Day trading and swing trading strategies both seek to profit off of short-term price movements in stocks and other assets. However, these two strategies involve very different approaches to trading.
Day trading typically involves opening and closing trades in the span of a single day, whereas swing trading typically involves trades that take place over multiple days or even weeks.
In this guide, we’ll compare day trading vs. swing trading and help you decide which trading approach is right for you.
Trading vs. Investing
Before we dive into day trading and swing trading, it’s important to understand the difference between trading and investing.
Traders seek to take advantage of short-term price action to turn a profit. They aren’t concerned with companies’ fundamental performance or prospects for long-term price appreciation.
Investors, on the other hand, are primarily interested in long-term price appreciation. They look for companies that may be undervalued or have potential for growth and buy stocks based on a belief that these companies will be worth more in the future than they are now.
Trading typically occurs on timeframes from minutes to weeks. Investing typically occurs on timeframes from months to years.
Similarities Between Day Trading and Swing Trading
Day trading and swing trading are similar in some essential ways. Both approaches seek to profit off of price action – that is, short-term changes in a stock’s price. Compared to investing, both day trading and swing trading involve relatively short timeframes.
Since these strategies are short-term and focused on price action, day traders and swing traders primarily use technical analysis to identify and evaluate trades. Some traders may incorporate fundamental analysis into their trading, but this is rare.
Another similarity is that both day trading and swing trading aim to beat the performance of the broader stock market. These types of active trading are only worth the time investment required if they deliver profits beyond those that could be achieved by passively investing in stock indices like the S&P 500.
Differences Between Day Trading and Swing Trading
One of the most important differences between day and swing trading is the timeframe over which trades take place. Day trades are normally opened and closed within a single market session. They may be as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. Day traders will only keep positions open overnight on rare occasions, if ever.
Swing trades take place over multiple days and can last for several weeks. This means that swing traders almost always hold positions overnight.
In general, day traders place many more trades than swing traders. Day traders may open several or even dozens of new positions during a single market session. Swing traders usually open at most a few trades during a single session, and they may go several days without opening or closing any trades.
Day trading and swing trading place different demands on traders’ time. Successful day traders typically spend most or all of each market day actively monitoring the market and trading. Swing traders need to keep an eye on the market, but they don’t need to be as attached as day traders and may rely more on alerts to stay up to date on their open positions.
Another important difference between day trading and swing trading is how much money it takes to get started with each strategy. Day traders are subject to the Pattern Day Trader rule. This requires day traders – defined as traders who place four or more day trades within a five-day period in a single trading account – to have a minimum account balance of $25,000. Traders whose accounts fall below this balance will not be able to open and close positions in a single day.
Swing traders are unlikely to trigger the Pattern Day Trader rule, so there are no account balance requirements to worry about.
Note that you can still day trade with less than $25,000. However, you will be limited in how much you can trade since you’ll need to avoid triggering the Pattern Day Trader rule.
Day traders and swing traders approach profit very differently. Day traders seek to make a lot of small gains, thus compounding their profits over time. Many day traders target profits of just 1-2% per trade.
Swing traders, on the other hand, generally seek price movements of 5-10% or more. Swing traders will still benefit from compounding, but not as much as day traders since they don’t redeploy their capital as frequently.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the likely magnitude of price movements varies with timeframe. A price movement of several percent in a single day is notable. However, over the span of weeks, stocks can easily move 10% or more in value.
Day trading and swing trading both involve risk, but the specific risks traders face are different. For day traders, a unique risk is that losses can add up quickly when placing a lot of trades. Many day traders try to mitigate this by ceasing trading for the remainder of the day if they lose more than a certain amount during a single session.
For swing traders, there is risk in holding stocks overnight. Stocks can react unexpectedly to news or earnings and gap up or down at market open – so any damage is done by the time swing traders can close their positions.
The amount of margin you can use when trading stocks depends on your brokerage. However, most brokerages offer up to 4X margin when placing intraday trades, but only 2X margin for positions held overnight. This means that day traders may be able to apply more leverage to trades than swing traders.
Day Trading vs. Swing Trading: Which Type of Trading is Right for You?
When it comes to choosing between day trading vs. swing trading, there’s no right answer. It’s a personal decision that depends on your preferred style and what works best for you.
Ask yourself how much capital you have to trade with, whether you can actively monitor the markets every day, and how involved you want to be with trading on a day-to-day basis. It’s also a good idea to try out both day trading and swing trading in a paper trading account so you can test out these approaches and decide which one resonates more.
Conclusion: Day Trading vs. Swing Trading
Day trading and swing trading strategies both seek to profit from short-term price action in stocks. Day trading involves trades that play out over minutes to hours, while swing trading involves trades that play out over days to weeks. The best way to decide whether day trading or swing trading is right for you is to try out each strategy in a paper trading account and see which approach feels most comfortable.