The Minimum Amount of Capital to Day Trade

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The Minimum Capital Required to Start Day Trading Stocks

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To be a day trader of stocks, you need capital. The stock market has a legal minimum capital requirement to day trade, but there is also a recommended minimum which may vary by the individual trading style. Traders need to have enough capital to withstand a string of losses and have the flexibility to take a wide array of trades which present various risks.

Risk Management and Day Trading Capital Requirements

In order to determine the amount of capital needed, risk management must be addressed. Day traders shouldn’t risk more than one percent of their account on any single trade. If trading a $40,000 account, that means the maximum loss a trader should take is $400 on any given trade.

Capital is the day trader’s lifeline. Capital must be preserved during losing streaks, which inevitably occur. By only risking one percent, even a ten trade losing streak keeps most of the capital intact.

Risk is determined by the difference between your entry price and your stop-loss order, multiplied by the position size. The next section looks at some examples.

Minimum Capital Required to Start Day Trading Stocks

For day traders in the U.S., the legal minimum balance required to day trade stocks is $25,000. If the balance drops below this, day trading isn’t allowed until a deposit is made bringing the balance above $25,000. To allow a buffer, day traders in the U.S. should have at least $30,000 in their account if they wish to day trade stocks. On $30,000, no more than $300 should be risked on any one trade.

Stocks typically trade in 100 share lots and move in $0.01 increments. With $30,000 there is some flexibility; trade volatile stocks (may require a larger stop loss) and still keep risk below $300 with a small position size, or trade less volatile stocks (smaller stop loss) and take larger position sizes.

If you buy a stock at $40 and place a stop-loss at $39.70. Risk is $0.30 on the trade. If your position is 1000 shares, your position risk is 1000 x $0.30 = $300.

This position risk must be less than one percent of the day trading account balance. To see if it is, divide $300 by 0.01, to get $30,000. To make this trade, your day trading account balance must be $30,000, or greater.

If trading very volatile stocks you may need to risk $1 per share (the difference between the entry and stop-loss price). In this case, it will only take 300 shares, which is the maximum risk on the $30,000 account. (300 shares x $1 = $300)

If trading a low volatility stock, you may need a risk of $0.05 per share (the difference between entry and stop-loss price). In this case you can take $300 / $0.05 = 6000 shares. We just divided the maximum risk by the risk on the trade to get the position size.

Math like this should be done on every trade, making sure that each trade is one percent or less of the current account balance.

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Day Trading Capital and Leverage

Day traders can typically access leverage up to 4:1 on their capital. If there is $30,000 in the account, up to $120,000 worth of stock can be traded at any given time ($30,000 x 4).

That means position size multiplied by the trade price can equal more than the day trading account balance. Notice that the first example above requires $40,000 in buying power to attain (1000 x $40), yet the trader only has $30,000 in the account. It is the power of leverage.

Even when leverage is used, the one percent risk rule is always applied to actual account balance ($30,000 in this case).

Capital Required to Start Day Trading Stocks

It’s recommended that day traders start with at least $30,000, even though the legal minimum is $25,000. It will allow for losing trades and more flexibility in the stocks that are traded. Day traders can trade more volatile securities, which will often require a larger stop loss but a smaller position size, or trade less volatile stocks with smaller stop loss but a larger position size. Total risk on a single trade should not exceed one percent of the day trading account balance.

How to Day Trade With Less Than $25,000

When you set up a brokerage account to trade stocks, you might wonder how anyone is going to know whether you’re a bona fide “day trader.” Your broker will know, based on your trading activity.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in the U.S. established the “pattern day trader” rule, which states that if you make four or more day trades (opening and closing a stock position within the same day) in a five-day period and those day-trading activities are more than 6% of your total trading activity in that five-day period, you’re considered a day trader and must maintain a minimum account balance of $25,000. 

Background on Day Trading Equity Requirement

Back in 1974, before electronic trading, the minimum equity requirement was only $2,000. New technology changed the trading environment, and the speed of electronic trading allowed traders to get in and out of trades within the same day.

Since day traders hold no positions at the end of each day, they have no collateral in their margin account to cover risk and satisfy a margin call—a demand from a broker to increase the amount of equity in their account—during a given trading day. Brokerage firms wanted an effective cushion against margin calls, which led to the increased equity requirement.

Perhaps you don’t usually day trade but happened to do four or more such trades in one week, with no day trades the next or the following week. In this scenario, your brokerage firm would still likely classify you as a day trader and hold you to the $25,000 equity requirement going forward.

You can meet the equity requirement with a combination of cash and eligible securities, but they must reside in your day trading account at your brokerage firm rather than in an outside bank or at another firm. 

If you do not have $25,000 in your brokerage account prior to any day-trading activities, you will not be permitted to day trade. The money must be in your account before you do any day trades and you must maintain a minimum balance of $25,000 in your brokerage account at all times while day trading.

On the plus side, pattern day traders that meet the equity requirement receive some benefits, such as the ability to trade with additional leverage—using borrowed money to make larger bets. A stock day trader can trade with 4:1 leverage, while typical stock investors (including swing traders and those who tend to buy and hold) can trade with a maximum of 2:1 leverage. 

Day Trading Loopholes

If you don’t happen to have $25,000 to day trade, there are ways of getting around that requirement. They consist of loopholes and alternative trading strategies, most of which are admittedly less than ideal.

  • Make only three day trades in a five-day period. That’s less than one day trade per day, which is less than the pattern day trader rule set by FINRA. However, this means you’ll need to pick and choose among valid trade signals, so you won’t receive the full benefit of a proven strategy.
  • Day trade a stock market outside the U.S. You’ll have to do this with a broker that’s also outside the U.S. Not all foreign stock markets have the same account minimums or day trading rules as the U.S.   Research other markets and see if they offer the opportunities for day trading that fit your needs. Consult both tax and legal professionals to understand the ramifications before considering this approach.
  • Join up with a day trader firm. The structure of each firm varies, but typically you deposit an amount of capital (much less than $25,000) and they provide you with additional capital to trade, with your deposit safeguarding them from losses you may take. Otherwise, the firm simply leverages your capital. 
  • Do swing trading and enter trades that you hold for longer than one day. Swing traders capture trends that play out over days or weeks rather than attempt to time a one-day trend that might last for 20 minutes. While this is less a loophole and more of a change in strategy, it works for traders who want to stay actively involved but don’t yet have enough equity to meet the $25,000 requirement for day trading.
  • Open multiple day trading accounts with different brokers. This is a less-attractive choice, but, for example, if you open two accounts, you can make six day trades in a five-day period—three trades for each broker. This isn’t an optimal solution because, if you already have limited capital, each account is likely to be quite small, and day trading with such small accounts isn’t likely to produce much income. With small amounts of capital in each account, you are severely limited in the stocks you can trade, and some brokers may not even accept the small deposit.

Brokers are out to protect themselves and can impose minimum capital restrictions at their discretion if they believe someone is day trading regularly (even if below the four-trade/five-day threshold) or trading in a risky manner.

Day Trading on Different Markets

A better alternative to taking advantage of a loophole or adopting a different trading strategy is to change markets.

Forex

The forex or currencies market trades 24 hours a day during the week. Currencies trade as pairs, such as the U.S. dollar/Japanese yen (USD/JPY). With forex trading, consider starting with at least $500, but preferably more. The forex market offers leverage of perhaps 50:1 (though this varies by broker), so a $500 deposit means you can trade and earn—or lose—off of $25,000 of capital. Profits and losses can mount quickly. 

Futures

The futures market is where you can trade stock index futures (the E-mini S&P 500, for example) and commodities (such as gold, oil, and copper). Futures are an inherently leveraged product, in that a small amount of capital, such as $400 or $500 in the case of the E-mini contract, gives you a position in a product that typically moves 10 or more points a day, where each point is worth $50. Profits and losses can pile up fast. It’s recommended futures traders start with at least $2,500 (if trading a contract like the E-mini), but that will vary based on risk tolerance and the contract(s) traded. 

Almost all day traders are better off using their capital more efficiently in the forex or futures market. These markets require far less capital to get started, and even a few thousand dollars can start producing a decent income.

Options

Day trading the options market is another alternative. Options are a derivative of an underlying asset, such as a stock, so you don’t need to pay the upfront cost of the asset. Instead, you pay (or receive) a premium for participating in the price movements of the underlying. The value of the option contract you hold changes over time as the price of the underlying fluctuates. What type of options you trade will determine the capital you need, but several thousand dollars can get you started. 

The Bottom Line

While day trading requires a large amount of equity, there are loopholes and other investment options to consider that may require you to put less of your money on the line. Before investing any money, always consider your risk tolerance and research all of your options.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

How Much Money Do You Need to Start Trading?

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?

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