What Is Excess Margin & How Do You Use It?

By Mike Zaccardi, CMT, CFA · May 18, 2024 · 8 minute read

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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.

Key Points

•   Excess margin in a trading account indicates available funds above the required minimum.

•   It provides a gauge of overall buying power, influencing investment decisions.

•   Excess margin can be used as collateral for margin loans or withdrawn.

•   A Special Memorandum Account holds the excess margin from a trading account.

•   Understanding and managing excess margin is crucial to maintaining account standing and leveraging investment strategies.

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 Excess margin can be used as collateral for margin loans, or it may be withdrawn from the account.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.

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.

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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



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.

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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

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