Stimulus checks created a new crop of permanent day traders, survey says

Stimulus checks have helped millions of Americans claw their way back to financial stability, but for those with cash to spare, that money is helping them get ahead — and maybe alleviate a little boredom along the way.

In a recent survey of investors, Betterment found that nearly half who received stimulus checks this year chose to invest some of that money. That’s way up from the 9% who told the automated investing company that they invested some of their first check.

While that suggests investors are feeling more confident in their finances — and that the chances of a fourth stimulus check are dwindling — the survey also suggests those investors might be getting a little too confident with their cash.

Everyday investors turn day tradersRoman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

Betterment’s survey of 1,500 investors was prompted by the ludicrous rise and fall of memestocks like GameStop and AMC earlier this year. While some people became millionaires almost overnight, others who bought and sold at the wrong time suffered heavy losses.

Yet a solid half of the survey respondents say they’re taking part in day trading — buying and selling stocks or other assets within a single day in search of quick wins. It’s a strategy so risky that cautious investors like Warren Buffett equate the practice to gambling.

“The gambling impulse is very strong in people worldwide and occasionally it gets an enormous shove," Buffett said earlier this year at the annual meeting of his company Berkshire Hathaway.

“It creates its own reality for a while, and nobody tells you when the clock is going to strike 12 and it all turns to pumpkins and mice.”

And although the survey found that 43% of investors were trading this way at least partly for entertainment value — numerous hobbies were on hiatus during the worst of the pandemic — the high-stakes fun isn’t stopping any time soon.

Well over half (58%) say they’ll keep up with day trading even after all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

How to get yourself a piece of the actionStory continuesRobert Crow / Shutterstock

If you’re still eager to try your hand at day trading, be sure to do so with your eyes open. Even skill and experience are no guarantee of success.

“We have often compared day trading to going to Vegas — have a great time, enjoy yourself, but be prepared to come back home with fewer dollars in your wallet and a hangover,” Betterment writes in its survey report.

With that in mind, consider starting at the penny slots instead of the VIP blackjack table. Use an app that offers fractional investing — that way you can buy small slices of expensive stocks like Apple or Amazon rather than full shares for hundreds or thousands of dollars a pop.

What to do if you’re not interested in day tradingOlivier Le Moal / Shutterstock

Given the risks involved, day trading is not the ideal strategy for every investor. Buffett, for example, jokes that his favorite holding period is “forever,” and he only buys into companies he understands and sees values in.

New investors will benefit most from spreading out their bets through diversification. These days, robots can do all the hard work for you, tailoring a portfolio to your tolerance for risk.

“For those who want to avoid the FOMO [fear of missing out] of the next big memestock, but aren’t sure of the best way to get started — a simple alternative is investing in a well diversified portfolio,” Betterment writes.

“That way, whenever someone asks if you own the hottest thing, you can say ‘yes,’ regardless of what it is.”

Even if you don’t have much to spend, some apps allow you to invest with your “spare change,” making it possible to turn pennies into a diversified portfolio over time.

How to boost your investments once stim checks are long gonefizkes / Shutterstock

With Congress moving on to other priorities, the chances of getting a fourth stimulus check are pretty slim.

But if you’re eager to give your investments an extra boost, consider one of the following strategies to free up some cash:

  • Ditch your debt. If you’re juggling multiple credit card balances or other high-interest debt, see whether you can save money by rolling them into a single debt consolidation loan. You’ll have only one payment to worry about, and the lower interest rate will slash the cost of your debt to help you pay it off faster.

  • Cut down your insurance payments. If you haven’t shopped around for a better rate on your home insurance lately, it could be costing you $1,000 or more every year. Comparison shopping can also hack down your car insurance premiums by a similar amount.

  • Pay less every time you shop. Find some extra room in your budget for investing by paying less for essentials. Download a free browser add-on that automatically hunts for lower prices and coupons when you shop online so you’ll never overpay again.

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