Download the Schwab app from iTunes®Get the AppClose

Trader Q&A: When Should I Consider Margin Trading?

Schwab’s Trading Services team discusses the pros and cons of margin trading.

Click to show the transcript


[Lou] Matt from Washington: "What should I worry about when trading on margin?" Quick: what is margin?

[Randy] Margin is what gives you the ability, if you want to buy $10,000 worth of stock is you only have to come up with $5,000 and you can borrow the other $5,000 from Schwab. The simplest answer--and I've written a few articles on margin is basically this: think of margin in some sense as like a credit card. Just because you have a credit limit that's here doesn't mean you should spend all of it. You don't really ever want to get to that point. Because what ends up happening is if you spend all of your margin and we go into a pullback like we just had in October some people got caught off-guard and they were contacted and told, "Hey, we need you to bring in additional money because your equity has gone too low."

The problem with that is that when you get to the point where you've got to come up with more money and if you can't you're going to be forced to sell positions it's going to happen at the absolute worst time.

[Kevin] Always does.

[Randy] So my single piece of advice on margin is just this: don't ever get anywhere close to your maximum available borrowing. I'll leave it there and let you guys jump in.

[Kevin] I think you're right on the money as usual, Randy. I'll also just point out that the difference between a credit card and margin is your availability fluctuates. So where you might have a $20,000 credit card limit if you have a $20,000 margin limit today tomorrow morning that could be 15 and you owe 5. Or it could be bumped up due to market appreciation; suddenly you have more, you're thinking, "Okay, I'm a little fat and happy. I can do some more investing, more trading." But it also can get you in more trouble.

[Randy] Margin's a double-edged sword. I know I said I wasn't going to comment but I want one more thing: margin is a double-edged sword. When things go well you'll make more money but when things go down you'll lose more money so you've got to always keep that in mind.

Schwab has tools to help you mentally prepare for trading

Learn more >

Talk trading with a Schwab specialist anytime.
Call 888-245-6864
M-F, 8:30am - 9:00pm EST

Get 500 Commission-Free Online Equity and Options Trades for Two Years

Learn More >

Important Disclosures

Options carry a high level of risk and are not suitable for all investors. Certain requirements must be met to trade options through Schwab. Covered calls provide downside protection only to the extent of the premium received and limit upside potential to the strike price plus premium received. With long options, investors may lose 100% of funds invested. Multiple-leg options strategies will involve multiple commissions. Please read the Options Disclosure Document titled Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options.

Investing involves risks, including potential loss of principal invested. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Schwab does not recommend the use of technical analysis as a sole means of investment research.

This material is provided for general informational purposes only, and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. All expressions of opinion are subject to changes without notice.

When considering a margin loan, you should determine how the use of margin fits your own investment philosophy. Because of the risks involved, it is important that you fully understand the rules and requirements involved in trading securities on margin.

  • Margin trading increases your level of market risk. 
  • Your downside is not limited to the collateral value in your margin account. 
  • Schwab may initiate the sale of any securities in your account, without contacting you, to meet a margin call. 
  • Schwab may increase its "house" maintenance margin requirements at any time and is not required to provide you with advance written notice. 
  • You are not entitled to an extension of time on a margin call. 

Any opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice at any time.

Past performance data should not be construed as indicative of future results.


Thumbs up / down votes are submitted voluntarily by readers and are not meant to suggest the future performance or suitability of any account type, product or service for any particular reader and may not be representative of the experience of other readers. When displayed, thumbs up / down vote counts represent whether people found the content helpful or not helpful and are not intended as a testimonial. Any written feedback or comments collected on this page will not be published. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. may in its sole discretion re-set the vote count to zero, remove votes appearing to be generated by robots or scripts, or remove the modules used to collect feedback and votes.