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Difference Between Forward Contract and Future Contract

Understanding financial instruments like forward and future contracts is essential in the world of finance and investments. These contracts serve various purposes and are used by both businesses and investors. However, they are not the same and have significant differences that can impact your financial decisions. In this article, we’ll delve into the dissimilarities between forward and future contracts, providing you with the knowledge needed to make informed choices.

forward contract

Definition of Forward Contracts

forward contract is a financial agreement between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price on a specified future date. These contracts are typically customized to meet the specific needs of the parties involved. Forward contracts are not traded on exchanges and are mostly used for hedging against price fluctuations in various commodities, currencies, or securities.

Definition of Future Contracts

Future contracts, on the other hand, are standardized agreements to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price and date. Unlike forward contracts, futures are traded on organized exchanges. They are highly liquid and offer more accessibility to a wide range of investors.

Purpose of Forward Contracts

Businesses often use forward contracts to manage risk, especially when dealing with foreign currencies or commodities. For instance, a company importing goods from another country can use a forward contract to lock in a favorable exchange rate, ensuring predictable costs.

Purpose of Future Contracts

Investors and traders use futures contracts to speculate on the price movements of assets like commodities, stocks, or bonds. Futures provide an opportunity for profit by betting on the future price direction of the asset without owning it physically.

Key Differences: Contract Terms

One of the fundamental differences between forward and future contracts lies in their contract terms. Forward contracts are highly customizable, allowing parties to tailor the terms to their specific needs. In contrast, futures contracts are standardized, with fixed contract sizes, expiration dates, and settlement procedures.

Key Differences: Exchange

Another significant difference is where these contracts are traded. Forward contracts are private agreements negotiated between two parties and are not traded on any organized exchange. In contrast, futures contracts are traded on regulated exchanges, providing transparency and liquidity.

Key Differences: Standardization

Forward contracts can vary significantly in terms of terms and conditions. They are not standardized, making them versatile but also potentially complex. Futures contracts, however, are standardized to ensure uniformity and ease of trading.

Key Differences: Risk

Both forward and future contracts carry their own set of risks. Forward contracts are subject to counterparty risk, meaning one party may default on the agreement. Futures contracts, while also facing counterparty risk, have the additional risk of daily price fluctuations.

Key Differences: Counterparty Risk

Counterparty risk is a significant concern in both types of contracts. In forward contracts, it is essential to assess the creditworthiness of the other party. In futures contracts, exchange clearinghouses act as intermediaries, reducing counterparty risk.

Key Differences: Flexibility

Forward contracts offer flexibility in terms of contract customization, making them suitable for unique situations. Futures contracts lack this flexibility due to their standardization, which can limit their use in certain scenarios.

Key Differences: Settlement

Forward contracts usually result in physical delivery of the underlying asset. Futures contracts, on the other hand, often settle in cash, reducing the need for physical delivery.

Key Differences: Regulation

Regulation is another critical distinction. Forward contracts are less regulated, with terms determined by the parties involved. Futures contracts are highly regulated to ensure fair trading practices and market integrity.

Pros and Cons of Forward Contracts


  • Customizable to specific needs
  • No upfront exchange fees
  • Private and flexible


  • Counterparty risk
  • Lack of liquidity
  • Limited accessibility

Pros and Cons of Future Contracts


  • High liquidity
  • Standardized terms
  • Reduced counterparty risk


  • Limited flexibility
  • Exchange fees
  • Daily price fluctuations


In conclusion, understanding the difference between forward and future contracts is crucial for making informed financial decisions. Forward contracts offer customization but come with counterparty risk, while futures contracts provide liquidity and reduced risk but lack flexibility. Choosing the right contract depends on your specific needs and risk tolerance. Always seek professional advice when dealing with these financial instruments to make the best choice for your situation.


1. Are forward contracts riskier than futures contracts?

  • Forward contracts can carry higher counterparty risk, while futures contracts have additional daily price fluctuations.

2. Can individuals trade forward contracts?

  • Yes, individuals can enter into forward contracts, but they are more commonly used by businesses.

3. Are future contracts more liquid than forward contracts?

  • Yes, futures contracts are generally more liquid due to their standardized nature and exchange trading.

4. Do forward contracts require upfront fees?

  • Forward contracts typically do not involve upfront exchange fees, unlike futures contracts.

5. Which contract is more customizable, forward, or future?

  • Forward contracts offer greater customization since their terms are negotiated between the parties involved.

Shitanshu Kapadia
Shitanshu Kapadia
Hi, I am Shitanshu founder of I am engaged in blogging & Digital Marketing for 10 years. The purpose of this blog is to share my experience, knowledge and help people in managing money. Please note that the views expressed on this Blog are clarifications meant for reference and guidance of the readers to explore further on the topics. These should not be construed as investment advice or legal opinion. We do not offer any stock tips, investment, insurance or finance product related advice. Please consult a qualified financial planner and do your own due diligence before making any investment decision.
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