Margin DebtDefined with Examples & More

Lisa Borga

What Is Margin Debt?

Margin debt is debt that an investor takes on by borrowing money from a broker to place in a margin account to be used for investments.

The stocks the investor purchases work as collateral for the loan.

The amount the investor borrowed from the broker is the margin debt.

margin debt

Margin Debt Explained

Investors can use margin debt as a way to purchase a security they want or to sell short instead of borrowing the money for the purchase of the shares of stock.

For example, suppose an investor would like to purchase 500 shares of Company X for $190 a share.

However, the investor would prefer not to pay all of the $95,000 cost at the time of the purchase.

The Federal Reserve Board only allows the investor’s broker to lend half of the original investment.

This is known as the initial margin.

The investor decides to deposit $47,500 for the initial margin and obtain $47,500 in margin debt.

The shares the investor buys will be the collateral for the debt.

In some cases, brokerages may have stricter requirements than the Federal Reserve Board, thus potentially requiring a larger initial margin.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Margin Debt

margin debt

Advantages of Margin Debt

Margin debt has a number of advantages for investors, such as:

  • It allows investors to benefit from stock without having to pay the full price upfront. The investor will have to pay interest payments to the broker. But, this may be preferable in order to maintain greater liquidity.
  • Margin debt can increase investment opportunities for investors. This may draw more people to use margin debt in an attempt to make profits. Additionally, an increase in investors in the stock market could result in greater liquidity in the economy. It could also be beneficial for certain sectors that may have high market capitalization.
  • If the investment goes well, it is good for the broker who earns interest, the investor who makes a profit, and the company that has a high market capitalization.

Disadvantages of Margin Debt

  • Although margin debt can be a good way to invest in a stock in some cases, it does have some disadvantages, including:
  • Due to the fact that the investor is borrowing money from a broker for an investment, there is a risk if the stock goes down that the investor may need to deposit money in order for the minimum maintenance margin requirement to be maintained. Otherwise, there may be a margin call.
  • Margin debt can allow investors with low liquidity to invest in the stock market. But, there is a risk for the broker. If the investor fails to maintain the required maintenance margin requirement and the sale of the investor’s securities does not cover the loss, the broker is responsible for the loss.
  • The broker is at a large risk in the event of a market crash because a lot of a broker’s money is tied up in the market as margin debt. Therefore, brokers tend to have limited liquidity.

Examples of Margin Debt

Here are two examples of margin debt.

Example 1

Suppose an investor buys 100 shares of stock in Company Y for $200 a share but takes on $10,000 in margin debt for the purchase.

If the stock drops in price to $140, the margin debt will remain at $10,000.

However, the stock will be worth $14,000 ($140 x 100) minus the margin debt of $10,000.

Since the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority mandates a minimum maintenance requirement of 25%, this investor will need to ensure their account does not go below this value.

If an investor goes below this percentage in their account, they need to deposit enough cash in the account to meet the minimum requirement, or it will trigger a margin call.

If a margin call occurs, the broker could sell the investor’s securities until they meet the minimum maintenance margin requirement.

In this example, the investor would need to deposit $1,000 [($20,000 x 25%) – ($14,000 – 10,000)].

Unfortunately for the investor, the broker would liquidate all of the stock in a margin call, not just $1,000 worth of stock, due to FINRA rules.

Example 2

If the stock from example 1 increased in price to $250 a share, the stock would be worth $25,000.

Although, $10,000 of that is margin debt.

However, this still means the investor made $5,000 after subtracting the margin debt and initial investment if there is no commission or fees.

The profit would be the same if the investor paid cash for the total amount of the initial investment.

However, if the investor paid cash for the total initial investment, they would have lost the opportunity to make additional money by using the $5,000 for another investment.

Key Takeaways

  • Margin debt is the money that investors borrow from a broker in order to buy stocks.
  • Investors are limited to a margin debt of 50% because the Federal Reserve Board sets an initial margin of 50%.
  • The minimum maintenance margin for a margin account is 25%. This percentage is set by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
  • Margin debt does give investors the potential for increased profits. However, it can also cause increased losses.

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  1. Penn State "Margin Lending and Stock Market Volatility" Page 1 - 23. August 12, 2022

  2. NYU Stern "Margin Credit and Stock Return Predictability" White paper. August 12, 2022