What to Know About Trading Futures Options

February 29, 2024 Advanced
When trading options, it's possible to trade futures as well as stocks. Learn the similarities and differences of trading options on futures versus stocks.

Futures options can potentially offer some of the same flexibility and leverage for futures trading that equity options do for equity trading.

Futures are tradable financial contracts tied to physical products, like corn and oil, or financial instruments, including the S&P 500® index (SPX).

Some of the same fundamental equity options concepts hold true with futures options. They have expiration dates, can be exercised, and are sensitive to both time and volatility. Futures options can be traded in the same types of spreads1 that apply to equity options, allowing for strategies that can be bullish, bearish, range-bound, strongly moving, or time-based.

On the other hand, some of the attributes that make futures different from equities also introduce peculiarities to futures options. Here are some considerations traders should  pay attention to when trading futures options.

Expiration date

A futures option is a contract based on another contract (the future itself). Unlike equities, futures have a discrete expiration date (also known as a delivery date). At any given time, a futures root, such as /ES, could have several different futures contracts expiring at different times, such as /ESU23, /ESZ23, and /ESM23. Additionally, some futures options expire prior to the final settlement or expiration of the underlying futures contract.

Every futures option gives a trader the right or obligation to buy or sell one of these specific futures contracts. 

The "/ES" in this example refers to E-mini S&P 500 futures. The letter after the root indicates the month of expiration. For example, "U" stands for September and the "Z" stands for December. Finally, the numbers represent the year. So, ESM23 indicates an E-mini S&P 500 futures contract that expires in June 2023. 


Product delivery is important with futures options. The standard deliverable for a futures option is the underlying futures contract.

All futures options available at schwab.com have the same deliverable: a single futures contract per futures options contract. This is different from an equity option, which typically has a deliverable of 100 shares of the equity in question. 

Futures options often have more or different available expirations than a standard optionable equity, including some end-of-week and end-of-month expirations. When using the thinkorswim® platform, a trader should pay close attention to the option series header bar, which contains its expiration and other specification data.

Image demonstrates a futures option trade based on the /ES. It includes expirations for a month, including the week that the option expires on. Other information about the futures option, including the bid and ask prices, as well as the volume and recent highs and lows, are also included.

Source: thinkorswim platform

For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Margin requirements

Margin requirements for futures options are considerably different from those for standard equity options—even though the concepts of price, time, and volatility all still apply. 

Unlike equity options in a regular margin, or Regulation T (Reg T), account, options on futures are evaluated on a "potential risk" basis. That means the overall position for an underlying future (and associated options) is stress tested against several different sets of potential price and volatility movements to determine the margin requirement for the position currently held. Minimum margin requirements are set by the exchanges.

Adding to—or removing from—that position changes the margin requirement based on the way the changes can potentially impact the outcome. This is similar to, but not the same as, how margin is calculated in a risk-based equities account. Futures traders should fully understand the relationship between risk and options pricing theory, especially if the strategies preferred utilize multiple different options contracts on a single future. In general, the risk of loss in trading futures and options on futures could be substantial;  futures options are highly speculative and advanced strategies that are generally intended for more experienced and sophisticated traders with an appropriate risk appetite.

Account requirements

In order to trade futures options, a trader must have a margin account with full options and futures approval. 

Clients with full options approval and a margin account can apply to trade futures. Futures options approval comes automatically if and when the user is approved for futures trading. If a trader already has a futures account, but not full options and margin approval, those approvals must be applied for separately. 

1An option position or order that contains two or more option "legs," which typically includes at least one short and one long position.

Equity and index options carry a high level of risk and are not suitable for all investors. Certain requirements must be met to trade options through Schwab. Please read the Options Disclosure Document titled "Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options" before considering any option transaction. 

Futures and futures options trading involves substantial risk and is not suitable for all investors. Please read the Risk Disclosure Statement for Futures and Options prior to trading futures products.

Futures accounts are not protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).

Additional CFTC and NFA futures and forex public disclosures for Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC can be found here.

Futures and futures options trading services provided by Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC. Trading privileges subject to review and approval. Not all clients will qualify.

Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC is a CFTC-registered Futures Commission Merchant and NFA Forex Dealer Member.

Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC (NFA Member) and Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (Member FINRA/SIPC) are separate but affiliated companies and subsidiaries of The Charles Schwab Corporation.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision. 

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

The S&P 500® is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC or its affiliates ("SPDJI") and has been licensed for use by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. Standard & Poor's® and S&P® are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC ("S&P"); Dow Jones® is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC ("Dow Jones"). Charles Schwab & Co., Inc is not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by SPDJI, Dow Jones, S&P, their respective affiliates, and none of such parties make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in such product(s) nor do they have any liability for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of the S&P 500.