The note found on his computer by his parents on June 12, 2020, asked a simple question. “How was a 20 year old with no income able to get assigned almost a million dollars worth of leverage?” The tragic message was written by Alexander E. Kearns, a 20-year-old student at the University of Nebraska, home from college and living with his parents in Naperville, Illinois. Earlier that day, Kearns took his own life. Forbes reports:
Like so many others, Kearns took up stock investing during the pandemic, signing up with Millennial-focused brokerage firm Robinhood, which offers commission-free trading, a fun and easy-to-use mobile app and even awards new customers free shares of stock. During the first quarter of 2020, Robinhood added a record 3 million new accounts to its platform. As the Covid-19 stock market swung wildly, Kearns had begun experimenting, trading options. His final note, filled with anger toward Robinhood, says that he had “no clue” what he was doing.
In fact, a screenshot from Kearns’ mobile phone reveals that while his account had a negative $730,165 cash balance displayed in red, it may not have represented uncollateralized indebtedness at all, but rather his temporary balance until the stocks underlying his assigned options actually settled into his account.
Kearns apparently fell into despair late Thursday night after looking at his Robinhood account, which appeared to have $16,000 in it but also showed a cash balance of negative $730,165. In his final note, seen by Forbes, Kearns insisted that he never authorized margin trading and was shocked to find his small account could rack up such an apparent loss.