Investing > What is Paper Trading?

What is Paper Trading?

You already know that practice makes perfect—but did you know this applies to trading stocks, too?

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Updated September 30, 2021

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Would you like to trade stocks, without any risk at all? 💡

Believe it or not, there is a way you can simulate trading stocks without having to put your hard-earned money on the line.

This can be done through something known as paper trading. No, this does not mean you have to write down all your stock trades on paper, rather it means you can simulate a trade on the market without actually performing it.

Paper trading can be beneficial in several instances when you want to see how your money would do, without having to actually risk any money. But there are also several downsides to paper trading that you will want to explore before you spend all your time drafting up simulated trades. 

Wonder how Wall Street’s top traders got to where they are today? They started out learning how the market works by paper trading. Additionally, paper trading can be a good way to get involved in a risky market where government regulations could change at a moment’s notice, such as the one that has formed due to the inflation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, without losing everything you own. 

Whether you are short on cash, or just scared to dive in headfirst, paper trading is something that is for everyone no matter what walk of life you may come from. And with technology, paper trading is currently easier than ever before. 

So if you are ready to learn about how the stock market works, and all the hypothetical money there is to be made, it’s time to grab your paper trading hat and keep reading. 

What you’ll learn
  • How Does Paper Trading Work?
  • Advantages of Paper Trading
  • Paper Trading Drawbacks
  • How to Start Paper Trading
  • Demo Accounts vs. Literal Paper Trading
  • Paper Trading Tips
  • Transition from Paper into Real Trading
  • Conclusion

How Does Paper Trading Work? 💭

Before you get too ahead of yourself and start picking out stocks you think will perform well on the market, it’s important to know just how paper trading works. Let’s dive in.

Why is it Called Paper Trading? 🤔

Paper trading has been around for decades and is so named because of how, before the advent of the internet, stockbrokers would write down on stock trades on paper, but not invest any money just yet, and see how their ideas would have panned out. This way an investor would be able to gauge how successful their idea would have been. This also helps investors to gauge their skills in a safe environment with no risk. 

In the modern-day and age, there is no need to actually write down the stocks that you want to paper trade. Instead, many premium stock brokers and investment apps offer a portion of their website where you can have play money to invest in stocks and see what happens. 

To be clear: there is no real money involved in paper trading. Paper trading is simply a simulation of what would have happened had you invested in a certain stock at a certain time. 

What is the Goal of Paper Trading? 🥅

When you see the news about big successful trades like the $25 million AMC pump-and-dump by Mudrick Capital, this may leave you wondering why anyone would paper trade in the first place—it seems that the stock market is super profitable as it is. 

The truth is, everyone has to start somewhere. And even the most seasoned investors may sometimes have a hunch they want to explore without risking any money such as an investment in technology that may or may not become widespread in the future.  Paper investing can help an investor gauge the value of the information they are finding, as well as understand the depth of their own trading instincts. 

The goal of paper understanding is to find out the answer to a ‘what-if’ trading question without losing any money. Additionally, many stockbrokers use paper trading with the goal of trying out new investment strategies to see if they will work or not. 

How Do You Go About Paper Trading? 💡

Are you ready to try your hand at a few paper trades? Then you’ll want to start out by researching and picking stocks that you would like to theoretically invest in, but don’t have the money or capability to do so. 

Then you will want to download one of the leading apps for stock trading which will let you simulate trades. Or, if forex is your thing, get an account with a popular forex broker and open a demo account—this is synonymous to a paper trading account.

Once you are all set up, put your pretend money in the stock you chose above. Now you just watch and see how your stock performs. 

This will give you an idea of how your investment has turned out had you invested real money. If you are paper training with the goal of learning from the experience, or trying a certain strategy, you may want to take note of what does and doesn’t work as you paper trade. 

Advantages of Paper Trading 📈

Paper trading may sound a little bit silly, but in the professional trading world, it has its perks. 

No Risk ⚠️

First of all, paper trading allows you to invest with zero risk. This is perfect for a first-time investor who may be unfamiliar with the market. Paper trading will allow you to try whatever you want without the chance of you losing your money.

Test Out Strategies 🏗️

To be a successful trader, you will probably want to have a few strategies on hand when it comes to placing your money in the market. But of course, you will want to make sure these are good strategies before you use them with your cash. Use paper trading to try out any strategy you want for as long as you want. 

Learn About a Trading Platform 🧠

If you don’t already have a favorite trading platform, paper trading is a great way to get familiar with one before you accidentally click the wrong button and invest your money in a place you didn’t want it invested in. Paper trading is perfect for familiarizing yourself with a new day trading platform even if you have experience trading, so that you can learn the ins and outs of all of a website’s products.

Paper Trading Drawbacks 📉

Paper trading sounds pretty cool, right? Well although paper trading carries almost no monetary risk, there are still some disadvantages to engaging in the practice. 

You Don’t Learn About the Emotional Side of Investing 😲

The hardest thing about investing in the stock market is learning to control your emotions. You can’t panic sell when something drops a few cents, nor can you buy a stock just because you love the company. And when you are learning to trade via paper trading, it doesn’t train you for any of this.

Hedging Binary Options Explained
Paper trading costs nothing, and you can’t lose money with bad decisions or poor timing—but the emotions differ from actual trading.

Therefore, when you do switch from paper trading to trading stocks with real money, you may find that it is harder to let your head rule over your heart. And if you paper trade for an exceptionally long time before engaging in real trades, you may be in for a bit of an emotional shock the first time your trade goes wrong. 

The Information Isn’t Always Correct ℹ️

Many stock trading websites prioritize the accounts that have actual money in them as opposed to those users who are paper trading and thus the information reported on stock prices can be delayed in the world of paper trading. 

Not only that, but paper trading also excludes many of the numerous fees and something called slippage, that are part of the real trading world. When you combine this with stock prices that may have changed and were reported late, this can lead to users believing they have made money, when under real conditions, they may not have made anything at all. This can lead to false confidence when it comes time to actually trade on the stock market. 

You Won’t Make Any Profit 💸

Perhaps the worst part of paper trading is when you have several amazing trades on paper that would have made you lots of money–if only you would have made them in real life! Remember, in the world of paper trading, the profits will be paper too. This can be very disappointing when you find that you would have made several good trades and made some money had the trades been real. 

How to Start Paper Trading 💰

Are you ready to dive right in and try your hand at some paper trades? Well before you can test out your new stock market strategies there are some steps you should follow to get started paper trading. 

Step 1: First you need to decide what you want to practice trading. Are you interested in stocks? Or something more like ETFs? Generally, you should pick the products that you will eventually want to trade in real life to get the most out of paper trading. 

Step 2: Next, you’ll want to decide the amount that you will practice trading. Of course, this isn’t real money, so you can pick as little or as much as you like. But again, remember that this is supposed to be a dry run for real trades–so choose a number that would be feasible for you to actually invest.

Step 3: Then you will pick the exact stocks or ETFs that you will trade. Write down their stock market symbol, how many shares you would buy, as well as the price they are currently trading at. But if you’re using modern technology (demo account), just add the desired stocks to your watchlist—this will make them easy to track via the trading platform.

Step 4: You will want to check in with your paper investments frequently over the coming months, notating when the prices go up, and down. You can also decide to sell stocks at a certain point or buy different stocks. Either way, after a few months, you should have an idea of what you would have made or lost had you actually invested your hard-earned money. 

Does keeping track of your paper trading with paper and pencil seem exhausting? It can be, which is why many companies have made paper trading a digital event. 

How to Set Up a Digital Paper Trading Account 👤

As you can see, paper trading with actual pen and paper isn’t that fun. Thus many companies now allow their customers to use their platforms’ demo accounts for paper trading. This not only lets you practice your trades, but you will also become familiar with a broker’s offerings and how their platform works before you have to invest a penny. 

Below are the steps you can take to set up a paper trading account with a stockbroker. 

Step 1: Decide what broker you intend to practice trading stocks with. It might be a good idea to try out a couple of different platforms to find your favorite. There are quite a few brokerages that offer free demos of their products.

Do note, however, that some companies will only let you practice trading if you have a registered account with them. This means it might be worthwhile to see if your bank offers paper trading before you shop elsewhere. 

Fees
Commissions

$0

$0

Account minimum

$0 for cash accounts

$0

Minimum initial deposit

$0

TS Select: $2,000

TS GO: $0

General
Best for

Commission-free stock trading

Active options and penny stock trading

Highlight

Access to in-depth research and powerful tools

Powerful tools for professionals

Promotion

Free stock

Rating
Fees
Commissions

$0

Vary

Account minimum

$0

$0

Minimum initial deposit

TS Select: $2,000

TS GO: $0

$0

General
Best for

Active options and penny stock trading

Active traders

Highlight

Powerful tools for professionals

Huge discounts for high-volume trading

Promotion
Rating
Fees

Commissions

$0

$0

Vary

Account minimum

$0 for cash accounts

$0

$0

Minimum initial deposit

$0

TS Select: $2,000

TS GO: $0

$0

General

Best for

Commission-free stock trading

Active options and penny stock trading

Active traders

Highlight

Access to in-depth research and powerful tools

Powerful tools for professionals

Huge discounts for high-volume trading

Promotion

Free stock

Step 2: On the website of the company you have chosen, find the area where they offer paper trading. Sometimes this can be called a demo or practice trading. 

Step 3: You will need to set up an account. This will typically require information like your name, birthdate, and your social security number. For a practice account, bank information isn’t required because you won’t be making any actual investments just yet. 

Step 4: Once you have an account, you will want to pick out the stocks or ETFs you plan to practice trade with. Take into account the practice balance the account lets you have. In most cases, you will have a practice balance of at least $100,000.

Step 5: Purchase the stocks using the pretend money you’ve been given, then check back frequently to see how your paper stocks are doing! 

Demo Accounts vs. Literal Paper Trading 👥

Although you can learn to paper trade with a pen and paper, it doesn’t have to be this complicated (or easy to spill coffee on!) and nowadays, most stockbrokers offer demos on their website for people to paper trade digitally on their platform. 

With a paper trading account on a website, you will be able to do almost anything you can do with an actual account with the company–all using pretend money. These accounts will look and feel like the real deal but will let you trade with digital money. This way you can get used to the site, and the stock trading world, without assuming any of the risks. 

There are several pros to this when compared to literal paper trading. This is because a digital paper trading experience can oftentimes get rid of slippage and timing errors found in literal paper trading. And if you remember from above, this was a major con of paper trading. 

Don’t celebrate just yet, because there are still some cons of using a stock broking company demo to practice paper trading, and one of the big ones is that you often have to make an account with the company you are demoing, and these demos can have time limits such as 90 days or 6 months. And besides just that, most companies additionally restrict the amount of play money you are able to paper trade with. 

There are some additional pros and cons to each method, see for yourself below. 

Literal Paper Trading 📝

Pros

  • No time limit (Practice as long as you want)
  • No personal information required
  • Quick to set up
  • Unlimited money to paper trade with

Cons

  • A piece of paper is easy to lose
  • Lots of slippage and delay errors
  • Human errors are possible.

Digital Paper Trading Accounts 📜

Pros

  • No slippage
  • No delay in trades
  • Less clerical errors
  • You can learn a trading platform that you can eventually use for real trades.

Cons

  • Typically restricted by the company to a certain time period.
  • Requires setting up an account.
  • You will need to learn a trading platform to be able to execute trades.

Paper Trading Tips 🤑

Despite all the downsides, paper trading really is the best way to prepare you for some real-world stock market trades. Just be sure you adhere to the following tips to get the most out of your paper trading experience. 

Pretend Your Paper Trading is Real Trading 💳

If you approach paper trading with a ho-hum attitude typically associated with play money, then you won’t put the time, effort, and thought into paper trading that you should.

This is why you need to think of your paper trading account or literal paper trading as the real thing. You should try to be just as emotionally invested in your paper trading account as you would a real account.

Have a Plan 💵

Just like in the real stock trading world, paper trading without a plan can be disastrous. You should at least have an outline prepared, and know how much you want to buy of which stocks before you begin. You should additionally have days set aside when you will look at your portfolio, see how it’s doing, and make changes as you see fit. 

Take Notes 💴

Did a certain trade go especially bad for you? What happened the day before? Was the stock affected by trades, the news, or both? Even if you aren’t literally paper trading you should still have a notepad near your desk where you notate what happened to affect which prices and which trades. You never know what patterns you might discover. 

Aim to Learn 💶

Although you should treat your paper trading account as real, you also shouldn’t be afraid of taking a few risks. Ever wondered what would happen if you were to invest in a certain stock? 

A paper trading account is a perfect time to find out. Just be sure that you are focusing on learning as much as possible—especially if you dive into a market like forex—and not worrying too much about how much play money you end up with. 

Try Multiple Platforms 💷

Are you struggling to trade on a certain site? Or maybe you don’t like the products offered? Then switch to a different stockbroker. 

Switching during your paper trading period is much easier than switching later on after you’ve invested real money. So don’t feel tied down just because it took a few minutes to set up an account–you can do this again on a different platform.

Transitioning from Paper Trading into Real Trading 💱

Maybe you’ve been paper trading for a while now and you are here because you are ready to transition to actually buying stocks. If you’ve been using a paper trading digital account, this may seem like an easy move, but the truth is, it can be very difficult still. 

One of the biggest downsides of paper trading is that you don’t get to experience the emotions of trading real money in an unpredictable market–like the one that many investors are facing currently with the coronavirus pandemic. And when you set up a real account and put your actual dollars on the line, you may be shocked by the full range of emotions you feel. 

Active trading
A paper trade is a simulated trade that allows an investor to practice buying and selling without risking real money.

These emotions can affect you negatively, as they may encourage you to withdraw your money from a certain stock when it goes down. And stress tied to monitoring your stocks day in and day out may present itself where there was none before.

This is why, when you are first transitioning from paper trading to real stocks, you should keep it small and go for low-risk investments.

This will help expose you to the emotional world of investing without presenting you with emotions that are too difficult to handle right off the bat. And if you are still worried about navigating the psychological world of stock trades with real money, it is advised that you look for some professional applications to help guide you. Top trading alert services can give you investing advice as well as help you know when it is a good idea to facilitate a particular trade so you will be much less likely to engage in tactics like panic selling. 

Conclusion 🎬

Overall, there is no better way to dip your feet into the world of the stock market than by practicing with paper trading. Paper trading is an easy and risk-free way for you to test out trading different financial products without having to put your real money on the line. 

Of course, paper trading isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, because it is almost impossible to gauge the psychological difficulties that come with putting your money on the line in the stock trading world. But if you can keep this in mind, and treat your paper trading account just as you would a real account, you’ll be able to transition from paper trading to real stocks in no time at all. 

Paper Trading FAQs

  • What is a Paper Trading Account?

    A paper trading account is an account with a stockbroker that allows you to try their product, and your hand at trading stocks, without having to put any real money on the line.

  • How Long Should I Paper Trade Before Using Real Money?

    You should practice paper trading for as long as it takes you to feel confident with your trades, a stock broker’s product, or until you feel you have thoroughly tested your trading tactic. 

  • Why Do Most Stock Traders Fail?

    Most traders fail not because they don’t have enough practice, but because they are unprepared for the emotions that come with putting your money at risk in the stock market. 

  • How Do I Reset My Paper Trading Account?

    Most websites will have an option to reset your paper trading account under account settings. If you are unable to find the option to reset your account, you will want to email customer support for help. 

All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on tokenist.com. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

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