Pattern Day Trader Rule: How to Avoid It

In the dynamic world of day trading, the Pattern Day Trader (PDT) rule often stands as a daunting hurdle, especially for those with smaller accounts who wish to trade actively. This rule, designed as a protective measure by regulators, can sometimes feel limiting, especially when you’re eager to capitalize on short-term market movements. This becomes particularly pertinent when trading intricate strategies like the Butterfly on a 0 Days To Expiration (0DTE) event.

While understanding the PDT rule and the obligations it places on brokers is fundamental, there are clever maneuvers that seasoned traders employ to navigate these restrictions. This article will delve deep into one such tactic: the box trade. By judiciously employing this technique, traders—even those with modest account balances—can sidestep the constraints of the PDT. However, like all trading strategies, this approach comes with its own nuances and caveats, which we’ll explore in detail.

The Pattern Day Trader (PDT) rule is a regulation set by the U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) that applies to stock market investors trading in margin accounts.


A Pattern Day Trader executes four or more day trades within five business days, representing more than 6% of their total trading activity in that same five-day period.

Main Points of the PDT Rule:

  1. Minimum Equity Requirement: If you are designated as a PDT, you must always maintain a minimum equity of $25,000 in your margin account. This includes both cash and securities. If the account falls below this threshold, you won’t be allowed to day trade until the minimum equity level is restored by depositing more funds or through equity appreciation.
  2. Trading Limits: If you are labeled as a PDT and have the necessary $25,000 equity, you can trade up to four times your maintenance margin excess (the amount of available funds in your margin account after subtracting initial margin requirement) in a five-business-day period. Your broker may issue a margin call or restrict your trading if you exceed this limit.
  3. Potential Restrictions: If an account’s net liquidation value falls below the $25,000 requirement, the trader will be prohibited from making any further day trades until the account is returned above this level.
  4. Removing PDT Designation: If you do not wish to be considered a pattern day trader, you must avoid making more than three-day trades in five business days. If you already have the PDT designation and wish to have it removed, you typically must refrain from day trading for a specified period and may need to request your brokerage.

Who Does It Apply To?

The PDT rule applies to U.S. stock traders with margin accounts. It does not apply to cash accounts, where you pay in full for all the securities you purchase. That said, cash account traders need to be aware of the T+2 settlement rule, which means trades take two business days to settle, and trading funds aren’t available until settlement.

Rationale Behind the Rule:

The rule was implemented to protect individual investors from taking on too much risk. Day trading inherently carries a high degree of risk due to the volatility and quick changes in the market. By requiring a substantial equity buffer and limiting excessive day trading, regulators hope to prevent significant losses for retail investors.

If you’re considering day trading or believe you may be affected by the PDT rule, it’s important to be well-informed about the requirements and consult your broker or financial advisor for guidance.

Broker Discretion

The Pattern Day Trader (PDT) rule, as set by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), is mandatory for all brokerage firms to implement for customers trading in U.S. stocks using margin accounts. Brokers don’t have discretion over applying the rule itself; it’s a regulatory requirement.

However, brokers can have some discretion in certain areas:

  • Designation: While the rule defines a pattern day trader as someone who executes four or more day trades within five business days, brokerage firms can potentially be more conservative and label someone as a PDT with fewer trades if they believe the client is taking on excessive risk.
  • Notifications and Warnings: Some brokerage platforms might warn traders when they are approaching the limit, while others might not provide such notices.
  • Enforcement and Restrictions: If an account falls below the $25,000 threshold, a broker must restrict the account from further day trading until the minimum equity is restored. However, how the restriction is implemented—whether immediately or with a grace period, and the manner in which it is communicated to the client—can vary by broker.
  • Exceptions and Appeals: If a trader inadvertently exceeds the PDT limits in certain situations, some brokerage firms may grant a one-time exception upon a client’s request. The specifics of this process and how lenient a firm is with such exceptions can differ between brokers.
  • Margin Calls: The way margin calls are handled, regarding deadlines for meeting the call and communication methods, can vary among brokers.

While brokers must implement and respect the PDT rule, they can offer educational resources, tools, and features to help clients understand and navigate it more efficiently. If someone is concerned about the PDT rule or its implementation at their brokerage, they should directly communicate with their broker for clarity.

The Inventive Ways Traders Avoid the PDT Rule

While the Pattern Day Trader (PDT) rule is clear about the limitations it places on traders, there are still legal and legitimate strategies and tactics traders can employ to continue trading actively without being constrained by the rule:

  • 1. Use Multiple Brokerage Accounts: One common way to circumvent the PDT rule’s constraints is to open accounts with multiple brokerages. If a trader has accounts with three different brokers, they could make three-day trades in each account over five business days, for nine-day trades, without triggering the PDT rule in any single account.
  • 2. Trade in a Cash Account: The PDT rule applies to margin accounts. You’re not subject to the rule if you trade in a cash account. However, you’ll need to be aware of the T+2 rule, which means trades in a cash account take two days to settle. So, if you use all your cash on Day 1, you won’t be able to use that same cash to trade until Day 3.
  • 3. Swing Trading: Instead of day trading (buying and selling on the same day), consider swing trading, where you hold positions for several days or weeks. This approach doesn’t fall under the PDT rule and allows you to take advantage of larger price movements.
  • 4. Trade Options: The PDT rule applies to stocks and stock market index options, but trading options can sometimes require less capital. However, they also come with their own set of risks and complexities. Be sure you understand these risks before diving into options trading.
  • 5. Trade in Futures: Futures trading is not subject to the PDT rule. Futures can be traded with leverage similar to margin in stock trading, but they also come with significant risks. Ensure you understand the specifics of futures trading and its inherent risks.
  • 6. Move to a Proprietary Trading Firm: Some proprietary trading firms might offer ways for traders to day trade more freely, but they often have their own rules and requirements. In some cases, you might need to deposit capital, or the firm might take a cut of your profits.
  • 7. Consider International Brokerages: If you’re not a U.S. resident, you might consider trading with an international brokerage not subject to U.S. regulations. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, including potentially less regulatory oversight and protections.
  • 8. Adjust Trade Size: To ensure that you don’t run afoul of the rule, you can adjust the size and frequency of your trades. This might mean making fewer but larger trades, maximizing potential returns without exceeding the trade limit.

Remember, while these strategies can help navigate the PDT rule, they come with risks. Always ensure you understand the risks associated with any trading strategy and stay informed about the regulations in the jurisdictions in which you’re trading. Consider seeking advice from a financial advisor or professional before significantly changing your trading strategy.

How 0-DTE Traders Avoid PDT with the Box Spread:

A box spread sometimes called a “box trade” or “long box”, is an options strategy that involves holding a bull spread (long call and short call at different strike prices) and a bear spread (long put and short put at different strike prices) simultaneously on the same underlying asset with the same expiration date. In essence, a box spread is composed of four options contracts:

  • Buy a call option at strike price A.
  • Sell a call option at strike price B.
  • Buy a put option at strike price B.
  • Sell a put option at strike price A.

The box spread should generate a risk-free arbitrage opportunity when set up correctly. The profit or loss from the box spread is known from the outset, which is the difference between the strike prices minus the net premium paid or received.

Using the Box Spread to Avoid PDT:

As you mentioned, if a trader has an existing vertical spread (like a bull spread or a bear spread) and wishes to lock in the current P&L without closing the position (thereby triggering a “day trade” under the PDT rule), they can do so by executing the opposite spread, essentially creating a box.

For instance, if a trader has a bull call spread (long call at strike A, short call at strike B) and wants to lock in profits, they can initiate a bear call spread (short call at strike A, long call at strike B) on the same underlying asset with the same expiration date. This will neutralize the potential profit and loss from the initial vertical spread, and both spreads can be allowed to expire worthless, avoiding the need to close any position.


  • Costs: While the box spread might offer a risk-free arbitrage opportunity in theory, traders need to be aware of transaction costs, including commissions and bid-ask spreads, which might eat into the potential profit.
  • Liquidity: Box spreads require a liquid options market. If the options aren’t liquid, the bid-ask spread might be too wide to make the strategy viable.
  • Assignment Risk: If any of the short options are assigned before expiration, it could disrupt the strategy. Early assignment, particularly for American-style options, is a risk to consider.
  • Regulatory Scrutiny: Constantly employing strategies that circumvent rules might draw the attention of regulators or brokerage compliance teams. Even if you’re doing technically within the rules, it’s always a good idea to ensure that your broker understands your strategy and is okay with it.

In conclusion, while box spreads can be a clever way to work around the PDT rule, they also come with their own risks and challenges. It’s essential to understand these intricacies thoroughly before engaging in such strategies.

One thought on “Pattern Day Trader Rule: How to Avoid It
  1. Joe says:

    Is it possible to also avoid a PDT designation by utilitizing a box spread loan?

    The idea would be to increase the level of cash in the account (importantly though, not the buying power) so that it exceeds $25,000.

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