What is the Settlement Period?
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What is the Settlement Period?

The trade settlement period is the duration between the trade date and the settlement date. The SEC has established rules to regulate the trading process, including guidelines for the settlement date. In March 2017, the SEC reduced the trade settlement period to T+2. Starting May 2024, the trade settlement period will be further reduced to T+1, which means that the settlement will occur one business day after the trade is placed.

Basics

The trade settlement period in the securities industry refers to the time between the trade date and the settlement date. It is the duration during which the buyer pays for the shares, and the seller delivers them. Once the settlement period ends, the buyer becomes the official holder of the security.

A Brief History

The SEC was instructed by Congress to establish a national clearance and settlement system for securities transactions under Section 17A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 in 1975. As a result, the SEC created rules to govern the trading process, including the trade settlement cycle. Initially, the settlement period allowed time for buyers and sellers to hand-deliver stock certificates or money to their respective brokers to complete the trade.

Today, with instant money transfers, the settlement period still exists for the convenience of traders, brokers, and investors. Online brokers now require traders to have sufficient funds in their accounts before buying stock. Additionally, the industry has shifted away from paper stock certificates, adopting electronic book-entry systems to record ownership and transactions. This transition to electronic trades is supported by account statements, with physical stock certificates becoming increasingly rare.

Evolution of the Settlement Period

The settlement period for securities transactions has evolved. Initially, it was five days. However, in 1993, the SEC reduced it to three business days, known as T+3. This means that if you sold shares of stock on Monday, the transaction would settle on Thursday. The three-day settlement period was practical when cash, checks, and physical stock certificates were exchanged through the postal system.

In the Age of Digitalization

In recent times, advancements in technology and changes in the financial industry have led to a shorter settlement period for securities transactions. The settlement period, previously set at three days (T+3), has been reduced to two days (T+2). This change has been implemented by regulatory authorities to align with the faster pace of modern transactions and to address market and credit risks effectively. As a result, most securities transactions now settle within two business days after the trade date, facilitating quicker and more efficient processing in the financial markets.

T-2 Settlement Dates

Here is a representative sample of the SEC's T+2 settlement dates for various securities. If you have any questions about whether a specific transaction is covered under the T+2 settlement cycle, it's best to consult your broker. Additionally, if you have a margin account, it's advisable to check with your broker to understand how the new settlement cycle may impact your margin agreement.

  • Certificates of deposit (CDs): Same day
  • Commercial paper: Same day
  • U.S. equities: Two business days
  • Corporate bonds: Two business days
  • Municipal bonds: Two business days
  • Government securities: Next business day
  • Options: Next business day
  • Spot foreign exchange (FX): Two business days

What's Next?

The SEC's decision in February 2023 was to shorten the settlement cycle for most securities from T+2 to T+1. This means that trades placed on Monday should now be settled by Tuesday. During the meme-stock buying frenzy in 2021, brokers faced pressure to increase deposits with clearinghouses while waiting for trades to settle in the T+2 cycle. As a result, some brokers, like Robinhood, had to restrict buying in certain stocks. To avoid similar situations in the future, the SEC's decision to implement the T+1 cycle from May 28, 2024, aims to expedite settlements and reduce such challenges.

Conclusion

The settlement period is a crucial aspect of securities trading, and the SEC has established rules to regulate the process. Over time, the settlement period has evolved from five days to now T+2, and starting May 2024, it will be further reduced to T+1. This change is expected to expedite settlements and address market and credit risks effectively.

Settlement Period
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
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