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Limited margin trading within an IRA

  • By Fidelity Learning Center
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What is limited margin?

Trading on margin enables you to borrow against the value of securities you own in your brokerage account and use those funds to buy additional securities. Margin accounts also enable you to sell securities short, execute complex options strategies, and access a line of credit.

If you are looking to trade on margin within a brokerage IRA, you will not be able to access the full range of margin trading features noted above. However, IRA accounts do offer what’s known as “limited margin.”

Limited margin means you can use unsettled cash proceeds in your IRA to trade stocks and options actively without worrying about cash account trading restrictions or potential good faith violations. Unlike a non-retirement account that has full margin trading privileges, limited margin doesn’t allow you to borrow against the value of existing holdings to create cash or margin debits, sell securities short, or establish naked options positions.

Limited margin is available for most types of IRA accounts, including Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs. In order to qualify for limited margin, you must meet eligibility requirements and read and agree to a limited margin account supplement.

Limited margin eligibility requirements

To be approved for limited margin at Fidelity, the investment objective on your IRA must be “Most Aggressive.” You must also maintain minimum equity of $25,000 or more within your account. Some brokerage firms, including Fidelity, have additional requirements. For example, at Fidelity you cannot select an FDIC-insured vehicle as your core account option within your account. Other restrictions may apply, so be sure to check the eligibility requirements on your broker dealer’s website.

Once your IRA is approved for limited margin, your positions will be transferred to margin and future trades will default to the margin account type, rather than your cash account type. If you intend to trade stocks or options actively, you should refer to your Intraday Buying Power balance. This balance updates throughout the trading day to reflect trade executions, money movement into and out of the account, core cash, and buying power allocated to open orders. Click here to see the Balances page on Fidelity.com and read more about these values.

Margin calls within IRA accounts

If the equity in your IRA falls below $25,000 at any point, a day trade minimum equity call will be issued. Until you add more funds to meet the minimum equity requirement, you will be limited to closing transactions only (sell orders) in your margin account. You will have five business days to restore your account to the $25,000 minimum with a deposit of cash or marginable securities.

Keep in mind that annual IRA contribution limits will put a cap on the amount you can deposit to your account to meet a day trade minimum equity call. If you are unable to meet a day trade minimum equity call, your day trade buying power will be restricted for 90 days. This means your account will be limited to closing transactions only (sell orders) in the margin account type. Buy orders in the cash account may be permitted, but will be subject to normal cash trading rules. To avoid such restrictions, it is important to be aware of the equity in your account and consider it before placing trades.

Placing trades using limited margin

Remember, once you’ve been approved for limited margin, future trades will automatically be placed within the margin account type within the limited margin account, unless you opt to place trades in your cash account type. This is an important point because if you day trade within your cash account type, these transactions will be subject to cash account trading restrictions and potential good faith violations.

Avoiding good faith violations with limited margin

A good faith violation occurs when you buy a security in your cash account and sell it before paying for the initial purchase in full with settled funds. Only cash or the sales proceeds of fully paid for securities qualify as “settled funds.” 

The following example illustrates how a hypothetical trader (Marty) could incur good faith violations within an IRA that has NOT been approved for limited margin:

Good Faith Violation Example – Marty:

  • Cash available to trade = $10,000.00, all of which is settled
  • On Monday morning, Marty buys $10,000 of XYZ stock
  • On Monday at mid-day, Marty sells XYZ stock for $10,500

At this point, Marty has not incurred a good faith violation because he had sufficient settled funds to pay for the XYZ stock at the time of the purchase.

Let’s continue the example.

  • Near the market close on Monday, Marty buys $10,500 of ABC stock
  • On Wednesday afternoon, he sells ABC stock, but incurs a good faith violation

The sale of ABC stock triggered a good faith violation because Marty sold ABC before the proceeds of Monday’s sale of XYZ stock settled and became available to pay for the purchase of ABC stock.

As this example illustrates, if you trade actively within the cash portion of your IRA there is a higher chance that you may execute a trade using unsettled funds. This would cause you to incur a cash trading violation, such as a good faith violation.

However, if you instead trade using limited margin, you won’t have to worry about the repercussions of cash account trading restrictions or potential good faith violations as long as you maintain a $25,000 minimum equity in your account, as this feature allows you to trade using unsettled proceeds to buy and sell securities in your IRA.

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Trading on limited margin entails greater risk, including but not limited to risk of loss and is not suitable for all investors. Please assess your financial circumstances and risk tolerance prior to trading on limited margin. If your trading strategy creates a short position or debit balance in your Fidelity IRA core account, such short position or debit balance must immediately be covered with other assets from your Fidelity IRA. If you are unable to do so, Fidelity may be required to sell all or a portion of your assets

In order to short sell at Fidelity, you must have a margin account. Short selling and margin trading entail greater risk, including, but not limited to, risk of unlimited losses and incurrence of margin interest debt, and are not suitable for all investors. Please assess your financial circumstances and risk tolerance before short selling or trading on margin. Margin trading is extended by National Financial Services, Member NYSE, SIPC, a Fidelity Investments company.

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Good faith violation

Note that if you incur three good faith violations in a 12-month period, your brokerage firm will restrict your account. This means you will only be able to buy securities if you have sufficient settled cash in the account prior to placing a trade. This restriction will be effective for 90 calendar days.