How to Know When a Trade Placed With a Broker Is Confirmed

When placing a trade with a broker online or over the telephone, ensure the trade has been executed and confirmed. 

Online brokers have different trading platforms. Most have an order entry screen and a screen for orders of different statuses: open, filled, partially filled, and canceled. After entering an order, view these screens to ensure the intended action is taken. If you want to cancel an order, check the screen for canceled orders and open orders to ensure that the original order was actually canceled. Make sure it is reflected in the canceled order screen as well.

When investing over the telephone, get a verbal confirmation from the broker on the quantity filled and the price. With these details, you can be confident that your broker has carried out your wishes. A few days after you have made the trade over the phone, you should receive a confirmation in the mail (or online) from your broker. Ensure that the details of this confirmation match your trading intentions. Usually, trades made by phone are visible on the company's website or trading platform as well, so you can confirm them immediately.

Trade Settlement and Clearing

After a trade is executed, the transaction enters what is known as the settlement period. During settlement, the buyer must make payment for the securities they purchased while the seller must deliver the security that was acquired. Depending on the type of security, settlement dates will vary. Most stocks today in the U.S. settle T+2, meaning they are cleared in your account 100% by the second business day after the trade.

As an example of how settlement dates work, let's say that an investor buys shares of Amazon (AMZN) on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. The broker will debit the investor's account for the total cost of the order immediately after its filled, but the status as a shareholder of Amazon will not be settled in the company's record books for the investor until Wednesday, Jan. 30. At that time, the investor would become a shareholder of record.

Once the trade has settled, and the funds in any sale of stock or another type of security have been credited to your account, the investor may choose to withdraw the funds, reinvest in a new security or hold the amount in cash within the account. For those looking to cash out some of the profits (or what's left from a loss), check to see if your broker offers transfers to your bank account using the Automated Clearing House (ACH) or by using a wire transfer.