Monday, April 12, 2010

Ending My Margin Adventure

So my margin account adventure ended with a wimper, not a bang. I just logged into my TD Ameritrade account and saw that the "margin balance," or what the exam calls the "debit register" or "debit balance," is at zero. After selling the 90 shares of HSP (Hospira) for $4,723 on March 1, the "DR" or "margin balance" sat stubbornly at eight or nine dollars, increasing gradually with the margin interest charges. Too lazy to deposit money into the account, I just waited for the next dividend payment to come in, and on April 1 and April 7 three little dividends came in--$5.60, $5.50, and $7.60--from Northern Trust, Bancorp South, and Merck, respectively. They're all marked "qualified dividends," which means that--until and unless Congress and the President (fiscal policy) take the kinder, gentler tax rate of 15% away--those little payments are darned tax efficient, even if this is just a taxable brokerage account. Your exam calls this type of investment account a "margin account," but that just means it's approved for margin. IF I want or need to, I can purchase securities on margin or borrow money against the value of my stock and bond assets. However, I have never bought securities "on margin," and I have only taken one margin loan against "SMA."
So, what did I learn from my 10-month adventure in margin?

  1. Being forced to sell stock to pay the margin loan is really stupid. Those 90 shares of Hospira that I sold to pay off the loan would have generated $1,000 in dividends over my holding period and possibly increased in value by 50-100%.
  2. The real world uses different terminology than the Series 7, but the concepts are exactly the same as what you study for your exam. My account doesn't use the term "SMA," or "debit balance," but you quickly get used to the terms "available funds for trading" and "margin balance."
  3. I will never use margin again.

My adventure was highly educational, and the $4,000 loan was totally necessary when I took it. But, if you see me blogging about another adventure in margin, please remind me that I no longer engage in that sort of foolishness.

I could borrow $4,790.72 from "SMA" right now with just a few clicks of the mouse, but I won't do it. Just like I won't walk down to the liquor store at the end of the block this evening. Nothing illegal about either activity, but as someone who has experienced both destructive pursuits, I can say with confidence that I'm better off without it.

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