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23 min read
Al Hill : Jul 22, 2021
Last Updated: May 18, 2022
Alton Hill is a Cofounder at TradingSim. He has a passion to help people and found that one of his ways of doing so, is through the world of Day Trading. Alton’s skillset is in Product Development and Design Thinking which he uses to write and improve the overall experience for TradingSim.
Many beginner traders want to know what they stand to make as a day trader. On the web, information about how much money you can make as a day trader is hit or miss. After all, how many videos or posts have you seen of traders making enormous amounts of money in short periods of time? Very rarely do you see these traders posting their biggest losses. For that reason, it’s difficult to define a day trading salary range.
Nevertheless, while trading income has many variables, by applying some basic research methods you can actually come to a solid estimate of what a day trader can make based on their locale, starting capital, and employment status.
In this post, we’ll share a number of sources that can provide you clear estimates that you can then use to determine your potential profit potential. Understand that results will vary from person to person.
Before we go any further, please take the time to watch this video in its entirety. We’ll break down how much you can “potentially” make based on trading for (1) a company, (2) a prop firm and (3) yourself. After watching the video, read through the detailed write-up to see which method best matches your needs and lifestyle.
Let’s be honest, many of you reading this are considering going out on your own and are not looking to get a job.
To that point, anyone that tells you a definitive range for a day trading salary is likely pulling your leg.
Many services promise the moon by showing their P/L, and are willing to sell you ocean-front property in Arizona along with those promises.
Now, for all you corporate people that can go to sites like vault.com or talk to your insider friends to gauge how much you can make in a trading job; please do not expect hard numbers from any of these sources.
The reason for this is that there is a host of external factors that play into how much money you can make. Notwithstanding, the time, effort, and experience it will take to become profitable.
In this article, we will rip through all the fluff on the web and get down to cold hard facts. Take your time as we examine the ins and outs of day trading salary expectations.
You should not take this decision lightly, and you will have to weigh the pros and cons, of course. For starters, trading for someone else will allow you the opportunity to utilize their tools and strategies, which are hopefully profitable.
Trading for someone else can potentially remove the pressures of having to identify both a winning system and a mentor that can help you along the way.
However, if you are not profitable “enough,” be prepared to have more rules thrown at you than when you were in 6th grade.
This level of governance over your trading activity is due to the fact you are using someone else’s money, so make money or get used to someone telling you how to breathe.
The one big upside to day trading for someone else is potential for a base salary. This salary is likely not enough to live on, but you might get a check.
When you go out on your own, there is no salary. You are an investor hoping to make income. We will go into this topic much deeper later on.
The Series 7  will give you the license to trade. As of the time writing, the exam costs around $305. and depending on the outfit will be covered by the firm.
The Series 63  is the next exam you will need to take after the Series 7. This exam permits you to solicit orders for a stock within a perspective state.
A simple way of thinking about this is the 7 gives you the right to trade on a federal level, and the 63 allows you to work within the boundaries of state laws.
Generally speaking, you will be required to complete some in-house training program for the firm you represent. For investment houses, you will receive a decent base salary; enough to keep you at the lower middle-class range for New York.
Want to know the best part?
Your base stock trader salary could range from 50,000 – 70,000 dollars US, which is just enough for you to pay your cable bill, feed yourself and maybe take a taxi or two. But this won’t likely cover your dinners, cars, vacations, private schools, etc.
Hopefully you are beginning to see that to be successful, you’re going to need to make your bonus. There is just one catch; you have to make money day trading. Otherwise, you’ll end up on the chopping block.
On the surface, this sounds reasonable because you lower your risk profile by having another income stream of a base salary; however, you have to perform to stay employed, and may only get about 10-30% of the profits you bring in from your trading activity.
Based on these numbers, you would need to make about 300k in trading profits just to break 100k in salary.
If consistently profitable, over time your buying power will likely increase, and you have none of the downside risks since it’s the company’s money. The key is making sure you have a significant amount of money under management.
As you can see in the infographic above, the key to making serious money is to start managing multiple funds. Pull that off, and you might make it into the upper echelon of 576k a year.
Yes you read that right.
This may sound appealing. But remember, it is nothing short of blood, sweat, and tears to get to the top of the mountain.
The other point to call out from the infographic is that the average bonus is starting to trend higher. If things go as forecasted, the average bonus will exceed the pre-recession peak in the not too distant future.
Therefore, if one of your goals is to make money, you are looking in the right industry.
The middle of the road trader can expect to make between 100k and 175k, if successful. Lastly, if you are below average, expect to get a pink slip.
But wait – there’s more.
If we extend our research beyond New York, you will see the average salary for a “Trader” is around $84,000.
Don’t believe me?
Well, check out this screenshot from Glassdoor.com of over 213 trading salaries . The average salary is coming in at around 84k.
Now, $84k is nothing to sneeze at regarding salaries.
But you can probably think of quite a few jobs where you can make close to $84k, and it doesn’t require the level of commitment and risk-taking required for trading. Maybe you’re good at IT, coding, a lawyer, etc.
You may be thinking; “this guy just told me a day trading salary could go as high as $250k to $500k if I’m above average, so where does $84k come into play.”
Well, remember the $84k is the national average.
Let’s brighten things up a bit and look at some of the big boys in the capital markets space, Glassdoor.com data.
Deutsche Bank’s top traders can get up to $293k.
Citi’s top traders can make a cool $335k.
Morgan Stanley tops out at $156k.
Remember, these are individual trading salaries. One of the additional points of consideration is that you can rise through the ranks and become a fund manager or even a hedge fund manager.
At that point, your earning potential is through the roof if you can prove yourself as a great individual trader first.
So far, we’ve discussed the salaries for publicly traded companies.
Good luck trying to get accurate data for the elite world of private equity traders. What you will find is often the top traders from the big banks like Chase and Bank of America venture out to hedge funds. They eventually leave for the freedom to make their own trading decisions and the higher pay potential.
Here’s the most important part, with the public firms, corporate goals will often drive a portion of your bonus targets.
In the private hedge fund world, while there are still company goals, you have the opportunity to eat more of what you kill.
It’s nothing for a top trader to out-earn their boss if they bring enough value to the firm.
Plus, you’d get other benefits as well.
Despite these benefits, there are some disadvantages of working with companies.
Day trading for prop firms can feel a little like living on the edge.
Similar to trading for a larger bank, you will receive some training before the prop firm allows you to trade with their money and have access to their systems. After that, all similarities between trading for a prop firm and a company differ.
Don’t expect any health care of paid time off. You will not have a base salary or annual reviews. The prop firms will more than likely require you to deposit money to start using their platform.
The benefits are that the prop firm will split profits with you anywhere from a third and up to 80%. With that potential for gain share, you have to be willing to give up a salary, and you bear some of the pain when it comes to losses.
But here’s the rub, the reason prop firm traders can make less than those for the investment houses, is their limited access to capital. Since you are likely trading the proprietary firm owner’s money, the pool of funds you have access to is limited. In other words, you’re sharing the pool with other traders in the firm.
An above average trader for a prop firm can make about 150k to 250k a year. Some elite traders at firms like SMB Capital may hit 7 figures. The average trader will do between 60k and 100k, and underperformers will have so many position limits placed on their account, they are basically practicing and not making any money.
These underperformers will likely remove themselves from the game because practicing does not pay the bills.
In addition to the data displayed in the infographic from the Office of the New York State Comptroller, let’s take it a step further to identify the starting salary for an entry-level trading job across the nation.
Remember that $84k is an average of junior trading jobs all the way to the most senior.
This way if you are literally starting out and are offered $50k, you don’t get discouraged. We all have to start somewhere!
As expected, the average base pay is much lower, but still respectable! If you want to search for your state, simply give glassdoor.com a try.
Like every budding trader, you’re probably imagining what it would be like to set your own schedule and to reach financial freedom.
As traders, we have this innate part of us that only sees the limitless possibilities. If you’ve had beginners luck in the market, you’re probably even thinking about quitting your job to go full time.
Psychologists call this the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here’s a great way to visualize this:
This image should bring you down to earth a little. First off, trading can be worse than a sales job or entrepreneurship when it comes to earning a steady income. The level of uncertainty can be unbearable if you have never gone without a steady paycheck.
In sales, you can have a rough month and just commit yourself to knock on more doors or calling more people until you land the much-needed deal. In day trading more effort does not equal greater results.
Your earning potential is in direct proportion to your starting capital and experience. We discuss how much money you will need in another article. We also discuss what it takes to be successful in another post.
So, let’s break down the numbers in layman terms.
Instead of predicting how much money you can make, we’re going to give you a range of how much you could earn based on your starting trading capital.
If you are attempting to day trade with less than 50k dollars and you have any monthly expenses, you will likely be out of money within 6 – 24 months.
You are probably thinking, ouch that is harsh. But it’s the truth.
Our friendly SEC requires that you have a minimum of 25k to day trade. There are some ways of getting around this, but it’s still a limiting factor. This leaves you with only 25k dollars that you can risk before you run into a roadblock for your trading career.
So just to be clear, you might earn a salary from day trading if you have less than 50k dollars, and some have done this. But by and large the market will simply eat you alive.
It all depends on your education, experience, and strategies.
If you fall within this bucket, you’re likely trading the bulk of your life savings, and you are somewhere between 30 to 55 years of age. Nevertheless, if you have monthly expenses, this may not be enough money to start trading for a living.
With that in mind, and since you’re looking for day trading salary information, let’s throw out some numbers.
Now consider this: assuming you can even turn a profit like $50k, how do you think making 50k for an entire year sounds when you likely have a mortgage, young children or maybe kids heading off to college?
On top of that, how will you grow your account by adding equity?
Doesn’t sound too promising does it?
If you don’t have any supplemental income but want to have a decent standard of living, you’re going to need a substantial amount of trading capital. Yes, we know. It sounds depressing. And honestly, we aren’t trying to crush your dream of becoming a day trader.
Here are some benchmarks to consider to try starting with less than this amount of capital:
For scenarios 1 – 3 above, you can use the golden ratio of 50 to 1; 50 times your monthly expenses in trading capital.
For example, if your monthly bills are 2k US dollars, you will need 100k trading capital.
If you fall outside of the three scenarios listed above, you will need half a million dollars to make it. Let’s break down why you need 500k to make it in day trading.
You have sweated blood and tears to make money trading and now it’s time to pay your fair share of taxes.
Your income will be taxed as if you worked a regular job. You will not enjoy the same low tax rates of long-term investors. If you live in the US, are married with a few kids, and make 20% on your 100k, you’ll be lucky if you bring home 70k after taxes.
Consider the following capital gains rates for a single person as a rule of thumb:
Think about this for a moment.
Take the 70k and divide that across 12 months, that leaves you with about $5,800 per month. Now, if you live south of North Carolina or out west in Idaho, this may be enough to take care of a family of 4; however, if you live in DC or any other high-cost area, you’re right on the edge of barely scraping by.
If you are an above-average or an exceptional day trader, then you may do just fine. The odds are that it is going to take you a few years to get to this point. Just remember that until a Republican makes good on the no capital gain taxes, you will be paying the same taxes you did as an employee.
To learn more about the tax implications of day trading for yourself, head over to Predicting Uncle Sam Day - Trading and Taxes.
You’re probably thinking, “but I pay zero commissions with my broker.”
In order to control your own order flow, most brokerage firms offer a two-tier commission structure.
The trader can either elect to pay a per-share transaction or a flat fee. Assuming you are trading with $500k, this will give you margin of up to $2M.
In other words, you will be trading a lot of shares depending on your strategy. Therefore, you might want to use the flat fee commission approach to reduce your trading costs.
However, some brokers offer heavy discounts for per share commission pricing depending on the amount of shares you trade each month. You can even recoup your money by “adding liquidity to the market.
Here is an example of a per share commission schedule from Cobra Trading.
As your account value increases, the commissions paid as a percentage of your profits will decrease. Lastly, most brokerage firms will offer lower commissions to clients depending on their account value. This sort of unique offering begins at 250k, so you would easily qualify.
Why do we mention this?
This one comes from experience. Trust us. It will feel much better having a losing month, drawing a few thousand to cover the bills, but still seeing an account balance of $687,585.90.
Imagine having a losing month and needing to withdraw $3,000 only to see an account balance of $45,675.87, or $18,000. Imagine how that will make you feel as you approach each trading day. Think about the raw emotions that will pierce through your body as you drop your kids off at school.
Save yourself the headache. Figure out a way to supplement your income or continue to find ways to accumulate the necessary funds to get started.
We are strong proponents of the 10k hours of mastery described in the book Outliers to Master Day Trading. Remember, you are trading to be an above-average to elite trader. At the very least you need consistency.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume you are spending 50 hours a week trading and researching your strategy and only take off two weeks per year. This means you will work 50 hours per week for 50 weeks for a total of 2,500 hours.
Now let’s say you are super smart (clearly because you want to take on day trading as a profession) and only need 5,000 hours to master trading. At a minimum, we are still talking about two full years of practice to hone your skills.
What do you think your odds of success are if you only have 80k in an account for you to survive this two to three-year learning period?
Is it becoming clear why 90% of day traders fail within the first few years?
Most of it has very little to do with the type of profession we have chosen or how good we are at this game. It just comes down preserving enough capital to survive until you find consistency.
To further illustrate the difficulty of trading, you may consider reading The Day Trading Illusion, which is literally devoted to describing the difficulties of day trading. It’s an interesting book because it’s one of the few not glamorizing the business, and gives a different perspective.
This isn’t to discourage you, but it’s always good to hear from other voices.
Let’s assume you have decided to trade full-time. What will this mean for you and your family?
For you, deciding to trade may mean a pay cut. You reconcile this with the affirmation that you will be doing what you love. As a happier person doing what he loves, you’ll be a much happier person to be around. Your family and friends will be thankful, too. No one can put a price tag on happiness, after all.
So let’s examine this pay cut.
Assuming you profit anywhere between 20% and 50% a year, you can expect the following as a range for your day trading salary:
At this point, you are likely thinking all you need is a large sum of money, and all of your day trading salary problems are solved.
If this last sentence describes how you are feeling, you are still going through the “Dreamer” phase of trading. This is where we all sit back and calculate compounded interest coming our way.
We’ve all played this game – be honest.
We say things like, “If I only make 1 percent a day I will have over 10 million dollars in my account in 3 years!”
If you are reading this article and saying that all I need is $250k to 500k and life will be grand, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Before you liquidate your 401k and life savings to trade, first ask yourself the question “can I make money with little money?”
This seems so simple on the surface, but there is a lot we need to unpack in that statement.
As a trader, especially a new trader, your level of optimism for how much money you can make will borderline on insanity in the beginning. Think back to our “Dreamer” example, or the Dunning-Kruger effect graphic below:
What’s the problem with optimism?
Nothing. But, one of the first things new traders should understand is how important it is to turn a profit before sizing up your account.
If you cannot make money trading 5k dollars, you will not make money trading 500k dollars. With a small account, the last thing you will worry about is your day trading salary. Your mind will be less concerned with issues like not wasting an entire life’s savings in the stock market.
If anyone says to you, “Well you need to spend money to make money,” this is generally true. But, tell them to keep their opinions to themselves.
The stock market is the one place where being careless with your money will leave you broke faster than any other investment vehicle known to man.
You may be thining, “Well, how do I day trade with less than 25k?”
There are a ton of options out there, and if you want to learn more about how to do this, please read the blog post –
“How to Day Trade with Little Money and Keep Your Day Job“
Now that we have listed all the stats and have talked through all the possible ways to make great money day trading let’s ask ourselves a really important question.
Why are you even searching for how much money you can make day trading?
Honestly, ask yourself that question.
Imagine you are responsible for someone or something. Really think about that, do not just skim over this point.
This could mean someone’s college education, helping with medical bills, or just buying them food.
Now imagine that you are relying on what is completely unpredictable – the stock market, to provide support for the people that matter to you the most.
How does this make you feel? Now, we aren’t trying to scare you by any means. We genuinely want you to walk through this thought exercise with us.
Now imagine that you cannot meet these demands for a month. Then a month becomes six months. Six months becomes five years.
Is this something you are willing to endure?
Are you willing to endure the constant questioning from the people that have every God-given right to question you?
Will you be able to withstand the mental laps you will put yourself through as you go on this journey?
These are the questions that traders ask themselves constantly, even profitable traders. For more help on what it takes to succeed, be sure to read our post on this subject.
For the first time in over 30 years, the United States has finally decided to do something about our tax plan.
Before we go any further, while there are a number of winners and losers with the new deal, as a day trader you are likely to come out slightly ahead.
Short-term capital gains are still taxed as ordinary income rate. This will result in a slightly better year-end for us all as the income range has increased across all of the taxable brackets, thus providing tax relief of ~ 2% depending on where you fall.
In case you are unaware of your potential tax obligation, you can reference the below data. Click on the tabs of the graph to visually cycle through the differences in the tax bracket .
Unfortunately, these tax breaks only last until 2025, after which point everything resets back to the existing tax rates.
Until then, we can enjoy a 2% average tax cut.
Treat trading as any other career that requires hard work, smarts, passion and a bit of luck.
For some reason, day trading is looked at as the lottery of life. Many think it should be easy, when, in fact, learning to day trade is arguably one of the most challenging endeavors you can pursue.
It is baffling that everyone wants to know about all the money to be made but are unwilling to put in the thousands of hours of trade review and practice to get better.
If someone joined a law firm, would you expect them to make a senior partner’s salary in a year?
Of course not!
Why would your immediate earning potential for trading be any different?
As stated in our other articles, just learn to make enough money to cover small bills first. This could be your cable bill or gas bill. Don’t worry about the person making $250k a year from their boat off the Florida Keys.
Sounds silly, but it’s not.
If you focus on the process of making money the right way, you will be able to scale up to the targets discussed earlier in this article.
When we say the “right way,” we mean no major blow-ups with your account, reasonable risk-taking, and an equity line that keeps trending up and to the right.
Make no mistake about it, every single day you will be in a never-ending battle with the best and brightest to make a living.
Instead of focusing on how much you can make per year trading, you need to think of how much you are willing to lose.
Sure, that may sound a bit ironic since this entire article is based on making money. But the important thing is remembering that learning to trade takes time, and tuition is not free.
There are few studies that speak to the profitability of retail traders. A recent study from the Autorite des Marches Financiers (AMF)  took a look at profitability across active retail currency traders in France from 2009 – 2012.
Do you have any idea how many traders were profitable?
Sadly, approximately 1 out of 10 were able to turn a profit.
The study looked at a total of 14,799 customers. Out of this pool of traders, only 1,575 or 11% were profitable. This small group of investors made 17.51 million or $11,117 per account on average.
Let’s unpack that further.
Can anyone reading this article live on $2,779 per year?
Now I realize this is a study from France and is Forex, not equities. But trading is trading.
Therefore, before you claim your $84k payday, figure out how much you are willing to lose before you learn how to trade. We suggest less than $10k and you never, and we mean never, fund this account until you make money on a consistent basis.
We try to give the full picture of trading, the good and the bad, to paint the reality of what it will take. Trading gurus who promise you the moon are a dime-a-dozen.
It’s borderline criminal the way people make it seem so easy.
Just to go back to the study cited earlier from France. The study did not track performance relative to a person’s trading experience.
To say this a little simpler, let’s imagine we grab 100 random people to see if they can hit a 95 mile per hour fastball.
How many do you think would make contact?
Since I played baseball for many years, I would dare to say less than .5%.
So, the same rule applies to trading. If 89 out of 100 have never traded and then fund a forex account, what do you think will happen?
The real question is how long and how many trades does it take before a trader begins to make money?
Therefore, do not get caught up in these percentages, other than to know you will need to work hard for what you want.
The Guardian posted an interesting article on a successful trader. We found it to be on-topic for this article and have developed an infographic that calls out clear themes that can be applied to your existing or future journey in trading.
There were a few standouts from the interview, which are worth highlighting for our purposes here.
For starters, the trader segmented what it means to be a trader. He spoke of “pure play” traders who react to the market based on what it is showing them. He then classifies himself as a quant that needs time to run quantitative analysis to identify his edge.
Another interesting fact is that the trader does not simply go long or short. The trader hedges every trade he places in order to limit his risk exposure on the account.
It was also interesting that he made a point to clarify that traders are not evil. From the sounds of it, he is trading volume and can potentially have an impact on the price of a contract on the exchange.
This is where things really get interesting. He makes 150,000 British Pounds per year, but his bonus can be many multiples of this value.
If you are ambitious enough to read this article, you are likely more interested in the multiples.
The last standout from the article is that the trader did not like the idea of trading at a hedge fund for the risk of investors pulling their money out at any time.
Be sure to head over to the Guardian to check it out. If you are looking at changing careers or just getting started, it’s always great to hear from a person that worked their way up from the bottom.
Everyone loves a great ending.
This story was posted on marketwatch.com and is the story of a trader that turned $600 dollars into $100,000 ; just take that in for a second.
That comes out to a whopping 16,600% return.
Don’t even try to deny it, deep down you want this level of success.
Now a couple of key points from the article you should be aware of before you spend your millions:
Notice how similar this looks to the Dunning-Kruger effect curve?
One of the main quotes J Park gave in his interview with Marketwatch is that “Traders focus too much on the P&L and not enough on the process.”
What a profound statement. A priceless bit of information.
Don’t worry about the salary or the money. Just focus on being the best trader you can be and do whatever you can to avoid losing your shirt.
Follow these rules and at some point, your equity curve will take off and your dream will become a reality.
But like J Park, are you willing to put in the hard work for two years before seeing any results, or will you take the easy way out like those poor souls trading the Forex in France?
The choice is yours, but sometimes you need to feel a little pain to truly value the pleasure.
It all comes down to this at the end of the day: this is your personal journey to the career or life experience you hope to achieve.
When you really think about it, if you are working for a company, you will likely have a salary, but that salary is minimal compared to the bonuses you could receive from successful trading.
As an independent trader, you aren’t even sales or commission based. Your entire well-being in terms of money coming in is unpredictable.
You also do not have a day trading salary in traditional terms. You are an investor which means you make a return on your money or receive income from your investment decisions.
This is all to say that what you make is solely up to you. There are traders that are content making $500k a year and have no desire to log another trade.
We here at TradingSim know traders that are never happy no matter how much they make on an annual basis.
You have to decide what type of salary (if employed) or income (self-employed) you want to make that will (1) keep you in the game the longest and (2) allow you to live a full life unconcerned with every tick in the market.
How much money you can make in the market comes down to two simple things: (1) your ability to profit on a consistent basis and (2) your starting capital.
Please remember you need to first put your focus on turning a consistent profit and not on your earning potential.
Once you learn to turn consistent profits, remember you will need to manage your personal finances, which you can do with a number of free and paid apps.
You may need to stretch your dollar a little further until things stabilize.
We hope you have found this article helpful as you continue along your path of becoming a professional day trader.
Beyond the wealth of content we have on Tradingsim, our flagship product is a market replay platform, which you can use to reach your 10,000 hours of practice in order to become one of the top 10% of traders. You can use our platform to simulate your performance over the last 3 years.
To learn more about how we can help your trading performance, please look at our latest offerings on our homepage or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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