What You Need to Do to Start Day Trading

If you want to start day trading, here are five things you need to plan for

what you need to know to start day trading
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Starting to day trade isn't a decision to be taken lightly. It is possible to be successful and earn a good living trading only a few hours per day, but that goal is many months away for people just starting out. The first year is tough; there are lots of ups and downs, and your first realistic goal should be to not lose everything. If you still want to start day trading, there are five things you need to do in order to put yourself on the right path.

Create/Learn a Strategy

Day trading isn't something to do on a whim. It requires a sound and rehearsed method that gives you a statistical edge on each trade you make. 

Start by watching live charts (available for free) of an asset move. As you watch, ask yourself:

  • How would you get into a trade?
  • How would you get out (for both winning and losing trades)?
  • How much would you risk on the trade and what position size would you take (how many shares of stock, lots of currency, or futures contracts)?
  • After deciding all this, what are the odds the trade will be profitable? And if you take similar types of trades 100 times, what tendencies does your strategy show?

The only way to answer all these questions is by implementing the same method over and over again and monitoring the results.

You can create a strategy by finding tendencies in the daily price action of an asset, or you can learn a strategy from someone else. 

Practice a Lot

Practicing is key in day trading. To be good at a sport, you practice. Even at a minimum-wage job, the boss usually makes you practice what you are supposed to do before you do it for real.

With thousands of your hard-earned dollars at stake, practice is extremely important. Yet new day traders rarely practice.

You practice in a demo account before you risk a single real dollar. Practice methodically, trading your created or learned strategy over and over again. What you will find is that no two trades are ever exactly the same. Today may be volatile, while tomorrow is sedate. Today is trending, while tomorrow is ranging. If you don't practice, you may miss trade signals or be inclined to make trades that aren't part of your strategy.

Practice only the strategy you are working on. Perfect it, and know it well. With the added pressure of trading real capital, when you switch to live trading, you don't want to still be thinking about whether you should take a trade or not. 

Practice until you have been profitable in a demo account for several months. Only then consider opening a live account with real capital. 

Know the Capital Requirements

Capital to a day trader is like inventory to a store owner. You need it to operate, and how much you have—and how you manage it—will determine your income.

You legally need $25,000 to start day trading stocks in the U.S. To give yourself a buffer, deposit at least $30,000. If you enter and exit stock positions on the same day with less than $25,000, your account will be flagged and you run the risk of losing your trading privileges.

Forex day trading doesn't have a legal minimum, but start with at least $500. Less than that and you're limited on the number of trades you can take. If you want to produce a monthly income that's worth withdrawing, start with $5,000 or more.

To day trade futures, start with at least $2,500, but $7,500 to $10,000 is better. Some contracts cost more to trade than others, but if you plan to trade the common E-mini S&P 500, that range of capital will suffice.

Making an income is possible, but not easy, on these recommended deposit amounts.

Consider Goals and Constraints

Before you invest time in creating or learning and then practicing a day trading strategy, consider your goals and constraints. 

  • Do you have enough capital to day trade? If not, wait until you do. In the meantime, you can continue practicing your strategy.
  • Becoming consistently profitable takes six months to a year when practicing several hours each day. It will take longer if you do it only intermittently. Are you willing to put in that amount of time?
  • Once you are trading live, can you commit to trading two to three hours a day, accounting for your job and other commitments?
  • Don't give up your job until your trading profits replace your income. Therefore, given your other commitments, what time of day can you trade? Is your strategy designed for that time of day? Your strategy needs to fit your life.
  • Are you day trading because you want to quit your job? You will likely have to trade for a year or more to get to the point where you can replace your income by day trading. 

Consider all these questions before investing a lot of time or money in learning to day trade.

Choose a Broker

While you are practicing and developing strategies, choose a broker. This may be the same broker you open a demo account with, or it may be another. Choosing your broker is the biggest "trade" you will make because you are trusting them with all of your capital. Balance great execution with customer service, reputation, and competitive fees.