Subscribers sometimes ask about charting software we writers use. If you know me well, you know that rather than recommending that you follow my example, I would first ask what kind of charts you need.

Before I can address some of the important considerations, I should add a disclaimer. I obviously can't vouch for the stability or accuracy of the quotes on any charting platform I discuss. Even if I observed a certain platform's stability or accuracy during a certain period of time, that doesn't mean that same stability will remain in the future. Businesses are bought and sold. New updates might offer more or less stability. Charts can make a difference in the profit or loss a trader experiences, so evaluate each of these considerations and satisfy yourself that your needs are met before you choose a charting platform.

If you're trading simple directional trades, you may be most interested in price charts that help you gauge the next direction of the underlying. A buy-and-hold investor may not need intraday charts at all, but I doubt we've got many buy-and-holders among our subscribers. If you're day trading, you're interested in having the most accurate intraday charts you can find. Many years ago, one of the most popular and user-friendly charting software programs, used by many of us writers, proved to be notoriously unreliable on high-traffic days. Speaking from experience, you absolutely don't want that kind of unreliability when you're day trading 40-60 long or short call or put contracts. You don't want it when you're trading iron condors, butterflies, calendars or other non-directional trades, either, since you may be gauging an optimal entry, exit or adjustment based on what you're seeing intraday.

For that reason and others, I switched to a subscription feed service, IQ Feed US. This subscription feed service interfaces with QuoteTracker's charting software, which I also began using. Since that time, I have not suffered any problems in stability of the quotes.

In addition to the stability of both the charting and quote feed, another benefit occurred when I switched: a lower monthly cost. If you don't mind advertisements and a limit of two days of intraday prices and six months of historical charts, you can obtain the QuoteTracker charting platform for free. Because you can also obtain feed free if you are a client of optionsXpress, Interactive Brokers, eSignal, and most especially TD Ameritrade, I often suggest QuoteTracker as a backup charting platform for all traders. We all need those emergency backups, especially a free backup.

Of course, most of us need and want more than two days of intraday data and six months of historical data. We're also annoyed by ads. Registration for QuoteTracker solves many of those problems. The ads disappear, for example. Although the registration price has gone up, to $14.00 per month, it's still relatively cheap. If you happen to be a TD Ameritrade client, you get the registered version free without having to pay that $14.00 per month fee.

Then comes the choice of the source for your quote feeds. I wanted more than two days of intraday data, all I could obtain with feed through my particular brokerage. The amount of intraday data differs with different brokerages. If, like me, you were to choose to use IQFeed rather than the feed through your brokerage, you'll pay an additional fee for that. Other than feed through TD Ameritrade, though, you're still limited to 10 days of intraday data. TD Ameritrade clients get more preferential treatment, as TD Ameritrade bought QuoteTracker a few years ago. Still, for my type of trading, I need intraday charts only to time an entry, exit or adjustment. Ten days of intraday data has mostly been enough. Others will want more intraday data and will find another charting platform for their needs.

QuoteTracker is not quite as user friendly as my previous charting service, but the platform provides plenty of upper and lower indicators and oscillators. You've been seeing my QuoteTracker charts in my articles for at least four or maybe five years. I've been glad to trade the less user-friendly charts for the stability of the feed I obtained through the interface with IQ feed.

Those investigating IQFeed for use in QuoteTracker's charts should be sure to access IQFeed by clicking through QuoteTracker's pages. Those doing so get preferential fees, including a waiving of the normal IQFeed startup fee. IQFeed currently lists the following prices, although they're of course subject to change: Basic Service, $30.00/month; RT US Futures and Futures Options, $20.00/month; RT Equity Options, $20.00/month, Level II, $20.00/month, RT International Futures, $25.00/month. Exchange fees require additional charges. Be aware that some brokerages and data feed services charge more for professionals, and they may view you as a professional if you trade through an LLC or other entity. Check before you sign up. In addition, some traders will want to be able to enter an order directly from the graph. Investigate whether the charting program you're considering allows that kind of interface with your particular brokerage. Some do; some don't.

Other writers on the site use different charting services, such as eSignal and Q-Charts. Lately, however, two observations have prompted me to consider making some changes again, and perhaps they will you, too. In the old days of options trading just a few years ago, the charts provided by our brokerages proved too rudimentary for those interested in technical analysis. However, if you haven't checked your brokerage's charting capabilities lately, you might check again because you might be as surprised as I was recently.

For example, many of you know that I study Keltner channels of several intervals nested together on one chart. This preference of mine intrigues some of you and drives other of you batty. Nevertheless, the point here is that in the past not many charting platforms allowed users to nest Keltner channels of differing intervals on the same chart. Yet I am now able to chart these channels as easily on BrokersXpress' (or OptionsXpress') streaming charts as I am on QuoteTracker with IQFeed.

RUT on 5-Minute Chart on QuoteTracker with IQ Feed, Sunday, September 6:

RUT on 5-Minute Chart on BrokersXpress on Sunday, September 6:

The size and colors of the channel lines do not look identical, nor does their exact placement. I still need to do some tinkering with the inputs. However, I've been able to duplicate the setup fairly well, and I've noticed that with all such setups, different platforms show some differences. That occurs when we're looking at the Greeks of a position, too, when examining the same position on several platforms. The key is always to get used to the way your particular platform sets things up and learn to interpret what you're seeing there.

Some drawbacks and benefits to using my brokerage's streaming platform exist. For example, I'm still figuring out if I can save various setups (one with Keltner channels and another with frequently watched moving averages, for example) so that I can flip from one to the other, but that possible difficulty is more than offset by the 60 days of intraday data now available to me. My brokerage's chart is also free since I'm not trading in a legal entity, a big advantage.

IQFeed stayed stable during the Flash Crash, a big advantage. I was watching my spread prices on BrokersXpress, not the prices of underlyings, so I can't verify how stable its charts would have been on the Flash Crash day. I can say that I was certainly getting more stable and reliable spread quotes on BX than I was on my other brokerage, so it was stable to some degree at least.

Ask yourself what you need in a charting service, and then go looking for it. As brokerages compete for the active options traders, they've ramped up the services they offer us. Does your brokerage provide free charts that will serve your purposes? If so, perhaps you don't need the expensive charting services you needed in the past. Some traders, particularly those who want to program in their own proprietary signals, might not be able to do so on brokerages such as OptionsXpress and BrokersXpress, it's true. However, they might be able to do so on some other brokerage's site without paying for the capabilities that once prompted us to pay for expensive charting platforms. That depends, I imagine, on the complexity of the proprietary signals, so investigate if you're interested in programming your own signals.

Do you trade futures or options on futures? Commodities? Do you intend to do so at some point in the future? Go beyond checking into the technical analysis tools of a specific site. You also need to know whether it's possible to obtain live quotes on those securities, too. You want to know how much those quotes will cost you, if they do cost extra on a specific site, so that you can compare various sites. Do you want to go beyond quotes on the underlying and watch charts on options or even spreads? Some sites provide these, and some do not. Some charge extra fees for these, and some do not. I know some options traders who track their option spreads on price charts through Think-or-swim.

After you've determined what type of price charts you need, however, it's important to check into the support for that site. After deplorable service from my prior charting service, I made sure to test support before I changed services. Before I began using QuoteTracker and IQFeed, I sent questions to support to see how quickly and knowledgeably they answered. Both passed the tests at the time.

These are just a few considerations when you're looking into price charts for your needs. I started with the price charts because many questions pertain to those, but I would suggest that when options traders think of what type of charts they need, they expand their thinking beyond these types of charts. There may be a charting need that you didn't even realize you had, a need for profit-loss or price-analysis charts. Perhaps we'll cover those in another article.