It takes at least 6 to 12 months to consistently make money from day trading or swing trading, if working at it full time or with a mentor. If learning part-time, expect to spend at least 1 to 2 years or more before making money trading stocks, forex, crypto, or another asset.
See scenarios for how long it takes most people to make consistent money from trading, and why. Making money quickly is usually the result of luck or very favorable market conditions. Learn the truth, based on data from thousands of traders.
I was in the fortunate seat of being a trader on the floor of a proprietary day trading firm. I did that for 7 years before moving on to trade independently. There were about 30 traders on the floor, and then another 5 to 10 sitting off to the side learning and trying to make it onto the floor. These 5 to 10 cycled in and out every couple of months during my seven years at the firm.
Here’s what I learned:
- Only 4% of people who tried (applied for the job, went through interviews, showed up every day to learn and practice day trading, and sought help from experienced traders on the floor) made it to the floor. 96% of people just couldn’t make much profit over many trades.
- The traders who were profitable took a minimum of 6 months to start making some decent money. For many, it took up to a year or more. That’s putting in full-time hours, 5 days a week, practicing, reviewing trades, and brainstorming ways to improve.
Back in my prop firm trading days, I also knew of other prop firms and some of the people who ran them. Their numbers aligned with what I was seeing.
My guess is that the success rate would have been higher if everyone stuck around for at least six months. Most want-to-be traders assumed they would be making money within a couple of months, and when it didn’t happen, they left.
Based on different personal scenarios, here’s how long it takes to become a consistently profitable trader:
- Working with a mentor, quality trading group, and/or learning to trade as a full-time job:
- 6 to 12 months. Could be more. Everyone is different.
- Learning part-time with the help of a mentor or quality trading group, and/or putting in regular review sessions and actively tracking and implementing ways to improve a specific trading method:
- A year or more. Maybe less, but unlikely.
- Learning part-time, randomly trying things out, guessing and testing various approaches:
- 2 years or more, possibly never.
No matter how dedicated or smart someone is, it’s a many-month process to learn how to trade.
Perfer video? This video covers the key elements in the article, along with some examples of what to do to attain trading success quickly.
Why Does it Take 6 Months or More to Trade Successfully?
Even if trying to learn one single strategy, it will likely take at least 5 or 6 months to get good enough at it to make consistent money with it. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Must learn in which conditions the strategy works well and when it doesn’t.
- Must learn to practice spotting the conditions when the strategy works and when it doesn’t, before taking trades.
- Must work with emotions so they are not sabotaging our trading. The desire to take trades, or a fear of taking trades, can cause us to overtrade or under-trade our strategy.
- We will never see the market exactly like someone else. Learning from them may help us, but then we must integrate what we learn into our own beliefs, values, and thinking processes. At that point, we have to make the strategy understandable and tradable to ourselves.
Many people get stuck because they don’t take this second step of realizing we are all different and we need to make ideas our own before they are accepted. Every successful trader I know may have used the ideas of others, but morphed those ideas into their own trading style/strategy that worked for them.
- Trading is less about reading, knowledge, and prediction than most people think. Much time is wasted on these things. Traders are better off picking a strategy (reading helps here) quickly that they like the idea of, and then start implementing it in a demo account. Analyze the trades, find ways to reduce risk and increase profit or improve win rate. Spot market conditions that tend to cause losses, and conditions that tend to produce profits. Focus on the profitable conditions, and work on avoiding the bad by noting the evidence that’s present in both conditions.
- Every day looks different. You can study 1000 charts of a strategy, but the day you go to implement it will look different than anything you have seen. Successful trading is spotting the key things you look for in relation to your strategy in a sea of endless, conflicting, and changing data.
- As traders, most of us have the brain capacity to trade a few strategies well. That’s about it. Most of us don’t have the processing power to make money on every single price move. That means most of our time is spent sitting and waiting for the conditions of our strategy to materialize. This is hard.
In a 2-hour period, 7200 seconds, our strategy conditions may materialize several times. Actually clicking the buy/sell button may take up a total of 5 seconds during this 2-hour period. That means 7195 seconds of just watching and stalking. If swing trading, the opportunities for action may only come once or twice per week, or per month. The rest of the time is an opportunity to mess up the strategies we’re using because they don’t align with what’s happening.
- You could think of this another way: you have a less than 0.01% chance of randomly implementing a strategy well. Unless you are highly trained in your strategy, and can act during the 5 seconds you need to in a 2-hour trading session, you will have inconsistent results if trades are placed outside those ideal moments. The same concept applies whether trading for 1 hour, all day, or swing trading.
- Traders need to be quicker than others at their ideal times or the opportunity will be gone. There’s only so much liquidity (shares, contracts, lots) at each price level. When our opportunity comes to pounce because we have setup, we need to do so while also capturing the liquidity available (otherwise we don’t get into the trade). This also takes time to get good at. Studying a chart or book doesn’t prepare us for the fact that price moves quickly and we may need to very quick to get into our trade, or may need to be methodical and patient to accumulate the position we want. And once again, each trade may be slightly different.
- I see many traders who have a good method, but they’re entering so late into the move, and are so slow to get out that they’re always losing, when someone who’s quicker at getting in and out (same strategy) could be highly profitable. For day traders, being a couple of seconds late or early could ruin a strategy, for a swing trader, being a couple of hours or days late/early could ruin a strategy.
- The more often we get distracted and start “working” on other strategies the longer our progress is likely to take.
This is only a partial list of concepts traders need to get a handle on before they become consistently profitable.
As you can see, trading isn’t as easy as it looks when someone posts a chart of a nice trade. There are hundreds of hours of practice behind each trade that aligns with a strategy.
It’s only after a trader has learned the skills of implementing one strategy, that learning how to implement another strategy may take less time. This is why professional traders may have many strategies that they seem to trade with ease.
But that’s probably not how it started out. They likely got good at trading one or two methods, in specific market contexts, and once they mastered those they continued to add additional elements and strategies to their trading.
What about traders who make money right away?
Some traders make money right away. This could be skill, but more often it is luck or good market conditions.
When COVID hit and the stock market collapsed in early 2020, a flood of traders armed with their government cheques flooded the market and started buying. Many stocks went into a near-vertical rise for more than a year. It was one of the easiest money environments most people will witness in their lifetime.
It was easy to make money because conditions were easy. No strategy required. Just buy and hold through the gyrations and make big returns. Such an aloof method generally only produces big returns in ideal market conditions.
By late 2021 and into 2022 I was no longer hearing about the big wins and how great of a trader everyone was. The former claims of being awesome were replaced with questions of what to do, how to trade in this new choppier or down-trending environment, or memes of big losses.
“Easy money” usually lasts a few days up to about a year or so. When conditions change most of these profits go back to the market, into the pockets of more skilled traders.
The same concept applies whether day trading or swing trading. Some days the market/stock/forex pair doesn’t move well for our strategy. We either lose or opt not to trade. Other days it moves perfectly for our strategies, and we capitalize on those days.
And anyone can get lucky on a few trades. Just place a random trade and hope it works out. With thousands of people doing this every day, some peole are bound to get lucky many times in a row.
But without a methodical process for trading, eventually, the good times end. It is only the methodical traders who have put in the work that will consistently make money. They make money and don’t give it back to the market when conditions change. They recognize the change and either stop trading for the time being or utilize another strategy for these new conditions.
Your Most Direct Path to Trading Success
Assume when you start out that it’ll take at least 6 months to see decent results with a strategy. This assumes you’re only focusing on one or two strategies, you are doing weekly and monthly reviews of your trades, and finding ways to improve on your results by reducing mistakes and brainstorming areas for improvement (without just switching to another strategy, which will start the process all over again).
Mistakes are trades that don’t align with the strategy, or missed trades that we should have been in based on the strategy. Mistakes could also be position sizing errors, or a host of other things discussed in the article linked to above.
If you wan to be successful as quickly as possible:
- Don’t worry about what others are doing.
- Focus on your own trades.
- Focus on one or two strategies to start.
- Take screenshots of trades where you can see what happened before and after. Include relevant notes/thoughts/analysis on the trade, including your own mind frame at the time.
- Track your trades in a journal (Day Trading Journal or Swing Trading Journal).
- Come up with guidelines for the best conditions to trade and how to avoid trading in poor conditions.
- Look at ways to reduce your risk or improve entries.
- See where you can squeeze more profit out of most of your trades.
This is how you improve YOUR trading…which should be only the trading that matters to you.
How Much Time it Takes to Become a Trader – Final Word
I don’t view being a trader as a destination. It’s a process. I’m only a trader as long as I stick to my methods, control my losses, and can pull money out of the markets. If I stop doing that, my trading career ends.
Create your process, and dedicate 6 to 12 months practicing it and improving on it.
Cory Mitchell, CMT
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is personal investment advice, or advice to buy or sell anything. Trading is risky and can result in substantial losses, even more than deposited if using leverage.