Options Trading for Beginners

Options are a type of derivative contract that provides buyers of the contracts (the choice holders) the suitable (but not the duty) to purchase or sell a security at a selected price sooner or later in the long run. Option buyers are charged an amount called a premium by the sellers for such a right. Should market prices be unfavorable for option holders, they may let the choice expire worthless and never exercise this right, ensuring that potential losses aren’t higher than the premium. However, if the market moves within the direction that makes this right more priceless, it makes use of it.

Options are generally divided into “call” and “put” contracts. With a call option, the client of the contract purchases the suitable to buy the underlying asset in the long run at a predetermined price, called exercise price or strike price. With a put option, the client acquires the suitable to sell the underlying asset in the long run on the predetermined price.

Let’s take a have a look at some basic strategies that a beginner investor can use with calls or puts to limit their risk. The primary two involve using options to position a direction bet with a limited downside if the bet goes incorrect. The others involve hedging strategies laid on top of existing positions.

Key Takeaways

  • Options trading may sound dangerous or complex for beginner investors, and so that they often stay away.
  • Some basic strategies using options, nonetheless, can assist a novice investor protect their downside and hedge market risk.
  • Here we have a look at 4 such strategies: long calls, long puts, covered calls, protective puts, and straddles.
  • Options trading could be complex, so make sure you understand the risks and rewards involved before diving in.

Buying Calls (Long Calls)

There are some benefits to trading options for those trying to make a directional bet available in the market. If you happen to think the value of an asset will rise, you possibly can buy a call option using less capital than the asset itself. At the identical time, if the value as a substitute falls, your losses are limited to the premium paid for the choices and no more. This may very well be a preferred strategy for traders who:

  • Are “bullish” or confident about a specific stock, exchange-traded fund (ETF), or index fund and wish to limit risk
  • Want to utilize leverage to reap the benefits of rising prices

Options are essentially leveraged instruments in that they permit traders to amplify the potential upside profit through the use of smaller amounts than would otherwise be required if trading the underlying asset itself. So, as a substitute of laying out $10,000 to purchase 100 shares of a $100 stock, you would hypothetically spend, say, $2,000 on a call contract with a strike price 10% higher than the present market price.


Suppose a trader wants to speculate $5,000 in Apple (AAPL), trading at around $165 per share. With this amount, they should purchase 30 shares for $4,950. Suppose then that the value of the stock increases by 10% to $181.50 over the following month. Ignoring any brokerage commission or transaction fees, the trader’s portfolio will rise to $5,445, leaving the trader with a net dollar return of $495, or 10% on the capital invested.

Now, for instance a call option on the stock with a strike price of $165 that expires a couple of month from now costs $5.50 per share or $550 per contract. Given the trader’s available investment budget, they can purchase nine options for a value of $4,950. Because the choice contract controls 100 shares, the trader is effectively making a deal on 900 shares. If the stock price increases 10% to $181.50 at expiration, the option will expire in the cash (ITM) and be price $16.50 per share (for a $181.50 to $165 strike), or $14,850 on 900 shares. That is a net dollar return of $9,990, or 200% on the capital invested, a much larger return in comparison with trading the underlying asset directly.


The trader’s potential loss from a protracted call is proscribed to the premium paid. Potential profit is unlimited because the choice payoff will increase together with the underlying asset price until expiration, and there may be theoretically no limit to how high it might go. 

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Buying Puts (Long Puts)

If a call option gives the holder the suitable to buy the underlying at a set price before the contract expires, a put option gives the holder the suitable to sell the underlying at a set price. This can be a preferred strategy for traders who:

  • Are bearish on a specific stock, ETF, or index, but wish to tackle less risk than with a short-selling strategy
  • Want to utilize leverage to reap the benefits of falling prices

A put option works effectively in the precise wrong way from the way in which a call option does, with the put option gaining value as the value of the underlying decreases. Though short-selling also allows a trader to cash in on falling prices, the chance with a brief position is unlimited because there may be theoretically no limit to how high a price can rise. With a put option, if the underlying finally ends up higher than the choice’s strike price, the choice will simply expire worthless. 


Say that you think that the value of a stock is prone to decline from $60 to $50 or lower based on bad earnings, but you do not need to risk selling the stock short in case you’re incorrect. As an alternative, you possibly can buy the $50 put for a premium of $2.00. If the stock doesn’t fall below $50, or if indeed it rises, probably the most you’ll lose is the $2.00 premium.

Nevertheless, when you are right and the stock drops all of the option to $45, you’ll make $3 ($50 minus $45. less the $2 premium).


The potential loss on a protracted put is proscribed to the premium paid for the choices. The utmost cash in on the position is capped since the underlying price cannot drop below zero, but as with a protracted call option, the put option leverages the trader’s return.

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Covered Calls

Unlike the long call or long put, a covered call is a method that’s overlaid onto an existing long position within the underlying asset. It is actually an upside call that’s sold in an amount that will cover that existing position size. In this fashion, the covered call author collects the choice premium as income, but additionally limits the upside potential of the underlying position. This can be a preferred position for traders who:

  • Expect no change or a slight increase within the underlying’s price, collecting the total option premium
  • Are willing to limit upside potential in exchange for some downside protection

A covered call strategy involves buying 100 shares of the underlying asset and selling a call option against those shares. When the trader sells the decision, the choice’s premium is collected, thus lowering the cost basis on the shares and providing some downside protection. In return, by selling the choice, the trader is agreeing to sell shares of the underlying at the choice’s strike price, thereby capping the trader’s upside potential. 


Suppose a trader buys 1,000 shares of BP (BP) at $44 per share and concurrently writes 10 call options (one contract for each 100 shares) with a strike price of $46 expiring in a single month, at a value of $0.25 per share, or $25 per contract and $250 total for the ten contracts. The $0.25 premium reduces the associated fee basis on the shares to $43.75, so any drop within the underlying all the way down to this point can be offset by the premium received from the choice position, thus offering limited downside protection.

If the share price rises above $46 before expiration, the short call option can be exercised (or “called away”), meaning the trader may have to deliver the stock at the choice’s strike price. On this case, the trader will make a profit of $2.25 per share ($46 strike price – $43.75 cost basis).

Nevertheless, this instance implies the trader doesn’t expect BP to maneuver above $46 or significantly below $44 over the following month. So long as the shares don’t rise above $46 and get called away before the choices expire, the trader will keep the premium free and clear and may proceed selling calls against the shares if desired.


If the share price rises above the strike price before expiration, the short call option can be exercised and the trader may have to deliver shares of the underlying at the choice’s strike price, even whether it is below the market price. In exchange for this risk, a covered call strategy provides limited downside protection in the shape of the premium received when selling the decision option. 

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Protective Puts

A protective put involves buying a downside put in an amount to cover an existing position within the underlying asset. In effect, this strategy puts a lower floor below which you can’t lose more. After all, you should have to pay for the choice’s premium. In this fashion, it acts as a kind of insurance policy against losses. This can be a preferred strategy for traders who own the underlying asset and wish downside protection

Thus, a protective put is a protracted put, just like the strategy we discussed above; nonetheless, the goal, because the name implies, is downside protection versus attempting to cash in on a downside move. If a trader owns shares with a bullish sentiment in the long term but wants to guard against a decline within the short run, they might purchase a protective put. 

If the value of the underlying increases and is above the put’s strike price at maturity, the choice expires worthless and the trader loses the premium but still has the good thing about the increased underlying price. However, if the underlying price decreases, the trader’s portfolio position loses value, but this loss is basically covered by the gain from the put option position. Hence, the position can effectively be regarded as an insurance strategy.


The trader can set the strike price below the present price to scale back premium payment on the expense of decreasing downside protection. This could be regarded as deductible insurance. Suppose, for instance, that an investor buys 1,000 shares of Coca-Cola (KO) at a price of $44 and desires to guard the investment from opposed price movements over the following two months. The next put options can be found:

Protective Put Examples
June 2018 options Premium
$44 put $1.23
$42 put $0.47
$40 put $0.20

The table shows that the associated fee of protection increases with the extent thereof. For instance, if the trader wants to guard the investment against any drop in price, they can purchase 10 at-the-money put options at a strike price of $44 for $1.23 per share, or $123 per contract, for a complete cost of $1,230. Nevertheless, if the trader is willing to tolerate some level of downside risk, selecting a less expensive out-of-the-money (OTM) option similar to the $40 put could also work. On this case, the associated fee of the choice position can be much lower at only $200.


If the value of the underlying stays the identical or rises, the potential loss can be limited to the choice premium, which is paid as insurance. If, nonetheless, the value of the underlying drops, the loss in capital can be offset by a rise in the choice’s price and is proscribed to the difference between the initial stock price and strike price plus the premium paid for the choice. In the instance above, on the strike price of $40, the loss is proscribed to $4.20 per share ($44 – $40 + $0.20).

Long Straddles

Buying a straddle helps you to capitalize on future volatility but without having to take a bet whether the move can be to the upside or downside—either direction will profit.

Here, an investor buys each a call option and a put option at the identical strike price and expiration on the identical underlying. Since it involves purchasing two at-the-money options, it’s costlier than another strategies.


Consider someone who expects a specific stock to experience large price fluctuations following an earnings announcement on Jan. 15. Currently, the stock’s price is $100.

The investor creates a straddle by purchasing each a $5 put option and a $5 call option at a $100 strike price which expires on Jan. 30. The net option premium for this straddle is $10. The trader would realize a profit if the value of the underlying security was above $110 (which is the strike price plus the web option premium) or below $90 (which is the strike price minus the web option premium) on the time of expiration.


A protracted straddle can only lose a maximum of what you paid for it. Because it involves two options, nonetheless, it is going to cost greater than either a call or put by itself. The utmost reward is theoretically unlimited to the upside and is bounded to the downside by the strike price (e.g., when you own a $20 straddle and the stock price goes to zero, you’ll make a max. of $20).

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Some Basic Other Options Strategies

The strategies outlined listed below are straightforward and could be employed by most novice traders or investors. There are, nonetheless, more nuanced strategies than simply buying calls or puts. While we discuss lots of all these strategies elsewhere, here is only a transient list of another basic options positions that will be suitable for those comfortable with those discussed above:

  • Married put strategy: Just like a protective put, the married put involves buying an at-the-money (ATM) put option in an amount to cover an existing long position within the stock. In this fashion, it mimics a call option (sometimes called an artificial call).
  • Protective collar strategy: With a protective collar, an investor who holds a protracted position within the underlying buys an out-of-the-money (i.e., downside) put option, while at the identical time writing an out-of-the-money (upside) call option for a similar stock.
  • Long strangle strategy: Just like the straddle, the client of a strangle goes long on an out-of-the-money call option and a put option at the identical time. They are going to have the identical expiration date, but they’ve different strike prices: The put strike price needs to be below the decision strike price. This involves a lower outlay of premium than a straddle but additionally requires the stock to maneuver either higher to the upside or lower to the downside in an effort to be profitable.
  • Vertical Spreads: A vertical spread involves the simultaneous buying and selling of options of the identical type (i.e., either puts or calls) and expiry, but at different strike prices. These could be constructed as either bull or bear spreads, which is able to profit when the market rises or falls, respectively. Spreads are less expensive that a protracted call or long put since you’re also receiving the choices premium from the one you sold. Nevertheless, this also limits your potential upside to the width between the strikes.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Trading Options

The largest advantage to purchasing options is that you may have great upside potential with losses limited only to the choice’s premium. Nevertheless, this can be a drawback since options will expire worthless if the stock doesn’t move enough to be in-the-money. Because of this buying a number of out-of-the-money options could be costly.

Options could be very useful as a source of leverage and risk hedging. For instance, a bullish investor who wishes to speculate $1,000 in an organization could potentially earn a far greater return by purchasing $1,000 price of call options on that firm, as in comparison with buying $1,000 of that company’s shares. On this sense, the decision options provide the investor with a option to leverage their position by increasing their buying power. However, if that very same investor already has exposure to that very same company and desires to scale back that exposure, they may hedge their risk by selling put options against that company.

The essential drawback of options contracts is that they’re complex and difficult to cost. For this reason options are sometimes considered a more advanced investment vehicle, suitable only for skilled investors. Lately, they’ve turn out to be increasingly popular amongst retail investors. Due to their capability for outsized returns or losses, investors should make sure that they fully understand the potential implications before getting into any options positions. Failing to accomplish that can result in devastating losses.

There may be also a big risk selling options in that you simply tackle theoretically unlimited risk with profits limited to the premium (price) received for the choice.

What Are the Levels of Options Trading?

Most brokers assign different levels of options trading approval based on the riskiness involved and complexity involved. The 4 strategies discussed here would all fall under probably the most basic levels, level 1 and Level 2. Customers of brokerages will typically must be approved for options trading as much as a certain level and maintain a margin account.

  • Level 1: covered calls and protective puts, when an investor already owns the underlying asset
  • Level 2: long calls and puts, which might also include straddles and strangles
  • Level 3: options spreads, involving buying a number of options and at the identical time selling a number of different options of the identical underlying
  • Level 4: selling (writing) naked options, which here means unhedged, posing the chance for unlimited losses

How Can I Start Trading Options?

Most online brokers today offer options trading. You should have to typically apply for options trading and be approved. You can even need a margin account. When approved, you possibly can enter orders to trade options very similar to you’ll for stocks but through the use of an option chain to discover which underlying, expiration date, and strike price, and whether it’s a call or a put. Then, you possibly can place limit orders or market orders for that option.

When Do Options Trade Through the Day?

Equity options (options on stocks) trade during normal stock market hours. This is usually 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

Can You Trade Options for Free?

Though many brokers now offer commission-free trading in stocks and ETFs, options trading still involves fees or commissions. There’ll typically be a fee-per-trade (e.g., $4.95) plus a commission per contract (e.g., $0.50 per contract). Subsequently, when you buy 10 options under this pricing structure, the associated fee to you can be $4.95 + (10 x $0.50) = $9.95.

The Bottom Line

Options offer alternative strategies for investors to cash in on trading underlying securities. There’s a wide range of strategies involving different combos of options, underlying assets, and other derivatives. Basic strategies for beginners include buying calls, buying puts, selling covered calls, and buying protective puts. There are benefits to trading options fairly than underlying assets, similar to downside protection and leveraged returns, but there are also disadvantages just like the requirement for upfront premium payment. Step one to trading options is to decide on a broker.

Fortunately, Investopedia has created an inventory of the perfect online brokers for options trading to make getting began easier.

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