Best Trading Platforms for E-Mini Futures

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Contributor, Benzinga
July 11, 2023

Benzinga readers love NinjaTrader for their e-mini futures trading needs.

Many investors are intrigued by futures — they offer numerous benefits. A futures contract is a legal agreement to buy or sell a standardized asset at a predetermined price at a specific time in the future. They are an efficient way to seek profits by taking a position in the market’s direction using a limited amount of money. They can also help you hedge risks.  Some investors are deterred by the amount of capital they have to commit to futures. Consider E-mini futures — a line of bite-sized futures contracts designed to make futures more accessible to retail traders.

E-minis are 1/5th the size of the standard S&P futures contract. E-mini futures are almost similar to their full-sized counterparts, but they add the benefit of less margin needed so they are available for the less capitalized traders. E-mini futures let you gain exposure to these 4 major U.S. indices:

  • S&P 500
  • NASDAQ 100
  • Dow Jones
  • Russell 2000

The Best Trading Platforms For E-Mini Futures:

Are you looking for new market alternatives? You should consider the benefits of playing “small ball.” The electronically traded E-mini futures have become more popular than their big brothers. They offer the benefits of U.S. equities while eliminating most of the drawbacks associated with traditional investment practices.

Low commissions and margins are just the tip of the iceberg when choosing the best trading software for E-mini futures. Serious futures traders must take into consideration a conglomerate of requirements: execution speed, client support, trading and research tools and ease of use. 

You should also consider your trading style and what features are essential in maximizing profits. Here are Benzinga’s recommendations for futures brokers to trade E-mini futures.

1. Best for Advanced Futures Trading: NinjaTrader

NinjaTrader is a great platform for beginners and advanced traders. Beginners can use the collection of technical analysis tools, a demo trading account and a 2-week free trial when they sign up. NinjaTrader allows you to use its trading software — for free — once you fund your brokerage account. You may also lease the software and get access to charts, market analysis and simulated trading among other essentials for E-mini futures trading. 

Commissions start as low as $0.09 and you only need $400 to open a trading account. You can get lower commissions by buying a lifetime license.

Pros

  • You can trade here rather quickly after setting up your account
  • Market analysis tools are designed very well for futures and e-mini trading

Cons

  • Remember that this platform is designed for those with much larger accounts, so you may want to start small elsewhere
  • Low commissions on the site help investor save money, but volume trading could cause fees to add up quickly

2. Best for Trading Micro Futures: Optimus Futures

If you trade e-mini futures and want to reduce your trading and technology costs substantially, check out Optimus Futures. As a discount futures broker, Optimus Futures offers cutting-edge trading platforms combined with deep discount commissions and aggressive day trading margins. While some futures brokers provide limited functionalities with the free versions of their software; Optimus Futures’ signature trading platform, Optimus Flow, is completely FREE and includes all available features.

Traders can start a free trial or open an account with as little as $500 ($100 for micros) and immediately gain access to all the tools and value-added features right out of the box, including:

  • Intuitive, visually appealing charts and 50+ indicators
  • One-click, cross-platform trading journal
  • Real-time news feeds that provide actionable trading insights

As a boutique firm, Optimus Futures prides itself on family-style, personal customer service that is responsive and actively engaged with its customers, helping new traders establish themselves and advanced traders optimize their experience.

Trading futures and options involve a substantial risk of loss and are unsuitable for all investors.

Pros

  • Personalized service can be helpful for novice or volume traders
  • The indicators on the site have been designed to make them easy to read
  • There are discounted commissions available for you

Cons

  • At times, boutique firms may not offer the scope of customer care that you need

3. Best for Mobile Users: Plus500

Plus500 is a global multi-asset fintech group that manages trading platforms around the world and offers a range of trading products including CFDs, Share dealing, and Futures trading (US). The platform offers access to several different trading instruments and many markets that you can use to build your portfolio. Highlights include:

  • Quick onboarding
  • Simplified mobile trading
  • Easy-to-use platform
  • CFDs for indices, ETFs, shares, forex, commodities, options and crypto
  • Free deposits and withdrawals
  • $100 minimum
  • 0.7% currency conversion fee per transaction, when the currency in your account is different from those traded

Because Plus500 doesn’t charge a commission and only profits on spreads, however, this is not a platform for beginners. You can jump into Plus500, make the most of your expertise, build your portfolio and quickly turn a profit.

Pros

  • Free money management makes it simpler for you to deposit and withdraw cash
  • The low minimums help you start small
  • The mobile trading platform has been simplified for your benefit

Cons

  • Remember that CFDs may not be available where you are located

4. Best for Retirement Savers: TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade is touted as one of the best platforms for rookie traders looking to give futures a try - with over 70 futures products. You’ll need a $1,500 minimum account balance for margin accounts.

The brokerage boasts an elite trading platform, thinkorswim, and its mobile companion that let you trade futures on the go. Real-time education, key insights and market trends are available through daily TV programs offered by the TD Ameritrade Network. Its futures knowledge center offers even more articles, videos, insights and resources to help you master futures trading.

Your application for a trading account is processed in 1-3 days. You’ll need a minimum net liquidation value of $25,000 if you are applying to trade futures in an IRA.

Pros

  • Margin accounts help you expand your portfolio
  • There are many educational tools that will help new traders learn the process
  • There are also unique options that can help you enter into certain markets

Cons

  • While TD Ameritrade may seem like the perfect fit, remember that it not falls under the purview of Schwab

5. Best for Active and Global Traders: Interactive Brokers

  • Securely through Interactive Brokers’ website
    Securely through Interactive Brokers’ website
    Best For:
    Active and Global Traders
    Rating:
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Interactive Brokers has been — for 10 consecutive years — Barron’s best online broker, offering a suite of trading platforms to optimize your trading speed and efficiency. The brokerage provides a gateway to over 125 markets worldwide as well as access to market data 24 hours a day, 6 days a week.

A host of free trading tools allow you to spot market opportunities, manage your account and analyze results. Over 100 order types help you execute virtually any trading strategy. Futures and futures options trading fees are as low as $0.85, representing some of the lowest in the market. 

Interactive Brokers also received the lowest cost broker rating from Barron’s. On demand learning is also available, thanks to a host of resources, including webinars, the Traders’ Academy, IBKR Trader’s insight and the Quant blog.

Pros

  • There are many free trading tools that make it much easier to learn and trade at the same time
  • There are many, many order types from which you may choose
  • Trading fees tend to stay low or at $0

Cons

  • Although IBKR has a lot of options for traders, but you may not be experienced enough to make the most of the platform’s information

6. Best for Futures Trading: TradeStation

TradeStation is for seasoned traders who are looking for a comprehensive platform with professional-grade tools, a fully-operational app and a vast array of tradable securities. The platform equally caters for rookie traders with its TS GO account which requires a $0 minimum account balance to open. Advanced traders can sign up for the TS Select account, which requires a $2,000 minimum account balance to get started. 

TradeStation also offers a Simulated Trading tool that lets you practice executing orders, using the brokerage’s suite of analysis and charting tools and testing trading strategies.

Pros

  • You can still sign up with no deposit, meaning that you can get the benefits of the platform before truly investing your money
  • If you’re a new investor, you can learn how to trade futures and e-minis so that you can start on the right foot
  • If you like, you can step up to a TS Select account that offers more options

Cons

  • There’s a high minimum balance for those who wish to use a TS Select account

7. Best for Desktop Trading: E*TRADE

E*TRADE offers over 60 types of futures contracts to trade, including bitcoin futures and market indices. The brokerage lets you trade on your mobile device or desktop anytime during the 24/6 trading sessions with Power E*TRADE mobile app and Power E*TRADE. It will cost you $1.50 per contract on futures and options on futures. 

The brokerage is synonymous with pro-level tools that let you trade futures along with other asset classes, formulate trading strategies with over 100 technical studies and directly trade, modify or cancel orders. Its Futures Research Center lets you get trading insights from seasoned professionals as well as explore real-time futures market data. To trade futures, you need an eligible IRA account or margin-enabled brokerage account. There are no minimum funding requirements.

Pros

  • You can earn more money with a high APY on cash that you have not yet invested
  • There are fairly low fees for futures and options contracts
  • The research center helps you learn the basics or better study the markets as you grow your portfolio

Cons

  • The platform doesn’t function 24/7, which could impact the trading activity of certain investors

E-Mini Futures vs. Traditional Futures

You’re probably wondering, what are E-mini futures? Well, there isn’t much difference between E-mini futures and their larger, standard counterparts. Both futures are great trading tools. The main difference is that you may commit to smaller amounts of money by trading E-minis rather than traditional futures.

To help you better understand E-minis and traditional futures, we describe the similarities and differences for more insight.

Similarities:

  • E-mini futures and traditional futures are usually based on the same underlying index.
  • Both futures have similar tick sizes for calendar spread trades of 0.05 index points.

Differences:

  • An E-mini contract value is 1/5th of the standard futures contract.
  • E-mini tick sizes are different – $0.25 or $12.50 per tick for E-minis and $0.10 or $25 per tick for traditional futures.
  • E-minis have only 5 quarterly contracts listed for trading.

Pros of E-Mini Futures

Tailored to the retail investor and trader, E-mini contracts offer a host of benefits which include:

  • Around-the-clock trading
  • Added flexibility for portfolio diversification
  • A lower financial risk and investment
  • Easier to understand compared to other investment options

Cons of E-Mini Futures

  • Fast moving, making it easy to lose a lot of money in a short period
  • Risk of overtrading

Pros of Traditional Futures

  • Tax benefits
  • Simple pricing
  • Leverage lets you gain significant market exposure

Cons of Traditional Futures

  • No control over future events
  • High leverage resulting in rapid price changes

Do E-Mini Futures Have a Place in Your Portfolio?

E-minis aren’t all that different from traditional, full-sized contracts. They are part of the chain of futures options — which are getting smaller — starting from regular futures to E-minis to micro E-mini futures. 

Whether you’re looking to capitalize on the price swings in the commodity markets or want to hedge specific elements of your portfolio, futures trading may fit your bill. And if you’re just getting your feet wet, start with the basics to learn the ins and outs of the market.

Are you interested in learning more about futures? Head over to Benzinga's Futures & Options Courses.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What are E-Mini Futures?

A

The term E-mini future refers to an electronically traded future contract that is an off spring of a standard future contract. These contracts are usually a fraction of the size of a standard contract.

Q

How much money do I need to start trading E-Mini Futures?

A

For most platforms, you need as little as $400-$500 to open an account and start trading E-mini futures contracts.

Q

Can you profit from E-mini futures?

A

As with any investment, you can turn a profit or lose all your money. Research your E-mini futures carefully and only spend money you can afford to lose when building an investment portfolio.