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How to Read a Profit & Loss (P&L) Statement

As its name indicates, a profit and loss statement (P&L) shows a company’s profits and losses — i.e. revenue vs. expenses and other costs — over a certain period of time, like a quarter or year.

A profit and loss statement is also called an “income statement,” is one of a business’s most important accounting tools, as it provides important insights into operations, and the company’s ability to generate income and manage losses — with an eye toward profitability.

Investors can also use the P&L to assess certain aspects of company performance and compare it to other companies in the same industry.

What Is a Profit and Loss Statement?

A profit and loss report shows how much revenue a company earned over a specific period, and then subtracts how much money was spent, which results in a net profit (or loss). It’s the final line in the calculation, commonly known as the bottom line.

While a profit and loss statement provides contextual insight into a company’s financials, these figures only tell us what has happened in the past, and not what will happen in the future. Given that, this information alone is not able to determine whether a company is a “good” investment, but it’s one of the many pieces of information needed to value a stock.

Other Key Documents

In addition to filing a P&L report, companies will also file a balance sheet, cash flow statement, and statement of shareholders’ equity. Filings are made quarterly (called 10-Q filings) and annually (10-K filings) with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and are publicly available. Investors can find this information by searching for the company within the SEC’s EDGAR database.

Although having a basic overview of how to read a profit and loss statement can be helpful, it’s important to bear in mind that different companies and industries may include breakout different line items in their P&L report.

Generally speaking, it’s useful to think of each of the accounting statements as individual pieces in an overall puzzle. For example, you might compare a company’s P&L to its balance sheet, which is a snapshot of a company’s assets and liabilities for a specific date.

The balance sheet alone won’t indicate whether the company is operating at a profit, and a profit and loss statement may not provide an accurate picture into a company’s indebtedness. But together, both statements provide important context for further analysis.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening any investment account, consider what level of risk you are comfortable with. If you’re not sure, start with more conservative investments, and then adjust your portfolio as you learn more.

What Is a P&L Statement Used For?

Profit and loss statements are a particularly useful tool for looking into the operations of a company and identifying important trends in that business, often providing insights into where (and maybe why) a company is making or losing money. For example:

•   Where is most of the revenue being spent?

•   Are there expenses that could be trimmed?

•   Are gross sales covering the cost of production?

The P&L report is also useful when used to compare two or more time periods, or when comparing companies within the same industry.

An Aid to Analysis

As with almost any accounting report, the P&L can spark important questions. What changed from last year (or last quarter)? What has improved? What has not? In particular, has the company been able to decrease expenses or increase revenue in order to secure more profit?

Most important, the P&L report may provide additional clues as to the financial inner workings of the company. It can help identify problem areas as well as growth opportunities.

For example: Perhaps a company is profitable in one period but not the next, because of an increase in research and development (R&D) costs. This is valuable information, as it may indicate a crucial investment for a new product — which can lead to an evaluation of this investment and a more sophisticated analysis.

Is this a wise use of capital, and will it pay off in terms of a new product’s success? Could the money be better spent elsewhere, or is there a more efficient way to develop the new product line?

How to Read a P&L

When learning how to read a profit and loss statement, investors should know that they generally follow a similar format.

Each begins, at the top of the page, with total revenue. This is how much money a company earned through sales. Next, costs and expenses are subtracted. Finally, at the bottom of the page, is the company’s bottom line: profit or loss.

Although a company’s “top line” revenue is a compelling figure, a company’s bottom line is typically a better indicator of whether it will be an enduring, successful business.

To illustrate the point, consider a simple example of two companies. The first company posted revenue of $10,000,000 last year, but incurred the same amount in expenses (– $10,000,000). They had high revenue, but earned no profit.

The second business earned $1,000,000, but incurred $700,000 in expenses — resulting in a $300,000 profit. The second company brought in less revenue, but was more profitable than the first.

Recommended: How to Buy Stocks: A Step-by-Step Guide

Understanding Each Section of the P&L

To really make sense of a P&L, you need to understand what each line item stands for and its relevance to the company’s overall operations.

Revenue (or sales)

To recap, one would find the total revenue at the top. This number is also called gross sales and it’s usually broken out by source. (A gross figure is one calculated before expenses are taken out.)

Net Revenue

On certain sales, a company may ultimately receive a modified amount. For example, items that are returned or are discounted must be accounted for. Therefore, the next line in the statement may include a figure that represents what a company actually expects to collect on overall sales, i.e. net revenue. (Net refers to a figure after the necessary deductions are made.) This is a more accurate picture of what incoming cash flow looks like.

Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

Moving down the statement, direct costs or cost of goods sold usually comes next. This is what the company spent directly on the production of goods or services that were sold during that period. For example, if a company produces shoes, it would include money spent on supplies, labor, packaging, and shipping (but not rent, for example, as that’s not a direct cost).

Gross Profit

After COGS is subtracted from revenue, there may be a line titled gross profit or gross margin. This indicates the profit made on the goods sold before operating expenses.

Operating Expenses

Operating expenses include everything the company spent money on to stay in business: from IT to sales and marketing expenses to facilities costs and so on. These categories are often broken out into subcategories for specific expenses within each (for example, employee expenses might include payroll and benefits).

Total operating expenses are deducted from gross profit to get net operating income.

Net Operating Income

Net operating income, also known as EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization are taken out), is a crucial part of the income statement. It reveals how much the company has after all the expenses are covered. If the number is positive, the company is able to cover the cost of doing business; if it’s negative, it means the company is operating at a loss. While that’s not uncommon, spending more than you earn is typically a red flag calling for some adjustments.

Interest Income and Expense

Interest income is money earned in interest-bearing bank accounts or other investment vehicles. Interest expense is the cost of borrowing money and paying a rate of interest on that debt. These numbers may or may not be combined into one figure.

Recommended: ETFs vs. Mutual Funds: Learning the Difference

Depreciation and Amortization

Depreciation is defined as the reduction in the value of an asset with the passage of time, due in particular to wear and tear (e.g. the depreciating value of computer systems or vehicles). Businesses are able to treat this depreciation as an expense.

Amortization is the distribution of a business expense over time (e.g. the ongoing cost of a certain software program over a few years).

Tax

Finally, any tax the company paid is also deducted. Typically, this is the last deduction before the final line in the statement: the net profit or the bottom line.

The bottom line represents the net profit or the net loss, and answers the question: During this accounting period, was this company able to turn a profit, or did they operate at a loss?

Note that profit is just one way to evaluate a company and its stock — and it’s not the same as cash on hand. To understand how much actual cash a company has in the bank, you have to read the cash-flow statement.

💡 Quick Tip: It’s smart to invest in a range of assets so that you’re not overly reliant on any one company or market to do well. For example, by investing in different sectors you can add diversification to your portfolio, which may help mitigate some risk factors over time.

Earnings Per Share

A profit and loss statement may also include an earnings per share (EPS) calculation. This is a representation of how much money each shareholder would receive if all net profit was paid out. EPS is calculated by dividing the total net profit by the number of shares a company has outstanding.

The EPS is a hypothetical calculation used by investors to assess the amount of profit created by a company. Do companies actually distribute total earnings? Not generally. Companies will typically keep some or all profits, and may make some payments to shareholders in the form of dividend payments. (The profit and loss statement may also include information on dividend payments.)

A large or a growing EPS is generally preferable but yet again, this metric alone is not sufficient in deciding whether a stock is a good investment. EPS should also be compared to the price of that stock. A company could boast a robust EPS, for example, but if the cost of the stock is relatively expensive, it might not be a good value.

For a deeper look into the correlation between earnings and price, investors can consider the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, which divides the price of a stock by the EPS.

The Takeaway

A profit and loss statement can give an investor a look at a company’s bottom line in terms of earnings — and also allows them to compare statements from companies in the same industry, as well as statements from the same company over different time periods. Learning how to read a profit and loss statement can be an important part of researching a company in which one might want to invest.

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).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.


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.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.


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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.

Disclaimer: The projections or other information regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.
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15 Technical Indicators for Stock Trading

7 Technical Indicators for Stock Trading

One way traders seek to profit from short-term movements in security prices is by using technical analysis.

While some stock analysis tools examine company fundamentals, technical stock indicators identify patterns in price and volume data to give investors and traders insights about how a stock might move in the future.

For that reason, although technical indicators can assist with trend identification, it’s best to combine different indicators when conducting stock analysis.

How Do Stock Technical Indicators Work?

Technical analysis uses various sets of data and indicators, such as price and volume, to identify patterns and trends. This type of stock market analysis is different from fundamental analysis, which looks at company financials, industry trends, and macroeconomics.

Rather, technical analysis solely analyzes a stock’s performance. Stock technical indicators are often rendered as a pattern that can overlay a stock’s price chart to predict the market trend, and whether the stock would be considered “overbought” or “oversold.”

Two Main Types of Technical Indicators

Stock technical indicators generally come in two flavors: overlay indicators and oscillators.

Overlay Indicators

An overlay indicator typically overlays one trend onto another on a stock chart, often using different colors to distinguish between the lines.

Oscillator Indicators

An oscillator typically uses metrics such as a stock’s price or trading volume to determine momentum, or rate of change, over time. It uses this info to generate a signal, or trend line, whose fluctuations between two values in a range can indicate if a stock may be overbought or oversold.

If the trend line moves above the higher value of the range, it can indicate a stock is overbought, while dipping below the lower value can indicate it’s oversold. The movements of the trend line thus can help traders determine support and resistance in certain price trends, so they can decide whether to sell or buy (support being the price at which a downturn generally bounces back up, and resistance being the point at which rising prices generally start to fall).

Oscillator indicators can be leading or lagging:

•   A leading indicator tracks current market movements to anticipate where the trend is headed next.

•   A lagging indicator is based on recent history and seeks patterns that will indicate potential price movements.

The moving average is a common oscillator; it’s considered a lagging indicator as it measures specific intervals in the past.

Naturally, every stock indicator has its pros and cons. Various trading indicators can be used by investors to analyze supply and demand forces on stock price, to help shed light on market psychology, or to manage risk.

But while stock indicators and trading tools can help with buy and sell points, false signals can also occur.

Reasons to Use Stock Market Indicators

Knowing some of the most popular trading tools might benefit your investing strategy by providing you with easier-to-spot buy and sell signals. You don’t have to know every single technical indicator, and there are many ways to analyze stocks, but using multiple stock indicators may help you improve trading results.

You can also use these stock indicators to help you manage risk when you are actively trading.

Price trend indicators are some of the most important technical trading tools since identifying a security price’s trend is often a first step to forming a trading strategy. Long positions are often initiated during uptrends, while short sale opportunities can occur when prices are in a downtrend.

Volume trend indicators are also helpful to gauge the power or conviction of an asset’s price move. Some believe that the higher the stock volume on a bullish breakout or bearish breakdown, the more confident the move is. Higher volume could signal a lengthier trend continuation.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

7 Stock Indicators for Technical Analysis

It’s important to remember that these trading tools were developed based on the belief that mathematically derived patterns may be valuable as predictors of stock movements. Past performance, however, is not a guarantee of future results. So while it can be useful to employ stock technical indicators, they are best used in combination before deciding on a potential trade.

Also, many of these trading tools are lagging indicators, which can lead to an inaccurate reflection of current and future market conditions.

Following are seven of the most common technical stock indicators, along with their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Moving Averages (MA)

A moving average (MA) is the average value of a security over a specific time. The MA can be Simple Moving Average (SMA), Exponential Moving Average (EMA), and Weighted Moving Average (WMA).

A moving average smooths stock price volatility, and is taken as an indicator of the direction a price may be headed. If the price is above the moving average, it’s considered an uptrend versus when the price moves below the MA, which can signal a downtrend.

Moving averages are typically used in combination with each other, or other stock indicators, to identify trends.

Pros

•   Using moving averages can filter out the noise that comes from price fluctuations and focus on the overall trend.

•   Moving average crossovers are commonly used to pinpoint trend changes.

•   You can customize moving average periods: common time frames include 20-day, 30-day, 50-day, 100-day, 200-day.

Cons

•   A simple moving average may not help some traders as much as an exponential moving average (EMA), which puts more weight on recent price changes.

•   Market turbulence can make the MA less informative.

•   Moving averages can be simple, exponential, or weighted, which might be confusing to new traders.

2. Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD)

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) helps investors gauge whether a security’s movement is bullish or bearish, and helps gauge the momentum of the trend. The MACD uses two different exponential moving averages (EMAs) to do so.

A 26-period EMA is subtracted from a short-term 12-period EMA to generate the MACD line. Then a signal line, based on a nine-day EMA, is plotted on top of the MACD to help reveal buy and sell entry points.

If the MACD line crosses above the signal line, that can signal a buy opportunity. If it crosses below the signal line, that could signal a price decline and an opportunity to sell or take a short position.

Pros

•   The MACD, used in combination with the relative strength index (below) can help identify overbought or oversold conditions.

•   It can be used to indicate a trend and also momentum.

•   Can help spot reversals.

Cons

•   The MACD might provide false reversal signals.

•   It responds mainly to the speed of price movements; less accurate in gauging the direction of a trend.

3. Relative Strength Index (RSI)

The relative strength index or RSI is an oscillator tool that looks at price fluctuations in a given period and calculates average price losses and gains. It ranges from 0 to 100. Generally, above 70 is considered overbought and under 30 is thought to be oversold.

Traders often use the RSI in conjunction with the MACD to confirm a price trend. The RSI can sometimes identify a divergence, when the indicator moves in opposition to the price; this can show the price trend is weakening.

Pros

•   An RSI can help investors spot buy or sell signals.

•   It may also help detect bull market or bear market trends.

•   It can be combined with moving average indicators to spot breakout trends or reversals.

Cons

•   The RSI can move without exhibiting a clear trend.

•   The RSI can remain at an overbought or oversold level for a long time, making this tool less useful.

•   It does not give clues as to volume trends.

Recommended: 5 Bullish Indicators for a Stock

4. Stochastic Oscillator

Traders will often use the stochastic oscillator, which is a momentum indicator, to determine whether a given security is overbought or oversold. The stochastic oscillator allows traders to compare a specific closing price of a security to a range of its prices over a certain time frame.

By using a stochastic chart, traders can gauge the momentum of a security’s price with the aim of anticipating trends and reversals. A stochastic oscillator uses a range of 0 to 100 to determine if an asset is overbought (when the measurements are above 80) or oversold (when the measurement is below 20).

Pros

•   Clearer entry/exit signals: The oscillator has a basic design and generates visual signals when it reaches the outer bounds of a price range. This can help a trader determine when it may be time to buy or to sell stocks.

•   Frequent signals: For more active traders who trade on intraday charts such as the 5-, 10-, or 15-minute time frames, the stochastic oscillator generates signals more often as price action oscillates in smaller ranges.

•   Easy to understand: The oscillator’s fluctuating lines are fairly clear for investors who know how to use them.

Cons

•   Possible false signals: Depending on the time settings chosen, traders may misperceive a sharp oscillation as a buy or sell signal, especially if it goes against the trend. This is more common during periods of market volatility.

•   Doesn’t measure the trend or direction: It calculates the strength or weakness of price action in a market, not the overall trend or direction.

💡 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.

5. On-Balance Volume (OBV)

OBV is a little different from the other indicators mentioned. It primarily uses volume flow to gauge future price action on a security or market. When there’s a new OBV peak, it generally indicates that buyers are strong, sellers are weak, and the price of the security may increase.

Similarly, a new OBV low is taken to mean that sellers are strong and buyers are weak, and the price is trending down.

The numerical value of the OBV isn’t important — it’s the direction that matters. In that respect it can be used as a trend confirmation tool. It can also signal divergences, when the price and the volume move in opposite directions.

Pros

•   Volume-based indicator gauges market sentiment to predict a bullish or bearish outcome.

•   OBV can be used to confirm price action and identify divergences.

Cons

•   It can be hard to find definitive buy and sell price levels.

•   False signals can happen when divergences and confirmations fail.

•   Volume surges can distort the indicator for short-term traders.

Recommended: How to Find Portfolio Beta

6. Accumulation / Distribution Line (ADL)

The accumulation/distribution line (ADL) looks at the trading range for a certain stock, and uses price and volume data to gauge whether shares are being accumulated or distributed. Like OBV it also looks for divergences, so that if a price trend isn’t supported by volume flow it could indicate the trend is about to reverse.

Although this sounds similar to OBV, they are calculated differently, and the ADL gives more attention to price and volume data within a specified range.

Pros

•   Traders can use the ADL to spot divergences in price compared with volume that can confirm price trends or signal reversals.

•   The ADL can be used as an indicator of the flow of cash in the market.

Cons

•   It doesn’t capture trading gaps or factor in their impact.

•   Smaller changes in volume are hard to detect.

7. Standard Deviation

Standard deviation measures the extent to which a data point deviates from an expected value, i.e. the mean return. When used as a technical indicator, standard deviation is a common stock volatility measure; it refers to how far a stock’s performance varies from its average.

Investors often measure an investment’s volatility by the standard deviation of returns compared with a broader market index or past returns.

Pros

•   Standard deviation mathematically captures the volatility of a stock’s movements, i.e. how far the price moves from the mean.

•   It provides technicians with an estimate for expected price movements.

•   It can be used to measure expected risk and return.

Cons

•   It does not provide precise buy and sell signals.

•   It must be used in conjunction with other indicators.

The Takeaway

Technical analysis tools use past price and volume data to help traders identify price trends and make buy and sell decisions. It’s important to know that technical analysis does not use fundamentals to assess the underlying companies, their industries, or any macroeconomic trends that might drive their success or failure. Rather, technical analysis solely analyzes the movement and volume inherent in a stock’s performance.

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).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.

FAQ

What is the most popular technical indicator for stocks?

Traders typically combine technical indicators, so it’s difficult to point to one as being a top choice. That said, many traders use the moving average indicators in combination with others to gauge price trends.

What is the most accurate indicator of the stock market?

There is no single indicator that can anticipate overall stock market performance. In fact, it’s an important factor to keep in mind when using technical indicators: For every successful price prediction or winning trade, there are countless others that don’t pan out. There are no crystal balls.

Which indicator gives buy and sell signals?

Different traders favor different indicators when looking for signals about how to place a trade. That said, the stochastic oscillator is relatively clear-cut in that it can help traders identify buy and sell opportunities based on price closes and trends within a certain range.


Photo credit: iStock/staticnak1983

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.

Disclaimer: The projections or other information regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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What Are I Bonds? 9 Things to Know Before Investing

What Are I Bonds? 9 Things to Know Before Investing

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, typically 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 (or yield).

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, based on inflation rates. Investors may hold I Bonds for up to 30 years.

To illustrate how the rate can change, in May 2022, when inflation was high, I Bonds paid a composite rate of 9.62%. But when inflation cooled, the variable rate dropped and the composite rate dropped as well. For instance, in November 2022, the composite rate fell to 6.89%. Currently, the composite rate on Series I Savings Bonds issued as of May 1, 2024 is 4.28%.

💡 Quick Tip: Most savings accounts only earn a fraction of a percentage in interest. Not at SoFi. Our high-yield savings account can help you make meaningful progress towards your financial goals.

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.

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.

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

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.


Photo credit: iStock/Bilgehan Tuzcu

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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.

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


4.60% APY
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.


*Awards or rankings from NerdWallet are not indicative of future success or results. This award and its ratings are independently determined and awarded by their respective publications.

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What Is Margin Level and How Do You Calculate It?

What Is Margin Level and How Do You Calculate It?

Margin level is a risk-management indicator that helps you understand what influence the currently opened positions have on your account.

The margin level in your options trading account is a formula that tells you how much of your funds are available to open new trades. The higher your margin level percentage, the more funds are available to trade. If the margin level drops too low, you could receive a margin call.

What Is Margin Level?

Your margin level percentage is a measure of the relationship between the equity in your trading or brokerage account and how much margin is in use. The margin level calculation is expressed as a percentage: (equity / margin) x 100.

It’s helpful to think of margin level as a reading of your trading account’s health. A margin level percentage of 0% means you have no open positions. A margin level of 100% means that the amount of a portfolio’s equity and used margin are equal. Equity is the cash available to trade, plus any unrealized profits and losses on open positions. Many brokers will not allow investors to make new opening trades when the margin level on their options trading account is 100% or less.

When margin level falls below 100%, the broker might issue a margin call. Unless the market moves back in your favor, you must deposit more funds (or assets) into your account when you are hit with a margin call. You can also satisfy a margin call by exiting your current holdings.

The margin level percentage depends on various factors. The volume of your positions and their potential effect on the market can affect your margin level calculation; as can the amount of leverage you use.

💡 Quick Tip: One of the advantages of using a margin account, if you qualify, is that a margin loan gives you the ability to buy more securities. Be sure to understand the terms of the margin account, though, as buying on margin includes the risk of bigger losses.

What Does Margin Level Really Do?

To understand what margin level means, it’s important first to grasp the concept of margin in options trading.

Margin is the amount of cash or securities a trader must deposit in their account before being able to write (or sell) options. You can think of it as a good faith deposit or a form of collateral. The Federal Reserve Board’s Reg T sets margin requirements.

Margin works differently in options and futures accounts than in stock trading accounts. Margin debt in stock trading refers to the amount of borrowed funds used to buy new shares. This is also referred to as using leverage.

The margin level calculation tells you how much of your funds are available to use for new opening trades. The higher your margin level, the more “free margin” you have. Free margin is the amount of money available to place new trades. Margin is composed of “used” and “free” amounts. Used margin is the aggregate of all the required margin on your existing positions. Free margin, on the other hand, is the difference between equity and used margin.

Margin level also can inform you of how much wiggle room you have in your options trading account, or other types of accounts. A very high margin level percentage means you have a large amount of equity relative to the total amount of required margin. A low margin level calculation tells you that your account might not be far from getting a margin call.

Increase your buying power with a margin loan from SoFi.

Borrow against your current investments at just 11%* and start margin trading.


*For full margin details, see terms.

Calculating Margin Level

Calculating margin level is straightforward: Divide the equity by the amount of used margin; then multiple that quotient by 100:

Margin level = (equity / margin) x 100

If you don’t have any open positions, then your margin level calculation will be zero. This can be confusing because usually, a low margin level means your account might be at risk for a margin call. A 0% margin level is the safest and lowest-risk margin level you can have, because in that scenario, you’d have no open positions.

Margin level = (equity / margin) x 100

Margin Level Example

Suppose you deposit $10,000 into your account. Before you make any trades, your margin level is 0%, as you don’t have any used margin (the divisor in the earlier-mentioned equation is zero). Your first buy is a call option on shares of XYZ stock, and you pay a $5,000 premium. Your margin level calculation is now 200% ($10,000 / $5,000 = 200%).

Now let’s say you open another $5,000 options position. Your margin level declines to 100% ($10,000 / $10,000 = 100%). We will assume that is the broker’s minimum margin level before a margin call is issued. Later, we’ll detail what happens if your margin level falls below the critical 100% threshold.

💡 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.

Why Understanding Margin Level Is Important

The margin level percentage is important, as brokers use this figure to determine whether you can open new positions. Many brokerage firms set a minimum margin percentage at 100%. So if your margin percentage drops below that threshold, then you will encounter a margin call — or even a forced liquidation — on one or more of your open trades. If you want to take on new positions, then you’d be forced to sell an existing holding or add more funds to your account.

Margin Level Below 100%

Taking our earlier example a step further, If the market moves against you, and your option values fall to $9,000 on the market, your margin level calculation would decline to below the minimum margin level ($9,000 / $10,000 = 90%). The broker then could issue a margin call.

You have two choices: either sell an existing position or deposit more assets into the account. If you do not act promptly, the broker can sell one of your positions automatically.

Your margin level could fall below 100% based on small moves in the assets you own. Broad market conditions, like volatility, also could affect your account negatively. In an extreme example, Silver Thursday rocked the silver trading market and caused long futures and options positions on silver to suffer severe losses. In turn, this triggered an onslaught of margin calls in the precious metals markets. The moral of the story: It’s important to manage risks carefully when using leverage.

If you’re interested in trading on margin, or just want to know more about it, you’ll need to understand the difference between marginable and non-marginable securities.

The Takeaway

As discussed, the margin level in your options trading account is a formula that tells you how much of your funds are available to open new trades. Trading on margin is an advanced strategy that comes with greater risk than trading other securities, like stocks or ETFs, for example. But while the risks are greater, so are the potential rewards (and losses).

For experienced traders, using margin can enhance buying power. But using margin and leverage introduces additional risk into the mix, which investors should be aware of.

If you’re an experienced trader and have the risk tolerance to try out trading on margin, consider enabling a SoFi margin account. With a SoFi margin account, experienced investors can take advantage of more investment opportunities, and potentially increase returns. That said, margin trading is a high-risk endeavor, and using margin loans can amplify losses as well as gains.

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.

*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.
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.
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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