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What is a Margin Call?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Buying on margin involves taking out a partial loan from one's broker in order to cover a larger investment than one's capital could directly cover. A margin call most often occurs when the amount of actual capital the investor has drops below a set percent of the total investment. A margin call may also be triggered if the broker changes their minimum margin requirement —- the absolute minimum percentage of the total investment that one must have in direct equity. Some examples will best demonstrate the two circumstances in which a margin call is likely to occur.

Let us assume that we go through our broker to purchase $100,000 worth of stocks. We'll say that we borrowed $50,000 from our broker on margin to purchase the stocks, and invested $50,000 of our own capital. After a particularly poor week of performance, the stock we initially invested in is now worth only $75,000. This leaves our equity at $25,000, which we can determine by taking the current value of $75,000 and deducting the loan value of $50,000. If our broker's minimum margin requirement is 30%, we will still be fine, as the minimum margin requirement in our case would be 30% of $75,000, or $22,500.

If, however, the value of the stock drops again the next day to $60,000, then our equity will be left at a mere $10,000. At this point, our broker will put out a margin call, and we will be forced to raise at least an additional $8,000. We might raise the money to meet the margin call by selling off a portion of the stock we have invested in, by taking out an additional loan from another source, or by replenishing our equity pool with our own assets.

The second scenario in which a margin call might occur has to do with the brokerage itself, rather than the performance of the market. Let us assume the same situation as before, in which we have purchased $100,000 worth of stocks with $50,000 in equity. The same initial downturn occurs, leaving us with $25,000 in equity on a $75,000 investment. This same brokerage has a minimum margin requirement of 30%, so they have no need to issue a margin call.

Occasionally, however, because of the swinging market or internal factors, a brokerage may decide to adjust their minimum margin requirements slightly. If our brokerage were to raise their minimum margin requirement to 35%, the minimum equity in our case would be $26,250, so we would be issued a margin call and be forced to raise an additional $1,250. A margin call is not a big deal in the financial world, and it does not reflect poorly on an investor to be subject to one. Margin calls are simply a part of buying on margin, and while some people choose to keep their invested equity well above the minimum margin requirements to avoid a margin call, others keep themselves continuously invested at exactly the minimum, prompting a margin call every time the market takes a downturn.

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Discussion Comments
By anon210011 — On Aug 29, 2011

Forex margin accounts allow currency traders to control a large amount of currency with only a small deposit This gives great potential for profit, and lets everyone enjoy the fun of currency trading.

By Mykol — On May 20, 2011

If you receive a margin call or maintenance call from your broker, you usually have a little bit of time to either sell something in your account, or come up with some more cash. This can be especially tricky if you receive a day trading margin call. If you don't know what's going on with your investments, this can be a problem. Especially if you don't have a profit on any trades in your account, you will either be taking a loss or you will need to get extra funds to your broker as soon as possible.

This is all part of the risk that is involved with trading and I would not recommend someone who is just starting out to have a margin account. You need to become familiar with how the market works and be able to manage that risk before you open up a margin account.

By sunshined — On May 18, 2011

Using margin when trading stocks, options or any kind of trading can certainly give you more buying power, but it does not come without risk. Many time you have to learn that lesson the hard way when you get a margin call or a maintenance call.

I have more than one account at an online brokerage, and one I keep for a margin account, and one is a cash account only. If you keep a margin account, you must watch your investments closely so you do no have to unexpectedly come up with additional money to fund your account.

By julies — On May 17, 2011

@rmcs858 - I don't know for sure, but you might want to try Yahoo Finance. They have a big research section where you can find a lot of historical information. When I have done options trading, I was able to find historical quotes for options.

If you have an account with an online broker, you may also be able to find that information in their research section. Most brokerages have extensive data available for both the past and present.

By rmcs858 — On Feb 06, 2009

what is a good place to get historical margin call rates?

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