What Is a CFD?

The Contract for Difference is a financial derivative. A CFD is a financial contract that pays the difference in price between opening and closing the trade. CFDs are popular for trading the forex and commodities markets over short term. In today's guide by PFI, we will be going into details regarding CFD – everything you need to know.

This financial asset has recently become very popular among traders and offers a unique way of making money without owning the underlying asset. It is a futuristic concept that is pretty simple to understand. Everything can be complicated to learn at first.

This method of trading involves creating equity through price changes. It is straightforward to understand. If you predict that the price of a commodity is going to increase soon, then you buy or go long.

When it does increase, you sell it, and the difference in its price becomes equity. In this case, you are not physically buying an asset. You are instead buying the price difference. The price difference can be positive or negative, adding to your balance. If the difference is negative, it is deducted from your trading account balance. If positive, then you will see your balance increase.

Pros of CFD trading

There are some benefits to trading through CFDs. Let's explore some of them.

  • Leverage – When regular trading, you will find your leverage is not as high as it is with CFDs. It is well within the laws that regulate financial markets. Having greater access to leverage means achieving much higher buying power than you would otherwise manage. Usually, you can’t make money you don’t have, but CFDs allow that. You should also consider the risk involved. Having more significant capital at your disposal can lead to greater losses in trading. You should only trade when you have obtained consistent results using your trading strategy.
  • International markets available – CFDs are available globally in many financial markets. The broker you choose will most likely provide you with uninterrupted access to these markets. They operate non-stop throughout the day and night. There are over 4000 markets that you can select from. The sheer volume of markets you can trade on should tell you something. That there is high volatility. That is where CFD traders look to make their trades.
  • Small Capital Requirements – This is why this market is well sought after by traders. It has very few rules. You can join with relatively small capital compared to the other financial assets on the market. You are also free to trade as your heart commands. Your strategy is not bound only to day trading but can be designed as you like. The freedom here can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. There is little doubt that beginner traders may prefer structure in their trading and will look for more simple markets. If you, however, want full control over how you trade, then CFDs will work well for you.
  • Open Playing Field – When trading CFDs, you have the choice. The rules do not try to stifle anyone into doing what they do not want to do. You can short the financial asset when you see fit. There will be no charges if you do so. You may be wondering why. It is because when trading CFDs, you are only trading the difference in a financial assets price. You are not trading the actual asset itself. That is the reason why there is so much flexibility in how you can trade it.
  • Flexibility – The flexibility around trading this asset has provided more potential for efficiency. Brokers who trade CFD financial assets can offer more than the conventional stop loss and take profit orders. They offer contingencies to their customers to sweeten the deal. These come in the form of if statements. I.e. cancel if x action takes place. This benefit is not found among other financial assets.


CFD trading comes with some disadvantages. We'll explore some disadvantages below.

  • Regulation – The CFD industry is regulated. Choosing the right CFD broker is essential. Before you decide to fund your account, you must do extensive research. Every CFD broker should be regulated by a top-tier regulator. You should do your due diligence before investing.
  • Risks – This point should be well understood before you begin trading CFDs. Trading CFDs is not allowed in the United States. CFDs are high risk investments and require a lot of due diligence and strong trading strategies. Most retail traders lose money when trading CFDs.


Trading with high leverage is a fast way to incur high losses. Trading with money you don’t technically own can bring drawbacks. The market is known to be consistently volatile with its price movements. The broker may close your position, and you will lose money. This is called a margin call. You will also need to be on the lookout for any execution delays in processing your bid.

How does it work?

When trading this financial derivative, you need to forecast the direction of an assets price. This is going to be either higher or lower. Instead of saying higher or lower, many traders also use the terms ‘long’ and ‘short’, respectively. When trading CFDs, you are only dealing with the price.

This means you will not be taking ownership of any underlying assets in this deal. You are rather looking to benefit off the price movements as they happen. You will need to invest a small amount of capital on each trade you make.

The term margin will become familiar to you. For example, when you wish to trade something worth $1, then you may be required first to put in 50c.

It means that you are receiving the difference between the price you initially bought for and the now new price of the CFD. This will also work against you if you are unsuccessful in predicting the new price. If you are successful, then you will have a positive difference between the two prices. If you are not successful, then the negative balance will be incurred by yourself.

Is CFD trading safe?

CFD trading can be risky, as you need to maintain a margin to cover your leveraged losses. CFDs bring a potential lack of liquidity and regulation. You should always look for a trustworthy and regulated broker.

Some restrictions apply to citizens from different countries. It is illegal in America, as we mentioned earlier. This is about the only country that I know of which does not permit its citizens to trade CFDs.

This is for their own risk as the government feels it is not well regulated. Otherwise, for citizens of other countries, it is 100% legal.

CFDs are offered by the same brokers you would go to for almost any financial asset. If you already use a particular broker to trade other financial assets, you can use them for trading CFDs. That is if you trust them. I say this because it is well known that CFDs are traded on thousands of platforms. This should give you a little bit of comfort in knowing it is a well-traded financial asset.

How long can you hold positions open?

As mentioned earlier, CFDs are a very flexible financial asset to trade. Do note that overnight funding fees might apply.

Trading Platforms

CFD trading platforms will allow you to access the financial markets. There are many brokers available. You need to be able to choose the right one. This will be the trading platform you access the markets with.

When looking for the right trading platform, you need to know how well they cater to beginners. You need to look at the reviews on google to ensure that it is reliable and tested by others. You need to be aware of the commission and fees charged on each trade. Another important factor to considers is the minimum deposit. How much capital do you need to start trading with them.

You need to ensure that the platform is user friendly and easy to understand. If it is not, then you may struggle. Remember that a complicated platform does not offer a greater chance of making money than a simple looking one. Once you have chosen a platform to try to sign up for a demo account. With a demo account you can try the trading platform, before trading with real money.

You should also try to put in a small amount of money and withdraw it. This allows you to rest easy knowing your money is accessible at any time you need it.

Trading Apps

Finding a good trading app enables traders to open and close positions on the go. The best ones also allow traders to research CFDs, track performance and portfolio and offer other tools and features.

Best Trading Apps for CFDs

  1. Pepperstone – Great CFD Trading App
  2. eToro – Best For Copy Trading CFDs
  3. AvaTrade – Best User Interface (AvaTradeGo) eToro USA LLC does not offer CFDs. 
  4. IQ Option – Award Winning Platform
  5. Interactive Brokers – Great for Advanced Traders

What CFD products can you trade?

CFDs are not necessarily a financial asset as you would think of it. It is not like a commodity. It is more of a tool that provides traders the opportunity to trade. It allows traders to trade with leverage and margins on the price movements on the asset you have chosen. This means that you are not technically involved with the market. Not being directly involved with the market allows you to trade when you want.

You can trade CFDs on the following instruments:

  • Stocks
  • Forex
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Commodities
  • Indices
  • ETFs

Learning how to trade CFD

To become successful at anything, you need to put in hard work. Trading CFDs is the same. You would not trust your company to someone who was unqualified, would you? Think of CFD trading as your business, and you need to be qualified enough to run it successfully.

To learn how to trade CFDs, you can try the following.

  • Mentors – Due to the complex nature of trading, it is always advisable to get a walk-through from someone experienced. When you first open a trading platform, everything seems confusing. The graphs, patterns, technical analysis tools and buttons can be confusing for the untrained eye. To give you some direction, it would be good to find someone you know and trust to show you the ropes. This will provide you with a less frustrating path to understanding CFD trading. There are seminars that you can find by self-proclaimed trading gurus online, but it's best to avoid these if you can. Unless this person has been personally recommended by someone you know, avoid them. These courses and inside secrets are often scams. A Lot of information is available on the internet for free.
  • Online Courses – There are courses for anything you can think of on the internet. If you are thinking of CFD trading, then this is an excellent way to go. If you work full-time and don't have the time to learn trading, then online course could be the solution. You can find some free courses offered by brokers to encourage you to sign with them. You can also pay for trading courses from reputable establishments such as universities and technical colleges.
  • Trading Books – The tried and tested method of learning through books. There are books for everything, so these should not be hard to find. When starting, we recommend that you begin with a book for beginners. If you plan to do this long-term, you need to know the basics. There is no need to rush. If you rush into something much more complicated, you may become disinterested in trading CFDs. Keep it simple!
  • Demo Account – This is not an option but a necessity. It will be crucial to tie together the theory. The demo trading account is where it all comes together. A demo account is an account that mimics the real-world financial markets almost 100%. It allows you to test out strategies. It also lets you get a feel for the platform before investing real money. It does not require any money and all money used to trade on it is virtual. The trading theory is very complicated when not used with the demo account.


Tools can be helpful for trading. It is a very technical discipline. You need to make use of tools to have the highest chance of success.

  • Currency Converter Tool – This will allow getting real-time exchange prices for the CFDs you are trading. You need to be able to make decisions as you go, and having real-time currency exchange rates at your disposal will help you make decisions faster. It is a handy tool that saves you from having to manually calculate the value of things in a currency you can understand.
  • Pip Value Calculator – Once you have already opened a position in the market, you will need to be continuously updated as to how much your investments are currently worth in the currency you are trading in. You will come to find for yourself that the currency changes may be confusing. That is why this tool exists to help you keep on top of things.
  • Swap Rates Calculator – There may come a time when you wish to hold a position throughout the night. When you do this, you may be charged what is called a swap rate. To calculate this, you can use this tool. The manual process can be time-consuming and a little confusing for beginners.
  • Margin Percentage Calculator – Earlier, we discussed margin and leverage. So, if you have thought the calculation was complicated, then this may ease your mind. There is a margin percentage calculator that is handy and can be used at any time. Therefore, your margin will be calculated and presented to you before you attempt to purchase a trade.


This financial derivative finds its roots in the 1990s. It was created to trade price margins as though they were equity. It was launched on the London Stock Exchange.

Taxes on CFDs

Regarding CFD taxes, you should always consult a local tax expert. There are different laws worldwide, and there is no “one fits all” answer.


There are many CFD trading strategies. We cover some popular ones below. Every successful trader develops his own strategy over time.

  • Range trading
  • Trend trading
  • News trading
  • Hedging
  • Contrarian investing
  • Breakouts
  • Swing trading


The main cost associated with CFD trading is charged by your broker. There is often a commission on every trade that is executed by the trader. The charge usually is so small that you wouldn’t notice it. It depends on the broker how much their fees are. Expect costs at the beginning and end of a trade in the range of 0.1 % of the investment.


Here are some of the frequently asked questions about CFD trading.

Do CFDs pay Dividends?

CFD contracts do not pay dividends.

How to start with $100?

You can start trading with $100 if you can use leverage. Remember that leverage carries more risk and can end up wiping out all your funds. You must sign up with a broker with a minimum deposit of $100 or less.

Why are CFDs banned in the US?

CFDs have been banned in the US because it is not regulated enough to meet their financial laws. The US regulators consider CFDs too risky for their investors to make. Should something go wrong, the United States will not be able to help them.

Can you lose more than you invest?

No. Your investment is limited to the amount of money you agreed to risk on a trade. If you lose it all, then you cannot be liable for any more money.

What happens when CFDs expire?

When one expires, the position is closed, and you cannot make any further trades.

How long can you hold CFD positions open?

You can hold CFD positions open for as long as you want to. Most brokers charge overnight funding fees.

About the author

Ziga Breznik is the owner and head of research at PublicFinanceInternational.org – he is an active investor in the forex, crypto and stock markets – he has seen trading platforms disappear along with his investments – especially during the “crypto boom”. Ziga learned the hard way that finding a reputable and trustworthy online brokerage is key to long-term success in the financial markets. He founded PublicFinanceInternational.org as a platform where he shares his research with one goal in mind: to provide unbiased and trustworthy online brokers reviews.