A Beginner’s Guide to Day Trading Futures

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Contributor, Benzinga
December 12, 2023

The process of day trading futures contracts offers an exciting avenue for traders to capitalize on the dynamic intra-day movements of financial markets and diversify their portfolios. Futures contracts allow individuals to speculate on the price movements of various assets, including commodities, currencies, stock indices and interest rates. 

With its potential for high liquidity and leverage, day trading futures attracts experienced professionals and ambitious beginners seeking to generate substantial profits within short timeframes. 

In this article, Benzinga delves into the world of day trading futures, exploring how to get started operating in the futures markets and the benefits and risks of doing so to help traders navigate this fast-paced market with greater confidence.

How to Day Trade Futures

Futures contracts represent an agreement to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price and date in the future. Day trading futures involves the buying and selling of futures contracts within a single trading day with the goal of profiting from short-term futures price fluctuations. 

To many people, the attraction of day trading futures lies in its potential for substantial returns, since traders can take advantage of leverage to amplify their trading positions. Leverage can magnify risks as well as rewards, so using prudent risk and money management methods and a disciplined trading approach are common essential components of successful futures trading. 

Getting started with day trading futures requires careful preparation and adherence to a structured approach. A list of steps you can take to get started day trading futures properly follows. 

Education and Research

Start preparing to day trade futures by educating yourself about futures markets, trading strategies, risk management and the specifics of futures contracts you intend to trade. Study reputable educational resources, books and online courses and consider joining trading communities or finding a mentor to gain valuable insights and knowledge.

Choose a Reliable Futures Broker

Selecting a reputable futures broker is crucial. Look for brokers that offer a user-friendly trading platform with robust charting tools, real-time data and competitive commission rates. Ensure the broker is regulated and offers sufficient customer support to address queries or issues that may arise during your trading journey.

Create a Trading Plan

Develop a well-defined trading plan that outlines your objectives, risk tolerance, preferred markets, trading strategies and risk management techniques. Set clear and realistic goals and establish specific entry and exit criteria for your trades. A trading plan will serve as your roadmap and help maintain discipline and consistency in your trading activities.

Practice with Simulated Trading

Before risking real capital, use the simulated trading or paper trading functionality offered by your broker or use a trading simulator. Simulated trading allows you to test your strategies and gain practical experience without financial risk. Monitor your performance, identify areas for improvement and refine your approach before transitioning to live trading.

Implement Risk and Money Management Strategies

Risk and money management is a key element of day trading futures successfully. Determine the maximum amount of capital you are willing to risk on each trade and set appropriate stop-loss orders to limit potential losses. Use prudent position sizing techniques to ensure your trades align with your risk tolerance and account size. Consistently adhere to your risk and money management rules to protect your capital and avoid excessive losses.

Start with Small Positions

When you begin live trading, it makes sense to start with small positions and gradually increase your exposure as you gain confidence and experience. Focus on preserving capital and managing risk rather than solely chasing profits. Monitor and evaluate your trades, keeping track of your performance and analyzing the effectiveness of your strategies.

Continual Learning and Adaptation

Day trading futures is a continuous learning process. Stay updated on market news, economic events and trends that can impact the futures markets you trade. Regularly review and adapt your trading strategies based on market conditions and your own performance. Embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and be open to adjusting your approach as you gain insights and experience.

Remember that day trading futures involves substantial risk, so it is essential to approach the process with patience, discipline and proper management methods. By following these steps and dedicating time and effort to your education and preparation, you can increase your chances of success and enjoy more rewarding opportunities for day trading futures.

Benefits of Futures Trading

Day trading futures offers several advantages over using other financial instruments for that purpose. These advantages, coupled with the potential for substantial returns, make day trading futures an enticing prospect for ambitious traders. Some of the notable benefits of futures trading include: 

Potential for High Leverage and Amplified Returns

Futures trading offers the benefit of leverage. This lets futures day traders control a significant amount of the underlying asset with a relatively small capital investment. Leverage enables traders to amplify their potential returns, as well as their potential losses. By putting up only a fraction of the total contract value as margin, day traders can access larger positions and potentially generate substantial profits if their market predictions turn out to be correct. 

High Liquidity and Ease of Entry and Exit

Futures markets are highly liquid, which lets day traders easily enter and exit positions without significant slippage or market gaps. The presence of active buyers and sellers, coupled with high trading volumes, facilitates the quick execution of trades and enhances the efficiency of price discovery. This liquidity provides day traders with ample opportunities to obtain favorable prices, enabling them to implement their day trading strategies on tight dealing spreads and with minimal delays or obstacles.

Diversification Across Multiple Asset Classes

Futures markets cover a wide range of asset classes, including commodities, currencies, stock indices, bonds and interest rate products. The breadth of asset classes allows traders to diversify their portfolios and gain exposure to various markets. By spreading their risk across different asset classes, traders can potentially mitigate losses from a specific market or industry and take advantage of opportunities arising in different sectors. The flexibility and access to multiple markets provide day traders with the ability to adapt their strategies and capitalize on different market conditions.

Availability of Advanced Trading Tools and Analytical Resources

Futures trading platforms offer a wide range of advanced day trading tools, charting capabilities and analytical resources to assist traders in making more informed decisions. These tools include real-time market data, historical price charts, technical indicators and customizable trading algorithms. Day traders can perform in-depth analysis, identify price patterns and develop trading strategies based on historical data and market trends. The availability of these resources empowers traders to make better trading decisions, thereby increasing their chances of operating successfully in the futures market.

Potential for Profit in Rising and Falling Markets

Futures contracts enable traders to profit from rising and falling markets. Unlike traditional buy-and-hold investments, futures trading allows traders to take short positions easily to speculate on price declines. This ability to profit readily from downward movements in the market expands the range of opportunities for day traders, letting them benefit from both bullish and bearish market conditions. 

Risks of Futures Trading

While day trading futures offers the benefits listed above and can present lucrative opportunities, it does involve taking substantial financial risks that traders must manage effectively. Day traders should approach the process with a thorough understanding of the specific futures markets they operate in. 

Volatility is a defining characteristic of most futures markets, and sudden price movements can result in significant gains or losses. Day traders should use effective risk and money management methods and consistently maintain a disciplined and strategic trading approach. These techniques include setting stop-loss orders and adhering to appropriate position sizing methods to limit potential losses and protect trading capital. 

Staying updated on market news, economic indicators and geopolitical events that can impact the underlying asset prices is crucial for making informed futures trading decisions. With proper risk management practices and a disciplined approach, day traders can mitigate potential risks and increase their chances of success when trading futures.

Some of the specific risks of futures trading include the following. 

Potential for Magnified Losses Due to Leverage

While leverage in futures trading can amplify potential returns, it exposes traders to an increased risk of losing money. The use of leverage means that even a small adverse price movement can result in significant losses. Traders must exercise caution and implement strict risk management techniques to control their exposure and prevent excessive losses. Failing to manage leverage effectively can lead to substantial financial setbacks and potentially wipe out a trader's capital if trades go against their expectations.

Market Volatility and Price Fluctuations

Futures markets are known for their inherent volatility, which can result in rapid and substantial price fluctuations. The high-speed nature of futures trading means that price movements can sometimes be intense and unpredictable. Traders must be prepared for sudden market shifts and take into account the potential for increased market volatility. Volatility can lead to order slippage, where trades are executed at a different price than intended, which can, in turn, impact your profitability. Traders should be diligent in monitoring market conditions and adjust their strategies accordingly to mitigate the risks associated with unexpected price fluctuations.

Counterparty and Default Risk

Futures contracts involve agreements between buyers and sellers which can introduce counterparty risk. If a counterparty fails to meet its contractual obligations, such as the need to deliver the underlying asset or pay the agreed-upon settlement amount, it can lead to financial losses or disruptions to your day trading activities. Centralized futures exchanges generally have clearing houses that act as the counterparty to both parties to the futures contracts and use risk management mechanisms like mark-to-market margin requirements to help mitigate counterparty risk, but the possibility of default exists. Day traders should choose reputable and regulated futures exchanges and carefully evaluate the creditworthiness of their counterparties to minimize the potential impact of a default.

Market Liquidity and Execution Risks

While futures markets generally offer high liquidity and transparent pricing, instances of reduced liquidity can occur, especially during periods of economic uncertainty or unforeseen events like a surprise result for an economic data release or monetary policy decision. Low liquidity conditions can result in wider bid-ask spreads, order slippage and difficulty in executing trades at your desired prices. Day traders may face challenges entering or exiting futures positions swiftly, which can impact their profitability and increase the risk of unfavorable trade executions. It is important for futures traders to be aware of liquidity conditions and adjust their trading strategies accordingly to manage execution risks effectively.

Psychological and Emotional Challenges

Futures trading can be mentally and emotionally demanding and stressful. The fast-paced nature of the market, coupled with the potential for significant gains or losses, can trigger stress, anxiety and impulsive decision-making. Traders must develop the discipline to adhere to their trading plans, manage their emotions and avoid making impulsive trades based on fear or greed. Lack of emotional control and discipline can lead to costly mistakes and jeopardize your overall trading performance, so day traders should ideally maintain a balanced and strategic mindset, employ sound risk and money management methods and continuously work on developing the psychological resilience suitable for successful futures trading.

Since futures trading carries various risks like those detailed above that day traders should remain mindful of, they need to thoroughly understand these risks and implement robust risk management strategies to protect their capital and navigate the futures markets effectively. Engaging in thorough research, taking continuing education and using disciplined trading practices can help mitigate some of the risks associated with futures trading.

Compare Futures Day Trading Providers

If you are considering getting involved in futures day trading, then choosing the right futures provider can significantly impact your trading experience and success. With numerous options available, you will want to compare and evaluate a variety of different futures day trading providers to find the one that best aligns with your needs. Benzinga has taken some of the legwork out of doing this by compiling the following list comparing various futures day trading providers and highlighting their key features. 

Frequently Asked Questions


Can anyone day trade futures?


Yes, anyone can day trade futures as long as they have a brokerage account that offers futures trading and meet the account requirements set by the broker.



Is day trading futures profitable?


Yes, day trading futures has the potential to be profitable, especially for skilled and disciplined traders who employ effective trading strategies and use prudent risk and money management techniques as part of their overall structured trading plan. Day trading futures carries significant risks that include the potential for substantial losses.



Is day trading futures risky?


Yes, day trading futures involves taking inherent risks. The fast-paced and volatile nature of futures markets and the use of leverage amplifies the potential for gains and losses. To have the best chances of success, day traders should carefully manage the risk of futures positions they take by using effective risk and money management methods as part of a disciplined and strategic approach to futures day trading.

About Jay and Julie Hawk

Jay and Julie Hawk are a married financial writing and authorship team who co-founded TheFXperts, a notable financial writing services provider. The Hawks each worked professionally in the financial markets and have more than 40 years of trading experience among them. Together, they write books, trade forex online for their own account and others, mentor traders, and have worked actively as professional freelance writers specializing in financial topics for over 15 years.