How Much Money Stock Day Traders Make

The Potential in Day Trading, and How To Realize It

part-time day trader
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Whether it's for a lifestyle change, thrill-seeking, or the challenge of it, the question of how much money stock market day traders make inevitably arises. How much money day traders make varies drastically, with some day traders losing their capital, and others utilizing theirs to produce a high monthly income.

Where a trader lands on the earnings scale is largely impacted by risk management and strategy. Once you implement a solid trading strategy, take steps to manage your risk and refine your efforts, you can learn to pursue day-trading profits more effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • The amount of money a day trader makes is largely impacted by risk management and strategy.
  • Many professional traders do not risk more than 1% of their capital, and strategy usually consists of a win rate and profits relative to losses.
  • A reward-to-risk ratio of 1.5 is fairly conservative and reflective of the opportunities that occur each day in the stock market.
  • Making 5% to 15% or more per month is possible, but it isn't easy—even though the numbers can make it look that way.

Risk Management

Professional day traders—those who do it for a living—typically keep the risk on each trade very small, at usually less than 1% of their trading capital. For example, if trading a $30,000 stock account, don't risk more than $300 per trade (1% of $30,000). This principle is referred to as position sizing.

Trading Strategy

The strategy is broken down into two components, for the sake of the scenarios below: win rate and profits relative to losses.

The win rate is how many times you win a trade, divided by the total number of trades. If a strategy wins 60 out of 100 trades, it has a win rate of 60 divided by 100, equaling 60%.

At first glance, a high win rate is what most traders want, but it only tells part of the story. If you have a very high win rate, but your winners are much smaller than your losing trades, you still won't be profitable.

In addition to ideally having a win rate near 50% or higher, profits relative to losses (reward-to-risk ratio) is another factor that must be considered. Most day traders seek to have their winners bigger than their losers, usually by about 1.5 times or more. For example, if risking $300 on a trade (maximum potential loss), the trader seeks to make at least $450 on profitable trades.

How Much Day Traders Make: Scenarios

For the scenario below, assume that winners are 1.5 times greater than losses. The trader has a 55% win rate and $30,000 in trading capital. No more than 1% of capital can be risked on any one trade.

Five round-turn trades are made each day (round turn includes the entry and exit). There are 20 trading days in the month, so that means taking 100 round-turn trades per month. Commissions and fees are $30, round trip ($15 in and $15 out).

Margin, or 4:1 leverage, is used on the account. That means that even though the trader only has $30,000, they can use up to $120,000 as long as all positions are closed before the end of the trading session. A capital sum of $30,000 is the recommended (the legal limit is $25,000) starting balance for stocks.

Example: A Day Trading Strategy in Action

Assume a day trading strategy where the stop loss is $0.04, and your target is $0.06.

Your account balance is $30,000, so the maximum risk per trade is $300. With a $0.04 stop loss, you can take 7,500 ($300/$0.04) shares on each trade and stay within your $300 risk cap (not including commissions).

Please note that in order to take 7,500 shares, the share price will need to be below $16 (attained by $120,000 in buying power, divided by 7,500 shares). If the per-share price is more than $16, you'll need to take fewer shares. The stock also needs to have enough volume for you to take such a position.

Working with this strategy, here's an example of how much you could potentially make by day trading stocks:

  • 55 trades were winners/profitable: 55 x $0.06 x 7,500 shares = $24,750
  • 45 trades were losers: 45 x -$0.04 x 7500 shares = $13,500
  • Your gross profit would be $24,750 - $13,500 = $11,250.
  • Your net profit, which includes the cost of commissions, is $11,250 - commissions ($30 x 100 = $3,000) = $8,250 for the month.

This is the theoretical profit, and several factors can and will reduce your profits. 

The reward-to-risk ratio of 1.5 is used because it is fairly conservative and reflective of the opportunities that occur all day, every day in the stock market. The starting capital of $30,000 is also an approximate balance to start day trading stocks; more is recommended if you wish to trade higher-priced stocks.

The $0.04 stop and $0.06 are used just as examples. Depending on the volatility of the stock, these numbers may need to be decreased, but more than likely expanded if the stock moves a lot. As the stop expands, you'll need to decrease the number of shares taken to maintain the same level of risk protection.

Refinements to Your Strategy

Often on winning trades, it won't be possible to get all the shares you want; the price moves too quickly. Therefore, assume that on winning trades you only end up with, on average, 6,000 shares. This reduces the net profit to $3,300 instead of $8,250.

Small alterations can have big impacts on profitability.

Some other assumptions were also made in the example above, mainly that the trader is able to find a stock that allows them to fully utilize their capital (including leverage) while employing a 1.5 reward-to-risk ratio. Finding five trades a day will be more difficult on some days than others.

Price slippage is also an inevitable part of trading. That is when a larger loss than expected occurs, even when using a stop loss. Slippage will largely depend on the volume of the stock, relative to your position size.

To account for slippage, reduce your net profitability figures by at least 10%. Given this scenario and refinements, it is possible to make about $2,970 trading $30,000 account (the $3,300 mentioned above, reduced by 10%).

Adjust this scenario accordingly, based on your stop and target (average reward to risk), capital, slippage, win rate, average win/loss position sizes, and commissions. Based on your proposed strategy, it is possible to research much of this before you begin trading, to get an idea of how much you can make.

How Much Money Stock Day Traders Make

The above scenario indicates it is theoretically possible to make more than 20% per month with day trading. This is very high by typical standards, and most traders should not expect to make this when accounting for real-world issues such as slippage, and not always being able to get the full position they desire on winning trades.

Even so, with a 55% win rate and with a strategy that produces bigger winners than losers, making 5% to 15% or more per month is possible, but isn't easy, even though the numbers make it look that way. These figures represent what is possible for those who become successful at day trading stocks. Remember, day trading has a very low success rate.

Forex and futures day traders can get started with much less capital than the $30,000 recommended for day trading stocks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do trading costs and taxes affect day trading profit?

As a day trader, your tax impact is actually pretty simple to calculate. Since day trades don't qualify for long-term capital-gains tax rate, the profit will be taxed at your normal income-tax-bracket rate.

Your trading costs will depend on factors such as your brokerage and the securities you trade. Some brokerages offer free stock trading, for example, but they charge a commission on options trades, so options traders will have to account for those extra costs when they calculate profit.

How do you calculate trading profit when you use margin?

The easiest way to account for margin when day trading is to find the difference between the opening transaction value and the closing transaction value. If you use $25,000 cash and borrow $2,000 to buy a stock, for example, then subtract $27,000 from the value of selling those shares. If you sell the shares for $30,000, then you pocketed a profit of $3,000. If you were swing trading, you'd have to account for the interest costs that accrue while you're holding the position, but that won't apply to day trading.

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