Guide to Forex Margin: Requirements, Terms, and Example

By Mike Zaccardi, CMT, CFA · March 23, 2022 · 5 minute read

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Guide to Forex Margin: Requirements, Terms, and Example

Forex margin trading is when foreign exchange traders borrow money from their brokers in order to make bigger trades than they would otherwise be able to based on their capital position. Like all margin trading, the risks of forex margin trading are higher, but the practice can also produce higher profits.

Traders who engage in forex margin trading are using leverage as part of their investing strategy. Read on to learn more about the definition of forex margin, how forex margin works, and forex margin requirements.

What Is Margin in Forex?

Forex margin is similar to the margin trading used in futures markets. Traders deposit money into a margin account as a good faith deposit, which allows them to open, hold and trade forex using leverage (with their account balance as collateral). This lets the traders control traders worth much more than they would otherwise.

Forex (also known as foreign exchange or FX) is a global trading market in which investors trade national currencies. Forex trading is the largest and most liquid market in the world. Currencies trade in what are called “pairs.” For example, the Euro (EUR) versus the United States dollar (USD) appears as the EUR/USD currency pair with the Euro being the base currency and the USD being the term currency.

Traders use the FX market to hedge against foreign currency and interest rate risk. Geopolitical risks are also managed while speculators take part alongside hedgers. The forex market is both a spot (cash) market and a derivatives market. Forwards, futures, currency swaps and options trade in the FX market.

How Does Forex Margin Work?

Forex margin works by allowing a trader to hold large positions with a relatively small amount of collateral. When you trade with leverage, you amplify risk and return.

While there is no standard amount of margin in the forex market, it is common for traders to post 1% margin, which allows them to trade $100,000 of notional currency for every $1,000 posted.

For example, let’s say you want to trade forex on margin to speculate on the price of the EUR relative to the USD. You must open an FX trading account with a firm that offers this type of trading. Before trading, you must make a deposit into your margin account.

Let’s assume the broker requires 1% margin to trade EUR/USD. You seek to control $50,000 worth of that currency pair, so you post a deposit of $500. After opening the account and posting margin, you execute a buy order on the EUR/USD pair for $50,000 of notional currency at $1.20 per Euro.

If EUR/USD moves from $1.20 to $1.212, that 1% advance moves your position value from $50,000 to $50,500. Your unrealized profit is $500, or 100% of your initial deposit. If EUR/USD declines 1%, you have an unrealized loss of $500. You could face a margin call or a forced liquidation if prices move against you enough.

Forex Margin Requirements

Forex margin requirements vary by broker. Variables such as liquidity and volatility impact the amount of margin you need to trade FX. The less liquid the trading environment and the more volatile the currency pair, the higher your margin requirement will generally be. The broker wants you to be able to trade freely but must balance the credit (or default) risk of its customers. Trading with small margin amounts means you have high leverage.

Typical margin requirements range from 50% on the high end to 0.5% on the low end. Those figures correspond to 2:1 leverage and 200:1 leverage, respectively. Knowing your leverage ratio helps you grasp your account’s risk. Brokers determine forex margin requirements based on your credit profile and how much default risk they want to take on.

Forex Margin Terms

You’ll need to understand forex margin terms to navigate this volatile trading arena. Here are some important terms to understand:

•   Equity: Your account balance after adding current profits and subtracting current losses from your cash

•   Margin Requirement: Your required deposit to trade with leverage

•   Used margin: Margin set aside to keep existing trades active

•   Free margin: Available margin to open new positions

•   Margin level in forex: A measure of how well funded your account is. Divide your equity by used margin, then multiply that by 100 to find your margin level in forex.

•   Leverage: The use of borrowed capital to enhance returns

•   Pip: A measurement representing the smallest unit of value in a currency quote. Pip stands for “percentage in point.”

•   Spread: The difference between the bid and ask prices

Forex Margin Example

Let’s say you wish to go long the USD/JPY currency pair. Assume your account balance is $2,000 and you trade a notional value of $10,000. Also assume the margin requirement on this pair is 5%. Your required margin is the notional value multiplied by the margin requirement.

$500 = $10,000 x .05

Now compare the required margin (which is also your used margin) of $500 to your $2,000 of equity.

Your margin level is $2,000 / $500

400% = ($2,000 / $500) x 100%

Your margin level, 400%, is safely above the 100% minimum margin level in forex to avoid margin calls and automatic liquidation from your broker. You can also open new trades so long as your margin level remains above the 100% minimum.

Pros and Cons of Trading Forex on Margin

There are both benefits and drawbacks to using margin when trading currencies. Here’s a look at some of them.

Pros

Cons

Enhances return potential due to leverage High leverage can quickly lead to big losses and margin calls
More buying power means access to many trading opportunities and currency pairs Trading forex on margin creates more volatility, which can increase stress
Markets are open 24 hours a day, five and a half days a week Forex markets are less regulated than some other markets

What Is Margin Level in Forex?

Your margin level in forex is the ratio between equity and used margin. It is a straightforward calculation expressed as a percentage. It is your account’s equity percentage multiplied by 100. If you’re trading a currency pair other than the currency in your account, you may have to also do a currency conversion to determine your forex margin in that denomination.

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

For example, if you have $5,000 of equity with $1,000 of margin, then your margin level is 500%. The lower the margin level in forex, the less free margin you have available to trade. If your margin level dips low enough, your broker might issue a margin call or an automatic stop out on your position.

While margin level minimums vary depending on the brokerage firm used, many brokers set a minimum margin level at 100%. That means if your equity is equal to or less than your margin used, you will not be able to open new trades.

What Is a Free Margin in Forex?

Free margin is the amount of money available to open new forex positions. It is your account’s equity after subtracting the margin used.

The Takeaway

Currency trading is a liquid market that is open more hours per week than regular stock markets. Forex trading involves posting a margin deposit that allows traders to have exposure to large notional values of a currency. There are advantages and disadvantages to know as well as risks to consider.

Margin trading in forex can be intimidating to new investors. If you are more comfortable trading more traditional securities like stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) — with or without margin — the SoFi Invest® online brokerage offers members an easy-to-use tool to get started today.

FAQ

How much margin should you use for Forex trading?

It depends on your comfort level and risk tolerance. If you seek maximum risk, then you might be comfortable with a low margin amount. Those with a lower risk tolerance might prefer to trade with a higher margin deposit.

You can typically have a leverage ratio anywhere from 1:1 to 500:1.

What is a bad margin level in Forex trading?

You want to have a forex trading margin level above 100%. A margin percentage any lower means you might not be able to open new trades.

Can you trade Forex without leverage?

Yes, you can trade forex without leverage by only trading with your margin deposit.


Photo credit: iStock/eggeeggjiew

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