Investing vs. Trading: What’s the Difference?

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Investing vs. Trading: What’s the Difference?

Investing and trading are two very distinct ways to make money in the financial markets. Profits from market involvement are sought by both investors and traders. In general, investors seek higher returns over a longer period of time by purchasing and holding. Traders, on the other hand, use both rising and falling markets to join and exit positions in a shorter time period, resulting in smaller, more frequent gains.

Key Takeaways

  • Investing is a long-term strategy to the markets that is often used for goals such as retirement funds.
  • Trading is using short-term techniques to optimize daily, monthly, or quarterly profits.
  • Traders will aim to execute transactions that would help them benefit rapidly from volatile markets, but investors are more inclined to ride out short-term losses.


The purpose of investing is to progressively develop wealth over time by purchasing and keeping a portfolio of stocks, stock baskets, mutual funds, bonds, and other investment vehicles.

Compounding or reinvesting earnings and dividends into more shares of stock is a common way for investors to increase their profits.

Investments are often kept for years, if not decades, taking advantage of benefits such as interest, dividends, and stock splits along the way. While markets will undoubtedly fluctuate, investors will “ride out” downtrends in the hope that prices will rise and any losses will be recouped. Market fundamentals, such as price-to-earnings ratios and management predictions, are often more important to investors.

Anyone who owns a 401(k) or an IRA is investing, even if they are not constantly monitoring the performance of their investment. Because the aim is to develop a retirement account over time, the day-to-day volatility of various mutual funds are less essential than continuous growth over time.

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Trading entails more frequent transactions, such as the purchase and sale of stocks, commodities, currency pairings, and other instruments. The objective is to outperform buy-and-hold investment in terms of returns. While investors may be satisfied with yearly profits of 10% to 15%, traders may want a monthly return of 10%. Trading gains are made by purchasing at a lower price and selling at a higher price in a short period of time. In a sinking market, trading gains may be achieved by selling at a higher price and purchasing to cover at a lower price (known as “selling short”).

While buy-and-hold investors wait for less lucrative positions to mature, traders strive to profit quickly and often utilize a protective stop-loss order to automatically close off lost bets at a predefined price level. To uncover high-probability trading setups, traders often use technical analysis tools such as moving averages and stochastic oscillators.

The timing or holding period in which stocks, commodities, or other trading instruments are purchased and sold is referred to as a trader’s style. Traders are classified into one of four groups:

  • Position Trader: Holds positions for months or years.
  • Swing Trader: Positions are held for a few days to a few weeks.
  • Day Trader: Holdings are only held throughout the day, with no overnight positions.
  • Scalp traders hold holdings for seconds to minutes, with no overnight positions.

Traders often choose their trading style depending on characteristics such as account size, amount of time available for trading, degree of trading expertise, personality, and risk tolerance.

Advisor Insight

Josh, Seattle, WA

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While one may consider their trading activity to be investment, I believe the distinction between trading and investing is primarily about time.

When you invest in anything, you want your money to increase. Some individuals invest for a long period, such as for retirement, but others invest for a short time, such as to purchase a vehicle. An annuity owner, for example, is investing for a longer time horizon than someone who likes trading equities and moving their money around regularly.

Trading, on the other hand, implies that the investor is focused on the short term and is primarily interested in either generating fast money or experiencing the pleasure of engaging in the markets.

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