Overview of Margin Methodologies


The methodology used to calculate the margin requirement for a given position is largely determined by the following three factors:
1.      The product type;
2.      The rules of the exchange on which the product is listed and/or the primary regulator of the carrying broker;
3.      IBKR’s “house” requirements.
While a number of methodologies exist, they tend to be categorized into one of two approaches: rules based or risk based.  Rules based methods generally assume uniform margin rates across like products, offer no inter-product offsets and consider derivative instruments in a manner similar to that of their underlying. In this sense, they offer ease of computation but oftentimes make assumptions which, while simple to execute, may overstate or understate the risk of an instrument relative to its historic performance. A common example of a rules based methodology is the U.S. based Reg. T requirement.
In contrast, risk based methodologies often seek to apply margin coverage reflective of the product’s past performance, recognize some inter-product offsets and seek to model the non-linear risk of derivative products using mathematical pricing models. These methodologies, while intuitive, involve computations which may not be easily replicable by the client. Moreover, to the extent that their inputs rely upon observed market behavior, may result in requirements that are subject to rapid and sizable fluctuation. Examples of risk based methodologies include TIMS and SPAN.
Regardless of whether the methodology is rules or risk based, most brokers will apply “house” margin requirements which serve to increase the statutory, or base, requirement in targeted instances where the broker’s view of exposure is greater than that which would satisfied solely by meeting that base requirement. An overview of the most common risk and rules based methodologies is provided below.
Methodology Overview
Risk Based
a.      Portfolio Margin (TIMS) – The Theoretical Intermarket Margin System, or TIMS, is a risk based methodology created by the Options Clearing Corporation (OCC) which computes the value of the portfolio given a series of hypothetical market scenarios where price changes are assumed and positions revalued. The methodology uses an option pricing model to revalue options and the OCC scenarios are augmented by a number of house scenarios which serve to capture additional risks such as extreme market moves, concentrated positions and shifts in option implied volatilities. In addition, there are certain securities (e.g., Pink Sheet, OTCBB and low cap) for which margin may not be extended. Once the projected portfolio values are determined at each scenario, the one which projects the greatest loss is the margin requirement.
Positions to which the TIMS methodology is eligible to be applied include U.S. stocks, ETFs, options, single stock futures and Non U.S. stocks and options which meet the SEC’s ready market test.
As this methodology uses a much more complex set of computations than one that is rules based, it tends to more accurately model risk and generally offers greater leverage. Given its ability to offer enhanced leverage and that the requirements fluctuate and may react quickly to changing market conditions, it is intended for sophisticated individuals and requires minimum equity of $110,000 to initiate and $100,000 to maintain. Requirements for stocks under this methodology generally range from 15% to 30% with the more favorable requirement applied to portfolios which contain a highly diversified group of stocks which have historically exhibited low volatility and which tend to employ option hedges.
b.       SPAN – Standard Portfolio Analysis of Risk, or SPAN, is a risk-based margin methodology created by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) that is designed for futures and future options.  Similar to TIMS, SPAN determines a margin requirement by calculating the value of the portfolio given a set of hypothetical market scenarios where underlying price changes and option implied volatilities are assumed to change. Again, IBKR will include in these assumptions house scenarios which account for extreme price moves along with the particular impact such moves may have upon deep out-of-the-money options. The scenario which projects the greatest loss becomes the margin requirement. A detailed overview of the SPAN margining system is provided in KB563.
Rules Based
a.      Reg. T – The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve Board, holds responsibility for maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets. It does this, in part, by governing the amount of credit that broker dealers may extend to customers who borrow money to buy securities on margin. 
This is accomplished through Regulation T, or Reg. T as it is commonly referred, which provides for establishment of a margin account and which imposes the initial margin requirement and payment rules on certain securities transactions. For example, on stock purchases, Reg. T currently requires an initial margin deposit by the client equal to 50% of the purchase value, allowing the broker to extend credit or finance the remaining 50%. For example, an account holder purchasing $1,000 worth of securities is required to deposit $500 and allowed to borrow $500 to hold those securities.
Reg. T only establishes the initial margin requirement and the maintenance requirement, the amount necessary to continue holding the position once initiated, is set by exchange rule (25% for stocks). Reg. T also does not establish margin requirements for securities options as this falls under the jurisdiction of the listing exchange’s rules which are subject to SEC approval.  Options held in a Reg.T account are also subject to a rules based methodology where short positions are treated like a stock equivalent and margin relief is provided for spread transactions. Finally, positions held in a qualifying portfolio margin account are exempt from the requirements of Reg. T. 


Where to Learn More

Key margin definitions

Tools provided to monitor and manage margin

Determining buying power

How to determine if you are borrowing funds from IBKR

Why does IBKR calculate and report a margin requirement when I am not borrowing funds?

Trading on margin in an IRA account

What is SMA and how does it work?

Overview of the SPAN margining system

The Standard Portfolio Analysis of Risk (SPAN) is a methodology developed by the CME and used by many clearinghouses and exchanges around the world to calculate the Performance Bond (i.e., margin requirement) on futures and options on futures which the clearinghouse collects from the carrying FCM and the FCM, in turn, from the client.

SPAN establishes margin by determining what the potential worst-case loss a portfolio will sustain over a given time frame (typically set to one day), using a set of 16 hypothetical market scenarios which reflect changes to the underlying price of the future or option contract and, in the case of options, time decay and a change in implied volatility. 

The first step in calculating the SPAN requirement is to organize all positions which share the same ultimate underlying into grouping referred to as a Combined Commodity group. Next, SPAN calculates and aggregates, by like scenario, the risk of each position within a Combined Commodity, with that scenario generating the maximum theoretical loss being the Scan Risk. The 16 scenarios are determined based upon that Combined Commodity’s Price Scan Range (the maximum underlying price movement likely to occur for the given timeframe) and Volatility Scan Range (the maximum implied volatility change likely to occur for options).

Assume a hypothetical portfolio having one long future and a one long put on stock index ABC having an underlying price of $1,000, a multiplier of 100 and a Price Scan Range of 6%.  For this given portfolio, the Scan Risk would be $1,125 scenario 14.





1 Long Future

1 Long Put


Scenario Description





Price unchanged; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price unchanged; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price up 1/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price up 1/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price down 1/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price down 1/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price up 2/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price up 2/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price down 2/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price down 2/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price up 3/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price up 3/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price down 3/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility up the Scan Range





Price down 3/3 Price Scan Range; Volatility down the Scan Range





Price up extreme (3 times the Price Scan Range) * 32%





Price down extreme (3 times the Price Scan Range) * 32%

The Scan Risk charge is then added to any Intra-Commodity Spread Charges (an amount that accounts for the basis risk of futures calendar spreads) and Spot Charges (A charge that covers the increased risk of positions in deliverable instruments near expiration) and is reduced by any offset from an Inter-Commodity Spread Credit (a margin credit for offsetting positions between correlated products).  This sum is then compared to the Short Option Minimum Requirement (ensures that a minimum margin is collected for portfolios containing deep-out-of-the-money options) with the greater of the two being the risk of the Combined Commodity. These calculations are performed for all Combined Commodities with the Total Margin Requirement for a portfolio equal to the sum of the risk of all Combined Commodities less any credit for risk offsets provided between the different Combined Commodities. 

The software for computing SPAN margin requirements, known as PC-SPAN is made available by the CME via its website.

How do you calculate margin requirements on futures and futures options?


Futures options, as well as futures margins, are governed by the exchange through a calculation algorithm known as SPAN margining.  For information on SPAN and how it works, please research the exchange web site for the CME Group, www.cmegroup.com.  From their web site you can run a search for SPAN, which will take you to a wealth of information on the subject and how it works.  The Standard Portfolio Analysis of Risk system is a highly sophisticated methodology that calculates performance bond requirements by analyzing the “what-ifs” of virtually any market scenario.


In general, this is how SPAN works:

SPAN evaluates overall portfolio risk by calculating the worst possible loss that a portfolio of derivative and physical instruments might reasonably incur over a specified time period (typically one trading day.) This is done by computing the gains and losses that the portfolio would incur under different market conditions.  At the core of the methodology is the SPAN risk array, a set of numeric values that indicate how a particular contract will gain or lose value under various conditions. Each condition is called a risk scenario. The numeric value for each risk scenario represents the gain or loss that that particular contract will experience for a particular combination of price (or underlying price) change, volatility change, and decrease in time to expiration. 

The SPAN margin files are sent to IBKR at specific intervals throughout the day by the exchange and are plugged into a SPAN margin calculator.  All futures options will continue to be calculated as having risk until they are expired out of the account or are closed.  The fact that they might be out-of-the-money does not matter.  All scenarios must take into account what could happen in extreme market volatility, and as such the margin impact of these futures options will be considered until the option position ceases to exist.  The SPAN margin requirements are compared against IBKR's pre-defined extreme market move scenarios and the greater of the two are utilized as margin requirement.

IRA: Roth Conversions


Traditional and SEP IRA owners may process a full conversion of cash or securities into a Roth IRA that has identical trading capabilities at Interactive Brokers.

An IRA Roth Conversion is a transfer of Traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA assets into a Roth IRA as a rollover or conversion.

While Interactive Brokers is unable to re-designate a Traditional or SEP IRA as a Roth IRA (e.g. change the same Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA), you may still complete a Roth conversion without sending funds to another brokerage firm.  See below for methods to convert your IRA funds into a Roth IRA.  

Converting Your Funds

Internal Full Conversion Between IB Accounts

Conversion By Rollover Deposit

Conversion By Transfer

IRS Tax Reporting

Click Conversions and Recharacterizations for additional information.


Converting Your Funds

The IRS permits eligible IRA owners to contribute funds to a Roth IRA from a Traditional or SEP IRA.  Regardless of the conversion method used, the entire transaction is treated as a conversion.  There are three (3) conversion methods available for converting into an IB Roth IRA account:

(1) Internal Full Conversion (Cash & Securities)

(2) Rollover Deposit (Cash only)

(3) Trustee-to-Trustee Transfer (Cash only)

  1. Internal Full Conversion:  You may open a Roth IRA at IB and then request a Full (all assets) conversion of a Traditional or SEP IRA through Account Management.  All assets will be internally transferred  into the Roth IRA.  Internally processed Roth conversions submitted by 8:00 PM EST are processed the next business day.

[In Funds Management of the Traditional or SEP IRA, choose: IRA Conversion to Roth Account. Or, click  Position Transfers, then select IRA Conversion - Transfer Assets to Roth Account.]

Note: Select the funding option IRA Conversion or Re-characterization in the Funding section of the account application to perform a full conversion.  For step-by-step instructions, click here.  See Partial IRA Conversions to perform a partial conversion.

  1. Rollover Deposit:  You can receive a distribution from an IRA (Traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE) or qualified plan held outside of Interactive Brokers and roll the funds over (contribute it) to a Roth IRA within 60 days after the distribution.

[In Funds Management of the Roth IRA, choose the following deposit method: Cash Transfers.  In the Transaction List, select Deposit Cash.  In the Method List, select  Check, Wire, Automated Clearing House (A.C.H.), or Direct Rollover. Choose Rollover as the IRA Deposit Type.]

Note: Selecting Rollover designates the deposit as a "conversion contribution," provided funds originate from an IRA or qualified plan.  Select Cash Deposit instructions for step-by-step deposit instructions.

  1. Trustee-to-Trustee Transfer:  You can direct the trustee of an IRA (Traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE) or qualified plan held outside of Interactive Brokers to transfer a cash amount into the Roth IRA account at IB.  Use the IRA Transfer-In Authorization form to initiate your request.

[In Funds Management of the Roth IRA, choose the following deposit method: Cash Transfers.  In the Transaction List, select Deposit Cash.  In the Method List, select  Trustee-to-Trustee.]

Important Note: IB is not responsible for the tax reporting of any funds distributed from the Traditional or SEP  IRA held at another firm.  Customers should speak with a tax advisor before requesting an IRA distribution as withholding tax may apply.  Customers must contact the other firm to ensure that the IRA distribution is appropriately designated. 

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IRS Tax Reporting

The deposit of funds into the Roth IRA is treated by the IRS as a rollover contribution, regardless of the conversion method, and reported to the IRS on Form 5498.  Form 5498 is available by May 31 for the prior year's contributions.

The disbursement of funds from the Traditional or SEP IRA is treated by the IRS as a distribution and reported by IB on the Form 1099-R (report of the distribution).  This tax form is available by January 31 for the prior year's distributions.

For additional information on Forms 5498 and 1099-R, see US Year End Tax Forms.

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Click here to return to the Retirement Account Resource page.

Disclaimer:  IB does not provide tax advice. These statements are provided for information purposes only, are not intended to constitute tax advice which may be relied upon to avoid penalties under any international, federal, state, local or other tax statutes or regulations, and do not resolve any tax issues in your favor. We recommend that you consult a qualified tax adviser.

Glossary terms: 
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