What’s holding you back from investing in stocks? Is it because — like many of us — you’re scared of “getting it wrong” and losing your hard-earned cash? Stock investing can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but luckily, some brokerages offer a way for you to get the hang of it before putting any real money on the line.
A virtual trading account (also referred to as a “paper trading account”) allows you to practice trading with an account that looks and feels real but just uses “play money,” if you will. Beyond this being an exercise in learning how to operate a particular stock brokerage platform, you can use it to figure out and hone your stock-investing strategy.
A virtual trading account uses real-time information to help you gauge your success. That means you can create and test a trading strategy and build a portfolio. The actual performance is reflected in your results.
And if you already have experience buying and selling stocks, you can check out many paper trading services for a test run for making more complicated trades such as options and futures.
You won’t lose any money — and on the flip side, you won’t see any gains. That might have you yelling, “Darn!” when you realize a gain that would have made you a decent return. (That and $2 will buy you a cup of coffee, right?)
Once you’re comfortable with the investing process and have a good notion that you’ve got what it takes, you can then switch over and start using a live account, applying what you’ve learned.
Which Brokers Offer Paper Trading?
A lot of stock brokers don’t offer paper trading to simulate investing. This is a shame, because it’s a handy way to test-drive a broker before committing any actual money. If you’re new to active stock investing and shopping around for a brokerage, whether or not a platform offers virtual trading might be a consideration worth making.
TD Ameritrade is a popular online stock broker that features low pricing and no minimum deposit. It also offers a generous selection of commission-free ETFs and educational tools that should make it a hit with new investors.
- Commission-Free ETFs
- Easy-to-Use Interface
- Research and Education
- Short-Term Trading Fees With ETFs
Before you start getting your feet wet, you might want to check out TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim platform. With thinkorswim’s paperMoney feature, you can get “elite-level” trading tools and resources, including insights and information about even really complicated strategies such as options, futures, equities and forex trades.
When you sign up for a paperMoney virtual account, you’ll get both a virtual margin account and a virtual IRA, each funded with $100,000. This lets you test out your trades not only in a taxable account, but also in a tax-deferred account.
TradeStation may be a bit on the pricey side, but it's a decent trading platform for active traders. It has a great selection of investments, including stocks, bonds, ETFs, funds, foreign securities, options and other instruments.
- Comprehensive Features and Tools
- Selection of Trades
- Low Fees
- No Rollover IRAs
- Weak Mobile App
TradeStation is another popular online stock broker that offers a virtual trading account. You can use this to check out platform features that you might not normally use, such as advanced orders, strategy automation or alternate market types.
With this simulator, you can gain real-time, no-cost trading experience — and see the power of fully automated trading firsthand. Ultimately, you can test new markets and new strategies — without risking a cent.
With Kapitall, test out stock market theories safely while improving your strategy. Its pricing may be high and it might be slightly limited when it comes to investment options, but Kapitall is one of the more fun platforms out there.
- Fun and Easy to Use
- Quick Setup
- No Minimum Balance
- Limited Investment Options
Stock broker Kapitall knows a think or two about virtual trading. After all, it started out as a stock-trading game that allowed you to build a virtual portfolio and track its performance.
Although the platform has now become a regular brokerage, the paper-trading option is still there. You can test out a portfolio and then — when you think you’re a winner — build it for real.
You can also practice by signing up for stock trading games. MarketWatch offers various games that are free or low cost and can help you learn the ropes. Wall Street Survivor is another trading game that allows you to try different tactics. In some circumstances, you can earn prizes and cash.