How to Be a Day Trader

What is Day Trading?

Day trading is traditionally defined as buying and selling stock, options, or commodities during the same trading day and be have your positions closed by the end of the trading session. In the past, day trading had been reserved for financial companies and professional investors. A large percentage of day traders work for investment firms or are specialists in fund management. With the advance of technology, day trading has continue to grow among the casual trader working from home.

The History of Day Trading

Before day trading, if someone wanted to trade a stock, they needed to call a stock broker to place their order, who would then route the order through a specialist on the floor of the exchange. The specialist would match the buyer with a seller and write up a physical ticket that would transfer the stock and send that confirmation back to both brokers. Commissions were charged at a flat rate of 1% of the total amount of the trade. That means that to buy $10,000 worth of stock, it would cost you an additional $100 in commissions. In 1975, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) made fixed commission rates illegal opening up the markets to the first of the discount brokers competing for business by lowering their commissions and making short term trading much more profitable.

Day Trading Strategies

The following are basic strategies used by day traders. Some of these strategies require short selling stocks instead of buying them long. There are a few challenges to short selling stock which include your broker not having shares which you can short or the stock might be restricted from being shorted on that exchange.

Trend Trading

Trend Trading is a strategy where it is believed that a stock that is rising will continue to rise, or a stock that is falling will continue to fall. You enter the trade in the direction of the trend and exit once the price breaks this trend. Trend trading usually incorporates the use of trend and support/resistance lines. Click here for more information on Trend Trading.

Contrarian Trading

This strategy assumes that prices that have been rising or falling at a high rate of momentum will reverse and start going to opposite direction. The basic idea is that you are trading in the opposite direction as the masses. Click here to learn more about contrarian trading strategies.

Channel or Range Trading

Range trading is a strategy that assumes a stock’s price will continue to trade inside of a price range or channel. Traders using this strategy will buy long when the price is at the lower end of the channel and sell short when prices are at the upper end of the price range. Click here for more information on range trading.


This trading strategy used to be defined as spread trading where you would take profits where small gaps expanded and contracted between the bid and the ask price for a stock. This strategy has now evolved to include technical indicators, support/resistance levels, and volume spikes to make round-trip trades lasting seconds to a few minutes. The basic idea of scalping is to take advantage of market inefficiencies using speed and high trading volume to create quick profits. Click here for more information on scalping.

Trading Rumors and News Events

This strategy is mostly only done by day traders. It requires that you have access to one to several real-time news sources and can make split second decisions. News and rumors can provide large amounts of volatility and high emotion creating great opportunities if traded properly. The biggest challenge of trading this strategy is anticipating the market’s reaction to the news and how it effects the price of the stock. Click here for more information on trading news and rumors.

Risk versus Reward

Due to the increased leverage and quick returns, day trading can be extremely profitable. The downside is that if done incorrectly, it can also be extremely unprofitable. Due to the high volatility of day trading, some people have labeled Day Traders as gamblers or adrenaline junkies. However, many people make a very consistent and comfortable living from day trading. Some even make millions of dollars each year.

Using Margin

Buying on margin can greatly increase your gains or losses. Brokerages usually allow a bigger margin percentage for a day trading account but reduce the amount of margin available for positions held overnight. Normally a day trading account must have a minimum of $25,000 and can buy on margin at a rate of 4 to 1 giving you $100,000 in buying power, which is called day trader buying power. That number drops to 2 to 1 for positions held overnight, which can be called overnight margin buying power. That means that if you have 100% of your margin being used during the day, you must exit at least half of your positions before the close of the trading day.

Some Rules

Your account will be designated as “day trader status” if you have 3 round trip trades (one round trip = an opening and closing transaction), in a rolling 5 business day period. If you have 4 round trip trades in a 5 day period, you will be restricted from day trading for 90 days. Your brokerage firm will probably allow you to buy a stock and hold it overnight before closing the position. If you have a second day trade violation, your account will either be restricted from trading or you can request your account be a non day trader status account and buy and then sell after 3 business days. This depends upon the specific brokerage firms rules for some of these details but they are getting very strict with enforcing these rules.