A forward contract is a customized contract between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a specified price on a future date. A forward contract can be used for hedging or speculation, although its non-standardized nature makes it particularly apt for hedging. Unlike standard futures contracts, a forward contract can be customized to any commodity, amount and delivery date. A forward contract settlement can occur on a cash or delivery basis. Forward contracts do not trade on a centralized exchange and are therefore regarded as over-the-counter (OTC) instruments. While their OTC nature makes it easier to customize terms, the lack of a centralized clearinghouse also gives rise to a higher degree of default risk. As a result, forward contracts are not as easily available to the retail investor as futures contracts.
A futures contract is a legal agreement, generally made on the trading floor of a futures exchange, to buy or sell a particular commodity or financial instrument at a predetermined price at a specified time in the future.