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Investing strategies

Trading violations and penalties

Some trading practices can lead to restrictions on your account. This information can help your transactions go off without a hitch.
8 minute read

Points to know

  • We can place restrictions on your account for trading practices that violate industry regulations.
  • Frequent trading of mutual funds can adversely affect the funds' management. We watch for market-timing.
  • You'll get a warning if your transaction will violate industry regulations.

Avoid these common mistakes

We want your trades to proceed as smoothly and quickly as possible. But we can restrict trading in your accounts if your transactions violate industry regulations and the Vanguard Brokerage Account Agreement.

Here are some common mistakes investors make:

  • Overspending the settlement fund balance.
  • Buying and selling the same lot of shares on the same day.
  • Selling a security that was purchased utilizing an unsettled credit prior to the settlement of the initial sale occurring.

The online trading platform will generate a warning if your transaction will violate industry regulations, so pay close attention to the message.

More details about trading violations

Engaging in freeriding and trade liquidations will limit your flexibility to make new purchases.

Here are the details of each violation.

Freeriding occurs when you buy and sell securities in a cash account without covering the initial purchase.

Example A

You have $3,000 in your settlement fund. You purchase a stock for $4,000. Later that day, you sell the stock for $4,500 without ever paying for the $4,000 purchase. In this instance you incur a freeride because you have funded the purchase of Stock X, in part, with proceeds from the sale of Stock X.

Example B

You have $3,000 in your settlement fund. You purchase Stock X for $3,000 and Stock Y for $1,000. Later that day, you sell Stock X shares you have purchased without bringing in additional cash. In this instance you incur a freeride since the total amount owed for purchases made that day ($4,000) exceeds the settled cash you had to begin the day and you sold one of the securities purchased that same day.

Example C

You have a zero balance in your settlement fund and no pending credits or sales proceeds. On Monday, you sell stock A. Cash proceeds will arrive in your account on Tuesday (the day after the trade was placed). Also on Monday, you buy stock B. You must pay for it on Tuesday (the day after the trade was placed). However, on Monday, you sell stock B. Because the sale of stock A hasn't yet settled, you paid for stock B with unsettled funds.


Your account is restricted for 90 days. During this time, you must have settled funds available before you can buy anything.

This violation occurs when you buy a security without enough funds to cover the purchase and sell another, at a later date, in a cash account.

The settlement of the buy and the subsequent sell don't match, which is a violation. This is also known as a "late sale."


On Monday, you buy stock X. To pay for stock X, you sell stock Y on Tuesday or later. Since each trade settles in 1 business day, you’ll be late paying for stock X, which was purchased on Monday.


Any 3 violations in a rolling 52-week period trigger a 90-day funds-on-hand restriction. During this time, you must have settled funds available before you can buy anything.

Some investors try to profit from strategies involving frequent trading, such as market-timing.

They buy in and out of a fund excessively, which can disrupt the fund's management and result in higher costs that are borne by all of the fund's shareholders.


We look for either of these behaviors:

  • Excessive purchase and redemption activity within the same fund.
  • Excessive exchange activity between 2 or more funds within a short time frame.


Vanguard Brokerage and the fund families whose funds can be traded through Vanguard Brokerage reserve the right to decline a transaction if it appears you're engaging in frequent-trading practices, such as market-timing.

How to avoid trade restrictions

Here are some tips to help you avoid order delays or rejections:

  • Maintain a sufficient settlement fund balance to cover the cost of all purchases, including commissions, fees, and potential market fluctuations of the security you're buying.
  • Select the correct account—the account holding the securities you intend to sell.
  • Check the correct settlement fund when verifying your balance before making a purchase.
  • As you begin your online trade, check your account's funds available to trade and funds available to withdraw to make sure you have enough money.
  • If you're paying for a trade with assets from a Vanguard fund, request the exchange into your settlement fund by the close of regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), usually 4 p.m., Eastern time, on the business day before settlement.
  • Don't sell securities that aren't yet held in your account.
  • Consider margin investing for nonretirement accounts.
  • Take note when buying a security using unsettled funds. You'll incur a restriction if you sell that security before the funds used to buy it settle.
  • Review settlement dates of securities sales that have generated unsettled credits.

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