What Is the Risk/Reward Ratio?

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The risk/reward ratio measures the potential profit an investment can produce for every dollar of losses the trade poses for an investor.

Key Takeaways

  • Risk/reward ratio measures a trade’s potential loss versus its potential profit.
  • Risk/reward ratio is limited in that it doesn’t consider the odds of either outcome.
  • Risk/ reward ratio is mostly popular with active traders looking to limit their risks.
  • You can use this ratio along with other ratios, such as win/loss ratio, to help with investing decisions.

How Does Risk/Reward Ratio Work?

All investing involves risk. While investors usually are looking to profit from their investments, there’s the potential to lose some or all the money invested as well. The risk/reward ratio is a tool investors can use to compare the potential profits and losses of an investment.

The risk/reward ratio works by comparing an investment's potential losses to its potential profits. If you can calculate the potential risk and reward of a trade, all you have to do is divide the risk by the reward to find the ratio. Think of it like this: It’s the profit you can expect on an investment per dollar worth of risk involved in a trade.

This allows the risk/reward ratio to provide a quick insight into whether an investment is worth making. This is popular with day traders who want to move in and out of the market quickly as it lets them make decisions about how much to risk to generate a potential gain.

How To Calculate Risk/Reward Ratio

To calculate risk/reward ratio, use this formula:

Potential loss / potential profit = risk/reward ratio


Some investors use reward/risk ratio, which reverses the above formula. However, for reward/risk ratios, higher numbers are better for investors.

Investors determine the potential risk and reward of an investment by setting profit targets and stop-loss orders. A stop-loss lets you automatically sell a security if it falls to a certain price.

Example of Risk/Reward Ratio

Imagine that XYZ is currently trading at $50 per share. You think it will rise to $60. You buy 100 shares at $50 and set a stop-loss order at $45. In this scenario, your potential profit (reward) is $1,000 ($10 per share multiplied by 100 shares). Your potential losses are equal to $500 ($5 per share multiplied by 100).

That would make the risk/reward ratio of this investment $500 / $1,000 = 0.50.


A risk/reward ratio that is less than 1 indicates an investment with greater potential reward than risk. Ratios greater than 1 indicate investments with more risk than potential reward. A ratio equal to 1 indicates equal risks and rewards.

In general, it’s better to make trades with low risk/reward ratios because that implies the investments will produce more profits than losses.

However, the risk/reward of a trade only shows two basic pieces of information: potential gains or losses. It doesn’t indicate anything about the odds of producing either outcome.


For instance, a $1 lottery ticket with a $1 million jackpot has a risk/reward ratio of 0.000001. This is despite the fact that the odds of actually winning the jackpot are very low.

For this reason, many investors use other tools to account for things like the likelihood of achieving a certain gain or experiencing a certain loss.

Alternatives to the Risk/Reward Ratio

Risk/reward ratio is just one tool traders can use to analyze investment opportunities. Day traders often use another ratio, the win/loss ratio to think about their investments. This ratio measures how many of an investor’s trades turn a profit compared with how many generate a loss.

For example, an investor who makes 10 trades, five of which turn a profit and five of which lose money, will have a win/loss ratio of 50%.

The higher an investor’s win/loss ratio, the more risk they can accept on individual trades because those trades are more likely to work out, assuming they put in a similar amount of care and due diligence when making investing decisions.

Investors with low win/loss ratios should focus on investments with lower risk/reward ratios to ensure that their profits from winning trades exceed the losses from their more frequent unsuccessful trades.

Pros and Cons of the Risk/Reward Ratio

  • Easy to calculate

  • Helps with risk management

  • May not be fully accurate

  • Does not account for the odds of gains or losses

  • Looks at binary outcomes without considering stable prices

Pros Explained

  • Easy to calculate: Risk/reward ratio uses a very simple formula, which means investors can easily use it to make decisions on the fly.
  • Helps with risk management: The ratio describes the risk of an investment, giving an investor more information with which to determine whether to make a trade.

Cons Explained

  • May not be fully accurate: Risk/reward ratios are determined using potential profits and stop-losses set by the investor. A security could rise or fall in price too quickly for the investor to sell at the desired price, meaning actual profit or loss could exceed the theoretical gain or loss.
  • Does not account for the odds of gains or losses: Risk/reward ratio considers only the potential profit and loss an investment could produce. There’s no space in the calculation to consider the likelihood of either outcome.
  • The ratio looks at binary outcomes without considering stable prices: Securities can rise or fall in price, but they can also hold steady. Risk/reward ratios don’t account for this possibility, which is a drawback for day traders who want to make frequent trades.

What It Means for Individual Investors

Individual investors can use the risk/reward ratio when considering whether to make a trade. You can also use the ratio to make decisions about where to set your price targets or stop-loss orders to create a trade that has the risk/reward potential you desire.

For long-term investors, risk/reward ratio is less valuable because you are more likely to hold shares through a series of price fluctuations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a good risk/reward ratio?

A risk/reward ratio below 1 indicates an investment with greater possible reward than risk. Conversely, ratios greater than 1 indicate investments with more risk than potential reward.

How do you figure out a risk/reward ratio?

The calculation to determine risk versus reward is easy. You just divide your potential loss (risk) by the price of your potential profit (reward).

How can risk/reward ratio be used in investing?

These ratios usually are used to make market buy or sell decisions quickly. Any risk/reward decision relies on the quality of the research undertaken by the investor. It should set the proper parameters of the risk (in other words, the money the investor can lose) and the reward (the expected portfolio gain the investment can make).

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  1. IG. “What Is Risk and Reward for Traders and Investors and Why Does It Matter?

  2. Charles Schwab. “Learning From Your Losers.”

  3. SoFi. “How To Use the Risk-Reward Ratio in Investing.”

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