Understanding futures trading is complicated. That much, most people can agree with, right?
Quick look – Our Favorite Futures Brokers
- Best for advanced futures traders and low commission – NinjaTrader
- Best for more futures options – E-Trade, Generic Trade
- Best Tech – TradeStation
- Best for active traders – Lightspeed Trading
- Best mobile platform – TD Ameritrade
- Best for education – Charles Schwab
Here’s an interesting history lesson. Futures trading history is as simple as understanding the concept of farmers planting crops every spring, and then, every fall, farmers harvesting grain and locking in prices early in the season, rather than later. In fact, farmers were originally the ones who taught Wall Street how to trade futures. (No lie!)
In choosing a broker, serious futures traders have the unenviable task of carefully balancing a conglomeration of requirements: low commissions, intuitive platforms, excellent customer service, up-to-date research options, not to mention charting and screening tools that must rock their world.
Best for advanced futures traders and low commission
NinjaTrader has an amazing trading platform for those just beginning their trading careers as well as for advanced traders. Their extensive collection of technical analysis tools is perfect for beginners utilizing a demo account, and they even offer a two-week free trial when you register.
If you want to use NinjaTraders software, you can get it for free when you fund a brokerage account or you can lease the software. You will get access to charts, simulated trading, and market analysis, the essentials for futures trading, even if you get the software for free.
NinjaTrader won the 2016 True Edge Futures Broker of the Year Gold Award and has the only platform powerful enough to run the Diversified Trading System. In addition, NinjaTrader offers extensive data feed options, flexible interface and free demonstration options.
The minimum opening balance is $1,000 and commissions range from $0.53 to $0.95. Futures traders can get the lowest NinjaTrader commissions by acquiring a platform lifetime license. In addition, the margin requirement is $500 per contract.
Best for most futures options
E-Trade offers over 200 futures products, and that’s why we’ve put it in the category of myriad options available to investors. In addition, if you’d like to trade futures with E-Trade, it will cost you $1.50 per contract. E-Trade is no stranger to pro-level tools and top-notch platforms.
You’ll feel right at home with research capabilities, too: E-Trade Futures Research Center is powered by the CME Group—one of the world’s largest futures exchanges. Whether you’re into metals, currencies or more, E-Trade can offer a multitude of options for you.
Check out Benzinga’s full E-Trade review. One strike against E-Trade is that you’ll need at least $10,000 for the minimum opening balance, a hefty amount compared to other investment companies.
Best for most futures options
Generic Trade is for futures and options traders alike that want access to their trades anywhere. With only 59 cents per trade, you can use Generic Trade Online, Generic Trader Professional or their mobile app to make your investments.
With Generic Trade Online, you get access to both their advanced trading platform but an account administration center. You can view real-time news here, your account information, and transfer funds. Because you can access this online, your trades can go with you instead of needing to download a software.
Generic Trader Professional brings One-Click trading to active day traders. Your set up is completely customizable and user-friendly, offering you analytics on your investments. The integration with Generic Trader Online and their mobile app make your information the most up-to-date it can be, including margin updates.
If you prefer to have a software for your computer, you can download Generic Trader for both your Mac and PC.
Best for excellent customer service
Traders may want to check out Stage 5 for more than just a few reasons, and a quick Google search can show you why. Stage 5 Trading offers competitive commissions and no software fees or minimum transaction fees, in addition to flexible intraday margins. S5 Trader and S5 Trade Analyzer (which are free) features Smart Strategy Orders, order entry and charting, chart trading, high quality data feed, risk monitoring, real-time and historical performance metrics. Stage 5 Trading also offers CQG, CTS T4, X-Trader, MultiCharts, Sierra Chart, MotiveWave, BookMap and other popular platforms which all offer speed, data stability and consistency, as well as high-end auto execution service.
S5 Chat provides a structured community for traders and to add to Stage 5 Trading’s accolades, they also have a good mobile trading option. Stage 5 Trading’s specialized client services for individual traders are where they really offer up the goods. They’re extremely focused on customers and their needs and offer excellent customer service as well as client only webinars and other educational components. One strike against Stage 5 Trading is that their actual commissions are not listed on the website; traders must call in order to receive a quote.
Best for tech traders
TradeStation deserves traders’ attention for several reasons. First of all, TradeStation offers two pricing schedules. In a single-tier account, contracts are $1.50 each. In the multi-tiered plan, commissions are lower (especially for high-volume traders) and follows this pattern:
- Less than 300 contracts: $1.20 fee
- 301-1,000 contracts: $1.00
- 1,001-10,000 contracts: $0.65
- 10,001-20,000 contracts: $0.45
- 20,000 contracts: $0.25
TradeStation’s day trade margin is 25% on select contracts and none on most contracts. The account minimum isn’t bad, at $5,000. TradeStation offers over 80 futures products and offers a comprehensive desktop platform where stocks, options and futures can be traded together. TradeStation offers advanced order types and paper trading features on the desktop as well as a mobile app which offers charting and advanced order types, as well as paper trading features. Software fees (which can be pricey) can be waived with an account of $100,000 in assets or trade 50 option contracts or 5,000 equity shares, or make 10 round-turn futures trades. One strike against TradeStation is the limited educational components on TradeStation’s website.
Best for advanced traders
Interactive Brokers for futures trading offers outstanding, competitive fees: Cost is $0.85 for futures and futures options trading, overall, Interactive Brokers offers the lowest margin rates in the industry, between 1.91% to 1.41% (lowest percentage is for clients with $1 million with Interactive Brokers). They offer a fully configurable trading platform for knowledgeable traders with more than 50 order types.
As for tech offerings, Interactive Brokers features programmable hot keys and customizable order types; watch lists can have up to 338 columns and are truly customizable. All devices, including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Android smartphone and tablets are supported. Interactive Brokers made our list for best brokerage for online stock trading. One strike against Interactive Brokers is that to open an account, the minimum deposit is a cumbersome $10,000.
Best mobile platform
TD Ameritrade requires a low account minimum at $1,500 but it’s $2.25 per contract, per side (plus exchange and regulatory fees). TD Ameritrade’s day trade margin is 25% with a $15,000 minimum with virtual trading capabilities and over 60 futures products. With Thinkorswim, there’s no question that entering and executing orders are fast, with many advanced features.
The ThinkBack feature permits users to backtest strategies and TD Ameritrade’s free platform (Thinkorswim), research and data are all excellent. The ThinkBack feature permits users to backtest strategies and TD Ameritrade’s free platform (Thinkorswim), research and data are all excellent. With its 24/7 phone support and free seminars and online education, the technical and mobile options make TD Ameritrade worth checking into. TD Ameritrade made our list for best brokerage for online stock trading, and for beginners. One strike against TD Ameritrade is that its high commissions are not ideal for traders searching for a bargain.
Best for active futures traders
Lightspeed Trading offers volume discounts for frequent traders, low pay-per share commissions, direct access to ECNs and exchanges, and traders are also allowed a free practice account. It’s a reasonable $0.25-$0.60 per contract with no base charge at Lightspeed trading and a monthly software fee of $100 for Lightspeed Trader, $130 for Sterling, $275 for RealTick Pro and $0 for WebTrader.
One strike against Lightspeed Trading is that it’s really only for traders who trade on daily basis and have at least $10,000 for the minimum opening balance.
Best for education
Charles Schwab’s name seems to be synonymous with the word “education,” and that’s no surprise once you land on Schwab’s web page. After all, “Investment Advice” is a bold, clickable heading directly on the home page. If you’re a futures trader, Schwab Trading Insights will help you, and there’s a plethora of opportunities to learn more on Schwab’s active trader futures section.
The investment research opportunities through Schwab are also excellent. Customers have access to free stock reports from S&P Capital IQ, Thomson Reuters, Credit Suisse, and more. You can also access Schwab’s Equity Ratings, which cover approximately 3,000 U.S. stocks and grade them on an A, B, C, D, and F scale. Read Benzinga’s Charles Schwab review. One strike against Charles Schwab is that the firm’s margin rates are notably high.
What matters most?
Ultimately, depending on the trader, the futures broker characteristic that matters to one trader may matter more or less to another. For example, each trader’s preference on a platform can vary widely; not every trader will agree on what he or she would like to see on a broker’s platform. (Remember, not every painter prefers the same paintbrush, and the same goes for individual traders.
Some don’t need all the bells and whistles.) Perhaps one thing that raises the most red flags are those pesky commissions and margin fees. It might be reckless to choose a broker just because it’s the cheapest, but, boy, is it easy to overpay, and obviously, it’s important to figure out on the front end exactly how much money will eke out during each trade.
And finally, customer service, also highly individualistic (again, some traders don’t care whether they receive good customer service), could make or break an experience with that particular broker.
Summary & Comparison - Best Online Futures Brokers
|Broker||Best For||Commission & Fees|
|NinjaTrader||Best for advanced traders and low commission||$0.53 per contract|
|E-Trade||Best for most futures options||$1.50 per contract|
|Generic Trade||Best for most futures options||$0.59 per contract|
|Charles Schwab||Best for education||$3.50 per contract|
|TD Ameritrade||Best mobile platform||$2.25 per contract|
|Lightspeed Trading||Best for active traders||$0.25 – $0.60 per contract|