What Are I Bonds? 9 Things to Know Before Investing

What Are I Bonds? 9 Things to Know Before Investing

Series I Savings Bond rates are set to change on May 1, 2024, when the new rates will be announced. To give some perspective, for Series I Bonds issued from November 2023 through April 2024, the yield (composite rate) was 5.27% for six months after the issue date. So, is now a good time to buy I bonds?

Investors with a long-term savings outlook who are looking for a safe investment may want to consider investing in Series I Savings Bonds, commonly known as I Bonds. I Bonds are similar to most bonds in that they are essentially a loan to an entity (in this case the U.S. government), with the promise to return your money with interest. I Bonds are different in that they may offer some tax breaks as well. Here are nine important things to know before you invest in I Bonds.

9 Important Things to Know Before You Invest in I Bonds

1. I Bonds May Offer a Higher Rate, But Not a Fixed Rate

For those looking for low-risk investment returns, I Bonds may be a good option, but they are not traditional fixed-income securities. I Bonds are a type of savings bond offered by the U.S. Treasury and backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. They are unique in that they offer two types of interest payments: a fixed rate and a variable rate, which together provide the bond’s composite rate.

The fixed-rate portion is determined when the bond is purchased, and remains the same for the life of the bond. The variable rate gets adjusted twice a year (i.e., May and November), based on inflation rates. Investors may hold I Bonds for up to 30 years.

In May 2022, when inflation was high, I Bonds paid up to 9.62%. But as inflation cooled, the variable rate dropped. As mentioned, I Bonds issued from November 2023 through April 2024 have a composite rate of 5.27% for six months after the issue date, until the variable rate changes again.

💡 Quick Tip: Help your money earn more money! Opening a bank account online often gets you higher-than-average rates.

2. Your I Bond Principal Is Guaranteed

Because I Bonds are backed by the U.S. government they have a low risk of default and offer tax-advantaged interest income. Furthermore, the principal is guaranteed. This means (unlike traditional, non-government bonds) that the redemption value will never decrease. This is one of the advantages of savings bonds as a whole. As a result, I Bonds are considered low-risk investments.

3. I Bonds Offer Some Tax Breaks

Tax-efficient investors may want to consider certain I Bond features. Because I Bonds are exempt from municipal or state taxes, this can be a boon for some investors. That said, while federal taxes usually apply, they could be deferred until the bond is ultimately sold or matures; whichever happens first.

Additionally, I Bond investors may use the interest payments for qualified higher education expenses, and receive a 100% deduction (this is called the education exclusion). Some restrictions apply, including:

•   You must cash out your I Bonds the year that you want to claim the education exclusion.

•   You must use the interest paid to cover qualified higher education expenses for you, your spouse, or your dependent children the same year.

•   You cannot be married, filing separately.

4. I Bonds Are Similar to E Bonds & EE Bonds

Investors who are familiar with the Series E Bond may also find I Bonds appealing. While Series E Bonds are no longer available from the Treasury, they can still be purchased from other investors who currently hold them. Historically, Series E bonds were also known as defense or war bonds.

Series E bonds were replaced by Series EE bonds (aka “Patriot Bonds”) in 1980. Today, like Series I Bonds, investors can buy EE Savings Bonds from TreasuryDirect .

An interesting feature of Series EE Savings Bonds is that, over a 20-year period, these bonds are guaranteed to double in value. And should the interest not be enough to double the value, the U.S. Treasury will top it up, giving the bond an effective interest rate of 3.5% per year during that period.

While I Bonds don’t offer the same guarantee, your principal is guaranteed and the bonds are designed to keep pace with inflation.

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5. I Bonds Are Easy to Purchase

Investors can purchase electronic I Bonds online through TreasuryDirect in denominations over $25. The maximum amount of electronic I Bonds someone can purchase is $10,000 per calendar year.

In paper format, investors may use their tax refund to purchase up to $5,000 a year.

6. I Bonds Are a Long-Term Investment

In general, the primary risks in buying bonds revolve around redemption. What if you need your money before maturity?

I Bonds are generally a long-term investment. To start with, investors must understand that they have their money locked up for one year. After that, investors who redeem their I Bonds before they’ve held the bond for five years will forfeit the last three months of interest. (You can redeem an I Bond after five years with no penalty.)

As a result, those looking for a shorter-term investment may want to consider investing in Treasury bills.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re saving for a short-term goal — whether it’s a vacation, a wedding, or the down payment on a house — consider opening a high-yield savings account. The higher APY that you’ll earn will help your money grow faster, but the funds stay liquid, so they are easy to access when you reach your goal.

7. Other Investments Might Offer Better Returns

One possible advantage of investing in stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs is that investors could potentially make a profit if the stock or fund does well. For instance, historically, stocks have been shown to be one of the best ways to build wealth over time. However, there is also risk involved, and you could lose money if the investment performs poorly.

TIPS, or Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, are also a type of government bond designed to protect investors from inflation. The principal amount of a TIPS bond will increase with inflation, while the interest payments remain fixed. I Bonds are similar to TIPS but offer additional protection against deflation.

8. It’s Hard to Predict an I Bond’s Return Over Time

To maximize your return on investment when purchasing I Bonds, it is essential to understand the differences between the two interest rate components of the bond, and how they can play out over time.

I Bonds offer a fixed interest rate, which remains the same for the life of the bond, and the inflation-protection component, which adjusts with changes in inflation rates twice per year.

So if you buy an I Bond, the composite rate would be the same for the first six months after the issue date. After that, your rate would adjust with the current inflation rate. If inflation goes up, so would the rate of return. If inflation goes down, the bond’s inflation rate would likewise decrease.

And if you hold onto your I Bond for 10, 20, or 30 years, you would likely see some years with higher inflation rates and some years with lower inflation rates.

9. You Must Meet Certain Criteria to Buy an I Bond

To be eligible to buy I Bonds you must be:

•   A United States citizen, no matter where you live,

•   A United States resident, or

•   A civilian employee of the United States, no matter where you live.

Also, investors can only purchase I Bonds with U.S. funds. You cannot buy them with foreign currency.

The Takeaway

If you’re looking for a generally safe and reliable investment option, I Bonds may be worth considering. They offer tax breaks and other benefits that can make them a low- risk choice for your long-term savings goals. That said, because I Bonds come with a composite rate of return, it’s hard to predict how much your money will actually earn over time.

With I Bonds, your principal is guaranteed. If you buy a $1,000 I Bond, no matter what happens, you will get your $1,000 back.

If you’re interested in savings vehicles, there are alternatives to government bonds, including savings accounts with a higher APY (annual percentage yield). By exploring your options, you can choose the best option — or options — for you.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall. Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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Time Decay of Options: How It Works & Its Importance

Time Decay of Options: How It Works & Its Importance

Time decay, as it relates to options trading, has to do with an option contract’s loss of value as it nears its expiration date. There are numerous variables in the mix when it comes to time decay, but knowing the basics of what the terms means, and how it can affect an investment strategy, can be important for investors.

What Is Time Decay?

Time decay is the loss of an option’s value as it gets closer to expiration. An option’s time value refers to the extent to which time factors into the value — or the premium — of the option. Time decay accelerates, or declines more quickly, as the expiration date gets closer because investors have less time to exercise the contract.

For options traders, understanding the power of time decay is important whether you’re buying call options or put options. Here are the basics you need to know.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re an experienced investor and bullish about a stock, buying call options (rather than the stock itself) can allow you to take the same position, with less cash outlay. It is possible to lose money trading options, if the price moves against you.

How Time Decay Works

The rate of change in the time value of an option is known as theta. For traders who buy options with the intention of holding them until expiration, theta usually isn’t of great concern. That’s because traders who hold contracts until the expiry date are hoping that the underlying security moves so far in their favor that the reward in terms of intrinsic value will outweigh any loss in extrinsic value.

But traders who want to close their options position prior to expiration may be more concerned about time decay. Because the security will have less time to move in their favor, the potential profit from intrinsic value is reduced, and the potential loss of extrinsic value becomes greater.

While both intrinsic and extrinsic value are important for options traders of all kinds, the type of options trading strategy a trader is using can influence which factors they put more emphasis on.

Understanding Options Pricing

Time decay isn’t a difficult concept, but it does require a quick refresher about how options are traded and priced.

Four of the main variables that impact the price of an option are:

1.    The underlying price and strike price

2.    Time left until expiration

3.    Implied volatility

4.    Time decay

The underlying price, strike price, and expiration date of the options contract are the main factors that determine its intrinsic value, while implied volatility and time decay are the factors that determine its extrinsic value.

•   Intrinsic value. An option’s intrinsic value refers to the option’s value at the time of expiration, which depends on the price of its underlying security relative to the strike price of the contract. In other words, whether the option is in the money, out of the money, or at the money.

•   Extrinsic value. Extrinsic value refers to how time can impact the option’s value, i.e. its premium. As the expiration date of the options contract approaches, there’s less time for an investor to profit from the option, so time decay or theta, accelerates and the option loses value.

Interest rates can also affect options prices, but this is more of a macro factor that doesn’t have to do with the specific contract itself.

Thus, time value represents the added value an investor has to pay for an option above the intrinsic value. Options are sometimes referred to as depreciating or wasting assets because they tend to lose value over time, since the closer the option is to expiration, the faster its time value erodes.

Recommended: Popular Options Trading Terminology to Know

How to Calculate Time Decay

The rate of an option’s time decay is measured by theta.An option with a theta of -0.05 (theta is expressed as a negative value) would be expected to fall about $0.05 each day until expiration, but this would likely accelerate during the days and weeks leading up to the expiry date.

Greek values like theta are constantly changing, and can therefore be one of the most difficult factors to take into account when trading options.

Example of Time Decay of Options

Imagine an investor is thinking about buying a call option with a strike price of $40. The current stock price is $35, so the stock has to rise by at least $5 per share for the option to be in the money. The expiration date is two months in the future, and the contract comes with a $5 premium.

Now imagine a similar contract that also has a strike price of $40 but an expiration date that is only one week away and comes with a premium of just $0.50. This contract costs much less than the $5 contract because the stock would have to gain almost 15% in value in one week to make the trade profitable, which is unlikely.

Thus, the extrinsic value of the second option contract is lower than the first, because of time decay.

How Does Time Decay Impact Options?

Option time decay is pretty straightforward in principle. Things can be more complicated in practice, but in general, options lose value over time. The more time there is between now and the expiry date of the option, the more extrinsic value the option will have. The closer the expiry date is to the current date, the more time decay will have taken effect, reducing the option’s value.

The basic idea is that because there’s less time for a security to move one way or the other, options become less valuable the closer they get to their expiration dates. This isn’t a linear process though. The rate of time decay accelerates over time, with the majority of decay occurring in the final month before expiration.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

The Takeaway

If you think about it, the time value of an option is similar to other things that have a value which is time dependent. A fresh loaf of bread, a new car, a newly built home — these items would have an intrinsic value, but you might also pay a premium when they’re at full value.

As time passes, though, consumers will pay less for loaf of bread that isn’t fresh — or a car or home that’s older — because time has eroded some of the value. Similarly, as an option gets closer to its expiration date, it too loses value owing to the effects of time decay or theta.

Qualified investors who are ready to try their hand at options trading, despite the risks involved, might consider checking out SoFi’s options trading platform. The platform’s user-friendly design allows investors to trade through the mobile app or web platform, and get important metrics like breakeven percentage, maximum profit/loss, and more with the click of a button.

Plus, SoFi offers educational resources — including a step-by-step in-app guide — to help you learn more about options trading. Trading options involves high-risk strategies, and should be undertaken by experienced investors.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


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SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What Is a Guaranteed Minimum Income Benefit (GMIB)?

What Is a Guaranteed Minimum Income Benefit (GMIB)?

A guaranteed minimum income benefit (GMIB) is an optional rider that can be included in an annuity contract to provide a minimum income amount to the annuity holder. An annuity is an insurance product in which you pay a premium to the insurance company, then receive payments back at a later date. There are a number of different types of annuities, with different annuity rates.

A GMIB annuity can ensure that you receive a consistent stream of guaranteed income. If you’re considering buying an annuity for your retirement, it’s helpful to understand what guaranteed minimum income means, and how it works.

GMIBs, Defined

A guaranteed minimum income benefit (GMIB) is a rider that the annuity holder can purchase, at an additional cost, and add it onto their annuity. The goal of a GMIB is to ensure that the annuitant will continue to receive payments from the contract — that’s the “guaranteed minimum income” part — without those payments being affected by market volatility.

Annuities are one option you might consider when starting a retirement fund. But what are annuities and how do they work? It’s important to answer this question first when discussing guaranteed minimum income benefits.

As noted, an annuity is a type of insurance contract. You purchase the contract, typically with a lump sum, on the condition that the annuity company pays money back to you now or starting at a later date, e.g. in retirement.

Depending on how the annuity is structured, your money may be invested in underlying securities or not. Depending on the terms and the annuity rates involved, you may receive a lump sum or regular monthly payments. The amount of the payment is determined by the amount of your initial deposit or premium, and the terms of the annuity contract.

A GMIB annuity is most often a variable annuity or indexed annuity product (though annuities for retirement can come in many different types).

💡 Quick Tip: How do you decide if a certain trading platform or app is right for you? Ideally, the investment platform you choose offers the features that you need for your investment goals or strategy, e.g., an easy-to-use interface, data analysis, educational tools.

How GMIBs Work

Let’s look at two different types of annuities for retirement: variable and indexed.

•   Variable annuities can offer a range of investment types, often in the form of mutual funds that hold a combination of stocks, bonds, and money market instruments.

•   Indexed annuities offer returns that are indexed to an underlying benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index, Nasdaq, or Russell 2000. This is similar to other types of indexed investments.

With either one, the value of the annuity contract is determined by the performance of the underlying investments you choose.

When the market is strong, variable annuities or indexed annuities can deliver higher returns. When market volatility increases, however, that can reduce the value of your annuity. A GMIB annuity builds in some protection against market risk by specifying a guaranteed minimum income payment you’ll receive from the annuity, independent of the annuity’s underlying market-based performance.

Of course, what you can draw from an annuity to begin with will depend on how much you invest in the contract, stated annuity rates, and to some degree your investment performance. But having a GMIB rider on this type of retirement plan can help you to lock in a predetermined amount of future income.

Pros & Cons of GMIBs

Guaranteed minimum income benefit annuities can be appealing for investors who want to have a guaranteed income stream in retirement. Whether it makes sense to purchase one can depend on how much you have to invest, how much income you’re hoping to generate, your overall goals and risk tolerance.

Weighing the pros and cons can help you to decide if a GMIB annuity is a good fit for your retirement planning strategy.

Pros of GMIBs

The main benefit of a GMIB annuity is the ability to receive a guaranteed amount of income in retirement. This can make planning for retirement easier as you can estimate how much money you’re guaranteed to receive from the annuity, regardless of what happens in the market between now and the time you choose to retire.

If you’re concerned about your spouse or partner being on track for their own retirement, that income can also carry over to your spouse and help fund their retirement needs, if you should pass away first. You can structure the annuity to make payments to you beginning at a certain date, then continue those payments to your spouse for the remainder of their life. This can provide reassurance that your spouse won’t be left struggling financially after you’re gone.

Cons of GMIBs

A main disadvantage of guaranteed minimum income benefit annuities is the cost. The more riders you add on to an annuity contract, the more this can increase the cost. So that’s something to factor in if you have a limited amount of money to invest in a variable or indexed annuity with a GMIB rider. Annuities may also come with other types of investment fees, so you may want to consult with a professional who can help you decipher the fine print.

It’s also important to consider the quality of the annuity company. An annuity is only as good as the company that issues the contract. If the company were to go out of business, your guaranteed income stream could dry up. For that reason, it’s important to review annuity ratings to get a sense of how financially stable a particular company is.

Examples of GMIB Annuities

Variable or indexed annuities that include a guaranteed minimum income benefit can be structured in different ways. For example, you may be offered the opportunity to purchase a variable annuity for $250,000. The annuity contract includes a GMIB order that guarantees you the greater of:

•   The annuity’s actual value

•   6% interest compounded annually

•   The highest value reached in the account historically

The annuity has a 10-year accumulation period in which your investments can earn interest and grow in value. This is followed by the draw period, in which you can begin taking money from the annuity.

Now, assume that at the beginning of the draw period the annuity’s actual value is $300,000. But if you were to calculate the annuitized value based on the 6% interest compounded annually, the annuity would be worth closer to $450,000. Since you have this built into the contract, you can opt to receive the higher amount thanks to the guaranteed minimum income benefit.

This example also illustrates why it’s important to be selective when choosing annuity contracts with a guaranteed minimum income benefit. The higher the guaranteed compounding benefit the better, as this can return more interest to you even if the annuity loses value because of shifting market conditions.

It’s also important to consider how long the interest will compound. Again, the more years interest can compound the better, in terms of how that might translate to the size of your guaranteed income payout later.

💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

The Takeaway

As discussed, guaranteed minimum income benefits (GMIB) are optional riders that can be included in an annuity contract to provide a minimum income amount to the annuity holder. Annuities can help round out your financial strategy if you’re looking for ways to create guaranteed income in retirement.

Annuities may be a part of a larger investment and retirement planning strategy, along with other types of retirement accounts. To get a better sense of how they may fit in, if at all, it may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What are guaranteed benefits?

When discussing annuities for retirement, guaranteed benefits are amounts that you are guaranteed to receive. Depending on how the annuity contract is structured, you may receive guaranteed benefits as a lump sum payment or annuitized payments.

What is the guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit?

The guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit is the amount you’re guaranteed to be able to withdraw from an annuity once the accumulation period ends. This can be the annuity’s actual value, an amount that reflects interest compounded annually or the annuity contract’s highest historical value.

What are the two types of guaranteed living benefits?

There are actually more than two types of guaranteed living benefits. For example, your annuity contract might include a guaranteed minimum income benefit, guaranteed minimum accumulation benefit or guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit.


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SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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Investing in Options vs Stocks: Trading Differences to Know

Buying Options vs Stocks: Trading Differences to Know


Editor's Note: Options are not suitable for all investors. Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Please see the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options.

Stocks and options are two of the most popular investment types that investors might include in their portfolio. There are reasons to invest in each, and they both come with their own risks, timelines, pros, and cons.

When deciding whether to invest in stocks vs. options, or any type of security or asset, it’s important to consider your personal investing goals, experience, risk tolerance, and investing horizon.

What Are the Differences Between Options and Stocks?

Stocks

Options

Common types of Investors Beginners and long-term investors Experienced and active traders
Potential Downsides Risks, Taxes, Fees Risks, Costs, Complexity
Type of Investment Equity Derivative

Options

Options, or stock options, are a type of derivative investment. Rather than buying shares of a company, options contracts give buyers the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell shares at a specified price, (known as the strike price in options terminology,) at a specified time in the future.

A call option gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy a stock at a specified price, at a specified time in the future. The options investor does not have any ownership of the company’s shares unless they choose to exercise the option and buy the shares.

A put option gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to sell a stock at a specified price, at a specified time in the future.

Over the time period of the option, the contract gets exponentially less valuable. This is known as time decay.

Investors may exercise their right to buy or sell a stock, or sell their option position to make a potential profit. Options trading strategies can get complicated, involving buying and selling multiple options on the same underlying security.

Recommended: A Guide to Options Trading

Stocks

Stocks are portions of ownership in companies, also known as shares. Investors can buy shares in companies and become fractional owners of that company in proportion to the number of outstanding shares that company has. For instance, if a company has 100,000 shares and an investor buys 10,000, they own 10% of the company.

Investors who purchase stocks typically hope to buy them at a lower price then sell them later at a higher price to make a profit. There are also other ways investors can earn profits on stocks. For instance, some stocks pay out dividends to owners. Every month, quarter, or year, an investor can earn money based on the number of shares they own.

Recommended: How to Start Investing in Stocks

5 Key Differences in Stocks vs Options

Both stocks and options are popular investments, and there can be a place for both of them in a diversified portfolio. Here’s a look at some of of the differences to keep in mind when it comes to trading options vs. stocks:

1. Risk

Both stocks and options have associated risks. For stocks, the risk is that the value of the security will fall lower than the investor expected. For options, there are additional risks, including the risk that they could exacerbate losses or could expire without being exercised.

2. Ownership

When an investor buys stock, they become partial owners of that company. When they buy options, they do not.

3. Quantities

When buying stock, the number of shares an investor buys is the total number they have, and they can purchase any number of shares, including fractional shares. When buying options, each contract represents 100 shares of stock.

4. Timeline

Options are contracts that are only valid for a certain period of time until the expiration date. They lose value over time until they are worthless when the contract expires. When an investor buys stock, they can hold it as long as they want.

5. Time Commitment

Investors can buy stock and hold onto it without doing much additional work, whereas options traders are often more hands-on and prefer an eye on the market for the duration of the contract.

💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

When to Consider Trading Stocks

There are several reasons to consider trading stocks, depending on your goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. Like any asset, stocks come with their share of risks and downsides. Some of the pros and cons of stocks include:

Pros

It can be relatively easy to start investing in stocks. There are several other benefits as well:

•   Investors don’t have to sell their stocks on any particular date, so they can choose the best time to sell.

•   Some stocks pay out dividends to investors.

•   Stocks are easier to research than options since they have market history.

•   Being an owner of a company may allow investors to vote on certain corporate issues that can affect their investment.

•   Stocks typically have more liquidity than options, meaning it’s easier for traders to buy and sell them at any given time.

Cons

Like all securities, there are risks involved with investing in stocks. Those include:

•   Whether you buy and sell stocks quickly as a day trading strategy, or hold onto them for years, you will need to pay short or long-term capital gains taxes if you sell for a profit.

•   While trading stocks can be very profitable, it’s generally considered a long-term strategy.

•   It can be emotionally challenging to watch the market, and one’s portfolio, go up and down in value over months or years.

•   Making a big profit on stocks can require a large upfront investment.

•   When investing in stocks, traders risk losing all the money they put in.

•   Stocks of certain companies are very expensive, making it difficult for smaller traders to even buy one.

When to Consider Trading Options

Like stocks or any investment, options come with their share of risks and downsides. Some of the main pros and cons of trading options are:

Pros

Options trading can be complicated, but there can be significant upside potential. Benefits include:

•   Options may be an inexpensive way to participate in the market.

•   Options provide investors with leverage. Essentially the investor has some control and access to shares.

•   Options can help hedge against market volatility.

Cons

Since fewer traders buy and sell options than stocks, there can be lower liquidity making it difficult to get out of an options contract. Other drawbacks include:

•   If an investor buys a stock option, they must pay a premium to enter into the contract. If the stock doesn’t move the way they hope it will and they choose not to exercise the option, they lose that premium they had put in.

•   Options lose value over time.

•   Trading options may require more ongoing management than stocks.

💡 Quick Tip: In order to profit from purchasing a stock, the price has to rise. But an options account offers more flexibility, and an options trader might gain if the price rises or falls. This is a high-risk strategy, and investors can lose money if the trade moves in the wrong direction.

The Takeaway

Stocks and options are two popular types of investments traders use to earn profits and build a diversified portfolio. Depending on your investment strategy, you might invest in a combination of the two. Note that both have their own associated risks and potential benefits.

Options trading, however, is typically something that experienced investors delve into, and often requires traders to actively invest, rather than leave their portfolios idle. If you’re interested in options, it may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional for guidance.

Qualified investors who are ready to try their hand at options trading, despite the risks involved, might consider checking out SoFi’s options trading platform. The platform’s user-friendly design allows investors to trade through the mobile app or web platform, and get important metrics like breakeven percentage, maximum profit/loss, and more with the click of a button.

Plus, SoFi offers educational resources — including a step-by-step in-app guide — to help you learn more about options trading. Trading options involves high-risk strategies, and should be undertaken by experienced investors.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What Is Excess Margin & How Do You Use It?

What Is Excess Margin & How Do You Use It?

The excess margin in a trading account indicates how much available funds it contains above the required minimum amounts. Knowing your excess margin helps determine how many securities you can trade on margin, as well as how much you can withdraw from your account to use for other purposes.

In other words, knowing your excess margin helps an investor get a better idea of their overall buying power, which can be critical in guiding investing decisions.

What Is Excess Margin?

Excess margin is a trading account‘s equity above the legal minimum required for a margin account, or the amount of equity above the broker’s maintenance margin requirement.

Excess margin is generated from cash or securities a trader deposits in a margin account above required levels. Excess margin can be used as collateral for margin loans, or it may be withdrawn from the account. It is important to monitor your excess margin ratio so you can keep your account in good standing.

Special Memorandum Account

A special memorandum account (SMA) is where excess margin generated from a margin trading account is held. Trading margin is also sometimes called usable margin, available margin, or “free” margin — but to be clear, “free” margin isn’t free in the sense that it doesn’t involve interest charges or fees, it’s “free” in that it’s not tied up in a current position.

Excess margin, on the other hand, is only the margin above the required minimum.

💡 Quick Tip: When you trade using a margin account, you’re using leverage — i.e. borrowed funds that increase your purchasing power. Remember that whatever you borrow you must repay, with interest.

Understanding Trading Margin Excess

Trading margin excess tells you how much buying power you have, but no trader should feel compelled to use all of it just because it is there. Excess cash margin can be thought of as funds left over after you have taken positions during the trading day. You can use excess margin to buy new positions or add to an existing holding.

Understanding how to trade excess margin requires a grasp of how margin accounts work. A margin account allows you to borrow from a broker if you meet initial margin requirements. You will need the greater of either the $2k minimum margin requirement or 50% of the security’s purchase price in your account to buy on margin. For example, if you were to purchase 10 shares of a stock trading at $30, 50% is $1,500.

Since that is less than $2,000, you’ll need to deposit $2,000 in order to purchase the 10 shares on margin. On the other hand, if you wanted to purchase 10 shares of a stock selling for $50, 50% is $2,500 — and you would need to deposit $2,500, not $2,000, in order to make your purchase on margin.In the United States, Regulation T set by the Federal Reserve states that a trader with a margin account can borrow up to 50% of the purchase price of a stock (assuming the stock is fully marginable).

There are also maintenance margin requirements set at 25% by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) — your equity relative to your account value must not fall below that threshold. Finally, a broker might set stricter margin requirements than the governing authorities.

The value of assets in a margin account that exceeds these requirements is the excess margin deposit. Since you are trading with leverage, the maintenance margin excess amount indicates how much is left that you can borrow against — it is not actual cash remaining in your account. According to FINRA, maintenance margin excess is the amount by which the equity in the margin account exceeds the required margin.

Increase your buying power with a margin loan from SoFi.

Borrow against your current investments at just 10%* and start margin trading.


*For full margin details, see terms.

Risks and Benefits of Excess Margin

An account is in good standing as long as it has margin levels above those set by regulators and the broker. There are dangers with trading excess margin securities, though. Since you trade with leverage in a margin account, there is the risk that your account value could drop dramatically if the market goes against you. Your account can be in good standing one day, but then face a margin call the next day.

If your account violates margin requirements, you will be faced with a margin call. To meet the call, you must deposit cash, deposit marginable securities, or liquidate securities you own. If you do not meet the call, your broker can perform a forced sale. In extreme cases, your account’s trading privileges can be suspended.

On the upside, there is potential to make larger profits by trading on margin. Returns are amplified by leverage. You can also benefit from declining share prices by short selling (it’s worth noting that margin requirements are different for short selling — 30% in most cases). There are other benefits when trading on margin so long as you maintain excess margin. You can use your margin account for loans by borrowing against your assets, often at a competitive interest rate. Margin trading also lets you diversify a concentrated portfolio.

Excess Margin Risks vs Benefits

Risks

Benefits

Trading with leverage can amplify losses Trading with leverage can amplify returns
A broker can perform a forced sale if you face a margin call Excess margin tells you how much money you can use for new purchases or to withdraw from the account
You can lose more than what you put in during extreme events You can hold a diversified portfolio and short positions

What Is an Excess Margin Deposit?

An excess margin deposit is the collateral held in a margin account that is above required margin levels. When the value of your excess margin deposit drops under the required margin amount, you might face a margin call. An excess margin deposit is calculated as the difference between an account’s value and its minimum maintenance requirement. Required margin levels are often higher for equity and options trading accounts versus futures trading accounts.

Managing excess margin securities is important when trading. If you trade positions without understanding risk, then you are more likely to eventually get hit with a margin call. A way to manage excess margin is to trade securities and positions sizes that fit your risk and return preferences.

💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

Excess Margin Deposit Example

An example helps illustrate what excess margin is. Let’s say your margin trading account has $50,000 of unmargined securities. The Reg T requirement dictates that your initial margin is $25,000 (a 50% margin requirement), so excess initial margin is $25,000. Assuming a 25% maintenance margin requirement, $12,500 of equity must be kept after opening the account.

With $25,000 of equity, there is $12,500 of excess margin above the 25% maintenance margin requirement. You can buy more securities with that amount or withdraw it to use for other purposes.

If the account value drops to $45,000, then your equity has fallen to $20,000 ($45,000 of stocks minus the $25,000 loan). Assuming the account has a 25% maintenance requirement, the account would need to have equity of at least $11,250 (25% of $45,000). With $20,000 of equity, the account meets the requirements and is in good standing.

The Takeaway

Excess margin is your margin trading account’s equity above all margin requirements. It is a balance that tells you how much more securities you can buy on margin. The excess cash margin also indicates how much you can pull from the account to use for other purposes.

Excess margin, conceptually, is related to an investor’s buying power, which is why it’s important to understand. There are also rules and regulations in the mix, such as Regulation T, which investors need to keep in mind, too, and risks related to margin calls.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Get one of the most competitive margin loan rates with SoFi, 10%*

FAQ

What happens if you go over margin?

If you go over margin, you might be faced with a margin call. A margin call happens when your excess margin deposit falls below zero. Satisfying a margin call involves depositing more cash or securities or liquidating existing holdings to bring the account’s excess margin ratio back within proper limits.

What is excess intraday margin?

Excess intraday margin is the amount of funds in a margin trading account above the intraday margin requirement. It is a balance that tells you how much money is in the account above an intraday margin requirement. Intraday margin is also referred to as day trading margin if you engage in pattern day trading. Note: There are different requirements for a pattern day trader.

Can margin trading put you in debt?

In extreme circumstances, trading excess margin securities can put you in debt due to positions losing value and margin interest being owed. Margin calls issued by brokers help to reduce this risk since the calls require the trader to deposit more funds into the account or liquidate existing holdings. If the trader does not act, the broker might automatically sell securities. If the trader has borrowed too much and market movements are drastically against the trader, equity can turn negative.


Photo credit: iStock/Geber86

*Borrow at 10%. Utilizing a margin loan is generally considered more appropriate for experienced investors as there are additional costs and risks associated. It is possible to lose more than your initial investment when using margin. Please see SoFi.com/wealth/assets/documents/brokerage-margin-disclosure-statement.pdf for detailed disclosure information.
SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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