Leverage in Forex Trading

Foreign Currency
••• jayk7 / Getty Images

Leverage is the ability to use something small to control something big. Specific to foreign exchange (forex or FX) trading, it means you can have a small amount of capital in your account controlling a larger amount in the market.

Stock traders will call this trading on margin. In forex trading, there is no interest charged on the margin used, and it doesn't matter what kind of trader you are or what kind of credit you have. If you have an account and the broker offers margin, you can trade on it.

The apparent advantage of using leverage is that you can make a considerable amount of money with only a limited amount of capital. The problem is that you can also lose a considerable amount of money trading with leverage. It all depends on how wisely you use it and how conservative your risk management is.

You Have More Control Than You Think

Leverage makes a rather boring market incredibly exciting. But when your money is on the line, exciting is not always good, and that is what leverage has brought to FX.

Without leverage, traders would be surprised to see a 10% move in their account in one year. However, a trader using leverage can easily see a 10% move in one day.

But typical amounts of leverage tend to be too high, and it is important for you to know that much of the volatility you experience when trading is due more to the leverage on your trade than the move in the underlying asset.

Leverage Amounts

Leverage is usually given in a fixed amount that can vary with different brokers. Each broker gives out leverage based on their rules and regulations. The amounts are typically 50:1, 100:1, 200:1, and 400:1.

  • 50:1: Fifty-to-one leverage means that for every $1 you have in your account, you can place a trade worth up to $50. As an example, if you deposited $500, you would be able to trade amounts up to $25,000 on the market.
  • 100:1: One-hundred-to-one leverage means that for every $1 you have in your account, you can place a trade worth up to $100. This is a typical amount of leverage offered on a standard lot account. The typical $2,000 minimum deposit for a standard account would give you the ability to control $200,000.
  • 200:1: Two-hundred-to-one leverage means that for every $1 you have in your account, you can place a trade worth up to $200. This is a typical amount of leverage offered on a mini lot account. The typical minimum deposit on such an account is around $300, with which you can trade up to $60,000.
  • 400:1: Four-hundred-to-one leverage means that for every $1 you have in your account, you can place a trade worth $400. Some brokers offer 400:1 on mini lot accounts, but beware any broker who offers this type of leverage for a small account. Anyone making a $300 deposit into a forex account and trying to trade with 400:1 leverage could be wiped out in a matter of minutes.

    Professional Traders and Leverage

    Professional traders usually trade with very low leverage. Keeping your leverage lower protects your capital when you make trading mistakes and keeps your returns consistent.

    Many professionals will use leverage amounts like 10:1 or 20:1. It's possible to trade with that type of leverage regardless of what the broker offers you. You have to deposit more money and make fewer trades.

    No matter what your style, remember that just because the leverage is there does not mean you have to use it. In general, the less leverage you use, the better. It takes the experience to really know when to use leverage and when not to. Staying cautious will keep you in the game for the long run.