An option is a contract to buy or sell a specific financial product officially known as the option’s underlying instrument or underlying interest.

For equity options, the underlying instrument is a stock, exchange-traded fund (ETF), or stock index.

The contract itself is very precise. It establishes a specific price, called the strike price, at which the contract may be exercised or acted on. And it has an expiration date. When an option expires, it no longer has value and no longer exists.

What are options and how do they work?

Options are financial derivatives that give buyers the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at an agreed-upon price and date.

Options come in two varieties, calls and puts, and you can buy or sell either type. You make those choices — whether to buy or sell and choose a call or a put — based on what you want to achieve as an options investor.

All calls or puts available for a specific underlying instrument are grouped as option classes. Only those options in a class that share the same expiration month and strike price are included in an options series. Options trading offers hedging and speculation opportunities, from simple to complicated methods. How much of the underlying product will be exchanged if the option is exercised depends on the size of the option contract. For example, the contract size for most equity options is 100 shares.

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The fact that an option contract allows someone to acquire or sell an asset without obligating them to do so may be the most significant feature of an options contract.

How do options calls and puts work?

The owner of a call option has the choice to buy stock, whereas the owner of a put option has the option to sell shares. A sort of option that gains value as a stock rises is called a call option. They are the most well-known sort of option and give the owner the ability to fix a price to purchase a particular stock by a specific date. Call options are desirable because they can increase value rapidly on a slight stock price increase. As a result, traders seeking a significant profit tend to select them.

A put gives the holder the opportunity, but not the duty, to sell the underlying stock at the strike price on or before expiration, in contrast to a call option. Therefore, a long put is a short position in the underlying asset because the put increases in value when the underlying security’s price decreases (they have a negative delta). There are many circumstances in which call options and put options are used.

option contract explained

Call option buyers use them as a hedge against their position if the price of the security or commodity falls. Put option buyers use them as a hedge against their position in a security or commodity whose price is expected to rise.

How to buy and sell options?

If you buy a call, you have the right to buy the underlying instrument at the strike price on or before the expiration date. If you buy a put, you have the right to sell the underlying instrument on or before expiration. In either case, as the option holder, you also have the right to sell the option to another buyer during its term or to let it expire worthless.

The situation is different if you write or sell an option, since selling obligates you to fulfill your side of the contract if the holder wishes to exercise. For example, if you sell a call, you’re obligated to sell the underlying interest at the strike price if you’re assigned. On the other hand, if you sell a put, you must buy the underlying interest if assigned.

As a writer, you have no control over whether or not a contract is exercised. You need to recognize that exercise is always possible at any time until the expiration date. But just as the buyer can sell an option back into the market rather than exercising it, as a writer, you can purchase an offsetting contract and end your obligation to meet the terms of the contract.

What is option premium?

When you buy an option, the purchase price is called the premium. If you sell, the premium is the amount you receive. The premium isn’t fixed and changes constantly — so the premium you pay today is likely to be higher or lower than the premium yesterday or tomorrow. What those changing prices reflect is the give and take between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept for the option. The point at which the agreement becomes the price for that transaction, and then the process begins again.

If you buy options, you start with what’s known as a net debit. That means you’ve spent money you might never recover if you don’t sell your option at a profit or exercise it. And if you make money on a transaction, you must subtract the cost of the premium from any income you realize to find your net profit. As a seller, on the other hand, you begin with a net credit because you collect the premium. If the option is never exercised, you keep the money. If the option is exercised, you still get to keep the premium but are obligated to buy or sell the underlying stock if you’re assigned.

How to understand options value?

What a particular options contract is worth to a buyer or seller is measured by how likely it is to meet their expectations. In the language of options, that’s determined by whether or not the option is, or is likely to be, in-the-money or out-of-the-money at expiration. For example, a call option is in-the-money if the current market value of the underlying stock is above the option’s exercise price and out-of-the-money if the stock is below the exercise price. A put option is in-the-money if the current market value of the underlying stock is below the exercise price and out-of-the-money if it is above it. If an option is not in-the-money at expiration, the option is assumed to be worthless.

An option’s premium has two parts: an intrinsic value and a time value. Intrinsic value is the amount by which the option is in-the-money. Time value is the difference between whatever the intrinsic value is and what the premium is. The longer the amount of time for market conditions to work to your benefit, the greater the time value.

Several factors, including supply and demand in the market where the option is traded, affect the price of an option, as is the case with an individual stock. What’s happening in the overall investment markets and the economy are two broad influences. The identity of the underlying instrument, how it traditionally behaves, and what it is doing at the moment are more specific ones. Its volatility is also an essential factor as investors attempt to gauge how likely it is that an option will move in-the-money.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of options?

It’s crucial to understand the distinctive qualities of options before choosing to trade them because they are a unique type of financial vehicle.

  • As previously indicated, call options permit holders to purchase the underlying securities at the stated strike price by the expiry date.
  • Writing a contract is the practice of selling call options. The premium payment goes to the author. In other words, the option’s writer (or seller) receives payment from the premium buyer. The premium received while selling the option represents the highest profit.

Options contracts allow investors to make decisions about their portfolios, which can help them manage risk while optimizing returns. Additionally, traders can create complicated deals that are time- and volatility-sensitive thanks to options contracts. Options traders can set up far more specialized and complex transactions than typical stock trading by combining several put and call contracts with various strike prices and expiration dates.

On the other hand, time-value decay can be the most significant disadvantage of trading options. This is because all options contracts’ time-value premiums always decrease as they get closer to expiration. Options are wasting assets, which means that they have no value after a certain point in time. Stocks, which you can hold indefinitely, always offer the potential for value growth. Options, in contrast, have no value after their expiration date. This means a conservative buy-and-hold strategy that might be advantageous for stock investing doesn’t work the same way with options investing.

Last but not least, the options market may be very unpredictable. Investors who don’t carefully manage risk can fast lose all of their money in the options market, as the value of options contracts sometimes fluctuates by 50% or more in a single day.

Options Trading For Beginners [Full Guide] by Inna Rosputnia

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