margin call in your brokerage account

Has the Stock Market Crash Forced a Margin Call in Your Brokerage Account?

Mar 30, 2020

When the stock market quickly moves down, as it has been doing during the coronavirus market crash, you may find yourself in a situation where your stocks are sold to pay back a loan that a brokerage firm made to you. This is called a “margin call.” A margin loan is a loan that the brokerage firm makes to you that is secured by the investments in your account. Some people do not even know that they have a margin in their brokerage account, and only first become aware of this fact when they are forced to pay a margin call or maintenance call. Many new account documents that you are asked to sign when you open a brokerage account allow for the securities firm to make a margin loan to you for the purchase of securities in your account. Therefore, you should review your brokerage account statements carefully to determine if you have a margin debit or a margin loan in your account. The Securities and Exchange Commission has published an investor bulletin explaining to investors how margin accounts work.  The Difference Between Cash and Margin Accounts A “cash account” is a type of brokerage account in which the investor must pay the full amount for securities purchased. An investor using a cash account is not allowed to borrow funds from his or her broker-dealer in order to pay for transactions in the account.   In contrast, a “margin account” is a type of brokerage account in which the broker-dealer lends the investor cash, using the account as collateral, to purchase securities. Margin increases investors’ purchasing power but also exposes investors to the potential for larger losses.   You Should Understand How Margin Works Margin loans are a tool that allows customers to leverage their accounts to make a greater return. Let’s say you buy a stock for $50 and the price of the stock rises to $75. If you bought the stock in a cash account and paid for it in full, you’ll earn a 50 percent return on your investment (your $25 gain is 50% of your initial investment of $50). But if you bought the stock on margin – paying $25 in cash and borrowing $25 from your broker – you’ll earn a 100 percent return on the money you invested (your $25 gain is 100% of your initial investment of $25). You may also owe your broker interest on the $25 you borrowed. There is a downside to using margin, which is riskier than a cash account. If the stock price decreases, you can quickly lose your money. For example, let’s say the stock you bought for $50 falls to $25. If you fully paid for the stock, you’ll lose 50 percent of your money (your $25 loss is 50% of your initial investment of $50). But if you bought on margin, you’ll lose 100 percent (your $25 loss is 100% of your initial investment of $25), and you still must come up with the interest you owe on the loan. Many investors cannot afford to takes this type of gamble with their funds. Your […]

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