A paper trading account provides a safe, structured environment where would-be investors can teach themselves about investing without risking any money. It's the smartest thing you could do before risking even a penny of your money.
That being said, we've ranked the best three stock market simulators for a paper trading account. All of them offer terrific platforms, but the top selections on this list will have all the features any new or advanced trader could ask for.
Why a Paper Trading Account Is a Must
- Practice makes perfect..or better.
- The learning curve will be shortened
- Practicing saves your money and avoids unnecessary losses
1. Paper Trading Practice Makes Perfect
Remember, as a kid, when you were trying to learn how to ride a bike? Did you just jump on the bike without training wheels and were an instant pro?
Nope. I'm willing to bet it took you lots of practice and bloody knees before those wheels came off.
2. Simulators Will Shorten Your Learning Curve
I want you to think of a simulator as a set of training wheels. More importantly, they'll help you perfect your game and strategy before the wheels come off, and you're set loose on the trading road.
Without the constant worry of smashing your face on the ground, your mind is free to practice and perfect your strategy. Not only is your face left intact, but your pocketbook is also safe.
Are you still not convinced? I'll let you in on a little secret: Even the pros use simulators. The best traders all practice with paper trading accounts before putting any of their real money at risk.
There's no shame in going back to a paper trading account if you've experienced a series of losses. Equally important, the pros go back to practice and refine new strategies. Why bother risking your cash on a strategy that just might not work?
3. A Simulator Account Will Save Your Cash From Evaporation
Think you can beat the street? Think again. Without honing your skills in a paper trading account, you'll be broke in no time. Luckily, You get "virtual" money so you can practice your trading strategies without going broke.
Got a hot new strategy you know is going to make you bank? I know with Interactive Brokers, you get $1 million in "pretend" capital to test this strategy without taking on any real risk.
The fringe benefits include clean underwear (you're not crapping your pants worrying about the trade), a house to live in (your wife didn't kick you out because you were gambling), retirement savings untouched (see the previous point).
Eventually, what will start to happen is you build confidence; your new strategy is working! Yay. You will also nail down your emotions, removing them from the equation.
Practice your profit and loss taking strategies. Finally, it takes the stress out of trading. Your main goal is to become an emotionless trading robot.
4. Essential Qualities of a Great Platform and Paper Trading Account
- There's no one size fits all, but all great stock simulators share a few things.
- They closely mirror the market with real-time data. Not only do you want access to real-time data, buying and selling stocks in a simulator must feel like the real thing. To help put this in perspective,
- A wide variety of securities available. The simulator you choose must offer the securities you want to trade. What if you want to trade Futures, options, ETFs or even hold and invest index funds for 40 years. The simulator you choose needs to match you and your needs.
- Quality of tools and charting. What good is a trading simulator if you can't do quality charting on it? Top of the line stock charting tools and indicators are a must for any (real or fake) trading platform. Beyond even that, it doesn't hurt to have access to conference calls, news reports or economic data.
- Backtesting capability. Since day trading relies heavily on the strategy (i.e. bull-flag pull back or dip buy) used for trading, you must be able to backtest them. You need to know if your strategy works when the rubber hits the road.
My Top Picks for Paper Trading Accounts
- ThinkorSwim by TD Ameritrade
- Trader Workstation (TWS) by Interactive Brokers
Without a doubt, the Thinkorswim platform contains some of the most advanced trading and charting tools you can find. Furthermore, their advanced platform provides data about the global and US economies right from the Fed.
And gives you access to over 400,000 economic data points from 6 continents. What's more, once you register, you'll get customizable stock charts to track not only securities but commodities like gold, oil and natural gas.
Luckily, you don't need a brokerage account with TD to sign up for the Thinkorswim platform. All you need to do is register with your email address, download the platform, and you're off to the races.
2. Trader Workstation (TWS)
Back in early 2016, we started using TWS as a secondary broker. In fact, another experienced trader in our stock market community highly recommended it.
Interactive Brokers' Desktop TWS is considered one of the best trading platforms available for advanced traders. What's more, all of the advanced features of the TWS platform.
Think advanced charting, heat maps, multileg options orders are available in their simulated trading platform.
I'm not going to lie; new traders will likely find their platform overwhelming. To be honest, they will probably find Thinkorswim overwhelming as well.
Another paper trading account veteran is Trade Station. In case you didn't know, TradeStation is a direct access broker with a full-featured trading platform.
On top of this, their platform is the winner of numerous awards and is one of the world's most trusted brokerages.
What I like about TradeStation is all the bells and whistles it comes with. Not only do you get highly customizable charts and indicators, but you have access to strategy optimization capabilities.
Furthermore, with an account, you gain access to their community forums where you can exchange ideas with other traders.
Due to its superb strategy testing, those who are systems traders really like it. In fact, the platform is so popular that even non-brokerage clients buy it. But it's quite expensive; even the paper trading account will set you back $249.95.
4. The Dark Side of a Paper Trading Account
- Unrealistic execution expectations. In the real-world, your trades don't necessarily get filled as fast as they do in a paper trading account.
- You have no skin in the game. The downside is that you may take on more risk than you would in a real account.
- You don't get to experience the emotional highs and lows of trading. Because you're not putting your money on the line, you won't learn to control the highs and lows of emotion that go along with trading. It is much easier to throw down $10,000 on a high-risk penny stock than to buy it with your hard-earned cash.
- You get more capital than you would have access to in real life. Like I mentioned above, Interactive Brokers actually gave me access to one million dollars in capital. How in the world does that "simulate" real life? What's more, you can hit a magic button to reset your account balance. Unless you have a money tree in your back yard, this does not exist in real life.
Where to Go From Here
I'll leave you with this: Practice does make perfect. So open a paper trading account. If you're an aspiring trader, take as much time as you can paper trading before you jump ship and begin live trading.
At the end of the day, be sure to explore different strategies and new ideas so you can get comfortable. With time and practice using the simulators, the transition to actual trading in a real brokerage account can become seamless.
With a Bullish Bears membership, you'll have access to hundreds of strategies for all types of traders. It doesn't matter if you trade futures, options or stocks; we have something for you.