Forex - what is leverage and how does it work • ForexTalker

What is leverage and how to use it in forex trading

8 min read
What is leverage in forex? It’s a common term in trading that refers to the ability provided by a broker to open larger trades than one’s account balance would otherwise allow. It is an essential tool for traders who want to increase their potential returns. In forex trading specifically, leverage is especially attractive as it typically offers higher leverage compared to other financial instruments like stocks. However, not everyone understands the concept of leverage, how it works, and its impact on their trades. In this article, we’ll delve into the benefits and drawbacks of leveraging borrowed capital and why it can be both helpful and risky for your forex trading strategy.

Understanding leverage in the forex market

With a daily turnover of over $5 trillion, the forex market is the largest financial market globally. Its trading involves the purchase and sale of currency exchange rates with the aim that they will move in favor of the trader. The broker quotes the bid and ask prices of forex currency rates. The investor would buy a currency at the ask price when going long and sell it at the bid price when they want to offload it.

In the context of trading, a common strategy is to invest in a certain currency pair such as the EUR/USD, where the investor buys euros while selling US dollars. The goal is to make a profit by anticipating an increase in the exchange rate between the two currencies. To execute this strategy, the trader would purchase the EUR/USD pair at the current ask price of $1.10. If the rate moves in the trader’s favor, they would then sell the same amount of EUR/USD back to the broker using the bid price – ideally at a higher price than the original purchase. The difference between the two prices represents the profit or loss made on the trade.

To increase profits in forex trading, investors use leverage, which is like a loan from the broker allowing them to open larger trades. The forex market offers high amounts of leverage. To use leverage, the trader’s forex account is set up to trade on margin or borrowed funds. New traders might face limits on the amount of leverage they can use, but often traders can choose how much leverage they want. However, the broker will require some cash in the account as an initial margin for the trade.

In forex trading, leverage is typically expressed as a ratio, such as 1:100 or 1:500. This means that for every dollar invested in a trade, the broker provides a multiple of that amount in the form of a loan. For instance, a 1:100 leverage ratio means that buying $10,000 worth of forex requires a margin of only $100 from the trader. This allows traders to take advantage of small price movements that could result in substantial profits.

The increased buying power that leverage provides can be a double-edged sword. While it can lead to large potential returns, it also means that a trader’s losses can be magnified. For instance, a 1% decline in the value of a trade could wipe out a significant portion of a trader’s account if they are using high levels of leverage.

As such, traders must exercise caution when using leverage in their forex trades. They should always assess their risk tolerance and use risk management strategies such as stop-loss orders to limit their potential losses. It is also essential to maintain adequate margin requirements and refrain from over-leveraging their account.

Trading with leverage vs. trading without leverage

Trading with leverage allows traders to open larger positions than their account balance would typically allow, leveraging their trading capital to increase potential returns. For example, if a trader has an account with $1,000 and uses 10:1 leverage, they could potentially open trades worth $10,000.

Trading without leverage means the trader can only trade with the capital in their account and cannot take on positions larger than their account balance. This can limit potential returns but also limit potential losses as the trader does not have to worry about margin calls or exceeding account balances.

Leverage amplifies both potential gains and potential losses, so traders should be cautious when using leverage and only use it if they fully understand the risks and have a solid risk management plan in place.

How leverage affects trading

Trading with leverage in the financial markets can offer numerous benefits for traders and investors. Leverage allows traders to control a larger amount of assets with a smaller initial investment, which can significantly increase potential returns.

The main benefit of trading with leverage is that it allows traders to amplify their gains. For example, if a trader invests $1,000 with a 10:1 leverage, they would be able to invest in a position worth $10,000. If the position gains 5%, the trader would make a profit of $500, instead of just $50 if they had invested their own $1,000. This means that leverage can allow traders to make significantly higher profits than they would be able to with their own funds.

However, it is important to note that trading with leverage also comes with significant risks and potential downsides. One of the main risks is that losses can also be amplified. If the same trader mentioned above had invested in a position that lost 5%, they would lose $500 – the same amount as their potential profit. This means that leverage can also result in significant losses and traders need to be careful and manage their risk effectively.

Another potential downside of trading with leverage is that it can lead to overconfidence and excessive risk taking. Traders may be more inclined to take larger positions and make riskier trades, as they believe that they have a greater chance of making a profit. This can lead to big losses if the market moves against them.

Despite the risks, leverage can be a powerful tool for traders who use it responsibly. By only using a small portion of their own funds, traders can invest in larger positions and potentially make greater profits. This can be particularly useful for short-term traders or those who are looking to take advantage of market volatility.

Leverage ratios

Leverage ratios are an important aspect of forex trading, allowing traders to increase their exposure in the market with a smaller initial investment. Essentially, leverage is borrowed money that is used to magnify your trading position and increase your potential profits (and losses).

Here’s how it works: let’s say you have $1,000 in your trading account and you want to open a position for $10,000. With a 1:10 leverage ratio, you can borrow the remaining $9,000 from your broker. This means you only need to put up $1,000 of your own money as collateral.

Different options are available to traders when it comes to leverage ratios. Some brokers offer fixed leverage, which means the ratio is predetermined and cannot be adjusted. For example, a broker might offer a fixed leverage ratio of 1:50, which means you can borrow up to 50 times the amount of money you have in your account.

Other brokers offer variable leverage ratios, which allow you to adjust the ratio based on your trading strategy and risk tolerance. This gives traders more flexibility and control over their positions.

It’s important to note that while leverage can increase your potential profits, it also increases your potential losses. This means that traders need to be careful when using leverage and have a solid risk management strategy in place.

The varying ratios offered by brokers can also impact your trading decisions. Higher leverage ratios may be attractive for traders who want to maximize their potential returns, but they also come with higher risks. It’s important to carefully consider your trading goals and risk tolerance before choosing a broker with a specific leverage ratio.

The table below shows margin requirements and leverage ratios. If margin requirement is low, more leverage can be used on each trade. However, the broker may need higher margin requirements for specific currencies like the British pound versus Japanese yen because the exchange rate can be highly unpredictable, resulting in big rate swings. The broker may require more collateral during volatile trading periods and for more unstable currencies, such as 5%.

Margin requirements Leverage ratio
2 % 50:1
1 % 100:1
0.5 %  200:1


Margin and margin call

Margin is the amount of money that a trader must put up to open a position. This is a form of collateral for the broker, as it ensures that the trader has some skin in the game and is less likely to default on the trade. When a trader uses leverage, they are essentially borrowing money from the broker to increase the size of their position.

A margin call occurs when the trader’s account falls below the required margin level. This means that their losses are greater than the amount of money they have put up as collateral. In this case, the broker will ask the trader to deposit more funds into their account to bring the margin level back up to the required level. If the trader is unable to do so, the broker may close their position to limit further losses.

It is important to monitor margins because trading with leverage can amplify both profits and losses. If a trader uses too much leverage and their position moves against them, they may quickly find themselves in a margin call situation. Understanding margin calls is important because they can greatly impact a trader’s account balance and potentially lead to forced liquidation of positions. By monitoring margins and using appropriate levels of leverage, traders can better manage their risk and avoid unexpected losses.

Tips for using leverage in forex trading

Using leverage in forex trading can be a high-risk, high-reward strategy for traders. Leverage allows traders to control a larger position with a smaller amount of capital. For example, a trader using 100:1 leverage can control a $100,000 position with only $1,000. Here are some tips for using leverage in forex trading:

  1. Start with a small leverage. Beginners are advised to start with smaller leverage ratios. A leverage ratio of 10:1 or 20:1 is recommended for beginners. This means for every $1 of capital, a trader has $10 or $20 of buying power.
  2. Understand your risk tolerance. It is important to understand how much risk you are willing to take on before using leverage. This can help you choose an appropriate leverage ratio for your trading style.
  3. Have a solid risk management plan. Risk management is key to successful forex trading. You should have a clear risk management plan in place that includes stop-loss orders and other risk mitigation techniques.
  4. Monitor your positions closely. When using leverage, it’s important to monitor your positions closely. This can help you make timely decisions to manage your risk.
  5. Use leverage conservatively. Leverage should be used conservatively and only when there is a high probability of success. It’s important to avoid overtrading and to use leverage only when necessary.

Using these best practices can help traders use leverage effectively and avoid common mistakes that can lead to losses.


Once you have mastered managing leverage, there is no need to fear it. Leverage can be a profitable tool for traders who are actively involved in their trades. To ensure success, it’s important to handle leverage with caution and care. With proper management, leverage can be as useful as any sharp instrument.

Reducing the amount of leverage utilized in each trade can provide more flexibility and help avoid significant loss of trading capital. In contrast, highly-leveraged trades can quickly wipe out funds in your trading account if the trade moves against you as you’ll experience greater losses due to higher lot sizes. It’s essential to remember that the amount of leverage used is entirely customizable to your unique trading goals and needs.