What is a 'Pattern Day Trader'

A pattern day trader is a regulatory designation for traders or investors that execute four or more day trades during five business days’ time.

BREAKING DOWN 'Pattern Day Trader'

A pattern day trader is a day trader who purchases and sells the same security on the same day in a margin account. Pattern day traders must also have more than six percent of those trades occur in the same margin account for the same period to be considered separate from a standard day trader. These securities can include stock options and short sales, as long as they are occurring on the same day.

Long and short positions, which have been held overnight but sold prior to new purchases of the same security the next day, are exempt from that rule.

The designation is determined by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and differs from that of a standard day trader by the amount of day trades completed in a time frame. Although both groups have mandatory minimum assets that must be held in their margin accounts, a pattern day trader must hold at least $25,000 in their account. If the equity in the account drops below $25,000 they will be prohibited from making any further day trades until the balance is brought back up.

If there is a margin call, the pattern day trader will have five business days to answer it. Their trading will be restricted to that of two times the maintenance margin until the call has been met. Failing to address this issue after five business days will result in a 90-day cash restricted account status, or until such time that the issues have been resolved.

These rules are set forth as an industry standard, but individual brokerage firms may have stricter interpretations of them. They may also allow their investors to self-identify as day traders.

An Example of Pattern Day Trading Profits

Take for example the case of Jessica Dunn, a day trader with $30,000 in assets in her margin account. She could be eligible to purchase up to $120,000 worth of stock, compared the standard $60,000 for an average margin account holder. If her stocks gained one percent over the day, as a pattern day trader she could generate an estimated $1,200 profit, which equals a four percent gain. Compare that to the standard estimated profit of $500, or two percent gain on a margin account.  

The potential for a higher return on investment can make the practice of pattern day trading seem appealing for high net worth individuals. However, like most practices that have the potential for high returns, the potential for significant losses can be even greater.

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