What Is Minimum Margin?

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Contributor, Benzinga
October 16, 2023

Margin trading can be a powerful tool for investors and traders looking to amplify their buying power and potentially increase their returns. Before you jump into margin trading, it's important to understand the concept of minimum margin. This article will explain what minimum margin is, how it works, and what it means for you as a trader or investor. We'll also explore the risks and rewards of margin trading and provide tips for managing your margin account. 

What It Is All About

Minimum margin is the amount of funds required to be maintained in a trading account as collateral before trading on margin. It is a requirement set by brokerage firms or exchanges to help account holders have enough funds to cover potential losses and meet margin requirements. The minimum margin is determined by the type of asset being traded and the leverage level, which can vary depending on the brokerage firm or exchange. 

However, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sets the minimum you must have in your account to start trading on margin at $2,000 or 100% of the security’s price, whichever is less. This minimum margin must be maintained in your account while the position is still open. Failure to maintain the minimum margin can lead to forced liquidation of positions and significant financial losses.

How Minimum Margin Works

Let's say you want to buy a security worth $10,000 on margin. You borrow $5,000 from your broker and pay $5,000 in cash, meaning that you have met FINRA’s minimum margin requirement of depositing more than $2,000. Assuming your brokerage firm requires an initial maintenance margin of 50%, then you must have at least 50% of the purchase price of the security in your account as collateral. 

If the value of the security drops and your equity falls below the maintenance margin requirement, the brokerage firm will issue you a margin call, a request that you deposit more funds or sell some of your holdings to bring your account equity back to the maintenance margin level.

Stock Trading

For stock trading, brokerage firms typically peg the initial margin at 50% of the total value of the stock purchase. In order words, you must deposit at least 50% of the current stock value in your account as collateral. For example, if you want to buy $10,000 worth of XYZ stock on margin, you must deposit at least $5,000 in your trading account as collateral.

Options Trading

Options trading involves buying and selling options contracts, which are agreements between two parties to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined future price and date. This type of trading is more complex and considered a higher risk than stock trading. Consequently, the initial margin requirement can be higher than stock trading, which could be typically 100% of the option premium (the price of an options contract).

What This Means for Individual Traders and Investors

Using margin can be risky for investors because it can lead to over-leveraging and increase the risk of significant losses if the stock or sector underperforms. Furthermore, you also have to pay interest on the borrowed funds, which can eat into overall returns. The risk of losing more money than you invested and the added interest costs make margin trading a strategy that should be used with caution and only by experienced investors with a high risk tolerance. You can calculate margin to make sure you have enough.

John has a margin account with a broker and wants to purchase $50,000 worth of XYZ stock. The broker's initial margin requirement is 50%, so John must have at least $25,000 in his account to meet the requirement. John purchases $50,000 worth of XYZ stock using $25,000 of his own money and borrowing $25,000 from the broker.

Let's say the stock goes up 10%, and John decides to sell. He can sell the position, pay back the broker, and still profit $5,000.

However, if the stock drops 50% instead, his XYZ stock is now worth $25,000. If he sells, John still needs to pay back the $25,000 he borrowed from the broker (plus accrued interest).

Other Requirements When Opening a Margin Account

In addition to the minimum margin requirement, Investors must meet several other margin account requirements.

  • Proof of income and employment: You may be required to provide proof of income and employment, such as pay stubs or tax returns, to demonstrate their ability to repay margin loans.
  • Financial statements: The brokerage may require financial information, such as bank statements or investment account statements, to better understand the investor's financial situation.
  • Risk tolerance assessment: A risk tolerance assessment is a questionnaire or survey to be completed by investors that help the brokerage firm evaluate the investor's level of risk tolerance and investment goals.
  • Agreement to terms and conditions: You will be required to review and agree to the terms and conditions of the margin account, which outline the rules and regulations for trading on margin.
  • Identification verification: Investors must verify their identity by providing government-issued identification and proof of residence, such as a driver's license or passport.

Note that the specific requirements may vary depending on the brokerage firm or exchange, so it's essential to check with the institution you are opening the account with to understand what they require.

Manage Your Risk with Margin Requirements

Minimum margin is the amount of funds required to be maintained in a trading account as collateral before trading on margin. It is a requirement set by brokerage firms or exchanges to help ensure that account holders have enough funds to cover potential losses and meet margin requirements. 

FINRA sets the minimum margin requirement to be $2,000 or 100% of the security's price, whichever is less. Failure to maintain the minimum margin can lead to forced liquidation of positions and significant financial losses. Understanding the risks and rewards of margin trading and applying caution when using margin, especially for inexperienced investors, are essential.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

How much money do I need in my account to invest on margin?

A

According to FINRA, you need at least $2,000 to open a margin account. However, some brokers may require you to deposit more than $2,000 to invest on margin.

Q

What does the 25% margin maintenance requirement mean?

A

This requirement exists to help ensure that you have enough funds to cover potential losses.

Q

What is typically considered a good margin ratio in trading?

A

A good margin ratio in trading is typically around 2:1 or 3:1. For every dollar you invest, you should have two or three dollars in your account as collateral.

About Anna Yen

Anna Yen, CFA is an investment writer with over two decades of professional finance and writing experience in roles within JPMorgan and UBS derivatives, asset management, crypto, and Family Money Map. She specializes in writing about investment topics ranging from traditional asset classes and derivatives to alternatives like cryptocurrency and real estate. Her work has been published on sites like Quicken and the crypto exchange Bybit.