Wagering on the Forex Market
The top performers in our review are TD Ameritrade, the Gold Award winner; Interactive Brokers, the Silver Award winner; and FXCM, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a Forex broker to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our rankings.
Forex, or FX, trading is a more advanced type of investment that is best suited for experienced traders. If you’re well versed in day trading or options trading, forex may be a challenge worth accepting. Forex trading can be another way of diversifying your portfolio, but it carries more risk than other types of investments.
Due to the Dodd-Frank act, forex brokers operating in the U.S. must be certified with both the National Futures Association (NFA) and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). These regulations restrict the amount of leverage available to traders. All U.S. brokers can offer a maximum leverage of 50:1 for most currency pairs, with some more risky currencies having a maximum of 20:1. Because of this, many forex brokers no longer offer accounts to U.S.-based traders. This review only considers brokers that allow U.S. accounts. If you’re interested in exploring foreign options, our international forex brokers site may be of help.
The brokers in our review were evaluated on the quality of the trading platform they offered, the ease of use of each platform and the tools it provides. We also considered the commissions and other costs as well as their educational and customer service offerings.
If you are interested in exploring other investment avenues, we have reviews of day trading platforms, online stock trading brokers and options trading platforms. You can also find useful information about investing in our articles on forex trading.
What Is Forex Trading?
Forex trading involves trading of currencies and is the largest and the most liquid market in the world. Forex operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, and it has no single, centralized market. On an average day, the forex market trades around $3 trillion dollars.
When you make a forex trade, you are buying and selling currency and, in essence, betting on the fluctuations in their exchange rates. For example, if you were to buy Euros when the conversion rate is 1.25 U.S. dollars for 1 Euro then sell when the conversion rate is 1.28 U.S. dollars to 1 Euro, that difference of .03 represents your profit. Typically, you won’t buy a small amount. Usually currently is traded in lots of varying sizes. A standard lot is 100,000 units of a currency, a Mini lot is 10,000 units, a Micro lot is 1,000 units. A few brokers may offer Nano lots, which are only 100 units.
The change in a currency pair’s value is measured in pips, which is the smallest amount that the value can change. Usually a currency pairs are quoted out to the fourth decimal, and a pip is the change in the last number. For example, if EUR/USD is trading at 1.3300 and it moves to 1.3302, that is a movement of two pips. When pips are magnified by the size of lot, that is where the opportunity to profit emerges.
Because the changes in currencies are usually very small, it would seem that forex trading is ideal only for institutions or investors that can afford to buy large lots. This is where leverage comes in. Typically, a brokerage will offer you a margin account which can magnify the amount you have available. The ratio of the amount you borrow on margin and the amount you deposit is the leverage. U.S. brokers cannot offer more than 50:1 leverage.
Forex Trading Strategies
As with all types of investments, there are many different forex trading strategies. Hedging and speculation are two main strategies. Some basic strategies include choosing a trading time that coincides with the time that the markets in the countries whose currencies you’d like to trade are operating, using stop-loss orders to protect against heavy losses. Advanced strategies can include carry trades, which take into account the interest rates of currencies and not just the conversion rates.
Since currency exchanges are so volatile, it’s a good idea to test your forex trading strategies before you put up your own money. Most brokers offer a demo account and include tools that allow you to backtest your strategies.
What We Evaluated & What We Found
Platform & Tools
The trading platform and the tools it offers is one of the most important considerations when choosing a forex broker. Our reviewers tested the platform demo provided by each broker as well as their mobile apps, looking for platforms that are easy to use and that provide analytic tools to help you gauge a currency pair’s performance.
With the best platforms, you can create multiple watchlists to track different groups of currencies. Some only allow you to create a single watchlist or add to a single pre-made watchlist. You should also be able to create alerts to notify you when a currency pair reaches a certain price or meets some other criteria. Ideally, you should be able to receive email or text alerts, but some platforms only offer notifications inside the platform. A few of the platforms don’t offer alert options.
Forex brokers also provide charting tools to help you gauge the performance of a currency pair. These tools include technical indicators that can help you plan your trading strategy. TD Ameritrade offers by far the most technical indicators, with over 300.
The brokers we reviewed have a range of currency pairs available for trading, the highest is 120 and the lowest is 10. Most trading occurs on major pairs, such as EUR/USD, USD/JPY, GPD/USD and USD/CAD, but having the option to trade different currencies, such as the Thai Baht, the Hungarian Florint and the Danish Krone, can give you an opportunity to spread around your investments, diversity your portfolio and potentially reap larger rewards from more volatile currencies.
The main cost of forex trading lies in the bid/ask spread. This is the markup a broker applies and is derived from the difference between the bid, or selling, price and the ask, or buying, price. The spread is usually the difference in the last two decimal places of the exchange rates. Forex brokers refer to this difference as pips. Since exchange rates are constantly fluctuating, spreads often do as well, especially when a particular country’s economic fortunes take dramatic turns for the worse or the better.
Some brokerages charge commissions on each trade. These brokerages often have tighter spreads but may be better for higher volume traders. Commission-based brokers also tend to require the highest initial deposits. A few brokers we reviewed, such as Oanda and Nadex, don’t have minimum requirements and also allow you to trade any size lots of currency.
Education & Support
Forex brokers should also provide traders with investment education and platform training. Our reviewers found that the best brokers offer video tutorials and step-by-step training on the platform’s features in addition to training manuals. While forex investors are more experienced that other investors, we still consider it important for a brokerage to provide educational resources. The best include weekly webinars and ongoing blogs that provide important context on the forex markets as well as ideas for new trading strategies.
Since the forex market operates around the clock, it’s important to be able to get support whenever you’re trading. Many brokers offer phone support during hours the Forex markets are open as well as live chat.
Our Verdict & Recommendation
TD Ameritrade is our top rated-forex broker. It has the best platform, both in terms of its ease of use and in the breadth of the tools it provides. It also offers the most currency pairs, which gives you an opportunity to trade in exotic pairs that have the potential for high returns. It is also a good platform for trading other investment types and may be a good choice if you want to make non-forex investments.
Interactive Brokers is another good choice that has a good platform and educational offerings. It has a commission-based model but tight spreads. It does require an initial investment of $10,000, so it’s a good choice for experienced investors.
FXCM has some of the best educational tools, including ongoing Daily FX webinars and the daily FX blog. It has the highest commissions in our review, but it does have relatively tight spreads.
Oanda and Nadex are the two best brokers for pricing. Nadex has a low commission and low spreads. Oanda doesn’t have any minimum requirements for your opening deposit or a minimum trade lot size.
Forex trading is a move advanced type of investing but is one that has the potential to be very rewarding. Each broker in our review offers tools to make trades and analyze potential strategies. The best brokers offer an easy-to-use platform, low trading costs and quality educational resources.