Margin Debt

Updated on May 24, 2024
Article byVivek Shah
Edited byAaron Crowe
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What is Margin Debt?

Margin Debt is defined as the money an investor borrows from a stockbroker for investment purposes in the margin account, where the stocks purchased can be used as collateral for this loan, the portion of the stock purchase which is borrowed from the stockbroker is margin debt and other portion which is self-funded is known as margin or equity.


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Margin debt chart is a facility provided by the central authorities to lure investors and encourage investments; it can be used to buy a security or borrow security in short-selling. Although regulation T sets the initial margin requirement at 50%, and the maintenance margin is at 25%, failure to adhere to these requirements will give the broker the right to liquidate the investment. Therefore, the risk and rewards linked to this debt must be studied carefully before utilizing this provision.

How Does the Margin Debt Work?

Margin debt is the borrowed money of an investor derived from their stock broker to make investments in their margin account. A part of the funds is borrowed and the other part is funded by the investors themselves which is known as equity or margin.

Let us understand the movement of the margin debt graph through the discussion below.

#1 – Initial Margin

  • This is the money an investor must initially put in the margin account to buy or sell shares.
  • As per the Federal Reserve Board’s regulation 1974, the broker can only fund up to 50% of the initial investment in the margin account.

#2 – Paying off Margin Debt

  • Margin debt need not be paid until the investor maintains an adequate level of equity in the account.
  • Interest is being charged on the borrowed amount, and the investor will pay accrued interest as a loan balance.
  • The interest rate must be lower than the stock growth rate for the investor to earn some profit or at least equal to avoid possible losses.

#3 – Maintenance Margin

  • As mentioned earlier, the stocks in the margin account act as collateral against the money borrowed, so the investor must maintain the value of the stock.
  • As per the margin requirements, if the stock value falls below a certain level, the investor must sell off some equity to match the margin debt or add some money to maintain that stock balance.
  • For example, the maintenance margin is 25% of the equity bought; an investor has bought shares worth $10,000, invested $5000, and is margin debt.
  • Unfortunately, the stock value falls to $1000. So, ideally, the value of equity has been reduced to 10%. In this situation, the investor gets a margin call to maintain the 25% equity requirement or sell off some equity portion.

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History of Margin Debt in the USA

The margin debt graph in the United States has seen its ups and downs throughout history, especially due to the risk of liquidation and high fees in the event of default. Let us briefly understand the history of margin debt in the U.S.

  • After the 1929 market crash, federal authorities had given the responsibility of margin loans to SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) Regulation T in 1934.
  • The initial margin requirement has changed 22 times between 1934 and 1974, ranging from as high as 100% and as low as 40%.
  • Since then, several perceptions have been regarding margin requirements, especially between 1980 and 1990. Fed decided to accurately measure the risk using theoretical intermarket margin systems (TIMS), first implemented in 1997 to calculate the net capital requirement for brokers.


Let us understand the significance of a margin debt chart with the help of an example below.

Adam, an investor wanted to purchase 100 shares of Apple worth $10 each,. He only had $500 instead of the required $1000. Therefore, he opened a margin account and borrowed the remaining 50% of the funds from his brokerage firm and collateralized that loan with Apple shares in the report. So, here $500 from Adam has initially become the initial margin, and the balance is margin debt.

So, there are two scenarios where Apple prices can go up or stumble down; if the price soars, it is beneficial for the investor. However, if Apple falls below 25%, i.e., below $2.5, the broker has to make a margin call to the investor, asking them to maintain the maintenance margin in the account.

Buying shares and margin debt can also be used to borrow security for short selling.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Let us understand the advantages and disadvantages for an investor who keeps a close eye on their margin debt graph through the discussion below.


  • An investor can benefit from the upside of any stock without investing 100% using margin debt. The investor has to pay the interest, which will reduce the profits against the investor who has invested 100% in cash to buy the stock. However, paying off a portion of the profit as interest is more beneficial than parking huge liquidity.
  • Margin debt facility encourages investment opportunities for the investors; more and more people will be lured to use this provision to earn handsome profits with the surge in markets.
  • As more investors invest in the stock market, it will increase liquidity in the economy and boost up different sectors in the country since they will enjoy a high market capitalization.
  • In the upside scenario, it is a win-win situation for all the parties involved in the trade; the investor earns profit, the broker earns interest on the margin debt, and the stock company enjoys high market capitalization.


  • Since the broker’s money is used for investment, there is a possibility that if the stock goes down, the alarm bell starts to ring for the broker to maintain the margin requirement.
  • This facility will help an investor with low liquidity to invest in the market; however, in case of failure to meet the maintenance margin requirement, the broker has to bear the loss after selling off the equity in the account.
  • A large portion of the broker’s fund is parked in the market as Margin debt for its clients; in case of the market crash, there is a huge amount of risk since the broker has the maximum liquidity blocked.

This has been a guide to what is Margin Debt. Here we discuss how margin debt works, its examples, advantages, and disadvantages. You can learn more about from the following articles –