If you’re interested in futures trading, it’s important to find tools that help you stay on top of the market. With the right apps, you can access real-time quotes, track your portfolio, and stay informed about trends when you’re on the go.
The best futures trading apps offer a range of features to help you make the right decisions. Whether you’re a seasoned trader or just starting out, here are some of the best apps available today.
Best Apps For Futures Trading
What are Stock Market Futures?
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Stock market futures, also called market futures, equity futures, equity index futures or stock futures, are contracts which track a specific benchmark index at a future point in time. They track indexes and are named accordingly:
e-Mini Dow Futures
e-Mini Nasdaq Futures
e-Mini S&P 500 Futures
Stock market futures allow stock traders to trade the direction of the underlying equity index and can also assist with hedging equity positions you hold in your portfolio. They can help you by serving as a leading indicator for the stock market’s direction.
Futures represent a derivative financial contract, one which obligates you to transact an asset at some predetermined price and date in the future. They differ from options because you agree to execute this contract while options grant you exactly that: the option to transact.
If you buy a stock market futures contract, you agree to buy the underlying asset (like an equity index) at the set date and price, regardless of the current market price at expiration. Likewise, if you sell a futures contract, you must sell in accordance with the details of the futures contract.
Do Futures Predict the Stock Market?
To say futures might predict the stock market’s direction would be misleading. While stock market futures signal the intended direction of the market, they more so act as a bet on the direction the market will likely head in the future.
A futures contract acts as a commitment to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specified date and price. Counterparties think the market will go in one direction or another and attempt to use these futures contracts to align their financial risk/reward with this insight.
In short, futures contracts represent where investors see the market heading. But, because investing is zero sum, one investor’s loss (or locked-in, limited upside) is another’s gain.
Best Apps for Stock Market Futures Trading at a Glance
The best stock tracking app for you isn’t necessarily the perfect app for someone else. Your best choice is likely one of the following:
Best desktop app for futures trading: TradeStation
Best for funded futures trading, link to other brokers: TopStep
Best mobile app for futures trading: TDAmeritrade
Best futures app for professionals and margin rates: InteractiveBrokers
Best futures trading app with options trading: eTrade
Let’s look deeper into the top picks and the pros and cons of each.
Best Apps for Stock Market Futures Trading
If you want to trade stock market futures, you will need an app which allows you to transact based on your research and inclinations. The following list of the best apps for stock market futures trading will allow you to place futures trades alongside other investing transaction types.
- TradeStation: Best Desktop App for Futures Trading
Price: $1.50 per Futures Contract; Free Stock/ETF Trades
Sign up here
TradeStation provides market-leading technology with a full powerhouse of features that span across several platforms like desktop, web and mobile apps.
You can use the service for its Radar Screen feature (allows 335 customizable columns of data with real-time streaming quotes), Charting (almost 300 technical indicators), Scanner, Matrix (for ladder trading) and advanced strategy testing.
Best futures trading platform for beginners
What is futures trading?
Trading futures contracts is a way to speculate on the future price of a security or commodity. A futures contract enables an investor to buy or sell an asset at a preset time and price.
For an example, let’s dig into the operations at Old MacDonald’s dairy farm. His cows eat a mixture of hay, which MacDonald grows on his own, and corn, which he has to buy. When corn prices are low, Old MacDonald makes more money, because it costs him less to feed the cows that produce the milk he sells. But when corn prices are high, the profit margins on MacDonald Farm milk shrink.
However, using futures contracts, Farmer Mac can lock in the price of corn from his suppliers before the corn growing season even starts. This lets him offset, or hedge, the risk of a difficult growing season that would cause corn prices — and his bovine feeding costs — to spike.
In nonbucolic settings, investors can trade futures contracts on everything from market indices (e.g., S&P 500 futures) to commodities (crude oil, natural gas, corn, and wheat), metals (e.g., gold and silver), currencies (including bitcoin), treasuries, and more. Although futures are traded mostly by institutional institutional investors, retail investors can also speculate by using a futures trading platform. The regulatory body in the U.S. that oversees futures trading is the National Futures Association (NFA).
How much does it cost to trade futures?
Futures trading commissions can range from less than one dollar for most commodity futures to as high as $10 per contract when trading bitcoin futures. Commission aside, some brokers also charge monthly platform fees and market data fees, so it is important to consider all costs before selecting a futures trading platform.
Each online broker requires a different minimum deposit to trade futures contracts. For most online brokerages, the minimum deposit is less than $1,000. Before you can trade futures, you must apply for margin trading and futures trading approval.
Which futures trading platform is best?
To find the best futures broker, we compared each platform’s trading tools and pricing. Interactive Brokers offers the lowest pricing, but its platform is built for professionals and not easy to learn. On the other hand, TD Ameritrade provides an excellent downloadable trading platform; however, its pricing is more expensive. For perhaps the best balance of both pricing and tools, TradeStation is a winner.
Best futures trading platform Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation (TWS) Interactive Brokers IBKR customizable scanner Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation stock chart Best futures trading platform TD Ameritrade thinkorswim TD Ameritrade thinkorswim stock watch list TD Ameritrade thinkorswim stock chart Best futures trading platform TradeStation Web Trading TradeStation desktop trading platform TradeStation desktop trading platform charting
How can I trade futures?
Trading futures requires a funded online broker account with margin and futures trading approval. Once set up, research and determine which contract you want to trade, fill out the order ticket, then place your trade.
More details: Remember, each futures contract has different margin requirements. Also, be sure to know whether the contract is cash-settled or physically delivered upon expiration. For contracts with delivery upon expiration, if you hold your position until its contract expiration date, you can become liable for payment of the entire trade value (plus delivery costs).
Do I need a margin account to trade futures?
Yes, a margin account is required to trade futures with an online broker. The margin requirements will vary depending on the instrument being traded. For example, the S&P 500 e-minis are the most popular futures contracts traded (alongside the most liquid) in the United States, so margin requirements are lower, on average.
How is margin calculated for futures trading?
First, you must ensure you have enough capital available to meet any margin requirements (i.e., initial and maintenance margin) before your position is open. The margin requirement is typically a percentage of the value of the underlying asset that each contract controls.
Example: If you wanted to speculate on a price increase of the March 2021 Wheat contract (Globex ticker code: ZWH1), you would create a buy-to-open order to go long one Chicago SRW Wheat Futures contract. Checking the contract specification shows that one contract controls 5,000 bushels of wheat (136 metric tons), which cost $6.53 per bushel as of January 6th, 2021.
The underlying 5,000 bushels multiplied by the price per bushel ($6.53) equals $32,650 for the total trade value. 5% of the trade value or $1,650 is the margin requirement needed to open this position. A sell-to-close order allows you to exit your existing long position.
More details: If the price of wheat changes drastically, there can be variation margin, where you must post additional collateral or else risk having your trade closed early. Overall, trading as a speculator is different than trading as a hedger or producer of the commodity, as hedgers remove risk by transferring it to you as a speculator.
Is futures trading risky?
Yes, futures trading is risky and not suitable for everyone. Not only does it involve the use of leverage (margin) and potentially volatile assets, there is also the possibility of incurring an obligation to make or accept delivery of the underlying asset and being responsible for settling the total trade value.
As long as you close your position before expiration, you avoid the need to physically deliver or cash settle the trade value.
What brokers allow futures trading?
While there are over 334 brokers regulated with the CFTC, the vast majority are not set up for retail investors. For our 2022 Review, we found five futures brokers that support everyday investors: Interactive Brokers, TD Ameritrade, TradeStation, E*TRADE, and Charles Schwab.
Can you trade futures with Fidelity?
Fidelity does not currently offer futures trading. Investments provided by Fidelity include stocks, fractional shares, OTC stocks, options, mutual funds, and bonds. Futures, forex, and crypto trading are not available.
Explore our other online trading guides:
Best Trading Platforms 2022
Best Online Brokers for Beginners
Best Day Trading Platforms
Best Brokers for Penny Stocks
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About the Author
As Head of Research at StockBrokers.com, Blain Reinkensmeyer has 20 years of trading experience with over 1,000 trades placed during that time. Referenced as a leading expert on the US online brokerage industry, Blain has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Fast Company, among others.
Chris McKhann has been in the industry for more than 20 years. He has worked for many of the top names in the online trading space, including TD Ameritrade and optionMONSTER, which later became part of E*TRADE. His work has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Financial Times, Forbes, CNBC, Nasdaq.com and Nikkei. He has also been an advisor and outside trader for several hedge funds. He was one of the first traders to delve into the VIX tradable products and to write about them (back in 2006). Chris is also an educator who teaches high school statistics, finance and computer science.
All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 01/10/2022 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.
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