This post was originally published on Mr. Cheap’s original blog. When he brought over all his posts – some of them didn’t make it so I’m planning to publish a few of them over time.
I recently got my first margin call from E*Trade for about $3K. It scared the hell out of me, not because I could pay (I had the money sitting in a cash account and just transferred it over), but the call was unexpected and I was worried that I misunderstood the system to the degree that I had triggered it.
The day after the call, I got on the phone to E*Trade and admitted that I’d had a margin call, told them that it was no problem paying it (and I’d already transferred the funds), but that I didn’t understand what had put me into a margin call situation. The man on the phone didn’t apologise, but it turns out that the problem was on E*Trades end and they considered a bunch of “safe” stocks (which they’ll loan 70% of the stock value on) as “riskier” stocks (which they’ll loan 50% on). He told me the call wouldn’t be enforced, and after checking my account assured me I was fine (even if I hadn’t transferred the cash in).
I used the situation to get more details about margin calls and what would have happened if it had been a real call. Apparently the speed on which they’ll sell your stocks depends how far over the line you are (he said they’ll give you 3 or 4 days if you’re just a little over, bit will sell immediately if you’re significantly past your limit). I asked him for good customers with a conservative portfolio if they ever will waive a margin call or increase their loaned %, and it turns out that its actually a law how much they can allow people to buy on credit (so short answer, no).
In the end I was happy to have my understanding of the margin account challenged (and happy that it was a problem on their end and not in my understanding). I learned some new things about my account, which is always a good thing.