Understanding the Different Stock Order Types

By Austin Kilham · October 05, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Understanding the Different Stock Order Types

There are several ways to execute stock trades, from the common and relatively simple market order, to more complex stop orders and timing instructions. Each type of order is a tool tailored to specific situations and needs of an investor or trader, and can result in a different outcome.

It’s important to understand the types of order in the stock market thoroughly to know when and how to use them. That way you’ll be able to know which order will best help you reach your goals as you buy and sell stocks.

Stock Order Types Explained

Different types of stock orders have different outcomes for investors. The best stock order type for you will depend on your investing style and risk appetite. You’ll need to understand each of them, particularly if you’re working with a self-directed brokerage account.

Recommended: 50 Investment Terms Decoded

Here’s a look at the different types of stock orders:

Market Order

Market orders are one of the most common types of trade you’ll encounter. A market order is an order to buy or sell a security as soon as possible at its current price. These types of orders make sense when you want to get a transaction done as quickly as possible.

A market order is guaranteed to be carried out, or executed. Investors buying stocks with a market order will pay an amount at or near the “ask” price. Sellers will sell for a price at or near the “bid” price.

However, while you’re guaranteed that your order will execute, you do not get a guarantee on the exact price. In volatile markets, stock prices may move quickly, deviating from the last quoted price, although.

For example, if you put in an order to buy a stock at an ask price of $50 per share, but many other buy orders are executed first, your market order may execute at a higher price as demand rises.

Recommended: What Is a Market-On-Open Order (MOO)?

Limit Order

Limit orders are another common type of stock orders. They are orders to buy or sell stock at a specific price or better within a certain time period. There are two basic types of limit orders:

•   Buy limit orders can only be executed at the limit price or lower. For example, say you want to buy shares in a company only when prices hit $40. By placing a limit order for that amount, you can ensure your order only executes when that price, or a lower price, is reached.

•   A sell limit order executes when stock hits a certain price or higher. For example, if you don’t want to sell your stock until it hits $40 or more, a sell limit will ensure that you own the stock until it hits that price.

Stop Order

In addition to the more commonly used market orders and limit orders, brokerage firms may also allow investors to use special orders and trading instructions, such as the stop order, also known as a stop-loss order. Stop orders are orders to buy or sell a stock when it reaches a predetermined price, known as the stop price. Stop orders help investors lock in profits and limit losses.

You enter a buy stop order at a price that is above current market price, which can help protect profit, especially if you are selling short. On the other hand, a sell stop order is an order to sell a stock at a price below the current market price, which can help you limit their losses.

When a stock’s price reaches the stop order price, the stop order becomes a market order. Like a market order, the stop price is not a guaranteed price. Fast moving markets can cause the execution price to be quite different.

Stop-Limit Order

Stop-limit orders are a sort of hybrid between stop orders and limit orders. Investors set a stop price, and when a stock hits that price, the stop order becomes limit order, executed at a specific price or better.

Stop-limit orders help investors avoid the risk that a stop order will execute at an unexpected price. That gives them more control over the price at which they’ll buy or sell.

For example, say you want to buy a stock currently priced at $100 but only if it shows signs that it’s on a clear upward trajectory. You could place a stop-limit order with a stop price of $110 and a limit of $115. When the stock reaches $110, the stop order becomes a limit order, and it will only execute when prices reach $115 or higher.

💡 Quick Tip: The best stock trading app? That’s a personal preference, of course. Generally speaking, though, a great app is one with an intuitive interface and powerful features to help make trades quickly and easily.

Trailing Stop Loss Order

Investors who already own stocks and want to lock in gains may use these relatively uncommon orders. While stop-loss orders help investors buy or sell when a stock hits a certain stop price, trailing stop loss orders put guardrails around an investment.

For example, if you buy a stock at $100 per share, you might put a trailing stop loss order of 10% on the stock. That way, if, at any time, the stock’s share price dips below 10%, the brokerage will execute the order to sell.

Bracket Order (BO)

Bracket orders are similar to stop-loss orders in that they’re designed to help investors or traders lock in their profits or gains. They effectively create an order “bracket” with two orders: A buy order with a high-side sell limit, and a sell order with a low-side limit.

With a bracket order set up and in place, an order will execute when a security’s value goes outside of the predetermined range, either too high or too low.

Timing Instructions

Investors use a set of tools, known as timing instructions, to modify the market orders and limit orders and tailor them to more specific needs.

Day Orders

If an investor does not specify when an order will expire, the brokerage enters it as a day order. At the end of the trading day, it expires. If at that point, the brokerage has not executed the trade, it will have to be reentered the following day.

Good ‘Til Canceled (GTC)

A GTC order allows investors to put a time restriction on an order so that it lasts until the completion or cancellation of an order. Brokerage firms typically place a time limit on how long a GTC order can remain open.

Immediate or Cancel (IOC)

IOC orders allow investors to ask that the brokerage execute the buying or selling of stock immediately. It also allows for partial execution of the order. So, if an investor wants to buy 1,000 shares of a company but it’s only possible to buy 500 shares immediately, these instructions will alert the broker to buy the shares available. If the broker can not fulfill the order, or any portion of the order, immediately, the broker will cancel it.

Fill-Or-Kill (FOK)

Unlike IOC orders, fill-or-kill orders do not permit partial execution. The brokerage must execute the order immediately and in its entirety, or cancel it.

All-Or-None (AON)

Similar to FOKs, all-or-none orders require the complete execution of the order. However, AONs do not require immediate execution, rather the order remains active until the broker executes or cancels it.

💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

Which Order Type Is Best?

The type of order or special instructions you use when buying and selling stock depends on your goals with the transaction. Most beginner investors probably only need to execute market orders and perhaps limit orders.

Those trying to execute more complicated trades in shorter time frames, such as professional traders, may be more likely to use stop orders and special timing instructions.

Recommended: Buy Low, Sell High Strategy: Investor’s Guide

The Takeaway

There are numerous types of stock orders, including limit orders, stop orders, bracket orders, and more. Investors and traders can use each individually or in concert to execute their strategy, though beginner investors likely won’t dig too far into their order tool kit when learning to navigate the markets.

Before using any of trade orders or timing instructions it’s critical to understand their function and to think carefully about how and whether they apply to your specific needs. Using the right order for your situation can potentially help you reduce risk and protect your portfolio, no matter how many stocks you own.

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What is the safest type of stock order to use?

The stock order type that is all but guaranteed to execute per an investor’s desires is a market order, which executes immediately and at a given price. Other order types depend on specific conditions dictated by the investor and the market.

What is the difference between stop-loss vs stop-limit orders?

The main difference between a stop-loss order and a stop-limit order is that a stop-loss order guarantees to execute a market order if the stock hits the stop price, while a stop-limit order triggers a limit order when the assigned value is reached.

What is a standard stop-loss rule?

An example of a more or less standard stop-loss rule would be setting the stop-loss order parameters at 2% of the buy price, which would mean that an investor is not putting more than 2% of their initial investment at risk.

Photo credit: iStock/Alina Vasylieva

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