Home > Blogs > Options Trading -- Can You Learn Enough with Paper Trading?

Options Trading -- Can You Learn Enough with Paper Trading?

By  Jun 17, 2010

Topics: Finance & Investing

The idea of paper trading -- setting up a virtual account and trading in a “real time” environment but without any actual money at risk -- is an excellent way to learn the terminology, trading rules and restrictions, and most of all, to find out whether a great theory really produces profits.

So much of actual trading involves risks that a new trader might not even think about. So paper trading is a good way to start, but it also has some severe limitations, so it is only useful in a limited way and for a limited time.

Among the drawbacks to paper trading:

 1. If it isn’t real money, it isn’t real experience either. If you lose in a virtual trade, it’s a lesson learned in theory. But sadly, when you lose real money, the “loss theory” hits you nice and hard. This is where actual experience comes from. You don’t forget losing money, but you can easily overlook the virtual trade losses you have along the way.

2. You will not always trade in the same way when you know it isn’t real money. Anyone who has played Blackjack on Yahoo! knows how easy it is to bet $1,000 on every hand. You can easily run your pot up $100,000. But in Las Vegas, few people will actually put $1,000 on a single hand, and even fewer will be able to run it up to $100,000. As a result, the online version of no-risk Blackjack is not the same as being there.

 3. If you paper trade too long, you could get an unrealistic view of the options world. You can be sure that you are going to make decisions with real money in a much different way than you do with virtual money. So paper trading can convince you that making money with options is all too easy; but then you put real money on the table and it goes south. Pilots know that if they spend too much time training other pilots, they can fall into a training mode and make disastrous mistakes. Some investigators have speculated that pilot error causing plane crashes may often be caused by pilots’ brains thinking they are in the simulator instead of in the real world. The same caution applies to paper trading for too long.

4. Risk levels are different, too. Paper traders, because no real money is at risk, can afford to make bold, even high-risk decisions, keep positions open longer than they should, and even try strategies beyond their risk tolerance. So what do they learn? Once they start trading for real, they will either ignore their risk level or change the way they operate. In either case, they have not learned the right lessons from paper trading.

 There are a few pitfalls to paper trading. Even so, it is a valuable tutoring method for you to learn about options trading and how real world values rise and fall. Just remember that it is a simulation and not real. Once you make the transition to using real money, take your paper trading lessons with you. But don’t forget to keep the paper trading experience in perspective.