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Hypothecation: Meaning, Risks and Examples 


Hypothecation is the practice of pledging collateral in order to secure debt. This comes up most often in mortgage lending, but it can apply to any kind of debt. It shows up in investing, but hypothecation and riskier rehypothecation can have consequences for homeowners. Learn the basics of hypothecation and how it works.

A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan for your investing needs and goals.

Hypothecation: The Basics 

As mentioned earlier, hypothecation is the practice of using collateral to secure debt. But did you know it can apply to anything from your home’s mortgage to your car loan?

For example, when you take out a mortgage on a home, you technically own the home.  But the bank actually uses it as collateral in case you deault on your payments.  Or when you take out a loan when buying a car, that loan is based on the collateral provided. In short, your car. That means that though you technically own your car or home, the bank or loan holder can seize it should you fall behind on your payments.

Anytime you pledge collateral as a means to secure a loan, it involves hypothecation. This is unlike an unsecured loan, which lenders issue based primarily on your creditworthiness, among other factors

Hypothecation in Investing 

For different reasons, hypothecation can also pertain to your investment portfolio. Hypothecation investing occurs when an investor takes part in margin lending in brokerage accounts. That’s because when an investor buys stocks or other securities on margin, they are actually borrowing funds from a broker to do so.  They automatically agree to sell these securities in the event of a margin call.

Remember, a margin call is when an investor borrows money from a broker to make an investment (i.e. margin lending) and the investor’s ownership falls below a certain threshold, also called a maintenance margin.

But where does collateral come in? The other assets within the brokerage account that the investor fully owns serve as collateral and can be sold to cover losses.

Keep in mind that sometimes lenders can use an investor’s collateral as collateral for one of their own obligations, also called rehypothecation. This can sometimes create market risk, depending on how many times the assets have been rehypothecated.

Why Hypothecation Matters 

SmartAsset Investing Guide: Hypothecation

First, we’ll talk about why hypothecation matters for those using it to secure debt. Putting it simply, hypothecation matters to a borrower because it involves collateral. In other words, if you borrow funds with collateral and default on that debt, whatever you used as collateral is at risk.

For example, if you fail to pay your mortgage, even though you technically own your home, your bank or lender can still seize it. This is called foreclosure. The same goes for your car loan. If you engaged in hypothecation, i.e. using collateral to obtain better financing for your vehicle, you can still lose your car is you fail to make payments.  So hypothecation matters to borrowers because it indicates which of their assets a lender can repossess in the event of default or financial distress.

It also matters in the investing world. Remember, hypothecation in investing is when an investor purchases securities on margin. In that agreement, they can sell these securities in the event of a margin call. Also, they can cover losses by selling other assets in the brokerage account. That means that with hypothecation in investing comes a certain amount of risk.


This is when lenders meet obligations by using your collateral as collateral. Other lenders use that collateral to meet their owns obligations, and so on. Meanwhile, lenders don’t have to notify you if they are engaging in rehypothecation with your collateral.

That means that risk compounds across the market when rehypothecation occurs. A lender uses collateral from one borrower, then another lender uses that rehypotecated collateral, and so forth. However, if one borrower defaults, it can start a chain reaction of security sales. This can negatively impact the market.

Bottom Line

SmartAsset Investing Guide: Hypothecation

Hypothecation is the practice of securing debt by pledging collateral. It occurs most often in mortgage lending. For example, when you secure a mortgage, you technically own your home. But it is also collateral for that loan. That means lenders can repossess it if you default on payments.

Rehypothecation is when a lender uses an investor’s collateral as collateral for one of their own obligations. It can negatively affect the market. Hypothecation tells borrowers which of their assets a lender can repossess in the event of default.

Hypothecation Tips 

  • If you aren’t sure how hypothecation affects your home or investments, a financial advisor may be able to help. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Hypothecation can affect just about any secured loan, including home equity loans. If you want to consider more options or different stakes before taking out a personal loan, consider consulting SmartAsset’s personal loans guide for costs and comparisons.

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