New! Eligible SoFi members can invest in upcoming IPOs before they’re traded on the public market—only in the SoFi app.* Learn more

How to Use a Trailing Stop Loss Properly

By Rebecca Lake · May 24, 2021 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

How to Use a Trailing Stop Loss Properly

A trailing stop loss allows investors to create a built-in safety mechanism to insulate themselves against downward pricing trends. It’s an important exit strategy that day traders can use to manage their risk.

Understanding how a trailing stop order works and how to use it properly can help cap potential losses when day trading investments.

What Is a Trailing Stop Loss?

To understand trailing stop loss, it first helps to understand how limit orders and stop orders work.

A limit order is an order to buy or sell a security once it reaches a specific price. If the order is to buy, it only gets triggered at or below the limit price. If the order is to sell, the order can only get executed at or above the limit price. Limit orders are typically filled on a first-come, first-served basis in the market.

A stop order, also referred to as a stop-loss order, is also an order to buy or sell a particular investment. The difference is that the transaction occurs once a security’s market price reaches a certain point. So for example, if you buy shares of stock for $50 each you might create a stop order to sell those shares if the price dips to $40. Once a stop or limit order is executed, it becomes a market order.

Stop orders help you either lock in a set purchase price for an investment or cap the amount of losses you incur when you sell if the security’s price drops. While you can use them to manage investment risk, stop orders are fixed at a certain share price.

A trailing stop loss, on the other hand, offers a more flexible approach to minimizing investment losses. A trailing stop order trails the price of the underlying investment by a percentage or a specific dollar amount. So using the previous example of buying shares at $50 each, you might impose a trailing stop limit of 10%. If the stock’s share price dipped by 10% they’d be sold automatically.

How a Trailing Stop Order Works

Using a trailing stop to manage investments can help you capitalize on stock market movements and momentum. You determine a preset price at which you want to sell a stock, based on how a particular investment is trending, rather than pinpointing an exact dollar amount.

You can decide where to set a trailing stop limit, based on your risk tolerance and what you expect an investment to do over time. What remains consistent is the percentage by which you can control losses as the investment’s price changes.

So, assume that you purchase 100 shares of stock at $50 each. You set a trailing stop order at 10%. If the share price dips to $45, which reflects a 10% loss, those shares would be sold automatically capping your total loss on the investment at $500.

Now, assume that the stock takes off instead and the share price doubles to $100 with the same 10% trailing stop in place. Your stop order would only be triggered if the stock’s price falls to $90. If you had set a regular stop order at $40 instead, there’d be a much wider margin for losses since the stock’s price has further to fall before shares would be sold. Thus, trailing stops enhanced downside protection compared to a regular stop order.

Advantages of Using a Trailing Stop Orders

There are several benefits that come with using a trailing stop limit to manage your investments. First, trailing stops move in tandem with stock pricing. As a stock’s per share price increases, the trailing stop follows. In the previous example, when the stock’s price doubled from $50 to $90, the trailing stop price moved from $45 to $90.

Implementing a trailing stop limit strategy can offer reassurance since you know shares will be sold automatically if the stop order is triggered. Trailing stop limits rely on math rather than emotions when making decisions. That can also help you avoid the temptation to try to time the market and either sell too quickly or hold on to a stock too long, impacting your profit potential.

How Do You Set up a Trailing Stop Order?

If you’re day trading online, it’s relatively simple to set up a trailing stop loss order for individual securities. Because the orders are flexible, you can choose where you want to set the baseline percentage at which stocks should be sold. For example, if you’re less comfortable with risk you might set a trailing stop at 5% or less. But if you’re a more aggressive portfolio, you may bump the order up to 20% or 30%.

You can also control whether you want buy or sell actions to happen automatically or whether you want to place trades manually. Automating ensures that the trades happen as quickly as possible, but performing them manually may be preferable if you’re more of a hands-on trader.

Are There Any Downsides of Using a Trailing Stop?

Investing is risky, by nature and no strategy is foolproof. While trailing stops can help minimize losses without placing a cap on profits, there are some downsides to consider.

Accessibility

Depending on which online brokerage you’re using, you may face limits on which investments you can use trailing stop loss strategy with. Some online brokerages don’t allow any type of stop loss trading at all.

Potential to Lock in Losses

If a stock you own experiences a two-day slide in price, your stop loss order might require your shares be sold. If on the third day, the stock rebounds with a 20% price increase, you’ve missed out on those gains and locked in your losses. If you want to repurchase the stock you’ll now have to do so at a higher price point, and you’ve missed your chance to buy the dip.

Velocity Challenges

If share prices drop too quickly there may be some lag time before your trailing stop order can be fulfilled. In that scenario, you might end up incurring bigger losses than expected, regardless of where you placed your stop price limit.

How to Use a Trailing Stop Loss Strategy

Using trailing stops is better suited as part of a short-term trading strategy, rather than long-term investing. Buy-and-hold investors focused on value don’t need to worry as much about day-to-day price movements.

With that in mind, there are a few things to consider before putting trailing stop orders to work. A good starting point is your personal risk tolerance and the level of loss you’d be comfortable accepting in your portfolio. This can help determine where to set your trailing stop loss limit.

Again, if you’re a more conservative investor then it might make sense to set the percentage threshold lower. But if you have a larger appetite for risk, you could go higher. You can also tailor thresholds to individual investments to balance out your overall risk exposure.

Technical Indicators

Becoming familiar with technical indicators could help you become more adept at reading the market so you can better gauge where to set trailing limits. Unlike fundamental analysis, technical analysis primarily focuses on decoding market signals regarding trends, momentum, volatility and trading volume.

This means taking a closer look at a security’s price movements and understanding how it’s trending. One indicator you might rely on is the Average True Range (ATR). The ATR measures how much a security moves up or down in price on any given day. This number can tell you where to set your trailing loss limit based on whether price momentum is moving in your favor.

In addition to ATR you might also study moving averages and standard deviation to understand where a stock’s price may be headed. Moving averages reflect the average price of a security over time while standard deviation measures volatility. Considering these variables, along with your risk tolerance and overall investment goals, can help you use trailing losses in your portfolio correctly.

The Takeaway

Whether you plan to use trailing stop strategies in your portfolio or not, making sure you’re working with the right brokerage matters. Ideally, you’re using an online brokerage that offers access to the type of securities you want to invest in with minimal fees so you can keep more of your portfolio gains.

The SoFi Invest brokerage platform offers no-commission stock trading for active investors, with no account minimums required. In addition to trading stocks, exchange-traded funds and cryptocurrency, you can also invest in fractional shares.

Create your SoFi Invest account today to start trading.

Photo credit: iStock/akinbostanci


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SOIN20220

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender