What is Paper Trading and How Does It Work?

Article Summary:

Paper trading is a way to simulate trading on the stock market using real market data with virtual money. It’s a means for budding investors to get a feel for buying and selling securities in the marketplace without losing money. Experienced investors can also benefit from paper trading by trying out new trading strategies without risking any real money. The term “paper trading” refers to the time when investors used to practice trading on actual paper, before the advent of online trading platforms and stock market simulators.

Without the help of professional investment advice, real trading on the stock market can be a daunting endeavor. It’s also very risky when you’re using real money. That’s why a paper trading platform can be so useful to practice stock trading with zero risk.

Read on to learn more about paper trading accounts, how they work, why they’re beneficial to investors of all skill levels, and how to best learn about complex financial products through a stock market simulator.

What is paper trading?

Paper trading is a form of simulated trading that teaches trading fundamentals without the use of actual money. Back in the day, people who wanted to do this used a “pretend money account,” which at the time probably consisted of a piece of paper, a pencil, and a financial newspaper.

By contrast, today’s investors can take advantage of multiple paper trading options that use the real market, and the same financial instruments traded every day on markets around the world. And it can all be done from your laptop, desktop, and mobile devices.

All you have to do is check out some popular trading platforms online and set up a paper trading account, sometimes known as a “demo account.” Many paper trading apps and sites also have multiple educational resources to help you get up to speed before you start making paper trades.

The best paper trading accounts will give you access to the same tools as live investors. This includes research, stock screens, watch lists, and live data feeds, though some trading platforms may give you delayed live feeds. Other features of paper trading might include automatic trading and research to help users learn about market indicators.

Pro Tip

If you’re a true beginner, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the wealth of investing information that can be found online through many brokers, various websites, and other online sources before attempting your first paper trade. You can also get further information from an investment advisor, like some of the ones below.

Who should try paper trading?

Anyone can set up a paper trading account and practice paper trading before they even begin to invest through a normal, real money account. For new investors, it can be a particularly great learning tool. You can use paper trading with no actual risk to get your feet wet in trading stocks and other investment products, like mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

However, more experienced investors can also take advantage of paper trading by experimenting with new trading strategies before there’s any real financial risk involved. For example, if the U.S. is in a bear market, that might be a good time to try a new trading strategy to see what happens before committing to using real money.

Pro Tip

To get the most out of your paper trading experience, be sure to familiarize yourself with different order types such as market orders, limit orders, and stop-loss orders.

Why you should paper trade

Trading simulation has come a long way from the time when experimenters used a pencil and paper to manually track stock price movements in every single trading session. In fact, that would have been a very tough way for beginner investors to try and learn.

But, with a paper trading platform, everybody can give it a try and dramatically improve their odds of achievement once they begin real trading. Of course, with volatile financial markets, there is no guarantee for success. That being said, it is an opportunity to gain near-real-world experience without the danger of losing money.

The bottom line is that paper trading can give you a solid education in investing as you practice trades in a safe space without worrying about trading fees or the other encumbrances of real accounts. Plus, if you already know what you’re doing on a regular trading platform, a paper trade can allow you to test out new trading strategies before you go back to live trading.

Pro Tip

As you’re learning how to paper trade, you might want to experiment with some active trading to see what that’s like. Examples of active trading include day trading, swing trading, and scalping.

Are there any disadvantages to paper trading?

If you start paper trading, the only real drawback is a true understanding of losing money. Because you aren’t engaging in real trading, the lack of risks means you’re not as emotionally attached to the outcome. That means your decision-making may not mirror what you would do with a live account. In all likelihood, paper trading users may be tempted to take larger risks than they would on a real trading platform.

For that reason, most proponents of paper trading recommend that users do their best to behave as if they’re involved in live trading and be as cautious (or as risky!) as they would be in real life. Try to pretend this is actual money you’re playing with to get results that you might realistically expect to get when you actually start investing in the stock market.

It’s also a good idea to try and “invest” a similar amount of money to what you actually have to work with. Paper trading online with $1 million if you really only have $10,000 to spend won’t give you the same experience as seeing what you can do with a more realistic amount.

Pro Tip

Despite the fact that paper trading is a great resource that all levels of investors can take advantage of, the only real way to assess your individual risk tolerance is to take the plunge and engage in some live trading.


Does trading stocks with a simulator cost money?

Many different platforms offer paper trading, although you may have to open and fund a brokerage account before being able to use their stock market simulator. There are also free paper trading apps you can use as well.

However, some of the top paper trading apps come from online brokers. If you already have an investment account, check with your broker before looking elsewhere for paper trading apps.

Can you make money paper trading?

A paper trading account uses virtual money, so you can’t actually make real material gains doing paper trades. But some paper trading platforms do allow you to play against your friends or co-workers, so you can “win,” but you won’t take home any actual money. But you might win some bragging rights!

Key Takeaways

  • These days, paper trading is an online trading simulation tool that uses real stock market movements, but doesn’t involve live trading.
  • Paper traders can learn how complex financial products work, or test out new investment ideas, without risking real money.
  • Because there is zero risk involved in making paper trades, paper traders tend to exhibit riskier behavior than they might with a regular trading account.
  • Even though you’re using a paper trading account, try experimenting with money that you can realistically afford to invest in order to gain a more authentic experience.
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