Trading margin refers to the practice of borrowing funds from a brokerage firm to leverage the purchasing power of an investor.

It allows traders to buy more securities than they could with their own funds alone. Essentially, margin trading allows Forex traders to increase their potential returns by using borrowed money to amplify their Forex positions.

Margin is not a fee or a transaction cost; instead, it is a portion of the trader’s account equity allocated as a deposit against potential trading losses.

When an investor engages in margin trading, they are required to deposit a certain amount of money, known as the initial margin, into their trading account as collateral for the Forex broker to use. This initial margin generally represents a percentage of the total value of the investment. The brokerage firm then lends the investor the remaining amount required to make the desired trade.

Margin is typically expressed as a percentage of the full value of the position— for instance, a margin account offering 100:1 leverage would require a 1% margin.

This funding mechanism enables traders to access more significant market exposure and potential gains than could be obtained through their cash resources alone. However, increased exposure through margin trading also comes with increased risks, highlighting the importance of prudently managing one’s margin levels.

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What is the difference between margin and leverage?

Margin is the amount of equity a broker sets aside to open a position, while leverage, expressed as a ratio, amplifies the trader’s purchasing power. Essentially, margin is the deposit required, and leverage multiplies their buying capacity.

In other terms, margin is essentially the amount of capital a trader needs to have in their account to open and maintain a position. It represents a portion of one’s account equity set aside and allocated as a deposit in the trading process.

Leverage is a financial tool provided by the broker that allows traders to control larger market positions than their own capital would otherwise allow.

For example, if a broker offers a leverage of 100:1, this means that for every $1 of capital (the margin), they can control a position worth $100 in the market. Although leverage amplifies the possibility of higher returns, it equally magnifies the potential for substantial losses if the market moves in an unfavourable direction.

Therefore, while margin refers to the actual capital held by brokers to execute leveraged trades, leverage refers to the amplification of trading power – and risk – granted to traders.

In essence, margin and leverage work hand-in-hand, each influencing and determining the scope of a trader’s capacity to take on larger positions and amplify returns. These two concepts are at the heart of understanding risk management techniques in leveraged Forex trading.

What are the different types of trading margin?

The concept of margin comprises several variants each reflecting a different aspect of the margin trading mechanism. Each type of margin has its unique definition and relevance in the process.

Here is a list of the types of margins in trading:

  1. Initial margin requirement
  2. Used margin
  3. Free margin
  4. Margin level
  5. Margin lall
  6. Maintenance margin

What is initial margin requirement?

The initial margin requirement is the minimum amount of funds that a trader must have in their account to open and maintain a leveraged trading position. This requirement is usually expressed as a percentage of the full market value of the position.

Margin Requirement = Trade Size / Leverage

Here, the Trade Size is the size of the trade you’re making, and Leverage is the leverage provided by the broker (e.g., 100:1, 500:1).

For example, a 1% margin requirement on a €100,000 Forex position would mean that the trader needs at least €1,000 in their account to initiate the trade.

What is used margin?

Used Margin, also known as Margin Used, is the amount of money in a trader’s account that is currently tied up in open positions and hence, cannot be used to open new trades. It serves essentially as collateral for the Forex broker against potential losses that the trader may incur in their open positions. The amount of used margin necessary will depend on the size of a trade and the leverage offered by the broker.

Used Margin = Trade Size x Margin Requirement

The used margin is the amount of money that is held by the broker when you open a trade.

For example, if a trader opens a position worth $100,000 with a 1% margin, the used margin would be $1,000. This means that $1,000 from the trader’s account is set aside to maintain the open position and is not available for initiating new trades until the current position is closed.

What is free margin?

Free margin refers to the available funds in a trader’s account that can be used to open new positions or sustain potential losses from current open positions. It is calculated by subtracting the used margin (funds currently tied up in open positions) from the total equity (the total value of assets in the trading account).

Free Margin = Equity – Used Margin

In this case, Equity is the total balance in your account including the profits or losses from your open trades.

For instance, if a trader has €10,000 in their account (equity) and currently has €2,000 committed to open positions (used margin), their free margin is €8,000.

What is margin level?

Margin level, expressed as a percentage, is the ratio of equity to used margin. It is an important metric that brokers use to determine the risk level of an account. Margin level is calculated using the formula: (Equity / Used Margin) x 100.

Margin Level = (Equity / Used Margin) x 100%

The margin level gives an indication of the health of the account. A higher margin level suggests more margin available to trade.

For example, if a trader’s account equity is €10,000 and they currently have €2,000 tied up in open positions, their margin level is 500%.

What is margin call?

A margin call occurs when the value of a trader’s account falls below the broker’s minimum margin requirement, often because of adverse price movements on open positions. If a margin call occurs, a trader must top up their account balance by depositing additional funds or by closing some or all of their open positions.

For example, if a broker’s margin call level is set at 100%, and a trader’s margin level falls to this value or below, they would receive a margin call.

Sometimes a margin call leads to a stop out. The stop out level, sometimes referred to as the stop out point, is a predetermined account level set by the broker where all of a trader’s open positions are automatically closed to prevent further account losses.

What is maintenance margin?

The maintenance margin is the minimum amount of equity that must remain in a trader’s account to keep their open positions running. If the account balance falls below this level, a trader will generally receive a margin call to deposit more funds. Unlike the initial margin requirement, which concerns the opening of position, the maintenance margin is about maintaining it.

Maintenance Margin = Open Position x Maintenance Margin Percentage

The Maintenance Margin is the minimum equity that should be maintained in a margin account. The Maintenance Margin Percentage is usually set by the broker.

For example, if a broker has a maintenance margin requirement of 25%, and a trader’s equity in a €10,000 position falls to €2,500 due to market fluctuations, the trader must deposit additional funds to meet the maintenance margin or face a margin call.

How does a margin account work in Forex trading?

A margin account in Forex trading provides all the automatic tools to set the necessary leverage and thus margin levels.

All margin calculations in a Forex trading account are performed automatically by the trading platform provided by the broker. The system instantaneously determines the necessary margin for each trade, the free margin, the margin level, and whether a margin call is needed, based on the predetermined parameters.

Is the margin the maximum amount I can lose in a trade?

No, margin is not the maximum amount you can lose in a trade. The margin is merely the initial capital that is held by the broker to allow you to open a position. It is possible for a trade to move significantly against you, resulting in losses surpassing your initial margin.

Can I lose more money than I have in my margin account?

Yes, you can lose more money than you have in your margin account. Forex trading on margin involves significant risk. If a trade progresses unfavorably, you may not only lose all the money in your trading account, but you could also owe additional money to your broker. This can happen in those cases of very high volatility combined with excessive use of leverage. To avoid this problem, several brokers offer a Negative Balance Protection system.

Can external factors influence margin?

Yes, external factors can influence margin. Changes in market volatility and liquidity can lead to adjustments in margin requirements, with higher volatility and lesser liquidity typically resulting in increased requirements.

Can the margin requirement change after I’ve opened a position?

Yes, margin requirements can change even after you’ve opened a position. Brokers can alter the requirements, often in response to changing market conditions. This is generally more likely during periods of high market volatility when there’s enhanced risk involved in holding an open position.

Can you change margin on a position?

No, you cannot change the margin on an already open position. The margin is determined by the size of the trade and the leverage the broker provides when the position is opened, and it remains fixed until that position is closed. Nevertheless, you can manage your risk by using stop loss orders or by closing the position manually if you anticipate significant market movement.

Is margin trading risky?

Yes, Forex margin trading is inherently risky.

While trading with margin in the Forex market can amplify potential profits, it equally magnifies potential losses. Essentially, trading on margin means you’re borrowing money to open a position, and if the market moves against you, losses can exceed your initial investment.

Below is a list of the major risks associated with margin trading:

  • Leveraged Losses: Since you’re controlling a larger position than what you’ve actually invested, even a small adverse movement in the market can result in significant losses. For example, with a 100:1 leverage, a 1% market move against your position could wipe out your entire initial investment.
  • Margin Calls: If your account balance falls below the broker’s required maintenance margin, you’ll get a margin call, potentially forcing you to deposit more funds or close your positions at a loss. Imagine you have $10,000 in your account, and due to adverse market movement, your margin falls to $8,000, but your broker’s maintenance margin is $9,000. You’d need to deposit an additional $1,000 or close some positions.
  • Interest Charges: Margin trading often involves borrowing costs or interest charges for the leveraged amount. If a trade is kept open overnight, you might incur a fee, called a “swap” or “rollover” rate. For instance, if you’re trading a currency pair where the interest rate for the currency you’re buying is lower than the one you’re selling, you’ll pay the difference in interest rates.

Having delineated the major risks, it’s essential to note that the risks of margin trading can be managed.

How to manage risk in margin trading?

There are two fundamental concepts for trying to control and reduce the risks of margin trading and leverage. These are:

  • money management
  • discipline (or trading psychology).

How to use Money Management in margin trading?

Money management consists of two steps:

  1. Determining Stop Loss in Pips: The stop loss determines how much of a price movement against your position you’re willing to tolerate before exiting the trade. This is usually set in terms of pips. For instance, if you enter a trade expecting the currency pair to rise, but want to protect yourself from a potential decline, you might set a stop loss 50 pips below your entry point.
  2. Calculating Lot Size Based on Stop Loss: After determining your stop loss, the next step is to decide the lot size of your trade, ensuring that if the stop loss is hit, the amount lost won’t exceed a predetermined percentage of your capital, commonly set at 1-3% maximum. Why is this important? By risking only a small percentage of your capital on any given trade, you ensure that even a series of losing trades won’t significantly diminish your account, allowing you to remain in the game and potentially recover losses.

To explain with a tangible example:

Suppose you have a trading capital of $10,000.

You decide you’re comfortable risking 3% on a single trade, which amounts to $300.

If you’ve set your stop loss at 50 pips, you would then adjust your lot size so that a 50 pip move against your position would equate to a $300 loss.

These are the cases where calculators for leverage, margin, lot size and pip value are very useful.

How to use trading psychology in margin trading?

On the other hand, trading psychology addresses the psychological challenges traders face. The financial markets, with their inherent volatility, can evoke strong emotions, including fear during market downturns and greed during upswings. Succumbing to these emotions can lead to impulsive decisions, such as chasing the market or holding onto a losing trade in the hope it will turn around.

Cultivating emotional control involves developing the discipline to adhere strictly to a trading plan, resisting the urge to overtrade, and accepting losses as part and parcel of the trading journey. Ultimately, a trader’s psychological resilience and ability to remain calm under pressure can be as crucial as their technical or fundamental analysis skills.

In tandem, money management and emotional control form the bedrock of a trader’s strategy, guiding them through the tumultuous waters of margin trading and helping to navigate the inherent risks with poise and precision.

Is margin trading halal?

Margin trading in Forex is a contentious issue in Islamic finance and is generally considered not to be halal.

Islamic finance is governed by the principles of Sharia law, which prohibits “riba” or usury – the act of gaining profit from loans or transactions without working for it. In margin trading, traders essentially borrow funds from the broker to control larger positions. This leverage provided by the broker can be seen as a form of loan, and the interest charged on this borrowed amount (often referred to as “swap” or “rollover” rates) can be viewed as “riba”, making it non-compliant with Sharia law.

However, it’s essential to understand that interpretations of Sharia principles can vary, and while some scholars might see the concept of margin in trading as non-compliant, others might focus more on the nature of the underlying asset being traded rather than the mechanism of leverage.

Recognising the need to cater to Muslim traders, many Forex brokers now offer “Islamic accounts” or “swap-free accounts”. These accounts are designed to eliminate the element of interest or swap rates on overnight positions, thereby aiming to align trading activities with Sharia principles. By eliminating the swap rates, these brokers attempt to make margin trading more accessible and compliant for traders observing Islamic finance guidelines.

Before trading, it’s always advisable for Muslim traders to consult with knowledgeable Islamic scholars to get a clearer perspective on the permissibility of their trading activities.

What are the pros and cons of margin in trading?

Margin and its use in trading can bring numerous advantages, but also potential disadvantages that one needs to be aware of in order to accurately develop a trading strategy.

Pros of margin in trading:

  • Enhanced Profitable Potential: By trading on margin, traders can open larger positions than their account balance would allow. If a trade is successful, the profit realized will be considerably larger than it would’ve been with cash trading.
  • Access to Greater Capital: Forex margin trading allows traders with relatively small capital to participate in markets and trade sizes normally reserved for larger investors.
  • Flexibility: Margin trading allows traders to respond swiftly to market movements and potential opportunities. It provides the ability to open positions quickly, without needing to deposit the full trade value or liquidate other investments.

Cons of margin in trading:

  • Enhanced Loss Potential: Just as gains are magnified, so too are losses. If a trade goes against a trader, losses can exceed the initial deposit, potentially leaving traders with a negative balance.
  • Margin Calls: If a trader’s account falls below the required maintenance margin, they may face a margin call. This is a demand from the broker to deposit additional funds to sustain open positions. If unable to meet this demand, the broker may forcibly close open positions at a loss.
  • Overtrading Risk: Easy access to leverage can tempt traders, particularly inexperienced ones, to take up larger positions, sometimes excessively so. Overtrading can significantly increase the chances of substantial losses.

How do Forex brokers determine margin requirements?

Forex brokers determine margin requirements based on a variety of factors, primarily depending on the specific circumstances and trading conditions associated with each trade.

Below is a list of the main factors affecting margin requirements by brokers:

  • Regulations: Regulatory authorities in different geographical jurisdictions mandate varying margin requirements to ensure market stability and protect traders. Depending on where your broker is based, you’ll face different types of requirements.
  • Customer Profiling: The classification of the client – whether retail or professional – also impacts the margin requirements. Retail clients typically face higher margin requirements due to consumer protection measures, as they are considered less experienced in dealing with market risk, compared to professional clients who often have lower margin requirements.
  • Type of asset traded: Different instruments have varying levels of market volatility and liquidity, which in turn affects the risk involved and, consequently, the margin required. Typically, the more volatile the asset, the higher the margin requirement.
  • Type of trading account: Different brokers offer various account types tailored to cater to specific trader profiles — and each account type may involve different margin prerequisites. For instance, accounts purposed for aggressive, high-volume traders may have different margin requirements compared to those designed for more conservative, low-volume traders.
  • Market Conditions: Brokers may adjust margin requirements due to market conditions, such as periods of high market volatility or economic announcements. Such conditions raise the risk associated with open positions, often prompting brokers to increase margin requirements to mitigate their own exposure.

Having established the key factors affecting requirements related to margin set by brokers, it is imperative to understand how these requirements differ across various trading account types (cash account) and asset classes (Forex, stock and crypto).

Margin account vs Cash account

Cash accounts and margin accounts serve different purposes in trading. With a cash account, traders use their own funds for trading, limiting their trade size to the amount available in the account. Conversely, with margin accounts, brokers lend funds to traders to open larger positions, amplifying potential gains but also increasing the risk of higher losses.

Forex margin vs Stock margin

Forex margin and stock margin differ mainly in terms of leverage offered. Forex trading typically provides higher leverage (as high as 500:1 in some cases), meaning lower margin requirements and higher potential returns, but also greater risk. Stock trading, often offering less leverage (typically around 5:1), means less potential for losses but also reduced profit potential.

Forex margin vs Crypto margin

Cryptocurrencies are considerably more volatile, and thus, trading them on margin can bring significantly higher potential returns but also enhanced risk. Conversely, Forex trading, being more mature and regulated, and dealing with national currencies, often comes with comparative stability, lower leverage and thus, lower margin requirements.

How can I find out my broker’s margin requirements?

To find out your broker’s margin requirements, you can follow these three steps:

  • Visit the Broker’s Website: Start by going to the official website of your broker.
  • Locate Asset Information: Look for the page dedicated to the asset you are interested in trading. This is typically found in the header of the broker’s website, often labeled under “trading” or a similar category.
  • Check Leverage or Margin Details: On the asset’s page, there is usually the information regarding leverage or margin. Most brokers will display the leverage levels. To calculate the margin requirement, divide 1 by the leverage amount. For example, if the leverage is 1:30, as shown in the screenshot below for IC Markets, the Forex margin would be 3.33% (1 divided by 30).

What are the best Forex brokers to trade with margin?

All the major Forex brokers offer margin trading as a fundamental feature to cater to the diverse needs of traders globally. Notable names in this domain include:

  1. Pepperstone
  2. IC Markets
  3. AvaTrade
  4. XM
  5. FP Markets

Each of these has carved a niche for themselves, offering unique features and platforms that appeal to different trading profiles.

Do I need a Forex broker for margin trading?

Yes, you do need a Forex broker for trading on margin.

Forex brokers act as intermediaries between retail traders and the interbank Forex market, where large financial institutions exchange currencies. Individual traders, due to the small size of their trades compared to institutional players, cannot directly access the interbank market.

The mechanism of borrowing funds to increase trade size is facilitated exclusively by brokers.

What is the lowest margin available for Forex trading?

0.1% is the lowest margin requirement seen in Forex trading, corresponding to a leverage ratio of 1000:1 offered by some high leverage Forex brokers such as FBS, particularly under offshore jurisdictions.

In more strictly regulated jurisdictions, the allowable leverage is often much lower to protect retail investors.

For example, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has capped leverage for retail Forex trades at 30:1, translating to a margin requirement of approximately 3.33%.

What should I consider when comparing broker margin policies?

When comparing broker margin policies, several factors warrant close scrutiny, but the aspects related to margin calls and maintenance are paramount. Here’s what you should consider:

  • Margin Call Policies: Determine under what conditions a broker will issue a margin call. This is the point at which you are required to deposit additional funds or the broker will close your position to limit further losses. For example, consider Broker A who issues a margin call when your equity is 50% of your used margin, versus Broker B who only does so at 30%. With Broker A, you have more leeway before receiving a margin call, potentially allowing you to weather short-term market volatility, whereas Broker B might close your position more quickly.
  • Maintenance Margin: Beyond the initial margin to open a position, brokers might require a maintenance margin to keep the position open. If your account balance drops below this, you might face a margin call. For example, imagine Broker C requires a maintenance margin of 5% of the trade size, whereas Broker D demands 10%. If market movement is against your position and your account balance dips close to these thresholds, you’d face a margin call sooner with Broker D than C.
  • Negative Balance Protection: Some brokers offer protection against negative balances, ensuring that traders won’t owe more than they’ve deposited in their account. For example, if Broker X offers this protection, it ensures you won’t end up owing the broker money in the event of significant losses. On the other hand, Broker Y, without such protection, might hold you liable for any account deficit.

Are there tools to calculate margin in Forex trading?

In the realm of Forex trading, an array of calculators exists to assist traders in their decision-making process. These tools are designed to compute various metrics, including but not limited to, margin and leverage calculations.

Such calculators provide traders with precise values, enabling them to optimise their strategies and manage risks effectively.

Notably, major Forex brokers recognise the importance of these tools and often incorporate them into their platforms. For instance, XM.com is one such broker that offers a suite of calculators tailored for Forex trading, facilitating its clients to compute and ascertain crucial trading parameters with ease.


filippo ucchino

About The Author

Filippo Ucchino
Co-Founder - CEO - Broker Expert
Filippo is the co-founder and CEO of InvestinGoal.com. He has 15 years of experience in the financial sector and forex in particular. He started his career as a forex trader in 2005 and then became interested in the whole fintech and crypto sector.
Over this time, he has developed an almost scientific approach to the analysis of brokers, their services, and offerings. In addition, he is an expert in Compliance and Security Policies for consumers protection in this sector.
With InvestinGoal, Filippo’s goal is to bring as much clarity as possible to help users navigate the world of online trading, forex, and cryptocurrencies.

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