How a Stock Trade Actually Works

While trades are now commission-free to most consumers, a lot of money is still being made on penny-level differences in the process.

Illustration of stock trade process
(Image credit: Illustration by Otto Steiniger)

Stock trades are free these days at most online brokers. But where and how your trade is filled can impact your purchase price. And “it all happens in a flash,” says Jeff Chiappetta, vice president of trade and education at Schwab. It takes just 0.08 seconds, on average, at Schwab, from the time you submit your trade to validation of execution. Here’s a step-by-step look at what happens when you place a market-order stock trade.

Step 1: You click “buy”

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Nellie S. Huang
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Nellie joined Kiplinger in August 2011 after a seven-year stint in Hong Kong. There, she worked for the Wall Street Journal Asia, where as lifestyle editor, she launched and edited Scene Asia, an online guide to food, wine, entertainment and the arts in Asia. Prior to that, she was an editor at Weekend Journal, the Friday lifestyle section of the Wall Street Journal Asia. Kiplinger isn't Nellie's first foray into personal finance: She has also worked at SmartMoney (rising from fact-checker to senior writer), and she was a senior editor at Money.