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.
If you are buying an option that is already "in the money" (meaning the option will immediately be in profit), its premium will have an extra cost because you can sell it immediately for a profit. On the other hand, if you have an option that is "at the money," the option is equal to the current stock price. And, as you may have guessed, an option that is "out of the money" is one that won't have additional value because it is currently not in profit.
American options can be exercised at any time between the date of purchase and the expiration date. European options are different from American options in that they can only be exercised at the end of their lives on their expiration date. The distinction between American and European options has nothing to do with geography, only with early exercise. Many options on stock indexes are of the European type. Because the right to exercise early has some value, an American option typically carries a higher premium than an otherwise identical European option. This is because the early exercise feature is desirable and commands a premium.
As an example, let's say an initial margin amount of $3,700 allows an investor to enter into a futures contract for 1,000 barrels of oil valued at $45,000—with oil priced at $45 per barrel. If the price of oil is trading at $60 at the contract's expiry, the investor has a $15 gain or a $15,000 profit. The trades would settle through the investor's brokerage account crediting the net difference of the two contracts. Most futures contracts will be cash settled, but some contracts will settle with the delivery of the underlying asset to a centralized processing warehouse.

Disclaimer: NerdWallet has entered into referral and advertising arrangements with certain broker-dealers under which we receive compensation (in the form of flat fees per qualifying action) when you click on links to our partner broker-dealers and/or submit an application or get approved for a brokerage account. At times, we may receive incentives (such as an increase in the flat fee) depending on how many users click on links to the broker-dealer and complete a qualifying action.
Time Value: All options contracts have an expiration date, after which they become worthless. The more time that an option has before its expiration date, the more time there is available for the option to come into profit, so its premium will have additional time value. The less time that an option has until its expiration date, the less time there is available for the option to come into profit, so its premium will have either lower additional time value or no additional time value.

The fee you are paying to buy the call option is called the premium (it's essentially the cost of buying the contract which will allow you to eventually buy the stock or security). In this sense, the premium of the call option is sort of like a down-payment like you would place on a house or car. When purchasing a call option, you agree with the seller on a strike price and are given the option to buy the security at a predetermined price (which doesn't change until the contract expires).