Cash Account vs. Margin Account

Cash Account vs. Margin Account: Definition, Key Differences Explained

What is a Cash Account?

A Cash Account is a basic type of brokerage account where all transactions are made using the cash available in the account. In other words, investors can only purchase securities with the funds they have deposited in the account. When you buy stocks or other assets in a cash account, you pay the full purchase price, and you cannot borrow money from the broker to make the purchase.

Key Features of a Cash Account:

  1. No Borrowing: In a cash account, you cannot borrow funds from your broker to buy securities. You can only use the cash you have in the account.
  2. Settlement Period: After selling securities in a cash account, the funds from the sale usually take a few days to settle before you can use them to make new purchases.
  3. No Margin Calls: Since you are not borrowing money, there are no margin calls in a cash account. This means you won’t face the risk of forced liquidation even if the value of your investments drops.
  4. Less Risky: Cash accounts are generally considered less risky than margin accounts since you are limited to trading with your available cash balance.

What is a Margin Account?

A Margin Account, on the other hand, is a more advanced type of brokerage account that allows investors to borrow money from their broker to purchase securities. With a margin account, you can leverage your buying power and potentially increase your returns on investments. However, it’s essential to understand that trading on margin also comes with higher risks.

Key Features of a Margin Account:

  1. Borrowing Power: One of the main advantages of a margin account is the ability to borrow funds from the broker to buy securities, thus magnifying your purchasing power.
  2. Margin Trading: In a margin account, you can engage in margin trading, which involves buying more shares than you could afford with just your cash balance.
  3. Margin Interest: When you borrow money from your broker, you will be charged margin interest on the borrowed amount. This interest adds to your trading costs.
  4. Margin Calls: Trading on margin exposes you to the risk of margin calls. If the value of your investments declines significantly, your broker may issue a margin call, requiring you to deposit more funds into your account to meet the minimum margin requirement.

Key Differences

Cash Account vs. Margin Account
Cash Account vs. Margin Account

Initial Investment Requirement

In a cash account, you are required to deposit the full amount of the investment before making any purchase. For example, if you want to buy $5,000 worth of stocks, you must have $5,000 in cash available in your account. In contrast, a margin account allows you to make investments with a smaller initial deposit, known as the margin requirement. This margin requirement is usually set by the brokerage and is a percentage of the total investment value.


Leverage is a significant distinction between the two accounts. In a cash account, you cannot leverage your positions as you can only use the available cash. However, in a margin account, you can borrow funds from the brokerage to increase your purchasing power and potentially amplify your returns. While leverage can magnify gains, it also exposes you to higher risks, as losses can also be multiplied.

Interest Charges

In a cash account, you do not have to worry about paying interest on the funds you invest since you are using your own cash. On the contrary, a margin account involves borrowing funds, and the brokerage will charge you interest on the borrowed amount. The interest rates can vary, so it’s essential to consider this cost when trading on margin.

Risk Tolerance

Understanding your risk tolerance is crucial when deciding between a cash account and a margin account. Cash accounts are generally considered less risky since you are only investing money you already have. Margin accounts, on the other hand, carry higher risks due to the potential for losses exceeding your initial investment. Before opting for a margin account, it’s essential to assess your risk tolerance and investment objectives carefully.

Trading Restrictions

Cash accounts have fewer trading restrictions compared to margin accounts. With a cash account, you can buy and hold securities for as long as you want without being subject to pattern day trading rules. However, in a margin account, the pattern day trading rule comes into play. According to this rule, if you execute four or more day trades within five business days, you are classified as a pattern day trader and must maintain a minimum account balance of $25,000.

Short Selling

Short selling, which involves betting on a stock’s price decline, is not allowed in cash accounts. On the contrary, margin accounts enable short selling, allowing traders to profit from falling stock prices.

Margin Calls

One significant risk associated with margin accounts is the possibility of receiving a margin call. If the value of the securities in your account declines, your account equity may fall below the required maintenance margin. When this happens, the brokerage may issue a margin call, requiring you to deposit additional funds or sell securities to bring the account back to the required level.

Day Trading Rules

Day trading rules apply only to margin accounts, not cash accounts. In addition to the pattern day trading rule, margin accounts must adhere to other regulations regarding leverage and the number of day trades that can be executed based on the account balance.

Tax Implications

Cash accounts and margin accounts may have different tax implications. It’s essential to consult with a tax advisor to understand the tax consequences of each type of account based on your individual circumstances.

Choosing the Right Account

The decision between a Cash Account and a Margin Account depends on your investment goals, risk tolerance, and financial situation. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right account type:

Risk Tolerance: If you prefer a lower-risk approach and are content with a slower growth rate, a Cash Account may be suitable for you.

Leverage and Growth Potential: If you are comfortable with higher risk and seek potential higher returns, a Margin Account might be more appealing.

Cost Considerations: If minimizing trading costs is essential to you, a Cash Account is generally more cost-effective.

Market Knowledge and Experience: Trading on margin requires a deeper understanding of the markets and risk management. If you are a beginner, starting with a Cash Account is often recommended.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Investing: Consider the time horizon of your investments. Long-term investors might prefer the simplicity of a Cash Account, while short-term traders might benefit from a Margin Account’s leverage.


Can I switch between a cash account and a margin account? Yes, you can switch between account types by contacting your brokerage and requesting the change.

What happens if my margin account falls below the maintenance margin? If the equity in your margin account falls below the maintenance margin requirement, you will receive a margin call from your brokerage to either deposit additional funds or sell securities to meet the requirement.

Are there any restrictions on short selling in a margin account? While short selling is generally allowed in a margin account, some stocks may be subject to short sale restrictions, known as a “short-sale circuit breaker.”

What are the tax implications of trading in a margin account? Profits and losses in a margin account are subject to capital gains taxes. However, the tax treatment may vary based on factors such as holding period and individual tax bracket.

Can I day trade in a cash account? Yes, you can day trade in a cash account, but you need to be aware of the pattern day trading rule that applies only to margin accounts.

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