For our 2023 Annual Stockbroker Review, we tested 17 different online brokerages, six of which are futures trading brokers. To find the best futures trading platforms, we compared pricing (e.g., contract charges and margin rates), investment choices (such as options on futures and the ability to trade micros and smalls), and the platforms themselves, including trading tools, research, usability, and available order types.
Best Futures Trading Platforms 2023
Here are the five best futures trading platforms for 2023.
The Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation platform offers a slew of trading tools and every order type under the sun including a wide variety of micro and small-sized futures contracts. Interactive Brokers is not beginner-friendly but does offer industry-leading margin rates. Read full review
Tastytrade’s platform is ideal for frequent options and futures traders, offering efficient workflow, useful risk management tools, killer design, and solid online content. The broker also took our top spot for options trading in 2023. Read full review
Clear expertise with active trading
Great stock options pricing
Maverick approach makes initial learning curve a bit steep
TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim is home to an impressive array of trading tools. Highlights for futures trading include paper trading with virtual money, price alerts, plotting economic (FRED) data, charting social sentiment, candlestick pattern recognition, real-time scanning and ladder trading. Read full review
As a trading technology leader, TradeStation shines, supporting traders through its web-based trading platform as well as its desktop platform. TradeStation offers two pricing plans for futures trading, giving traders flexibility based on trade frequency and platform access. Read full review
E*TRADE’s Power E*TRADE Mobile app stands out for futures trading, delivering speed, ease of use, and the tools needed for traders to succeed. While competitor TD Ameritrade offers better education for futures trading, Power E*TRADE is an easier platform for beginners. Read full review
Watch lists are the best in the business
Smooth mobile navigation
High-quality high-net-worth Morgan Stanley proprietary research
Your individual trading style will determine the best broker for futures trading, which is why we offer five options, each with different strengths. We compared each platform's ease of use, trading tools and pricing.
Interactive Brokers offers the lowest pricing and a host of features on its well-known trading platform, Trader Workstation. There is a catch though: You might not meet the financial or experience requirements to trade futures. Interactive Brokers is an institutionally oriented firm with restrictive requirements for retail clients.
The pricing is tiered according to monthly volume, but do you trade more than a thousand contracts a month? I don’t, but it must be fun.
Futures and options: $0.85 per contract.
E-Micro and options: $0.25 per contract.
Small (all contracts): $.08 per contract (no tiered pricing).
Tastytrade is the best choice for casual futures traders. It also has below-average pricing, though not as low as Interactive Brokers, and Tasty has a sleek interface, good analytics and efficient workflow across all platforms. Options trading, including options on futures, is tastytrade’s specialty. Their options trade pricing is unusual: There’s only a commission to open a position, not to close one.
There isn’t as much news or third-party services available on tastytrade as what you will find at rivals IBKR and TD Ameritrade, but we like this broker because of its super responsive platforms, very good pricing, and because it’s a feisty upstart founded by industry veterans. Their live market commentary is often hilarious.
Futures: $1.25 per contract.
Micro: $0.85 per contract.
Small: $.25 per contract.
Futures options: $2.50 to open, $0 to close.
Micro futures options: $1.50 to open, $0 to close.
Smalls futures options: $0.50 to open, $0 to close.
TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim platform is the way to go if you are looking for a well-rounded, easy-to-master platform to monitor markets and news along with trading contracts. Pricing is higher than it is at some rivals, unfortunately. Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade’s corporate parent, is in the middle of assimilating TDA. The thinkorswim platform will continue at Schwab.
TradeStation’s flagship PC-only desktop platform has been a go-to for traders since 1991, when it was one of the first companies to make an institutional-level platform available to the masses. The website and freshly updated mobile app are attractive and intuitive, but during my testing, I noticed slow page load issues on both.
E*TRADE doesn’t offer a desktop platform, but I found Power E*TRADE’s mobile and browser platforms more responsive than TradeStation’s. Power E*TRADE is very well suited to new futures traders because it presents critical information clearly and doesn’t drown users in detail they won’t understand. Experienced traders might wish for more tools.
A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell a particular security or commodity at a future date. Futures markets were originally established to help farmers and other commodity producers hedge (offset or reduce) risk in the future. That’s where the "futures" in futures markets comes from.
A futures contract enables investors to take a position on the future value or price of something at a preset time and price. That something can be physical (gold, pork, frozen concentrated orange juice), or it could be a stock index value or the price of a bond. Other examples of underlying assets include swaps, eurodollars and cryptocurrencies. There should be a futures contract for Taylor Swift tickets but, sadly, there isn’t.
Futures are traded on exchanges. Exchanges perform four essential functions:
They create the contracts according to standard specifications.
They maintain orderly markets for both buyers and sellers.
They guarantee performance on the contracts (meaning contract buyers and sellers don’t need to worry about the other side of their trades defaulting).
They publish market data that people, government officials, and companies use to make financial decisions.
The main regulatory body in the U.S. that oversees futures trading is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which delegates many powers and duties to the industry’s self-regulating body, the National Futures Association.
Producers use futures to reduce business risk by locking in future costs and sales prices. For example, let's dig into the operations at Old MacDonald's dairy farm. His cows eat a mixture of hay, which MacDonald grows on his own, and corn, which he has to buy. When corn prices are low, Old MacDonald makes more money, because it costs him less to feed the cows that produce the milk he sells. But when corn prices are high, the profit margins on MacDonald Farm’s milk shrink.
Mac’s time is better spent managing his farm than worrying about corn and milk prices. Using futures contracts, Farmer Mac can lock in the price of corn from his suppliers before the corn growing season even starts. This lets him offset, or hedge, the risk of bad weather or a crop disease that would cause corn prices — and thus feeding costs — to spike. Further, he can also sell contracts on his farm’s expected milk production to lock in a sales price. For ol’ Mac, futures represent insurance.
You don’t need to own a farm to get started in futures, but before you put your money in the futures markets, you need to know who you’re competing against. Unlike the stock market, the futures market is a zero sum game (minus costs). Every contract trade has a winner on one side and a loser on the other.
Before you jump into the futures market, remember that we individual traders are trading against hedge funds, energy companies, and agribusinesses that have waaaaay more capital, computing power and PhDs than you and little ol’ me. What am I saying, exactly? Put simply, I’m trying to discourage most people from trading futures, because new traders are likely to lose everything from their shirts to their shoelaces.
If you think you can out-trade Chevron, Cargill, and all those quant hedge funds, clearly you are going to go for it. May your portfolio always be limit up.
How do I choose a futures broker?
These are the top things to ask when choosing a futures broker:
Does the broker trade the instruments you want to trade?
Will the broker allow you to open a futures account?
What tools and features are available on the broker’s trading platform?
What are the commissions and fees?
How much does it cost to trade futures?
The per-contract cost depends on which instrument you trade. Interactive Brokers charges as little as $0.08 per Small Exchange futures contract. There are also E-Mini and E-Micro contracts and there are often options on futures contracts available. Each broker has its own unique pricing. Commission aside, some brokers also charge monthly platform fees and market data fees, so it’s important to consider all costs before selecting a futures trading platform. Exchanges also levy fees on trades, but they are uniform across brokers.
Each online broker requires a different minimum deposit to trade futures contracts. For most online brokerages, the minimum deposit is less than $1,000. Before you can trade futures, you must apply for margin trading and futures trading approval.
Can I trade futures with $100?
Yes, you can open a futures account with $100, but it’s not a good idea. First, you’ll be limited to intraday trading of a few micro and nano futures contracts, and second, futures can be very volatile. You are very likely to lose all your money. Instead of playing with $100 to experiment, consider opening a paper (virtual) trading account instead.
Do you need $25K to day trade futures?
No, you don’t need $25,000 to trade futures. Unlike day-trading stocks, trading futures isn’t covered by Pattern Day Trader rules, which require stock day traders to maintain a minimum account value of $25,000. Brokers have their own minimum requirements to be approved for trading futures, so you may need to find a broker that is willing to allow you to trade.
Trading futures can be very profitable, thanks to the enormous leverage built into futures contracts. It can also leave your account penniless. Your performance will depend on your investing knowledge, self discipline and how well you manage costs. I suggest you try paper trading futures in a virtual portfolio before putting your hard-won capital at risk; our top-rated brokers that offer paper trading include TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE.
How can I trade futures?
Trading futures requires a funded online broker account with margin and futures trading approval. Once your account is approved, opened, and funded, research and determine which contract you want to trade, fill out the order ticket, then place your trade.
info Pro tips
Remember, each futures contract has different margin requirements. Also, be sure to know whether the contract is cash-settled or physically delivered upon expiration. For contracts with delivery upon expiration, if you hold your position until its contract expiration date, you can become liable for payment of the entire trade value (plus delivery costs).
What is the best way to trade futures?
As with stocks, there are almost infinite ways to analyze futures. The best way for you to trade will depend on how long
you intend to hold contracts, how much risk you are willing to accept, and what you believe drives supply and demand for the asset. Short-term traders tend to use charts, and longer-term traders will focus on factors driving supply and demand from producers and customers, like weather forecasts for agriculture commodities.
Do I need a margin account to trade futures?
Yes, a margin account is required to trade futures with an online broker, but the margin requirements differ from stocks. The amounts will vary depending on the instrument being traded but can be as low as 3% of the contract.
How is margin calculated for futures trading?
First, you must ensure you have enough capital available to meet any margin requirements (i.e., initial and maintenance margin) before your position is open. The margin requirement is typically a percentage of the value of the underlying asset that each contract controls. The exchanges determine the minimum margin percentages and brokers are allowed to go above the exchange minimums, so you should check your broker’s requirements, which could change unexpectedly.
Should the price of your futures contract move enough against you, you could be on the hook for variation margin, where you must post additional collateral or risk having your trade closed early.
Is futures trading risky?
Yes, futures trading is risky and not suitable for everyone. Futures are highly leveraged and the contracts are difficult for beginners to understand. A small movement in the price of an ordinarily sleepy commodity can and frequently does lead to riches or ruin.
Can you trade futures with Fidelity?
Fidelity does not currently offer futures trading. Investments provided by Fidelity include stocks, fractional shares, OTC stocks, options, mutual funds, and bonds. Futures and forex are not available, and crypto trading, as of December 2022, is gradually being rolled out. Read our full review of Fidelity.
StockBrokers.com 2023 Overall Ranking
Here are the Overall rankings for the 17 online brokers whose offerings we analyze and test, sorted by Overall ranking.
For the StockBrokers.com 13th Annual Review published in January 2023, more than 3,000 data points were collected over three months and used to score 17 top brokers. This makes StockBrokers.com home to the largest independent database on the web covering the online broker industry.
In order to assess the overall trading experience, we test across a wide range of devices and operating systems.
Testing was done on devices for both Apple and Android operating systems. For Apple: iPhone XS with the most current iOS. For Android: Samsung Galaxy S9+, 6.2" 4K Super AMOLED (2960x1440) 64-bit Octa-Core Snapdragon 835 Processor 2.7GHz, 6GB RAM 6.2" with the most current operating system.
For this guide to the best platforms for futures trading, our research team compared pricing, including contract charges and margin rates, and evaluated each broker’s platform features, including its trading tools; quality of market research; app, desktop and web usability; and available order types. All research, writing and data collection at StockBrokers.com is done by humans, for humans. Read our generative AI policy here.
As part of our annual review process, all brokers had the opportunity to provide updates and key milestones and complete an in-depth data profile, which we hand-checked for accuracy. Brokers also were offered the opportunity to provide executive time for an annual update meeting.
Our rigorous data validation process yields an error rate of less than .001% each year, providing site visitors quality data they can trust. Learn more about how we test.
Sam Levine has over 30 years of experience in the investing field as a portfolio manager, financial consultant, investment strategist and writer. He also taught investing as an adjunct professor of finance at Wayne State University. Sam holds the Chartered Financial Analyst and the Chartered Market Technician designations and is pursuing a master's in personal financial planning at the College for Financial Planning. Previously, he was a contributing editor at BetterInvesting Magazine and a contributor to The Penny Hoarder and other media outlets.
Blain Reinkensmeyer has 20 years of trading experience with over 2,500 trades placed during that time. He heads research for all U.S.-based brokerages on StockBrokers.com and is respected by executives as the leading expert covering the online broker industry. Blain’s insights have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the Chicago Tribune, among other media outlets.
Carolyn Kimball is managing editor for Reink Media and the lead editor for the StockBrokers.com Annual Review. Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.
Steven Hatzakis is the Global Director of Research for ForexBrokers.com. Steven previously served as an Editor for Finance Magnates, where he authored over 1,000 published articles about the online finance industry. Steven is an active fintech and crypto industry researcher and advises blockchain companies at the board level. Over the past 20 years, Steven has held numerous positions within the international forex markets, from writing to consulting to serving as a registered commodity futures representative.
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