Options trading may seem overwhelming, but they're easy to understand if you know a few key points. Investor portfolios are usually constructed with several asset classes. These may be stocks, bonds, ETFs, and even mutual funds. Options are another asset class, and when used correctly, they offer many advantages that trading stocks and ETFs alone cannot.
In order to trade options, you’ll need a broker. Check out our detailed roundup of the best brokers for options traders, so you can compare commission costs, minimums, and more, as well as our explainer on how to open a brokerage account. Or stay here and answer a few questions to get a personalized recommendation on the best broker for your needs.
For example, if you bought a long call option (remember, a call option is a contract that gives you the right to buy shares later on) for 100 shares of Microsoft stock at $110 per share for December 1, you would have the right to buy 100 shares of that stock at $110 per share regardless of if the stock price changed or not by December 1. For this long call option, you would be expecting the price of Microsoft to increase, thereby letting you reap the profits when you are able to buy it at a cheaper cost than its market value. However, if you decide not to exercise that right to buy the shares, you would only be losing the premium you paid for the option since you aren't obligated to buy any shares.
What if, instead of a home, your asset was a stock or index investment? Similarly, if an investor wants insurance on his/her S&P 500 index portfolio, they can purchase put options. An investor may fear that a bear market is near and may be unwilling to lose more than 10% of their long position in the S&P 500 index. If the S&P 500 is currently trading at $2500, he/she can purchase a put option giving the right to sell the index at $2250, for example, at any point in the next two years.
However, for put options (right to sell), the opposite is true - with strike prices below the current share price being considered "out of the money" and vice versa. And, what's more important - any "out of the money" options (whether call or put options) are worthless at expiration (so you really want to have an "in the money" option when trading on the stock market).
An option is a contract that allows (but doesn't require) an investor to buy or sell an underlying instrument like a security, ETF or even index at a predetermined price over a certain period of time. Buying and selling options is done on the options market, which trades contracts based on securities. Buying an option that allows you to buy shares at a later time is called a "call option," whereas buying an option that allows you to sell shares at a later time is called a "put option."