How to trade futures

Your step-by-step guide to trading futures

Learn the basics, choose your strategy, do the research, pick a contract, and enter your order using Power E*TRADE or the Power E*TRADE app. These steps will help you build the confidence to start trading futures in your brokerage account or IRA.

Step 1 - Get up to speed

Make sure you're clear on the basic ideas and terminology of futures.

Step 2 - Decide on a strategy

Futures can fit into your overall trading strategy in several ways.

Step 3 - Identify potential opportunities

E*TRADE gives you access to a wide range of tools and information to help you find and evaluate possible trades.

Futures Research Center

Check out trading insights for daily perspectives from futures trading pros. View futures price movements and trading activity in a heatmap with streaming real-time quotes.

watch the demo

Automated technical pattern recognition

This tool helps you spot developing price swings by automatically populating charts with relevant technical patterns. Learn more about each pattern with just a click.

Step 4 - Choose your contract and month

Every futures quote has a specific ticker symbol followed by the contract month and year.

E*TRADE offers over 60 futures contracts to trade, including market indices, energies, metals, interest rates, currencies, and Bitcoin futures.

Symbol Product
/ES E-mini S&P 500
/NQ E-mini Nasdaq 100
/YM E-mini Dow
/CL Crude Oil WTI
/GC Gold

Micro futures contracts are often offered at 1/10th or even 1/5th the size of standard contracts, so you can trade with less up-front capital.

Symbol Product
/MES Micro E-mini S&P 500
/MNQ Micro E-mini Nasdaq 100
/MYM Micro E-mini Dow
/M2K Micro E-mini Russell 2000
/10Y Micro 10-Year Yield
/MGC Micro Gold
/SIL Micro Silver
/M6E Micro Euro/USD
/M6A Micro AUD/USD
/MET Micro Ether
/MBT Micro Bitcoin
/MCL Micro WTI Crude Oil

Step 5 - Understand how money works in your account

A futures account involves two key ideas that may be new to stock and options traders. One is "initial margin," which is not the same as margin in stock trading. Secondly, equity in a futures account is "marked to market" daily.

Money in your futures account

Watch this short video for details on initial margin, marking to market, maintenance margin, and moving money between your brokerage and futures accounts.

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initial margin example

Finding initial margin

You can see the initial margin required for a futures contract under its specifications at the Futures Research Center.

Step 6 - Place your order

Power E*TRADE lets you efficiently set up trades—including directly from the futures ladder—in both the platform and the app. See how in these short videos.

Step 7 - Monitor and manage your trade

It is important to keep a close eye on your positions. Futures accounts and contracts have some unique properties.

Your statement

Futures statements are generated both monthly and daily when there is activity in your account. They show key information like performance, money movements, and fees.

To find your futures statement:

  • Log on to
  • Click Accounts > Documents > Futures account

Expiration and settlement

All futures contracts include a specific expiration date. Before the expiration date, you can decide to liquidate your position or roll it forward.

If you hold the contract to expiration, it goes to settlement. Learn more in this short video.

More resources to help you get started

Learn more about futures

Check out our overview of futures, plus futures FAQs

Go in-depth

E*TRADE Knowledge has a wide range of articles, videos, and tutorials for new and experienced futures traders alike.

Add futures to your account

Apply for futures trading in your brokerage account or IRA.

Get specialized futures trading support

Have questions or need help placing a futures trade? Call our licensed Futures Specialists today at 877-553-8887.