The importance of stimmies, capital gains tax, and a killer meme—day traders reveal their investing secrets

June 24, 2021, 12:52 PM UTC

Meme-fueled rallies. TikTok stock tippers. Uncle Sam’s “stimmies” (stimulus checks) converted into “tendies” (big investment returns).

Wall Street veterans continue to puzzle over the ascendance of the stuck-at-home retail trader, an investing force that arose seemingly out of nowhere. We know what these traders are capable of—pushing COVID-battered businesses like GameStop and AMC Entertainment to new heights and back again, fueling rally after rally in cryptocurrencies—but not so much about their motivations.

Betterment sought to find out, surveying 1,500 investors, including a number who use its popular investing and personal finance app. The findings offer a glimpse into the retail trader’s investment strategy; a look at the role that stimulus checks and capital gains taxes play; and a take on whether this group will maintain its appetite for continued day trading post-pandemic.

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The growth of retail trading has been truly remarkable. By one measure, retail trading flow is nearly equal to the daily trading volume of mutual funds and hedge funds combined.

From the looks of the Betterment survey, it’s a segment full of newbie investors. Nearly half the respondents (49%) say they have been trading for less than two years.

Unsurprisingly, trading stocks and other assets means all kinds of unfamiliar red tape to contend with—like taxes. Roughly one in seven (14%) respondents said they weren’t aware of such a thing as short-term capital gains tax. To their credit, 60% said they were aware of those pesky hits on investment profits, and that these taxes do factor into how long they hold on to a stock.

As for how and where they find their stock tips, this generation of traders is highly influenced by the daily chatter they pick up on Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit forums like WallStreetBets.

Social media channels, it turns out, are the third most fertile ground for investment tips among this crowd. They rank just behind financial news websites (which should cheer up Fortune’s finance and markets reporters).

The Betterment report authors waved a warning flag at these particular findings.

“More than half of respondents suggested they buy stocks based on company names they’re familiar with. But we’ve seen this lead to issues in the past—with ‘ticker mismatches,’ where people trade the ticker of a stock that isn’t the correct company,” the authors noted. “For example, after a tweet from Elon Musk about Signal [a nonprofit messaging app], a different company’s stock was sent soaring 3,092%.”

Among other findings…

  • 67% of the day traders surveyed invested their stimulus-check money.
  • 97% said they would continue to invest in meme stocks such as GameStop, BlackBerry, and AMC Entertainment.
  • 34% said investing is the primary way they save money for the future, beating checking accounts (32%) and high-yield savings accounts (30%).

Though the report delivers a certain level of nuanced survey data for a poorly understood segment of the markets, the authors still wonder what shape this phenomenon will take in the years to come.

“At Betterment 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,” they wrote.

“The trends outlined in this report seem to indicate that more people are dipping their toe into the investing pool, and (so far) few have decided to walk away,” they noted. “Whether this trend will continue—and the long-term impact it will have on people’s finances, health, stress, etc.—remains to be seen.”

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