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Differences of Day Trading vs. Investing


Day traders and investors take divergent approaches to navigating financial markets and generating returns. While day traders aim to earn a quick profit from slight shifts in the market each day, investors prefer to take a longer-term approach. Despite the differences between day trading and investing, both strategies share some basic similarities.

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What Is Day Trading?

Day traders are often drawn to immediate results of trading in a single day, which differs from other investment approaches that can require waiting weeks, months o even longer periods of time.

Specifically, day trading is a short-term trading style that involves buying and selling financial securities within the same day. The goal is to profit from price movements within that day.

For example, a day trader might buy 100 shares of Apple stock in the morning and then sell them in the afternoon of the same day, leveraging the intraday movement of the stock’s price to make a profit.

Day traders borrow capital for trading, commonly referred to as leveraging, which could help drive profits and losses. But this level of buying and selling requires a clear understanding of market trends, technical analysis and a willingness to take on significant risk.

Day Trading vs. Other Trading Styles

Swing trading, scalp trading and position trading are other common trading styles, each with distinct characteristics.

A swing trader, for example, might purchase a stock that shows an upward trend, hold it for a few days or weeks, and sell it once it reaches a peak, thereby profiting from the price “swings.”

Scalp traders, on the other hand, make numerous trades within a day to profit from small price changes. So scalp traders could profit pennies on each trade but make dozens or hundreds of these trades in a day.

Position traders hold trades for longer periods, focusing more on long-term performance rather than short-term market fluctuations. This could involve buying stocks in a company with solid fundamentals and holding onto these stocks for months or years, benefiting from the company’s long-term growth. As a result, position traders are more similar to long-term investors.

When comparing these trading styles, significant differences become evident. Swing trading often involves less time commitment than day trading, as trades span multiple days. Scalp trading, like day trading, requires a significant time commitment, but trades are even shorter and more numerous. Position trading – the longest-term trading style – requires the least time commitment per trade but also demands patience as profits are realized over a longer time horizon.

What Is Investing?

An investor checks on her portfolio on her smartphone.

Investing typically involves purchasing securities to hold them for an extended period, often years or decades. An investor like Warren Buffet, for instance, could buy shares of Coca-Cola and hold onto them for 30 years, expecting steady growth over time.

Investing may require a sound knowledge of a company’s fundamentals, such as its financial health, competitive position and growth prospects. It also requires patience, as investors must often wait for their investment thesis to play out over time.

The concept of investing revolves around using your money to buy assets that have the potential to generate income or increase in value over time. This is driven by fundamental principles such as diversification, compounding, and the risk and return trade-off:

  • Diversification: The concept of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversification calls for spreading your investments across various assets to minimize risk.
  • Compounding: When earnings from an investment are reinvested to generate their own earnings, much like a snowball effect.
  • Risk/return: The trade-off between risk and return suggests that higher potential returns on investment usually come with higher risk.

Investing plays a critical role in achieving financial goals. Whether it’s saving for retirement, buying a house or starting a business, investing can provide the financial means to realize these goals.

Types of Investing: Active vs. Passive

Active investing is a strategy where investors make specific decisions about what assets to buy or sell. This approach often involves closely monitoring market trends and making investment decisions based on predictions of future market movements. Active investors look to outperform a specific stock index or the market as a whole.  

Conversely, passive investing is a strategy where investors buy a broad market index and hold onto it for a long time. This approach is based on the belief that over the long term, markets will provide a decent return despite short-term fluctuations.

Passive investing strategies often involve investing in index funds or ETFs, like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), which replicates the performance of the S&P 500 index. These examples are not endorsements but rather useful illustrations of some common passive investing strategies.

Differences Between Day Trading and Investing

Day trading and investing share a common goal of generating profits, but they follow different principles and involve varying degrees of time, risk and commitment.

Here’s a look at the primary differences of day traders vs. investors:

Time Horizon

In the financial world, the term “time horizon” is introduced early in any investment discussion. It refers to the length of time someone plans to hold onto an asset before selling it.

This concept is a critical differentiator between day trading and investing. Day trading involves a very short time horizon, often less than a day, as traders buy and sell within the same trading session to capture quick profits.

On the flip side, investing involves a much longer time horizon, often spanning years or even decades. The goal is to allow the investment to appreciate over time, reaping the rewards of compound interest, dividends and long-term growth.

Consider your own time horizons: How long can you wait to see a return on your investments? This long-term approach is often associated with lower stress and less time commitment compared to day trading, making it a more suitable choice for individuals who are not able or willing to monitor the markets closely throughout the day.

Tax Implications

Both day trading and investing have tax implications that are intertwined with their different operational mechanisms. Day traders are subject to short-term capital gains tax, as their profits are typically realized within one year. This means that day traders’ profits are taxed at the individual’s ordinary income tax rate, which can be as high as 37% depending on the trader’s tax bracket.

Unlike day traders, long-term investors may benefit from lower tax rates on their profits. If an investment is held for more than a year before being sold, the profits are considered long-term capital gains and are taxed at a lower rate, which can be 0%, 15%, or 20% depending on the investor’s income. This tax advantage can result in significant savings for long-term investors. Therefore, it’s worth considering your current tax bracket and how it might influence your choice between day trading and investing.

Then again, not all investments receive the benefit of long-term capital gains tax rates. Assets that are held for less than a year may produce short-term capital gains, like trades do.

Meanwhile, saving for retirement is one of the most common ways people invest their money. Contributions made to individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s and similar tax-deferred accounts lower your taxable income for the year in which the money is saved. However, it gets taxed when it’s withdrawn later. At that point, the money is treated as ordinary income – not as capital gains.


Risk is inherent in any financial venture, and both day trading and investing are not immune. Day traders face risks such as market volatility, the potential for significant financial loss due to rapid price movements, and the risk of overtrading due to the high-frequency nature of their approach.

Investors, while also exposed to market volatility and the potential loss of their investment, often have more time to recover from bad investments due to their long-term approach. They also can mitigate risk through diversification.

It’s important to note, however, that while investing typically involves less risk than day trading, it does not guarantee profits. Both strategies require thorough research, careful decision-making and an understanding of the markets.


The complexity of day trading and investing also differs significantly and can be best understood through a side-by-side comparison. Day trading requires a deep understanding of market mechanisms, technical analysis and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure. It often involves the use of sophisticated trading tools and platforms, and it requires the trader to keep abreast of market news and events that could affect prices.

In contrast, investing also requires knowledge of the markets and different asset classes, but it can be simpler due to the less frequent transactions and the long-term perspective.

Similarities Between Day Trading and Investing

An investor looks over his portfolio returns.

There are commonalities between these two seemingly different approaches to the financial markets, however.

At the most basic level, both aim to generate profit through market activity. Both also require an understanding of financial markets and the factors that drive price movements. They also necessitate strategic planning, disciplined execution and continuous learning to adapt to ever-changing market conditions.

In financial markets like stock exchanges or forex markets, traders and investors alike need to analyze market trends, understand the macroeconomic environment and interpret financial data to make informed decisions. But what about risk management? It is key in both instances – day traders and investors alike may set stop-loss orders (to limit potential losses), diversify their portfolios (to spread risks) and continuously monitor market conditions to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Several factors influence both day trading and investing, such as market conditions, global economic events and individual financial goals. For instance, market conditions like volatility can provide day traders with opportunities for quick profits, while also affecting long-term investment returns. Global economic events, like an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve or events like Brexit, can cause significant market movements affecting both trading and investing.

Finally, your individual financial goals also play a role in determining whether to engage in day trading or long-term investing. Perhaps you’re saving for retirement and invest in a diversified portfolio for long-term growth. Or, maybe you’re looking for quick cash and engage in day trading. Hence, understanding the similarities and shared influencing factors between day trading and investing can help you navigate the financial markets more effectively.

Day Trading vs. Investing: Which Is Right For You?

You may consider investing if you have long-term financial goals, less time for active trading and a lower risk tolerance. Investing may allow you to gradually build wealth and potentially earn dividends without the need to constantly monitor the market.

However, day trading may be an option for you if you have a high risk tolerance and the ability to dedicate substantial time to monitoring the market. Remember, day trading requires considerable skill and knowledge to be successful.

Bottom Line

Whether you gravitate toward day trading, investing, or a combination of both, understanding their differences and assessing your financial circumstances is important. Remember, neither strategy is inherently superior. The best choice depends on your circumstances and risk tolerance.

Portfolio Management Tips

  • Asset allocation refers to how you strategically spread your money across various classes of assets. SmartAsset’s asset allocation calculator uses your risk tolerance to provide recommendations, including how much to invest in different categories of stocks and bonds.
  • A financial advisor can help you decide how to invest your assets. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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