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Best Futures Trading Platforms in 2022

Blain Reinkensmeyer

Chris McKhann

May 16, 2022

The StockBrokers.com best online brokers 2022 review, our 12th annual, took three months to complete and produced over 40,000 words of research. Here's how we tested.

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. This is where the "futures" in futures markets comes from.

For our 2022 Review, we tested 15 different online brokers, five of which offer futures trading. To find the best futures trading platform, we compared pricing (e.g., contract charges and margin rates) and the platforms themselves, including trading tools, research, usability, and available order types.

Best Futures Trading Platforms 2022

StockBrokers.com 2022 Review

Here are the five best futures trading platforms for 2022.

Interactive Brokers
Overall

Best overall for futures trading

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

The Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation platform offers a slew of trading tools and every order type under the sun. Popular with the institutional community, Interactive Brokers is not beginner-friendly but does offer the lowest margin rates in the industry. A caveat: A $110,000 minimum deposit is required for margin accounts. Read full review

Pros

  • Web-based client portal great for casual investors
  • Offers access to global markets
  • Robust mobile app

Cons

  • Trader Workstation (TWS) desktop platform best suited for professionals, not beginners
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EXCLUSIVE: New clients, special margin rates.

TD Ameritrade
Overall

Best desktop futures trading platform

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

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

Pros

  • Excellent education for beginners
  • thinkorswim platform suite is our top desktop platform for 2022
  • Futures and forex trading available

Cons

  • $6.95 fee per trade for penny stocks
  • No access to international stock markets
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TradeStation
Overall

Great platforms and low commissions

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.60

As a trading technology leader, TradeStation shines, supporting traders through its web-based trading platform as well as its desktop platform, which we rated No. 1 for platform technology. Trading tools aside, TradeStation offers two pricing plans for futures trading, giving traders flexibility based on trade frequency and platform access. Read full review

Pros

  • Excellent desktop and web-based trading platforms
  • Great for professionals
  • Offers cryptocurrency trading

Cons

  • Research trails industry leaders
  • Educational content split between two sites
  • Scored poorly for customer service
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Trade Stocks, Options, Futures, & Crypto. Advertisement

E*TRADE
Overall

Best web-based futures trading platform

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

Best web-based futures trading platform / Built as a web-based platform, Power E*TRADE innovates and delivers speed, ease of use, and the tools needed for futures traders to succeed, and in 2022 was again our top pick for best web-based platform. While competitor TD Ameritrade offers better education for futures trading, Power E*TRADE is an easier platform for beginners. Read full review

Pros

  • Power E*TRADE offers great selection of trading tools
  • Our top pick for mobile trading and ease of use

Cons

  • $1,000 minimum for streaming data
  • Range of educational materials is limited compared to peers
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Charles Schwab
Overall

Balanced offering

Minimum Deposit $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65

Alongside the Charles Schwab website, Schwab offers customers access to two trading platforms: StreetSmart Edge (desktop-based; active traders) and StreetSmart Central (web-based; futures trading). Each has its highs and lows, but overall, Schwab will satisfy most futures traders. Read full review

Pros

  • Multiple financial planning services
  • Our top pick for IRA accounts
  • Fractional shares available

Cons

  • Mobile app lacks alerts and real-time streaming quotes
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Other brokers tested

In addition to our top five trading platforms for futures in 2022, we reviewed 10 others: Ally Invest, Fidelity, Firstrade, J.P. Morgan Self-Directed Investing, Merrill Edge, SoFi Invest, Tradier, Robinhood, Vanguard and Webull. To dive deeper, read our reviews.

Best Futures Trading Platforms Comparison

Feature Interactive Brokers
Visit Site
TD Ameritrade TradeStation
Visit Site
Desktop Trading Platform Yes Yes Yes
Web Trading Platform Yes Yes Yes
Paper Trading Yes Yes Yes
Trade Journal Yes Yes No
Watch Lists - Total Fields 669 514 335

Trading fees

Feature Interactive Brokers
Visit Site
TD Ameritrade TradeStation
Visit Site
Minimum Deposit $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Stock Trades $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
ETF Trade Fee $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Mutual Fund Trade Fee $14.95 $74.95 $14.95
Options (Base Fee) $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Options (Per Contract) $0.65 $0.65 $0.60
Futures (Per Contract) $0.85 $2.25 $1.50
Broker Assisted Trade Fee $30.00 $25.00 $0.00

What is futures trading?

Trading futures contracts is a way to speculate on the future price of a security or commodity. A futures contract enables an investor to buy or sell an asset at a preset time and price.

For an 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 milk shrink.

However, 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 a difficult growing season that would cause corn prices -- and his bovine feeding costs -- to spike.

In nonbucolic settings, investors can trade futures contracts on everything from market indices (e.g., S&P 500 futures) to commodities (crude oil, natural gas, corn, and wheat), metals (e.g., gold and silver), currencies (including bitcoin), treasuries, and more. Although futures are traded mostly by institutional institutional investors, retail investors can also speculate by using a futures trading platform. The regulatory body in the U.S. that oversees futures trading is the National Futures Association (NFA).

How much does it cost to trade futures?

Futures trading commissions can range from less than one dollar for most commodity futures to as high as $10 per contract when trading bitcoin futures. Commission aside, some brokers also charge monthly platform fees and market data fees, so it is important to consider all costs before selecting a futures trading platform.

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.

Which futures trading platform is best?

To find the best futures broker, we compared each platform's trading tools and pricing. Interactive Brokers offers the lowest pricing, but its platform is built for professionals and not easy to learn. On the other hand, TD Ameritrade provides an excellent downloadable trading platform; however, its pricing is more expensive. For perhaps the best balance of both pricing and tools, TradeStation is a winner.

How can I trade futures?

Trading futures requires a funded online broker account with margin and futures trading approval. Once set up, research and determine which contract you want to trade, fill out the order ticket, then place your trade.

More details: 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).

Do I need a margin account to trade futures?

Yes, a margin account is required to trade futures with an online broker. The margin requirements will vary depending on the instrument being traded. For example, the S&P 500 e-minis are the most popular futures contracts traded (alongside the most liquid) in the United States, so margin requirements are lower, on average.

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.

Example: If you wanted to speculate on a price increase of the March 2021 Wheat contract (Globex ticker code: ZWH1), you would create a buy-to-open order to go long one Chicago SRW Wheat Futures contract. Checking the contract specification shows that one contract controls 5,000 bushels of wheat (136 metric tons), which cost $6.53 per bushel as of January 6th, 2021.

The underlying 5,000 bushels multiplied by the price per bushel ($6.53) equals $32,650 for the total trade value. 5% of the trade value or $1,650 is the margin requirement needed to open this position. A sell-to-close order allows you to exit your existing long position.

More details: If the price of wheat changes drastically, there can be variation margin, where you must post additional collateral or else risk having your trade closed early. Overall, trading as a speculator is different than trading as a hedger or producer of the commodity, as hedgers remove risk by transferring it to you as a speculator.

Is futures trading risky?

Yes, futures trading is risky and not suitable for everyone. Not only does it involve the use of leverage (margin) and potentially volatile assets, there is also the possibility of incurring an obligation to make or accept delivery of the underlying asset and being responsible for settling the total trade value.

As long as you close your position before expiration, you avoid the need to physically deliver or cash settle the trade value.

What brokers allow futures trading?

While there are over 334 brokers regulated with the CFTC, the vast majority are not set up for retail investors. For our 2022 Review, we found five futures brokers that support everyday investors: Interactive Brokers, TD Ameritrade, TradeStation, E*TRADE, and Charles Schwab.

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, forex, and crypto trading are not available.

StockBrokers.com 2022 Overall Ranking

Here are the Overall rankings for the 15 online brokers who participated in our 2022 Review, sorted by Overall ranking.

Read Next

Explore our other online trading guides:

Methodology

For the StockBrokers.com 12th Annual Review published in January 2022, a total of 3,075 data points were collected over three months and used to score 15 top brokers. This makes StockBrokers.com home to the largest independent database on the web covering the online broker industry.

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.


About the Author

Blain Reinkensmeyer

As Head of Research at StockBrokers.com, Blain Reinkensmeyer has 20 years of trading experience with over 1,000 trades placed during that time. Referenced as a leading expert on the US online brokerage industry, Blain has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Fast Company, among others.


Chris McKhann

Chris McKhann has been in the industry for more than 20 years. He has worked for many of the top names in the online trading space, including TD Ameritrade and optionMONSTER, which later became part of E*TRADE. His work has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Financial Times, Forbes, CNBC, Nasdaq.com and Nikkei. He has also been an advisor and outside trader for several hedge funds. He was one of the first traders to delve into the VIX tradable products and to write about them (back in 2006). Chris is also an educator who teaches high school statistics, finance and computer science.



All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 01/10/2022 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.

TD Ameritrade, Inc. and StockBrokers.com are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s services and products. View terms.

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