timothy sykes logo

Penny Stock Basics

Buying on Margin: What It Is, Examples, Advantages, & Risks

Timothy SykesAvatar
Written by Timothy Sykes
Updated 10/15/2021 15 min read

One of the most common mistakes I see new traders make is buying on margin. They do it before they have enough experience to understand the risks. 

Most new traders enter the market with a few hundred or thousand dollars. That’s typically money they can afford to lose. But if you start trading with borrowed money or money you need to pay your rent next month, I’ve gotta say something: DON’T do it.

Trading is a dangerous profession. Scores of day traders lose money in their first year. It takes time to become consistently profitable. Save up some money and give yourself a real chance of becoming one of my successful students

If you’re starting with a small account, let me explain why you should avoid buying on margin at all costs…

What Is Buying on Margin?

Buying on margin happens with nearly all asset classes. If you purchase a house, odds are you’ll buy it on margin. You put about 20% down and finance the remaining 80%. When you buy anything using margin, it simply means a part of the purchase is borrowed money from a bank or a broker.

The same way you can buy a house with a small down payment, traders can buy stocks on margin to increase the number of shares they’re eligible to purchase. This can be tempting for a lot of people… 

Buying stocks on margin — in theory — can allow traders to make more money quickly. But the risks are substantially higher.

In the U.S., traders and investors are limited by the pattern day trader (PDT) rule. One stipulation of this rule limits the level of margin accessible to traders with accounts under $25,000. While under the PDT, traders only have access to a 2:1 margin. So traders with $5,000 accounts can buy $10,000 worth of stock. 

But traders over the PDT rule can buy stocks intraday on margin at a 4:1 ratio. That high level of leverage is very dangerous to inexperienced traders … but we’ll dig deeper into that in a bit. 

Buying On Margin vs. Short Selling

jack kellogg and sykes in italy
© Millionaire Media, LLC

Note that buying on margin isn’t the same as short selling. Both strategies require a margin account but have very different implementations. 

When you short sell, you need a margin account. You’re selling an instrument you don’t own. The cash in your account is collateral for the position to ensure you’ll buy back the shorted shares in the future. 

Buying stocks on margin uses the same collateral principle, but you’re using money you don’t have instead of selling a stock you don’t own. The cash in your margin account is the broker’s guarantee on the loaned margin. The broker will liquidate your position if your position moves sharply against you and puts their loan at risk. 

So say you’re a trader under the PDT, using your full margin, and the stock drops by 50%. The broker has the right to liquidate your account. The liquidation clause is part of the margin account agreement you sign when you open a margin account. 

How Do You Buy on Margin?

The first step to buy on margin is to open a margin account with your broker. 

Most brokers default new accounts to a cash account. Any trader can have a cash account, regardless of their credit history. Assuming you have a solid credit history, you can open a margin account with most brokers by filling out a simple form. 

Next, you need to have enough money to meet the broker’s margin requirements. Every broker has a different margin requirement. Some overseas brokers have a margin requirement as low as $500. Many licensed brokers in the U.S. have a margin requirement of $2,000. 

Once you have a margin account, buying on margin is pretty straightforward. When you try to make a purchase, your broker will inform you of the amount of margin you can use on a given stock. 

It’s common that volatile or sketchy penny stocks are margin restricted. That means you can’t use margin because the broker isn’t willing to lend you margin. However, stable companies like blue-chip stocks are rarely margin restricted.

You have to be smart with this leveraging power. You’d be surprised how often people message me because they blew up their accounts using margin … AND we haven’t even discussed margin interest costs yet. 

Buying on Margin Examples

tim sykes grand canyon
© Millionaire Media, LLC

Most people are unfamiliar with buying on margin — they’ve always used a cash account. 

So let’s walk through an example.

Let’s say you research company XYZ and think the stock will be an excellent investment for 2020. I’ll keep this simple and ignore any fees or interest charges your broker will charge you. 

Currently, company XYZ trades for $100 per share. You’d like to purchase 100 shares of XYZ, which would cost you $10,000 without margin. However, you have a margin account under the PDT. Your broker allows you to use 2:1 leverage on the cash in your account. 

Now, instead of having to use $10,000 to buy 100 shares, you only need to have $5,000 in your account. You buy the other $5,000 on margin. 

After owning the stock for one year, XYZ’s price doubles to $200 a share. Since you were right about the investment, you decide to sell your shares and collect $20,000. But you gotta pay the broker back that $5,000. 

Once you pay the broker back, you have $15,000. You tripled your account in one year. Those 200% gains are great, right? Let’s look at the other side of this story…

In another reality, stock XYZ had a tough year and lost half its value. It ends the year at $50 per share. You sell your shares for $5,000. Even though the stock lost its value, you still have to pay the broker back the $5,000 they loaned you. So one bad investment resulted in your losing your entire account. 

So yeah … buying on margin can mean awesome gains … But the harsh reality is the possibility of blowing up your account. If you used a cash account in this case, you’d still lose money. But you wouldn’t have blown up your entire account on one trade. 

How Does Buying Stock on Margin Work?

There’s nothing new about buying stocks on margin. Traders, brokers, and investors have used margin for most of the stock market’s lifetime. 

At its core, margin is a loan from your broker. And the broker charges an interest rate. Typically, the interest rate on margin is lower than credit card interest. But it can eat into your profit potential if you use margin for an extended period of time. 

Specific margin interest rates depend on your broker and the overall interest rates in the economy. 

To simplify this, suppose your broker charges 10% interest annually for any margin used. If you use margin for a short period, you won’t be charged the full 10% annual rate. The amount of interest you pay for the margin loan depends on how long you hold the stock position. 

Here’s how you can calculate the borrowing cost: 

  1. Take the amount of money you borrowed ($5,000 from the example above).
  2. Multiply that amount by the interest rate ($5,000 x 10% = $500).
  3. Divide the calculated number by the number of days in a year ($500 / 365 days = 1.369).
  4. Multiply by the number of days you used the margin, for this example 10 days (1.369 x 10 = $13.69)

In this example, if you hold the stock for ten days, you’d pay $13.69 in interest on the $5,000 margin to purchase stock XYZ. 

The Advantages of Buying on Margin

I’m sure you can imagine the massive advantages of using margin with your investing. It can be tempting to want to go all-in with margin. But it’s extremely dangerous

Could your investment double? Sure…

But it could just as quickly drop by 50%. 

One good trade could potentially be life-changing, but you can’t think of the stock market like a lottery ticket. 

It takes time to become a consistent trader. One massive trade won’t make that happen. All of my top students learned to take small wins and cut losses over and over again. That’s exactly what I teach in my Trading Challenge

The Risks of Buying on Margin

Tim Sykes studying and trading
© Millionaire Media, LLC

From all the people I’ve taught over the last ten years, very few were successful using margin in their first few years of trading. The leverage is too dangerous for newbies. 

The learning curve for trading is steep. A lot of people blow up their accounts along the way. Some grow impatient and dissatisfied with small gains. So they think it’s smart to use margin. 

Buying stocks on margin is like playing with fire. I say this a lot: Never risk money you can’t afford to lose. If you’re using margin, odds are you don’t have enough money in your accounts to place that trade. 

Sadly, for many newbies, buying on margin only increases the chance that they’ll blow up. Don’t fall for this trap. 

Instead, apply for my Trading Challenge. Learn how you can trade small and take singles — without using margin. Don’t rush your process. That only leads to destruction and disappointment. 

My goal is to teach you to be a self-sufficient trader, so you can trade through any kind of market. 

For access to my 6,000+ video lessons, subscribe to Pennystocking Silver. That’s just one way you can learn from my 20+ years of experience trading penny stocks.

Frequently Asked Questions About Buying on Margin

I talk to so many traders on social media. Across all my channels, traders ask me the same questions about margin and buying stocks on margin. 

To save everyone some time, I compiled some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten over the last few months about buying on margin… 

Is Buying on Margin a Good Idea?

Post image

Get my weekly watchlist, free

Sign up to jump start your trading education!

In my opinion, in 99% of cases, buying on margin is a bad idea. I’ve seen far too many good traders blow up because they borrow and then let a position get out of control. 

Traders can use a margin account so they don’t have to wait for their cash to settle before placing another trade. But just because you can use margin doesn’t mean you SHOULD. 

How Can Traders Benefit From Buying on Margin?

Buying on margin can increase your buying power. Trading large companies is nearly impossible with a small account. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), for example, trades for almost $2,000 a share. If you only have a $2,000 account, you can only buy one share of AMZN. 

Using margin on well-established companies can be beneficial. Typically these companies move less than 10% a year. Using a standard margin account, those returns could be doubled. 

Why Is Buying on Margin Dangerous?

It’s much easier for a stock to lose 50% of its value than to gain 100% of its value. 

When buying on margin, the danger comes from the increased risks and odds of blow up. After you buy a stock on margin, you’re responsible for all the losses. Even though you technically only own half of the position. 

Trade smart — avoid margin. None of my top students use margin anyway. 

How Did Buying on Margin Contribute to the Great Depression?

Buying on margin helped cause Black Tuesday, which started the Great Depression. Prior to the Black Tuesday crash, people around the country were using massive margin. They sometimes used 9:1 leverage to buy stocks at inflated prices. 

A lot of U.S. citizens were overconfident in the economy and stock market. Due to a large amount of margin available in the market, stocks went up too fast. That caused a bubble. When the bubble burst, it nearly crippled the entire U.S. economy. 

Who Should Buy on Margin?

Only experienced traders. I’ve never used margin and probably never will. Most traders should avoid margin, especially if they’re trading sketchy penny stocks. 

There’s a risk with every investment. Some people have a higher risk tolerance than others and won’t heed my advice. They’ll be the most likely to blow up their entire accounts. 


© Millionaire Media, LLC

I’m not a huge proponent of using margin to buy stocks. The risks far outweigh the potential returns … especially when you factor in interest and fees. 

Also, I think we’re at a turning point in the global economic cycle. For the last 10 years, the world has experienced the longest bull market in history. It’s only natural that we’ll experience a pullback. In other words, buying anything on margin today is highly risky. 

I know there will be some people who will bash my advice because they got lucky and doubled their account. Cool — good for you. I’m curious where you’ll be in a year. 

Meanwhile, my students and I will keep focusing on taking singles and cutting losses quickly. We aim to grow our accounts one trade at a time. 

Want to learn more about penny stocks? Check out this book by my student Jamil (I wrote the forward): “The Complete Penny Stock Course.”

Get my FREE penny stock guide here and sign up for my FREE weekly stock watchlist here: https://timsykeswatchlist.com/.

Wanna learn how to adapt to any kind of market? Apply for my Trading Challenge today. My goal is to teach you to think for yourself and be a self-sufficient trader. But you’ve gotta be willing to do the work…

Tell me what YOU think of this post … does margin sound worth it to you? Leave a comment below!

How much has this post helped you?

Leave a reply

Author card Timothy Sykes picture

Timothy Sykes

Tim Sykes is a penny stock trader and teacher who became a self-made millionaire by the age of 22 by trading $12,415 of bar mitzvah money. After becoming disenchanted with the hedge fund world, he established the Tim Sykes Trading Challenge to teach aspiring traders how to follow his trading strategies. He’s been featured in a variety of media outlets including CNN, Larry King, Steve Harvey, Forbes, Men’s Journal, and more. He’s also an active philanthropist and environmental activist, a co-founder of Karmagawa, and has donated millions of dollars to charity. Read More

* Results are not typical and will vary from person to person. Making money trading stocks takes time, dedication, and hard work. There are inherent risks involved with investing in the stock market, including the loss of your investment. Past performance in the market is not indicative of future results. Any investment is at your own risk. See Terms of Service here

The available research on day trading suggests that most active traders lose money. Fees and overtrading are major contributors to these losses.

A 2000 study called “Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors” evaluated 66,465 U.S. households that held stocks from 1991 to 1996. The households that traded most averaged an 11.4% annual return during a period where the overall market gained 17.9%. These lower returns were attributed to overconfidence.

A 2014 paper (revised 2019) titled “Learning Fast or Slow?” analyzed the complete transaction history of the Taiwan Stock Exchange between 1992 and 2006. It looked at the ongoing performance of day traders in this sample, and found that 97% of day traders can expect to lose money from trading, and more than 90% of all day trading volume can be traced to investors who predictably lose money. Additionally, it tied the behavior of gamblers and drivers who get more speeding tickets to overtrading, and cited studies showing that legalized gambling has an inverse effect on trading volume.

A 2019 research study (revised 2020) called “Day Trading for a Living?” observed 19,646 Brazilian futures contract traders who started day trading from 2013 to 2015, and recorded two years of their trading activity. The study authors found that 97% of traders with more than 300 days actively trading lost money, and only 1.1% earned more than the Brazilian minimum wage ($16 USD per day). They hypothesized that the greater returns shown in previous studies did not differentiate between frequent day traders and those who traded rarely, and that more frequent trading activity decreases the chance of profitability.

These studies show the wide variance of the available data on day trading profitability. One thing that seems clear from the research is that most day traders lose money .

Millionaire Media 66 W Flagler St. Ste. 900 Miami, FL 33130 United States (888) 878-3621 This is for information purposes only as Millionaire Media LLC nor Timothy Sykes is registered as a securities broker-dealer or an investment adviser. No information herein is intended as securities brokerage, investment, tax, accounting or legal advice, as an offer or solicitation of an offer to sell or buy, or as an endorsement, recommendation or sponsorship of any company, security or fund. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes cannot and does not assess, verify or guarantee the adequacy, accuracy or completeness of any information, the suitability or profitability of any particular investment, or the potential value of any investment or informational source. The reader bears responsibility for his/her own investment research and decisions, should seek the advice of a qualified securities professional before making any investment, and investigate and fully understand any and all risks before investing. Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes in no way warrants the solvency, financial condition, or investment advisability of any of the securities mentioned in communications or websites. In addition, Millionaire Media LLC and Timothy Sykes accepts no liability whatsoever for any direct or consequential loss arising from any use of this information. This information is not intended to be used as the sole basis of any investment decision, nor should it be construed as advice designed to meet the investment needs of any particular investor. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future returns.

Citations for Disclaimer

Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors. Available at SSRN: “Day Trading for a Living?”

Barber, Brad M. and Lee, Yi-Tsung and Liu, Yu-Jane and Odean, Terrance and Zhang, Ke, Learning Fast or Slow? (May 28, 2019). Forthcoming: Review of Asset Pricing Studies, Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=2535636”

Chague, Fernando and De-Losso, Rodrigo and Giovannetti, Bruno, Day Trading for a Living? (June 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=3423101”