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6 Best Futures Trading Platforms & Brokers

Futures contracts allow market participants to place bets on future pricing and the direction of change in future pricing of commodities, financial products, and certain other assets and instruments.

Because futures markets can be volatile, illiquid, and prone to speculation, they’re not appropriate for inexperienced traders and investors. Nor is futures trading appropriate for investors of any skill level who can’t stomach — or afford — trading on margin, a requirement for futures market participants.

But futures trading can be lucrative for seasoned, risk-tolerant traders with clear strategies and the means to execute them. And, like any other market-traded instruments, futures contracts are not inscrutable.

It’s entirely possible for average folks with limited investing experience to learn the ropes and become savvy futures market participants — although that’s much easier on the right futures trading platform.

Best Brokers for Futures Trading (Futures Brokers)

So, what do you need to know before getting started in the futures markets or switching away from a trading platform that no longer serves your needs?

For one thing, many of the best online stock brokers for futures trading offer free stock and exchange-traded fund (ETF) trades. That’s good news for frugal traders.

Some futures-friendly platforms hold their own among the best places to open an individual retirement account (IRA) — good news for investors with long time horizons.

Other futures trading outlets are more specialized. They cater to intermediate and advanced traders seeking exposure to alternative investments like futures and who are comfortable using derivatives like options to manage market risk.

Whether you’re looking for a full-service brokerage at which futures trading is just one capability among many or a no-frills platform built for experts, you’ve come to the right place: our regularly updated list of the best online brokers for futures trading.

These are among the best online stock brokers for futures trading — the best futures trading platforms — you’ll find this year.

1. Interactive Brokers

Very Low Contract Pricing and Low Margin Rates; Powerful Tools for Serious Traders

  • Futures Pricing: Fixed-rate futures pricing on U.S. contracts starts at $0.85 per contract. Volume-based tier pricing starts at $0.05 per CME Group E-micro contract (the smallest-value contract available), but $0.25 to $0.85 is more typical.
  • Minimum to Open: InteractiveBrokers requires an account balance of at least $100,000 to open a portfolio margin account for futures trading.
  • Account Opening Bonus: None.
  • Other Assets Available: Stocks and ETFs, mutual funds, options, fixed-income instruments, precious metals.

Interactive Brokers (ticker: IBKR) caters to expert-level active traders and institutional users with low contract pricing, low margin rates, and a host of powerful tools to hasten time-sensitive futures trades, including programmable hotkeys, real-time charting, and fully customizable watchlists with space for hundreds of different contracts.

The biggest downside is the high minimum to open a portfolio margin account: $100,000.

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2. E*Trade

Reasonable Contract Pricing; Powerful Trading Tools

  • Futures Pricing: $1.50 per contract
  • Minimum to Open: E*TRADE requires futures accounts to carry $25,000 minimum equity at all times.
  • Account Opening Bonus: None.
  • Other Assets Available: Stocks and ETFs, mutual funds, options, fixed-income instruments.

Like Charles Schwab, E*TRADE has an array of powerful desktop and mobile trading tools appropriate for beginners and experts alike.

It’s also a font of incisive research and analysis tools, thanks to the E*TRADE Futures Research Center — powered by the CME Group, which oversees the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, one of the biggest futures exchanges on the planet.

E*TRADE stands out in one additional way: It’s one of the few mainstream brokerages that facilitates cryptocurrency futures trading, specifically Bitcoin.

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3. TD Ameritrade

Beginner-Friendly Futures Trading Platform

  • Futures Pricing: $2.25 per contract.
  • Minimum to Open: There’s no minimum deposit required to open a TD Ameritrade account.
  • Account Opening Bonus: See terms for the latest account opening bonus information.
  • Other Assets Available: Stocks and ETFs, currencies (forex), options, mutual funds, fixed-income instruments.

TD Ameritrade might be the most beginner-friendly futures trading platform on this list.

The secret: a second-to-none trove of educational content, technical resources (including the uber-advanced thinkorswim platform), and trading simulations designed to slowly, gently introduce novices to the rough-and-tumble world of futures trading.

Once you’re off and running, you’ll have access to approximately 70 futures products: currency futures, metals, agricultural products, forestry products, stock index derivatives, and more.

And you’ll always be just a phone call or email away from round-the-clock expert support.

4. TradeStation

Reasonable Contract Pricing; Reduced Overnight Margins

  • Futures Pricing: $1.50 per contract.
  • Minimum to Open: Just $500 is needed to open a futures trading account, but margin requirements may be higher.
  • Account Opening Bonus: None.
  • Other Assets Available: Stocks and ETFs, initial public offerings (IPOs), options, mutual funds, and fixed-income instruments.

With robust educational resources and no pattern day trading rules — long the bane of active and day traders’ existence — TradeStation appeals to beginners and experts alike.

Its product lineup is comparable in scope to TD Ameritrade’s, covering currencies, market indexes, metals, fixed-income instruments, energy, and agricultural products. But TradeStation has far greater product breadth — more than 350 products at last count.

Plus, reduced overnight margins make it easier for retail investors to compete with globe-spanning institutional players.

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5. Charles Schwab

Reasonable Contract Pricing; Powerful Trading Tools

  • Futures Pricing: $2.25 per contract.
  • Minimum to Open: There’s no account opening minimum, but margin requirements may apply.
  • Account Opening Bonus: Open a new qualifying Charles Schwab account with a qualifying referral from an existing Schwab client to earn a cash bonus of up to $500. Use a friend or family member’s unique code to open your account and make initial deposits totaling at least $25,000 within 45 days of your account opening date.
  • Other Assets Available: Stocks and ETFs, options, mutual funds, fixed-income instruments (including annuities).

As the first mainstream brokerage to eliminate stock trading commissions and a perennial appearance on our list of the best brokerage account promotions, Charles Schwab has a lot going for it. It’s no surprise, then, that its futures trading capability is among the best in the business.

The secret is the StreetSmart trading platform, whose desktop and mobile-friendly versions both feature powerful charting, probability, and trading tools to help serious traders plan and execute profitable swaps.

A robust array of market research resources adds depth when it’s time to take a breather from the frenzy of the digital trading pit.

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6. Generic Trade

Very Low Contract Pricing; Futures and Options Trading Exclusively

  • Futures Pricing: $0.59 per contract.
  • Minimum to Open: There’s no minimum balance required, although margins vary by product and exchange.
  • Account Opening Bonus: None.
  • Other Assets Available: Generic Trade offers futures and options contracts only.

If you’re looking to trade financial derivatives and only financial derivatives, the unfortunately named Generic Trade could be your best bet (no pun intended).

Generic Trade exclusively deals in futures and options, allowing its admittedly lean staff to devote their modest resources to the support and satisfaction of serious derivatives traders.

It’s also extremely affordable, with contracts priced at just $0.59 apiece for all traders regardless of volume or account balance and industry-low margins.

Generic Trade’s biggest downside is the fact that it’s not beginner-friendly.

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Final Word

Most retail investors never participate in the futures markets, at least not directly. They don’t need to.

Although they’re strategically important for many advanced traders, futures contracts aren’t integral to the typical buy-and-hold investor’s portfolio. Nor are they essential to achieve the sort of diversification that fiduciary financial advisors recommend for market participants with long investment time horizons.

Nevertheless, experienced traders seeking futures exposure (and other advanced asset classes, like forex, for that matter) deserve to work with low-cost online brokers they can trust. If you’re among them, you can rest assured that any of the platforms on this list are friendly to futures traders like you.

Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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