When you want to place a buy or sell order with your brokerage, you have more choices than you might think. Here are the main kinds of orders you should understand:
Market order: This is for immediate execution at the best price available when the order reaches the marketplace. It's the most common type of order, and it's nearly always filled, since no price is specified. As an example, you might call your broker and bark into the phone, "Buy me 75 shares of ScrunchieManufacturing (Ticker: SCRNCH) at the market!"
Limit order: This is an order to buy or sell only at a specified price (the limit) or better. Investors who have a maximum or minimum price at which they're willing to trade use limit orders. As an example, imagine that Amalgamated Chorus Girls (Ticker: KICKK) is trading at $35 and you want to buy, but not at the current price. You might click over to your brokerage's website and place an order to buy 50 shares of KICKK at a limit of $33 per share. This means that if KICKK hits $33 during the day, and your order is next in line to be filled, it will be filled at that price. With a limit order, you'll only pay $33 or less per share, if your order is filled. (Learn more about market and limit orders.)
Fill-or-Kill: This order is submitted for immediate execution. If it cannot be filled immediately, it's automatically cancelled.
Day Order: This order terminates automatically at the end of the business day if it hasn't been filled.
GTC (Good Till Canceled): This order remains in effect until cancelled by the customer or executed by the broker. It doesn't typically remain in effect forever, though; many brokerages cancel GTC orders after a month or two.
All-or-None (AON): This is a limit order in which the broker is directed to attempt to fill the entire amount of the order or none of it. An all-or-none order differs from a fill-or-kill order in that, with an all-or-none order, immediate execution is not required.
Stop Order: This becomes a market order when a specified price is reached or passed. Buy stops are entered above the current market price; sell stops are entered below it. For example, you might place a stop order to have your shares of Stained Glass Windshield Co. (Ticker: STAIN) automatically sold if the price falls below $40 per share. A stop order guarantees execution, but not price.
Stop Limit Order: This is similar to a stop order, but it becomes a limit order instead of a market order when the price is reached or passed. If you place a "sell 100 XYZ $55 stop limit" order, if XYZ drops to $55 per share or below, the order becomes a limit order to sell 100 shares at no less than $55.
Note that there are tradeoffs with each option. Selling at the market means your shares will probably be sold quickly, but the price may be a little higher or lower than you expected (on some occasions, considerably so). With a limit order, you specify the limit of what you're willing to pay or accept, but you risk not getting any takers at your price.
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This article was originally written by longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian and has been updated by Foolish research associate Katrina Chan. The article was originally published on April 4, 2006.