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Margin involves the use of borrowed money to buy assets, usually securities. It adds layers of risk to a portfolio. It amplifies losses as well as gains, and it subjects the customer to margin calls if the account value (which is the collateral for the margin loan) drops below a certain level.

Investors in Florida and across the United States should think twice before deciding to use margin loans. Brokerage firms are offering customers very low-interest margin loans in this ultra-low interest rate environment, and, surprisingly, many are accepting. In fact, the use of margin accounts is up 65 percent since 2009.

While some investors are aware of this risk, it is our experience, that most people do not realize that a brokerage firm can sell all of your stocks and other securities at firesale prices without giving any notice in order to satisfy a margin call. While firms do sometimes give their customer time to put up more collateral, they are not required to according to the fine print of the typical account agreement. If the market is moving fast against investors, that is when firms are most likely to dispense with the margin call and simply cash investors out, leaving them with big losses and sometimes a big tax bill as well. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, an investor can end up with nothing and owing money to the brokerage firm!

Investors may have legal recourse if a disaster like that occurs, but it can be a long, difficult road to recover these losses.

In addition to traditional margin accounts, other nontraditional lenders are making stock-based loans these days. The same cautions apply. The stocks that serve as collateral can be sold without notice if they fall below a certain level.

Investors should be very leery about margin. It's like playing with fire.

The most important of investors' rights is the right to be informed! This Investors' Rights blog post is by the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., located in Boca Raton, Florida. For over 30 years, Mr. Pearce has tried, arbitrated, and mediated hundreds of disputes involving complex securities, commodities and investment law issues. Our law firm is devoted to protecting investors' rights nationwide! Please visit our website,, post a comment, call (800) 732-2889, or email Mr. Pearce at for answers to any of your questions about this blog post and/or any related matter.