Forex trading allows traders to enter larger positions by using margin, essentially borrowing money from their broker. While margin can amplify gains, it also increases risks. This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about using leverage and managing margin calls when currency trading.

What is Margin in Forex Trading?

Margin is the minimum amount of money needed in your account to open a forex trade. Brokers require margin to ensure you can cover potential losses on your trades.

For example, if you want to buy $100,000 worth of EUR/USD, you don’t need the full $100,000. Your broker may only require 1% margin, so you only need $1,000 of your own money. The broker lends you the remaining $99,000. Essentially, margin trading allows you to trade much larger positions than your capital would normally allow.

The amount you put down is called the initial margin, and the amount the broker lends you is the leverage. The leverage ratio compares the total position size to the initial margin. With 1:100 leverage, for every $1 in your account, you can enter a position worth $100.

Why Use Margin in Forex Trading?

There are two major benefits of trading on margin:

1. Increased Buying Power

Margin trading increases your buying power, allowing you to take larger positions for greater profit potential. If you have $1,000, you can only buy $1,000 worth of currency. But with 1:100 leverage provided by your broker, you can enter trades worth $100,000.

2. Ability to Go Short

Margin trading allows you to go short just as easily as going long. In forex, going short means selling a currency pair, hoping to buy it back later at a lower price to make a profit on the difference. Without leverage, you would have to borrow the asset you want to short sell. Margin simplifies the process.

Margin Requirements for Major Currency Pairs

While brokers can set their own margin requirements, they typically adhere to industry standards for major currency pairs:

  • EUR/USD, GBP/USD, USD/JPY: 3.3% margin
  • USD/CAD, USD/CHF: 2.5% margin
  • AUD/USD, USD/NZD: 1.5% margin

For a $100,000 EUR/USD position, you only need $3,300 in margin. Lower margin requirements apply to other popular pairs like USD/JPY and GBP/USD.

What Influences Margin Levels?

Brokers look at several factors when setting margin requirements:

  • Volatility – Higher margin requirements for volatile currency pairs prevent large losses. Margin is lower for stable pairs.
  • Liquidity – Illiquid, exotic pairs have higher margin needs as they are riskier to trade.
  • Risk appetite – Brokers may increase margin if they wish to reduce risk during uncertain times.

Regulators like the National Futures Association (NFA) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) also influence acceptable margin levels.

How is Margin Calculated?

Margin and leverage ratios seem simple but have some nuances. Two key terms are used:

Used margin – This is the margin being used on current open positions. It is the amount locked up by your broker.

Free margin – This is your available margin not being used. You can use it to open new positions. It is calculated:

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Equity – Used Margin = Free Margin

Equity is your account balance plus or minus any floating P/L. Floating P/L is the live, unrealized profit and loss on open trades.

Then, free margin + used margin = margin balance. The margin balance is the total margin available based on your account equity.

Margin Level vs Maintenance Margin

Brokers give you a margin level, which compares equity to used margin and displays it as a percentage:

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Margin Level = Equity / Used Margin

For example, if your equity is $2,000 and used margin is $500, the margin level is 400% ($2000/$500).

If the margin level becomes too low, you may get a margin call. Each broker has a minimum maintenance margin requirement, often 1.5-2%. This is the margin level below which they will issue a margin call.

At 100% margin level, used margin equals equity and free margin is zero. You have no excess margin to place new trades. As the account equity drops, the margin level falls below 100%, meaning you have negative free margin. Most brokers will issue margin calls before that point as a safety buffer.

Margin Calls in Forex Trading

A margin call occurs when the account equity falls below the broker’s maintenance margin requirement. This is essentially the broker demanding you deposit more funds or close positions to bring the margin level back up.

If you fail to take action, the broker has the right to begin forcibly closing out trades to lower margin requirements. You take huge losses if you are unprepared for margin calls.

Margin calls are most common when high leverage is used. Even small unfavorable price swings can set off margin calls when trading with excessive leverage.

How to Avoid Margin Calls

Use stop losses religiously – Stop losses cut losses before margin issues arise. Use a stop loss on every trade.

Lower leverage – Only use leverage you feel comfortable with and can afford. Lower leverage reduces margin call risks.

Don’t risk entire account – Risk small percentages of capital per trade, 1-2% or less. Avoid putting the entire account at risk.

Monitor margin usage – Watch account equity and margin levels so you can deposit funds or close losing positions before a margin call.

Use guaranteed stops – Many brokers offer guaranteed stop losses that guarantee exit at your specified price, for a small fee. This prevents slippage from causing margin calls.

Tips for Managing Margin Effectively

Margin can be beneficial when used properly but dangerous when abused. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Only trade on margin with money you can afford to lose. Margin amplifies losses.
  • Use stop losses on every trade to define and limit risk
  • Be conservative with leverage. Only use what is needed.
  • Maintain low position sizes relative to account size
  • Closely monitor open positions and margin usage.
  • Have a margin call plan. Know actions to take if margin level drops too low.
  • Understand and follow your broker’s margin policies.
  • Don’t rely on being able to deposit more funds to meet margin calls. Have proper risk management.

The Pros and Cons of Trading Forex on Margin

Margin trading has advantages but also important risks to consider:


  • Increased buying power and position size
  • Ability to profit from both rising and falling markets
  • Potential for larger gains
  • Leverage provides easier short selling mechanics


  • Equal ability to amplify losses
  • Increased risk of margin calls and forced liquidations
  • Requires very strict risk management
  • Higher volatility and stress compared to cash trading
  • Interest charged daily on leverage borrowed

Weigh the pros and cons before utilizing margin and manage leverage wisely.


Margin allows forex traders to enter larger positions by borrowing money from brokers. While this can increase profits, improper use of margin is extremely risky and heightens the chances of amplified losses and margin calls. Employ proper risk management techniques, use conservative leverage, and monitor account equity closely. Margin can provide great benefits when used prudently by disciplined traders.