Last week I was talking to a group of college students and recent college graduates. The topic was investing. “Has anyone here every invested in the stock market,” I asked. Nope. “Can anybody name a single mutual fund company?” Nope.
But it was the answer to the last question I asked that made me laugh. “If you wanted to invest now, how would you get started?” One future nurse responded, “I’d Google it.” Actually, that’s not a bad answer. We turn to search engines for answers to all kinds of questions.
So today I thought I’d share some resources for those looking to start investing in the stock market. There are a number of brokerages that offer free simulated stock trading tools. These tools are a great way to get your feet wet, so to speak, without risking any money.
But first a word of caution. These tools are ideal if you are interested in investing in individual stocks or ETFs. If what you want instead is to invest in diversified mutual funds, go to Vanguard, Fidelity or a company like Betterment.
What Is Simulated or Virtual Stock Trading?
Simulated stock trading allows you to trade stocks and options without risking your money. The brokerage firms listed below that offer this feature will create an account for you with essentially fake money. You’ll see a balance (typically $10,000 or more) that you can invest, but it’s not real money.
A virtual trading account is just like a regular trading account with an online broker. These virtual accounts can be helpful in several respects. First, if you’ve never bought stocks before, placing a simulated order first will enable you to see how the process works. This can be really helpful, as I recall being very intimidated when I placed my first order. Second, if you plan to trade options, a virtual account allows you to explore various options strategies in a test environment before risking your own money. Finally, a simulated account can be a great way to teach your children about investing.
Below are five popular online brokers that offer a free stock trading simulator.
5 Free Simulated Stock Trading Options
Optionsxpress probably offers the most tools of any online broker. You get a free $25,000 virtual trading account and the ability to use optionsXpress account screens, trading tools and resources to trade stocks, options and futures.
You get access to:
- Free real-time quotes and charts
- 40+ innovative trading tools
- Online or desktop virtual trading
- Advanced orders such as trailing stops, one-cancels-other, triggered orders, and future spreads
- Download positions to track and analyze virtual performance
- Glossary and education center
Another benefits of Optionsxpress is its $100 bonus for new accounts.
TD Ameritrade paperMoney is a paper trading application available as a downloadable trading platform. With paperMoney, every user has access to a virtual margin account and a virtual IRA each funded with $100,000 of “play money.”
TD Ameritrade offers additional benefits such as advanced order types and the ability to backest and idea to see if it would have worked in the past.
In addition to a virtual trading account, Scottrade offers a competition called Scottrade Fantasy Portfolio Challenge where you can use $25,000 in virtual cash to trade against others. You get a chance to learn and win real money or free trades. The monthly prizes are $500, $250 and $100 in gift cards for the top three contestants.
ScottradeELITE’s Virtual Trading system is a simulated trading platform that allows you to paper trade with an account balance of $100,000. With the ScottradeELITE Virtual Trading system, you can:
- Place simulated market and limit orders on equities.
- Test a trading strategy.
- View your simulated positions in real-time.
- Access all of the research functionality in ScottradeELITE.
The Trademonster virtual trading account called paperTRADE is focused mainly on options but you can trade stocks as well. You can trade all types of options strategies from covered calls to iron condors. When you open your free practice account, you’ll receive $100,000 in paper money, access to powerful trading tools and the free learning center.
paperTRADE features Include:
- Delayed quotes, charts and options chains
- Adjust positions with adjustTRADE
- Drag and drop customization
- Performance charts, what-if /risk analysis
- Stock fundamentals and report cards
- Easy spread creation using spreadMAKER
Interactive brokers is one of the best brokers for the more advanced trader who doesn’t require a lot (if any) hand holding. Their virtual trading platform is identical to their real platform (Trader WorkStation) and just as complex. They offer access to more markets and instruments that almost any other broker and at the lowest cost. If you are just starting out stick to one of the brokers mentioned above. However this is one of the benefits of virtual trading – you can learn the platform without fear of losing money because you can’t figure it out.
- Resources available include:
- Stock, ETF and fund screeners
- Education center
- Automated trading
- Financial calculators