June 3, 2024

Best Futures Trading Platform

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Ready to dive into the exciting world of futures trading? Discover the best platforms to help you get started here.

Which is the best platform for futures trading?
Here are the best futures trading platforms

  1. Tradovate as best overall
  2. NinjaTrader for trade management
  3. TradingView for beginners in futures
  4. Interactive Brokers for professionals
  5. TradeStation for automated trading
  6. Thinkorswim for experienced traders
  7. Sierra Chart for the tech-savvy

Futures trading can be a great way to earn money. Thanks to leverage, you can trade with only a fraction of the capital deposited.

However, since there are many platforms offering futures online, it's not easy looking for one you can trust.

In this guide, find out the best futures trading platform for you. Review the commissions, key features, and markets available for each platform.

How experienced are you with futures trading?

The Top 7 Futures Trading Platforms

Trading futures can be a high-risk, high-reward venture. This means you could either earn a fortune or lose all your money. If you're ready to take on the risk, continue reading.

Is futures trading profitable?
Yes, futures trading can be profitable. However, many aspiring traders fail to be profitable even after trading for years. You can increase your chances of being profitable if you master a strategy, understand your trading psychology, and strictly follow your risk management plan.

What's the most important feature to you in a futures trading platform?

Tradovate: Best Overall

Commission$1.29/side for standards[1]
Inactivity Fee$25 fee for no trading activity within 90 days[2]
MarketsCurrencies, E-Mini Indices, Energies, Event Contracts, Financials, Notes, Grains, Indices, Meats, Metals, Micro Indices, Softs[3]

Tradovate is a trading platform that specializes in futures. It's a great overall choice thanks to its comprehensive features and broad market coverage.

The interface may not be beginner-friendly, but its solid trading tools could outweigh this drawback. These include:

  • 40+ technical indicators
  • Depth of market for order flow analysis
  • Free simulator and market replay for testing
  • Advanced Order Management which lets you set a fixed stop-loss or take profit for every new trade
  • Other order features such as trailing stop, auto breakeven, auto trail, or a combination of auto trail and breakeven

Tradovate is web-based, you can check the platform without signing up through the Instant Platform Preview.

If you're just getting started, Tradovate is one of the few brokers who offers a nano contract. With this, the commission is just $0.20/side and the margin required is $10.

To get the lowest commissions, you can opt to pay the one-time $1,499 fee or 4 installments of $499. If there are downsides, it's that users have reported outages historically, though some would say all brokers have outages.

Pros + Cons

  • Nano contracts
  • Simulator and market replay
  • Advanced order management
  • User-reported outages
  • Expensive fee to get the lowest commissions

You might notice similar features in this next platform since Tradovate was acquired by NinjaTrader in 2022.[4] Read on.

NinjaTrader: Best for Trade Management

Commission$1.29/side for standards[5]
Inactivity Fee$25 fee for no trading activity within the month[6]
MarketsEquity Index, Metals, Energy, Cryptocurrency, Interest Rates, Commodities

NinjaTrader, an award-winning futures trading platform, is a popular choice among traders. It's specifically designed for trading futures so it has one of the best charting tools and commissions.

At NinjaTrader, you get up to 100 technical indicators for charting, streaming market replay, and order flow analysis tools like VWAP. You also get an option to customize your trades with NinjaScript.

Its biggest advantage among its competitors is probably its Advanced Trade Management (ATM). Through ATM, you can:

  • Set your stop-loss to breakeven if the target profit is reached
  • Auto-tighten your stop-loss as the price goes in your favor
  • Adjust the limit order price as the market moves away from it
  • Auto-reverse a trade position at your stop-loss
  • Open the same trade in both live and simulation accounts with different parameters for forward testing

For beginners, there's a daily livestream with their analysts so you can learn more about futures trade setups. You can also simulate trades as much as you want.

However, you need to pay for an expensive one-time fee of $1,499 before you can access all of its features and super low commissions.

Pros + Cons

  • Advanced Trade Management (ATM) tools
  • Automated trading strategies
  • Daily livestream with analysts
  • Expensive fee to get low commissions

TradingView: Best for Beginners in Futures

CommissionDepends on broker
Inactivity FeeDepends on broker
MarketsEnergy, Agricultural, Metals, Currency

TradingView is a technical analysis platform, but it can be a good option for new futures traders. Its interface is user-friendly and you can execute basic trades.

Here are some of its helpful features:

  • Extensive charting tools
  • Auto chart patterns
  • 110+ smart drawing tools
  • 100,000 public indicators
  • Candlestick pattern recognition tools
  • 400+ built-in indicators and strategies
  • Custom scripts and ideas from users

Its Bar Replay is pretty helpful for your backtesting needs. Then if you want to build an algo, you can use its Pine Script®.

The commission that you will pay will depend on your broker. However, you need to subscribe to TradingView to access more features. Its paid pricing starts at $14.95/month.[7]

Since established brokers have a trading platform of their own, those who use TradingView typically go with low-cost brokers such as AMP Futures or Optimus Futures.

Pros + Cons

  • SuperCharts
  • User-friendly interface
  • Community indicators
  • Laggy connection
  • Needs broker integration

Some users have complained about TradingView's laggy connections compared to directly trading on the broker's platform. Therefore, it's not ideal for day traders and scalpers.

Interactive Brokers: Best for Pros

Commission$0.85/side for standards[8]
Inactivity FeeNone
MarketsAgriculture, Currency, Energy, Equity Index, Fixed Income, Metals, and Volatility

Interactive Brokers' platform for futures is primarily designed for professionals with large portfolios. It tends to have a high margin requirement despite the low fees, so small-time traders will not be able to trade futures properly here.

However, if you do get permission to trade on IBKR, you can enjoy the following features:

  • Access to 30+ global market centers
  • 100+ order types and algos
  • Hedge trades easily with the Combo Trader
  • Manage futures spreads at one place through the SpreadTrader

At Trader's Academy, you can improve your trading knowledge with its online courses on 65+ topics.

IBKR offers two simple, low-cost pricing plans for US futures and futures options: Fixed Rate or Tiered Pricing. The margin requirement is set by CME, but IBKR tends to have a higher house margin compared to others.[9]

The user interface of Trader WorkStation (TWS), its flagship desktop platform, also can require a bit of a learning curve, even for experienced traders.

Pros + Cons

  • Large-order facility
  • Broad market coverage
  • Steep learning curve
  • High margin requirement

Can a beginner trade futures?
It depends if your broker permits you to trade futures. If you're a beginner in futures but have financial capacity, you might be allowed to trade futures. However, if you don't have both experience and financial capacity, you might get rejected.

TradeStation: Best for Automated Trading

Commission$1.50/side for standards[10]
Inactivity Fee$10 per month, free if minimum activity is met[11]
MarketsIndex Futures, Cryptocurrency, Currency, Interest Rates, Metals, Energies,
Agriculture, Meats, Softs, etc.

TradeStation is one of the established institutions that offers futures trading. Thanks to its in-house language called EasyLanguage, traders can easily build algorithms or automated strategies for their trades.

At TradeStation, you can also set multiple stops and profits, making getting out of positions very easy.

TradeStation also offers free data and integration with TradingView, which is a great option if you want to save on some monthly fees for data feed.

For those who want to test the platform, they also have one of the most extensive historical data for backtesting. Then, you can analyze your trading plan quantitatively with its Strategy Performance Report.

However, some of the downsides based on user reviews include the inability to log in to two devices simultaneously, poor customer support, and the intraday margin being turned off during high-impact news events.

Pros + Cons

  • Free data
  • Backtesting feature
  • Customizable trading strategies
  • Poor customer support
  • Turns off intraday margin during high-impact news

Futures accounts are not protected by SIPC. Make sure to only trade money that you are willing to lose

Thinkorswim: Best for Experienced Traders

Commission$2.25/side for standards[12]
Inactivity FeeNone
MarketsMicros, Stock Indices, Metals, Energy, Agriculture, Currency,
Interest Rates, and Cryptocurrency

thinkorswim® (TOS) is a great option for experienced traders who want a trusted platform. TOS is now offered by Schwab, which is well-known for its excellent customer support and reputation.

TOS gives you access to pretty much all markets from stocks, to forex, and also futures. Some of the most useful features you may find include:

  • Live news specific to the quote you are trading
  • 400+ technical indicators, studies, and drawing tools
  • thinkScript® for customizing your trades or analysis

TOS is not exactly beginner-friendly, but the good thing here is that you can use the paperMoney®, its paper trading environment, to get a feel for how trading at this platform works.

You will also find the video tutorials helpful. Additionally, you can opt to receive assistance from futures specialists who are available 24/7, for an additional payment.

The commission is quite high at $2.25 for each side. That's $4.5 round-trip. Some users have said that requesting a discount is possible if you average 100 contracts or more per month.

Pros + Cons

  • Free data
  • Futures specialists
  • High commissions
  • Good customer support

Sierra Chart: Best for the Tech-Savvy

CommissionDepends on broker
Inactivity FeeDepends on broker
MarketsAgriculture, Rates, Metals, Energy, Indices, Equity Indices, etc.

Sierra Chart is a trading and charting platform that is completely built in C++. This is why it has the best stability despite its user interface looking outdated.

Sierra Chart is a portable application, so you can install unlimited copies on the system. This enables you to run the program multiple times simultaneously.

Some of its key features include:

  • Scaling in and out of trades
  • Over 400+ fully customizable technical studies and indicators
  • Trade alerts based on Excel logic like OR and AND functions
  • Replay Charts (speed from .1x to 100,000x of real-time data)
  • Advanced Trade Strategies including targets, stops, various types of trailing stops, move to breakeven, and many more

Sierra Chart is widely known for its stability and fast connection. Some people would argue that all platforms crash, but you'll rarely see that in Sierra Chart.

Just like TradingView, it does not have any broker capabilities, so you have to connect it to a broker like AMP Futures.

Pros + Cons

  • Stable program
  • Great customization options
  • Can be too technical
  • Outdated interface design

View the complete list of supported brokers by Sierra Chart here.

How Does Futures Trading Work?

Futures trading lets you speculate on the price of an asset at a specific time in the future. If you think the price will go up, buy or go long. If you think the price will go down, sell or go short.

Futures are usually traded with leverage. For you, this means that you need to maintain a good amount of money in your account for the margin requirement. You also need to pass the trading permission of each broker first before you can start trading.

The CME sets the margin requirement, which ranges from 3-12% of the position size,[13] but it changes depending on your broker.

Example of a Futures Trade

Say you bought one E-mini S&P 500 Index Futures (ES) futures contract at $4,700. If the margin required is 5%, you must deposit an initial margin amount of $11,750. This amount is calculated as the product of the number of contracts (1), contract size (50), the contract price ($4,700), and the margin required rate (5%).

But in terms of profit or loss, it will be counted per contract point value. $1 = 1 point and 1 point = $50. So for every $1 change in the ES quote, you can earn or lose $50 for each contract. You also have the choice to either go long or short.

See below for the profit and loss scenarios:

Winning ScenarioLosing Scenario
Initial Margin Required$11,750.00$11,750.00
ES Price when the Futures Contract Is Bought$4,700.00$4,700.00
ES Price When the Futures Contract Expired$4,750.00$4,650.00
Total Profit/Loss if Long$2,500.00-$2,500.00
Total Profit/Loss if Short-$2,500.00$2,500.00

That $2,500 will then be added or deducted from your initial margin depending on if you won or lost. For simplicity purposes, we have not added the fees here.

How to Know Which Platform Is for You?

Here are a few factors you should consider before choosing a futures trading platform:

  • Cost
    Some charge high commissions but offer free data. Some charge low commissions but require a one-time payment for the platform. Go for the broker which you feel is reasonable in terms of fees.

  • Compliance
    All the platforms mentioned above are properly regulated in the United States. If you're thinking about going with one outside the list, make sure it's compliant with the CFTC and the NFA.

  • Trading Features
    Not all traders require institution-level trading features. For some, basic technical indicators and normal order types will do. Find out which broker is the best for you by trying their simulator or seeing if they offer a free trial.

  • Margin Requirements
    Although it's CME that sets the margin requirement, some brokers might have a higher "house margin," as it is their discretion to do so. If you want to trade more with your initial margin, consider brokers with lower margin requirements.

  • Reliability
    For day traders who closely monitor the market every minute, platform crashes are quite a hassle. The best way to manage this risk is to set a stop loss, but you can also choose brokers with a good track record in managing crashes.

  • Risk Management Tools
    When you deal with leverage, risk management tools such as auto-breakeven, trailing stop loss, and auto stop loss are a must-need for any futures trader. Consider platforms with helpful tools like this if you want to trade futures.

  • Broker Reputation
    Before going with a broker, be sure to look at their reputation. All the platforms mentioned above are reputable, but there are a lot more options online. Just make sure to pick out ones with an outstanding track record in the futures market.

Methodology

Trading futures is complex enough as it is. We have researched for you so you can easily decide which futures trading platform to use. We recognize that not all traders are the same, so we have searched for platforms that could be a fit for each type of trader.

We have checked the key features that will be helpful for you as you trade, and we also checked the commissions and fees that it requires. We also checked how difficult it is to navigate the platform so you can get an idea of how it works.

Lastly, we value your security. So although futures can be high risk, we only considered platforms with good feedback from existing users.

Bottom Line

Choosing the best futures trading platform will depend on how much you are willing to pay for commissions and fees, the trading tools you need, and the data feed you require.

First, define what you need from a trading platform. From there, choose a broker that best fits your trading needs.

References

  1. ^ Tradovate. Commission Plans, Retrieved 03/06/2024
  2. ^ Tradovate. Are there any additional fees that I may be charged?, Retrieved 03/03/2024
  3. ^ Tradovate. Title of Article, Retrieved 03/09/2024
  4. ^ Tradovate. NinjaTrade Acquires Tradovate, Retrieved 03/09/2024
  5. ^ NinjaTrader. Pricing Plans, Retrieved 03/05/2024
  6. ^ NinjaTrader. Account And Exchange Fees, Retrieved 04/26/2024
  7. ^ TradingView. TradingView Subscriptions, Retrieved 03/22/2024
  8. ^ Interactive Brokers. Trade Futures Worldwide with Professional Tools, Retrieved 02/26/2024
  9. ^ Interactive Brokers. Futures and FOPs Margin Overview, Retrieved 03/01/2024
  10. ^ TradeStation. Pricing, Retrieved 02/26/2024
  11. ^ TradeStation. Service Fees, Retrieved 02/26/2024
  12. ^ Charles Schwab. Why trade futures through Schwab?, Retrieved 03/07/2024
  13. ^ CME Group. Margin: Know What's Needed, Retrieved 04/26/2024

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