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Difference Between Margin Trading and Leverage

Many retail investors face a common dilemma – whether to opt for margin trading or leverage trading to amplify their market returns. While both seem similar at first glance, understanding the subtle differences between the two can significantly impact one’s trading strategies and portfolio performance. This article aims to clarify margin vs leverage to help investors make informed decisions aligned with their risk appetite and goals. 

Read on to get answers to pertinent questions like – margin and leverage trading, how they differ, what risks are involved, and how to choose between the two based on trading style and market conditions. With the right knowledge, retail investors can harness the power of margins and leverage judiciously without putting their capital at excessive risk.

What is margin trading?

Margin trading refers to the trading practice with funds provided by the broker over and above one’s investment. The mechanism allows investors to buy more stock than they can afford at any given time, thereby increasing buying power. Brokers extend margin trading facilities by providing loans to clients for trading purposes.

In margin trading, the investor must deposit a small percentage of the total transaction value. This deposit is called margin and is used by brokers as collateral for the loan amount. The margin can be placed in the form of cash or securities. 

For instance, if you want to purchase shares worth ₹1 lakh, you may only need to provide ₹20,000 upfront as a margin. The broker funds the remaining ₹80,000, essentially providing you leverage of 5 times your investment amount.

Margin trading system in India

Margin trading regulations in India limit the amount of leverage allowed based on the type of broker and client. The maximum allowable leverage is:

  • For intraday trades: 5 times for retail clients, 10 times for non-retail clients
  • For delivery trades:  2 times for retail clients, 5 times for non-retail clients  

Brokers in India typically extend anywhere between 2-4 times the margin for delivery trades to retail investors. One can open a margin trading account by submitting trading account opening paperwork that allows for margin trading. Account holders must sign a margin agreement with all details on brokerage charges, interest calculation methodology, margin terms, risk disclosures, etc.

What is leverage trading?  

While margin trading provides leveraged exposure through a loan from the broker, investors can also directly avail leverage through derivative instruments like futures & options. Using derivatives to create a leveraged position without funding from brokers is termed leverage trading.

For instance, instead of buying company shares in the cash market, one can take equivalent exposure using stock futures. Since futures only require a small margin deposit, the position essentially gets leveraged to the extent of funds used vs futures margin.

Similarly, options contracts allow buying leveraged exposure to the underlying asset based on the notional value paid as a premium. Any mechanism allowing investors to gain a market exposure disproportionately higher than invested capital can be classified as leverage trading.

Key differences: leverage trading vs margin trading

While margin trading and leveraging both aim towards magnifying returns beyond initial capital, there are some fundamental differences:

  • Source of funds: In margin trading, leverage is provided by the broker in the form of funding for trades. Leverage trading involves exposing investor capital itself to disproportionate risk through derivatives to multiply gains. 
  • Costs: Margin trading entails interest costs on the loan amount and brokerage charges. Leverage trading may only involve derivatives brokerage costs and margin requirements to open large exposures.
  • Risk monitoring: Margin trading accounts strictly monitor mark-to-market losses. Positions may get squared off by the broker if margin requirements are breached. Leverage trading risks are generally borne by the investor without such automated triggers.  

Benefits of margin trading

  • Requires less capital than equivalent cash trades  
  • Allows participation in opportunities requiring large investment 
  • Interest cost on capital is lower than the expected return from stocks
  • Forced exit on margin breach imposes disciplined risk management

Drawbacks of margin trading

  • Interest expense and brokerage costs lower net returns
  • Failure to meet the margin calls can result in losses
  • Forced exit during a market fall may result in losses
  • Heightened risk may not suit conservative investors

Benefits of leverage trading 

  • Helps take larger exposures with the same capital  
  • Gives flexibility to implement advanced trading strategies
  • Generally has lower costs than margin trading account charges
  • Risk management is self-imposed based on view and risk appetite

Limitations of leverage trading

  • Exposes investor capital itself to higher risk 
  • Requirements of understanding advanced trading instruments  
  • Needs strong risk control through stop losses and strict discipline 
  • High risk in volatile markets can amplify losses  

Choosing between the two based on profile and strategy

Deciding between margin and leverage trading should be based on the individual trader’s profile, strategies, intentions, and market conditions.

Margin trading suits retail investors seeking moderate leverage of 2-4 times available equity capital through a regulated broker framework. This helps limit total capital at risk while improving portfolio returns.

Sophisticated investors with strong derivatives knowledge may be better off using futures, options, and other instruments to create leveraged exposures aligned with their trading strategy and risk-taking ability. Their capital itself remains at risk. Hence, stringent risk controls become paramount. 

Intraday traders may prefer leverage trading as longer holding periods in margin trading accounts can expose positions to overnight volatility and interest charges.


While using margin or leverage can help you earn higher returns with less money invested, it’s important to remember that it also comes with risks. It’s essential to keep your total investment amount within reasonable limits and to manage your losses as much as your profits. No trading method can eliminate unexpected market fluctuations, so it’s crucial to diversify your portfolio, keep stop losses in place, and adjust your position size based on your risk tolerance. 

The market is always changing, so it’s important to be adaptable and adjust your leverage strategy accordingly. , It is important to learn how to control risk, develop good trading habits, and keep learning to succeed.


What is the key difference between margin trading and leverage trading?

The key difference is that in margin trading, the broker provides the leverage or loan to fund the trades. In leverage trading, investors use financial instruments like futures and options to gain leveraged exposure in markets without taking any loans. It involves putting one’s capital at disproportionately high risk.

How much leverage can a retail investor get for delivery trades in India?

As per current margin trading regulations in India, a retail investor can get maximum leverage of 2 times for delivery trades from brokers. So, if you have ₹1 lakh in your account, your broker can provide an additional ₹1 lakh as a loan for trading stocks in the cash segment.

What are the major risks associated with margin trading in stocks?

The major risks are interest charges on the loan reducing net returns, failure to meet margin calls resulting in the forced exit of positions at a loss, and stocks held on margin, which can only be sold easily once the loan is repaid. This locks one’s capital and exposes investors to market volatility risk.

How can investors manage risks when using leverage for trading?

Investors should use stop losses, restrict position sizing within limits, diversify across assets, use hedging techniques, and not let leverage exceed their genuine risk appetite, even if higher levels are allowed. Trading discipline and risk management are paramount.

Which investors are best suited for margin trading, and who should avoid it?

Margin trading suits investors with moderate risk appetite who wish to enhance portfolio returns using sensibly higher exposure. Conservative investors who cannot monitor positions actively or bear forced exits should generally avoid margin trading. Intraday traders may find the costs of margin trading accounts prohibitive.

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