Options Trading for Beginners

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Options Trading for Beginners

Options are a kind of derivative contract in which the buyer (the option holder) has the right (but not the duty) to purchase or sell a security at a specified price at some time in the future. Sellers offer option purchasers a fee known as a premium for such a privilege. If market prices are adverse to option holders, they will let the option expire worthless and not exercise this privilege, ensuring that possible losses do not exceed the premium. On the other hand, if the market swings in a manner that increases the value of this right, it will utilize it.

Contracts for options are often classified as “call” or “put.” The buyer of a call option contracts obtains the right to purchase the underlying asset in the future at a fixed price, known as the exercise price or striking price. A put option grants the buyer the right to sell the underlying asset at a fixed price in the future.

Let’s look at some simple risk-management tactics that a novice investor might use using calls or puts. The first two entail placing a direction bet utilizing options with a minimal loss if the bet fails. Others incorporate hedging tactics applied to current investments.

Key Takeaways

  • For novice investors, options trading may seem hazardous or confusing, so they avoid it.
  • However, certain fundamental options methods may assist a rookie investor safeguard their downside and hedge market risk.
  • Long calls, long puts, covered calls, protected puts, and straddles are four examples of such techniques.
  • Options trading may be complicated, so be sure you understand the risks and rewards before getting started.

Buying Calls (Long Calls)

Trading options has several benefits for individuals wishing to make a directional bet in the market. If you believe an asset’s price will climb, you may purchase a call option with less cash than the asset itself. Simultaneously, if the price declines, your losses are restricted to the premium paid for the options and nothing more. This method may be favoured by traders who:

  • Are you “bullish” or confident in a certain company, exchange-traded fund (ETF), or index fund and wish to minimise your risk?
  • Want to use leverage to profit from increasing prices?

Options are effectively leveraged products in the sense that they enable traders to magnify the possible positive profit by utilizing less quantities than would be necessary if trading the underlying asset directly. So, rather of spending $10,000 to acquire 100 shares of a $100 company, you might spend $2,000 on a call option with a strike price 10% higher than the current market price.


Assume a trader wishes to invest $5,000 in Apple (AAPL), which is now priced at roughly $165 per share. They may buy 30 shares for $4,950 with this sum. Assume that the stock price rises by 10% during the following month to $181.50. Ignoring any brokerage or transaction costs, the trader’s portfolio will increase to $5,445, resulting in a net dollar return of $495, or 10% on the money invested.

Assume a call option on the stock with a strike price of $165 expiring in roughly a month costs $5.50 per share or $550 per contract. With the trader’s available investment budget, they may purchase nine options for $4,950. The trader is essentially making a transaction on 900 shares since the option contract controls 100 shares. If the stock price rises 10% to $181.50 at expiry, the option will expire in the money (ITM) and be worth $16.50 per share (for a strike price of $181.50 to $165), or $14,850 on 900 shares. That equates to a net dollar return of $9,990, or 200% on the money invested, a far higher return than trading the underlying asset directly.


A long call trader’s potential loss is limited to the premium paid. Profitability is endless since the option payment will rise in tandem with the underlying asset price until expiry, with no conceivable upper limit.

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Buying Puts (Long Puts)

A call option gives the holder the right to buy the underlying at a certain price before the contract expires, while a put option allows the holder the right to sell the underlying at a predetermined price. This method is favoured by traders who:

  • Are pessimistic on a certain company, ETF, or index but want to take on less risk than a short-selling strategy?
  • Want to use leverage to profit from declining prices?

A put option operates in the exact opposite manner of a call option, with the put option increasing in value as the underlying price falls. Though short-selling enables a trader to benefit from decreasing prices, the risk with a short position is endless since there is no limit to how high a price might increase in theory. If the underlying price rises over the strike price of the put option, the option will simply expire worthless.

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Assume you believe the price of a company will fall from $60 to $50 or lower as a result of poor results, but you don’t want to risk selling the stock short in case you are incorrect. Instead, you may pay a $2.00 premium to purchase the $50 put. If the stock does not go below $50, or if it increases, you will only lose the $2.00 premium.

However, if you are correct and the stock falls all the way to $45, you will profit $3 ($50 minus $45, less the $2 premium).


A long put’s potential loss is limited to the premium paid for the options. The maximum profit from the position is limited since the underlying price cannot go below zero, but the put option, like a long call option, magnifies the trader’s return.

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Covered Calls

A covered call, unlike a long call or long put, is a strategy that is added to an existing long position in the underlying asset. It is simply an upward call offered in a quantity sufficient to cover the current position size. In this manner, the covered call writer earns the option premium while limiting the upside potential of the underlying position. This is the ideal position for traders who:

  • Expect little change or a modest gain in the underlying price, allowing you to receive the whole option premium.
  • Are prepared to trade off some gain potential for some downside protection

A covered call strategy consists of purchasing 100 shares of the underlying asset and selling a call option on those shares. When the trader sells the call, the premium on the option is received, decreasing the cost basis on the shares and giving some downside protection. In exchange, by selling the option, the trader agrees to sell shares of the underlying at the strike price of the option, so limiting the trader’s upside potential.


Assume a trader purchases 1,000 shares of BP (BP) at $44 per share and concurrently writes ten call options (one contract for every 100 shares) with a strike price of $46 expiring in one month for $0.25 per share, or $25 per contract and $250 total for the ten contracts. The $0.25 premium decreases the cost basis of the shares to $43.75, so any decline in the underlying down to this point will be compensated by the option premium, providing little downside protection.

If the share price climbs over $46 before the option expires, the short call option will be executed (or “called away”), requiring the trader to deliver the shares at the option’s strike price. The trader will earn $2.25 per share ($46 strike price -$43.75 cost basis) in this situation.

However, this example shows that the trader does not anticipate BP to move considerably above or below $44 in the coming month. As long as the shares do not climb beyond $46 and are not called away before the options expire, the trader retains the premium and may continue selling calls against the shares if wanted.


If the share price climbs above the strike price before expiry, the short call option may be executed, and the trader must deliver shares of the underlying at the strike price, even if it is lower than the market price. A covered call strategy offers minimal downside protection in the form of the premium earned when selling the call option in return for this risk.

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Protective Puts

A protective put is the purchase of a downward put in an amount sufficient to cover an existing position in the underlying asset. In fact, this method establishes a lower level below which you cannot lose any more money. Of course, you will have to pay the premium for the choice. In this sense, it functions as a kind of loss insurance policy. This is a favored technique for traders who own the underlying asset and wish to protect themselves against losses.

As a result, a protective put is a long put, similar to the technique outlined above; however, the purpose, as the name indicates, is downside protection rather than profiting from a negative move. If a trader buys stocks with a strong attitude in the long run but wants to safeguard against a short-term downturn, they may buy a protective put.

If the underlying price rises and exceeds the strike price of the put at maturity, the option expires worthless, and the trader loses the premium but retains the advantage of the higher underlying price. If the underlying price falls, the trader’s portfolio position loses value, but this loss is partially offset by the gain from the put option position. As a result, the position might be seen as an insurance strategy.

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To lower premium payments while increasing downside protection, the trader might place the strike price below the current price. This is known as deductible insurance. Assume an investor purchases 1,000 shares of Coca-Cola (KO) for $44 and wishes to safeguard the investment against unfavorable price changes over the following two months. There are many put options available:

Protective Put Examples

June 2018 options


$44 put


$42 put


$40 put


The table indicates that the cost of protection rises as the amount of protection rises. For example, if the trader wishes to protect their investment against a price reduction, they may purchase ten at-the-money put options with a strike price of $44 for $1.23 per share, or $123 each contract, for a total cost of $1,230. However, if the trader is ready to accept some downside risk, a less expensive out-of-the-money (OTM) option, such as the $40 put, might also work. In this situation, the option position will be substantially cheaper, costing just $200.


If the underlying price remains constant or increases, the possible loss is limited to the option premium, which is paid as insurance. If the underlying price falls, the capital loss is compensated by a gain in the option’s price and is limited to the difference between the starting stock price and the strike price plus the premium paid for the option. In the above example, the loss is restricted to $4.20 per share at the strike price of $40 ($44 – $40 + $0.20).

Long Straddles

Purchasing a straddle allows you to benefit from future volatility without having to speculate on whether the move will be to the upside or downside—either way will profit.

In this case, an investor purchases both a call option and a put option on the same underlying at the same strike price and expiry date. It is more costly than other techniques since it requires the purchase of two at-the-money options.


Consider someone who believes a certain stock will undergo significant price movements after an earnings report on January 15. The stock is now trading at $100.

The investor constructs a straddle by acquiring both a $5 put option and a $5 call option with a strike price of $100 that expires on January 30. This straddle’s net option premium is $10. The trader would earn if the underlying security’s price at expiry was more than $110 (the strike price plus the net option premium) or less than $90 (the strike price minus the net option premium).


A long straddle may only lose up to the amount you paid for it. However, since it comprises two options, it will cost more than either a call or a put on its own. The maximum return is potentially infinite to the upside and is restricted to the strike price to the downside (e.g., if you hold a $20 straddle and the stock price falls to zero, you will only earn $20).

Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Some Basic Other Options Strategies

The tactics discussed here are simple and may be used by most inexperienced traders or investors. However, there are more complicated tactics available than merely purchasing calls or puts. While many of these techniques are described elsewhere, here is a quick overview of some more fundamental options positions that would be ideal for individuals who are familiar with the ones mentioned above:

  • The married put strategy, like the protective put, involves purchasing an at-the-money (ATM) put option in an amount sufficient to cover an existing long position in the stock. In this regard, it is similar to a call option (sometimes called a synthetic call).
  • A protective collar strategy involves an investor with a long position in the underlying purchasing an out-of-the-money (i.e., downside) put option while simultaneously writing an out-of-the-money (upside) call option on the same company.
  • Long strangle strategy: A strangle buyer, like a straddle buyer, goes long on an out-of-the-money call option and a put option at the same time. They will both have the same expiry date but different strike prices: The put strike price must be lower than the call strike price. This needs a lesser premium expenditure than a straddle but also requires the stock to rise higher to the upside or lower to the downside to be lucrative.
  • Vertical spreads entail the simultaneous purchase and sale of options of the same kind (either puts or calls) and expiration date, but at separate strike prices. These may be built as bull or bear spreads, profiting when the market rises or falls, accordingly. Spreads are less expensive than long calls or long puts since you get the option premium from the one you sold. This, however, restricts your potential upside to the distance between the strikes.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Trading Options

The most significant benefit of purchasing options is that you have significant upside potential with losses restricted to the option’s premium. However, this might be a disadvantage since options expire worthless if the stock does not move enough to be in-the-money. This implies that purchasing a large number of expensive alternatives might be pricey.

Options may be an excellent source of leverage and risk hedging. For example, a bullish investor who wants to invest $1,000 in a business may possibly make a far higher return by acquiring $1,000 in call options on that company than than buying $1,000 in shares. In this sense, call options allow the investor to leverage their position by boosting their purchasing power. If the same investor already has exposure to that same firm and wishes to lessen their exposure, they might hedge their risk by selling put options against that company.

The main disadvantage of options contracts is that they are complex and difficult to price. This is why options are often considered a more advanced investment vehicle, suitable only for experienced investors. In recent years, they have become increasingly popular among retail investors. Because of their capacity for outsized returns or losses, investors should make sure they fully understand the potential implications before entering into any options positions. Failing to do so can lead to devastating losses.

There is also a large risk selling options in that you take on theoretically unlimited risk with profits limited to the premium (price) received for the option.

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 four strategies discussed here would all fall under the most basic levels, level 1 and Level 2. Customers of brokerages will typically have to be approved for options trading up to a certain level and maintain a margin account.

  • Level 1: covered calls and protected puts, where the underlying asset is already owned by the investor.
  • Level 2: long calls and puts, including straddles and strangles
  • Level 3: options spreads, which include purchasing one or more options while simultaneously selling one or more distinct options on the same underlying.
  • Level 4: selling (writing) naked options, which is unhedged options with the potential for limitless losses.

How Can I Start Trading Options?

Most online brokers today offer options trading. You will have to typically apply for options trading and be approved. You will also need a margin account. When approved, you can enter orders to trade options much like you would for stocks but by using an option chain to identify which underlying, expiration date, and strike price, and whether it is a call or a put. Then, you can place limit orders or market orders for that option.

When Do Options Trade During the Day?

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

Can You Trade Options for Free?

Though many brokers now provide commission-free trading in equities and ETFs, options trading still requires fees or commissions. There will generally be a fee-per-trade (e.g., $4.95) plus a commission per contract (e.g., $0.50 per contract). Therefore, if you purchase 10 options under this price structure, the cost to you would be $4.95 + (10 x $0.50) = $9.95.

The Bottom Line

Options provide investors with different ways for profiting from trading underlying assets. There are several techniques that use various combinations of options, underlying assets, and other derivatives. Purchasing calls, buying puts, selling covered calls, and buying protected puts are all basic techniques for novices. Trading options rather of underlying assets has benefits such as downside protection and leveraged gains, but it also has downsides such as the necessity for an upfront premium payment. Choosing a broker is the first step in trading options.

To help you get started, Investopedia has compiled a list of the best online brokers for options trading.

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