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Paul Tracy

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Prior to starting InvestingAnswers, Paul founded and managed one of the most influential investment research firms in America, with more than 2 million monthly readers. While there, Paul authored and edited thousands of financial research briefs, was published on Nasdaq. com, Yahoo Finance, and dozens of other prominent media outlets, and appeared as a guest expert at prominent radio shows and i...

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Updated September 30, 2020

What is a Stop-Loss Order?

A stop-loss order (also called a stop order or stop market order) is an order whereby the investor instructs the broker to automatically sell the stock if it drops to a certain price.

How Does a Stop-Loss Order Work?

For example, let's assume that you own 100 shares of Company XYZ stock, for which you have paid $10 per share. You are expecting the stock to hit $12 sometime in the next month, but you do not want to take a huge loss if the market turns the other way.

You direct your broker to set a stop-loss order at $8.50. If the stock goes up, you will realize all of the benefits. If the stock goes down and touches $8.50, your broker will automatically place a market order to sell your shares.

It is important to note that when the stop-loss order is triggered, it becomes a market order. You will not necessarily receive $8.50 per share; you will most likely receive a little more or a little less.

Why Does a Stop-Loss Order Matter?

Stop-loss orders generally are a trading or short-term investing strategy. They are useful because they help reduce the pressure of monitoring your trade day-to-day; the trade is largely set on autopilot. This can be particularly helpful for emotional investors.

Even though stop-loss orders offer crucial trading discipline to investors by helping them make important decisions about cutting losses, they also increase the risk of getting out of a position too early -- especially when volatile stocks are involved. In our example, if XYZ was known to be volatile and fluctuated from $8.00 to $12.50 during the one-month forecasting period, then you would miss out on the price appreciation that you expected.

Long-term buy-and-hold investors probably don't want to make substantial use of stop-loss orders. When a stock goes lower, stop-loss orders will lock in losses rather than give you a chance to evaluate whether a slight price decline is actually signaling a buying opportunity.

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Paul has been a respected figure in the financial markets for more than two decades. Prior to starting InvestingAnswers, Paul founded and managed one of the most influential investment research firms in America, with more than 2 million monthly readers.

If you have a question about Stop-Loss Order, then please ask Paul.

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