Understanding spreads in forex – An in-depth look at brokers’ fees

Michael Stark

Financial Content Leader at Exness

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This is not investment advice. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Your capital is at risk, please trade responsibly.


If you’re wondering what is a spread in forex then you’re not alone. It is probably one of the first questions any trader asks when interested in trading contracts for difference. Spreads are fees which you pay to your broker to be able to buy and sell. This is how a lot of brokers make money. The size of a spread can affect your earnings significantly. To be able to plan ahead, the stability of a spread is important.

This article answers the question ‘What is a spread in forex?’ both simply and in detail. It explains the potential impact of spreads on traders’ earnings and looks at the various types of spreads available. Learn what options are available on various account types and how they work for you, depending on your strategy and approach to trading.

What is a spread?

A spread is the price difference between the buy and sell price of an instrument. It’s the fee that a broker like Exness charges for providing its services to those wanting to trade forex. Essentially, spreads are the key costs involved for covering your broker's expenses such as staff salaries, maintaining servers and platforms, and developing new services.

How spreads work

Spreads work in practice by splitting the market price of an instrument into two prices in the trading platform. These two prices are called ‘ask’ and ‘bid’. You buy at the ask price – which is always higher – and you close your buying trades at the bid price. When you sell, the opposite is true. You open at the bid and you close at the ask. This is why you always see a small loss as soon as you open a trade.

When using the Exness’ web platform, you can see the two prices both on the chart and at the right of the screen. The small loss that appears immediately after the trade is opened is the spread.

Exness’ spreads, a difference between two prices, typically range from about 0.005% to 0.01% of a contract’s nominal value. This can change based on what you’re trading, news, and the time of day. If you’re a trader focusing on short-term trading, you might aim to trade instruments with the lowest possible spreads.

Where to find spreads

The most reliable way to find the current bid-ask spread for an instrument is to check the relevant chart on MT5 or Exness’ platform. You can find spreads both on the individual chart of an instrument and in Market Watch on MT5 or the ‘plus’ menu on Exness’ web platform.

The plus menu is where you can open a new chart and see what the spread is for that instrument.

You can also find average spreads on Exness’ website under the information about instruments. This page tells you how much the average spread was recently for major currency pairs.

What is a forex spread and how much is it? This page on Exness’ website tells you the average spreads for the previous day.

Remember that the spreads quoted on the website are not the same as the live spreads you see on a trading platform. The spreads on the site are the average of the previous day, when the market was open.

Why spreads are important

Having a lower or tighter spread is important because it means that you can save money. If you pay less to trade, your total earnings will be higher or your total losses lower.

Equally, it’s important to have a consistent, or ‘stable’ spread because that makes it easier to plan ahead. If you have a reliable understanding of the spreads you’ll need to pay, you can backtest and conduct walk-forward tests, and be more confident that the results are accurate.

If you’re new to trading, it’s also important to have reasonably consistent and stable spreads during periods where certain news could affect the market. Given the forex market volatility and activity in markets around the most important news like the US job report (also known as non-farm payrolls or ‘the NFP’ for short), it’s impossible to have a truly fixed spread at such times. But some brokers or market makers like Exness are leaders in maintaining consistency.

What are the types of spread?

Spreads, the differences between the bid and ask, work in several ways. Usually, traders and brokers categorize spreads based on how much they change and, to a lesser extent, how often they change. Such changes to spreads can be due to a range of different factors, but liquidity and major news are the most important.

Floating spreads

The large majority of spreads are ‘floating’, also known as ‘dynamic spreads’. They change, depending on various factors such as the time of day, market conditions, the news, liquidity, and the order book. Floating spreads can vary dramatically from less than a pip — during inactive periods when an instrument has been open for a while — to dozens of pips or more, during major news or high-volume periods such as opening and closing times. There are two more major types of spread in forex trading.

Fixe spreads

A fixed spread is a spread which is always the same and doesn’t change. Truly fixed spreads are extremely rare in retail trading, because they don’t represent the ‘real’ market. In any financial market, spreads must change even slightly, depending on the state of a particular broker’s order book. During important news cycles for instance, prices change very quickly due to high volume, which could cause many pending orders to trigger in quick succession. At such times, brokers need to offer a higher spread, to reduce risk for both them and you, the client.

Stable spreads

Stable spreads are more similar to fixed spreads than floating ones, but still differ from both. At Exness, stable spreads remain so for around 95% of the time, and typically don’t fluctuate more than 50% from the average spread the rest of the time.

In contrast to floating spreads —which might be tens or hundreds of times higher than average around major news or market openings and closings — stable spreads are different. Stable spreads can make your trading life easier. Not only can they save you money on average, but can also help you to plan your trades better and with more confidence.

How to calculate the spread

Now that you understand the basic answer to ‘What is a spread in trading?’ you must learn how a spread is calculated before starting to trade. You don’t need to know everything or do all the calculations in your head. Exness’ trading calculator can calculate the spread and help you to work out how much spreads cost among many other things.

Pips and points

Pips are essentially a measure of how far a currency’s price moves, but are also used to measure spreads.In most cases in forex, a pip is the fourth decimal place of a quotation:

GBPUSD BUY 1.27841 SELL 1.27829

Here the pip is the second last number of the prices quoted. The spread, then, is 1.2 pips.

You should note that the pip’s position varies depending on the instrument being traded. For example, metals and cryptocurrencies work differently from most forex pairs. Pairs with the yen are also different. The easiest way to familiarize yourself with pips and how they work is by using a combination of a demo account and Exness’ trading calculator.

Points are mainly used in MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5. A point is one tenth of a pip. If MT4 tells you that the spread for dollar-yen is 8 points, this means that the spread is 0.8 pips. It’s important to remember the difference between pips and points because many functions in the platform such as stop losses, take profits and trailing stops can be less effective if you confuse them.

Value of a pip/‘pip profit’

The profit or loss from a movement of one pip has various names, including value of pip, pip value, pip profit and others. All of these refer to how much price movements of one pip are worth.

You need three things to calculate the value of a pip: the contract size (usually 100,000 of the base currency for forex), the amount you’re trading in lots, and the size of the pip. Let’s say you’re trading cable (GBPUSD) using a mini lot (0.01 lot). Here’s what the calculation would look like:

0.1 x $100,000 x 0.0001 = $1

That’s the value of a pip. To calculate how much a spread costs, you multiply that by the size of the spread as explained above. The result in this example would be a spread of $1.20.

Remember, you don’t need to do this manually unless you enjoy math and want to test your knowledge. Any platform you use does it for you, and you can also use Exness’ trading calculator to find the value of any spread.

Your options for spreads and the alternative, commissions

What is a spread in trading? Spreads are the ‘default’ way to pay to trade for the majority of traders. However, many brokers, including Exness, give you flexibility to choose how you want to pay for the service they provide for you.

If you prefer scalping or using some types of short-term algorithms, you might not find spread-based pricing convenient. That’s why Exness introduced Zero and Raw Spread accounts to give you more options.

Spread-based accounts

Several of the accounts available at Exness have spreads as the model for pricing. Some are categorized as standard accounts and others are professional accounts.

Standard and Pro accounts differ mainly in execution. The Standard account uses market execution exclusively, while the Pro account uses instant execution for almost all instruments, except for cryptocurrencies.

The Pro account also offers the lowest spreads available from Exness without commissions.

For the majority of traders, a Pro account offers the lowest costs to trade. Spreads for Pro accounts are on average higher than for Zero accounts, but there are no commissions. If you want to use any time-based strategy, except scalping and focussed daytrading, and you’re prepared to make a minimum deposit of $200, a Pro account might be for you. However, if you don’t want to deposit that much, you can still trade on a Standard account.

Zero accounts

Exness also offers the option of a Zero account, one of its professional accounts that features commissions. With a Zero account generally, various instruments have no spreads.

If you’re a scalper or algorithmic trader, a Zero account might be a good choice. You can plan very short-term and high-frequency trades with this account, that can be more effective because the commissions are fixed for all instruments. Any change to commissions is announced in advance.

Please remember that Zero accounts don’t have zero spreads for every instrument all the time. Exness offers consistent zero spread for the top 30 instruments. In fact, some extremely rare exotics such as Australian dollar-Danish krone (AUDDKK) and relatively less traded individual shares such as Broadcom (AVGO) will almost always have some spread in addition to the commission.

Raw Spread accounts

If you want to use a variety of strategies to trade, a Raw Spread account might suit you. This professional account works with a combination of spreads and commissions.

What is a spread in trading a currency pair with the Raw Spread account specifically? Spreads here are higher than the Zero account’s but lower than for the Standard or Pro account. The commission is higher than the Standard or Pro account (which don’t have commissions) but lower than the Zero account.

The main potential advantage of using a Raw Spread account is that it gives you flexibility to adapt your strategy according to the circumstances in the financial markets. If your usual strategy or algorithmic trading isn’t working, for example, you can shift temporarily to daytrading, swing trading or position trading — then return to your algorithm later, without needing to switch accounts to minimize costs.

Does Exness want to make money from clients’ losses?

No. Around 90% of Exness’ profits come from spreads. The rest mainly comes from commissions from Zero and Raw Spread accounts. A small amount also comes from swaps, which are overnight fees applicable to some instruments.

At Exness we value transparency and it’s central to our success. We firmly believe that acting in the best interests of our clients is also in our best interest as a business.

This is why we were one of the first brokers to publish our audited financial data. You can check Exness’ financial audits on our website, to see what our clients collectively withdraw on average every quarter. We don’t want you to lose money in trading because we make money from spreads.

Frequently asked questions

Spreads are trading costs that decrease your earnings and increase your losses. You typically want to avoid high spreads because these make it harder for you to earn steady profits. Each time you open a trade, if spreads are involved, you’ll notice a small loss caused by the spread.

If you’re a scalper, you might prefer to use a commission-based account instead of a spread-based one to save you money in the longer term. You can also choose a Raw Spread account, which balances out spreads and commissions.

On average, Exness’ spreads range from about 0.1% to 0.005% of the total leveraged value of each trade. This means that spreads usually have a minor impact on your profitability, except in rare situations.

0.3 spread means a spread of 0.3 pips or 3 points. For example, euro-dollar with 0.3 spread could be quoted at 1.07376/1.07373 in MT5. To trade a standard lot of $100,000 in that situation would cost $3 in spread.

Most of the time, spreads are quoted in pips, not points. However, if you see a spread quoted in MT4 or MT5 as 3, that means 3 points, in other words 0.3 pips. There are 10 points in a pip, so a spread of 1 pip and a spread of 10 points are the same. However, when checking a currency pair spread, you need to know whether the spread being quoted is in points or pips to know how big it is.

Identifying a good forex spread depends on you, the trader, and market conditions. Many traders might consider a good spread to be one that’s relatively low, — around two pips or less for major forex pairs — and almost always consistent.

Having consistent spreads makes it easier for you to plan ahead and evaluate your results, bringing a level of predictability to your trades.

A common drawback of strongly-fluctuating spreads is that they’re usually low when fewer people actually want to trade, but very high around news reporting, and opening and closing times. Although it is inevitable that spreads will sometimes increase around the most important news, your spreads with Exness are considerably more stable than average.

Why trust Exness to provide a stable spread for forex?

You don’t need to trust us to provide a stable spread, and you shouldn’t just take our word for it. On the contrary, check for yourself. Now that you know about a forex spread, register a live Standard account —no need to deposit —then open your preferred platform and check the live spreads anytime.

If you want to evaluate Exness’ spreads for Pro, Zero and Raw Spread accounts, you can open a demo account for each and study the spreads there without needing to deposit funds. Once you’ve found the right account for you and you’re ready to trade, you can choose to open a live account for trading with real money.

Learn more about Exness’ spreads, unique benefits and features to help you optimize your trading experience. Test Exness’ stable spreads with a Standard demo account today.


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This is not investment advice. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Your capital is at risk, please trade responsibly.