Guide to Writing Call Options: What You Should Know

By Dan Miller · March 15, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Writing Call Options: What You Should Know

Selling a call option is referred to as writing a call option. When writing a call option you will be initiating the option contract for sale, and will collect a premium from the buyer when the contract is initially sold.

There are two ways to write a call option — sell covered calls or sell naked calls.

•   When you write a covered call, you are selling an option on an underlying stock that you own.

•   Writing a naked call means you are selling an option on a stock you do not currently own.

The biggest difference between these two paths is the risk profile. Your risk with covered calls is that you may miss out on some of the upside gains if the stock’s price goes above the strike price of your call option.

When you sell a naked call, you have no risk protection and theoretically unlimited risk.

What Are Calls?

Remember the basics of put vs. call options: When you buy a call option at a specific strike price, you have the right (but not the obligation) to purchase the underlying stock at the strike price of the option over a given time period.

Buying put gives you the right, but not the obligation, to sell the underlying stock or asset before the expiration date.

If you are wanting to know how to trade options, it’s important to understand the differences between calls and puts, when you would buy or sell options, and how to arrange options trading strategies to minimize your risk. When you buy an option, your maximum risk is capped at the amount of premium that you initially paid for the option. But when you write a call option or put option, your risk is theoretically infinite.

Writing Call Options

Writing call options is similar to writing put options in that you are selling the option initially. When you write a call option, you are creating a new option contract that allows the buyer the right to buy the stock at the specified strike price at any time before the expiration date.

When you write a call option, you can be forced to buy the stock at the strike price at any time. In practice, this is unlikely to happen unless the stock is deep in-the-money before expiration or if it’s at or in-the-money at the date of expiration.

Recommended: Margin vs Options Trading: Similarities and Differences

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Writing Call Option Strategies

There are several strategies when trading options, depending on whether you have a bullish or bearish outlook for a given stock. Here are two of the most common call writing option strategies:

Writing Covered Calls

One common options strategy is writing covered calls. A call is considered a “covered” call when you also own at least 100 shares of the underlying stock. Writing covered calls is a popular income strategy if you think that the stock you hold will move within a specific range. You then might write a covered call with a strike price a little above the expected price range.

When you write covered calls, since you are the seller of the option contract, you will collect an initial premium. Your best case scenario is that the underlying stock will close below the strike price of the call option at expiration. That means that the call will expire worthless, and you will keep the entire premium. If the stock closes above the strike price at expiration, you will be forced to sell your shares of stock at the strike price. This means that you may miss out on any additional gains for the stock.

Writing Naked Calls

If you are wondering what naked calls are, it is when you write a call when you don’t have a long position in the underlying stock. Unlike covered calls, writing naked calls comes with significant risk. Since a stock has no maximum price, you have unlimited exposure. The more a stock’s price rises above the strike price of the call option, the more money you will lose on the trade.

Because of this, writing naked calls is something that is recommended only for people with significant options experience and/or those who have a high tolerance for risk. You will want to make sure you understand your risk before writing naked calls, and have a plan for what you will do if the stock moves against you.

Writing Call Options Example

To understand the difference between writing covered calls and naked calls, here are two examples.

Covered Call Example

Say that you own 100 shares of stock XYZ with a cost basis of $65. You feel that the stock is trading in a range of $60-$70, so you write a covered call with a June expiration and a strike price of $70, collecting $1.25 in premium, or $125 ($1.25 x 100).

If the stock closes below $70 at June’s expiration, you keep your shares and the entire $125 premium. Because you still own shares in XYZ, you can write another covered call in July (and beyond) generating income as you collect the premiums.

If instead the stock rises to $75 by June, then you will be obligated to sell 100 shares of XYZ at the strike price of $70. Because you already own 100 shares of XYZ, your shares will be called away. Your broker will automatically sell your 100 shares at the price of $70/share. You will miss out on any additional gains above the $70 price.

Naked Call Example

Say that you are bearish about stock ABC, which currently is trading at $100/share. You sell the October $110 calls for a premium of $4.25. You collect $425 upfront ($4.25 * 100 shares per option contract). As long as stock ABC closes below $110/share, you will keep the entire $425.

However if stock ABC closes above $110 at October options expiration you will be forced to buy 100 shares of ABC at whatever the prevailing market price is for stock ABC.

When you wrote (sold) the call option, you gave your buyer the right to buy 100 shares of stock ABC at $110/share. If ABC has risen to $250/share, for example, you will have to pay $25,000 to buy 100 shares, and then sell those 100 shares for $11,000 ($110/share), taking a $14,000 loss on your trade offset slightly by the $425 premium you collected.

The Takeaway

Writing call options can be a viable and valuable options strategy with several different uses. Writing covered calls on a stock whose shares you also hold can be a way to earn additional income if the stock is not very volatile. You can also write naked calls, or calls on stocks that you don’t own. Writing or selling naked calls leaves you in a position where you have unlimited risk, so make sure that you have a risk mitigation plan in place.

If you’re ready to try your hand at options trading, SoFi can help. When you set up an Active Invest account and start investing online, you can trade options from the SoFi mobile app or through the web platform. SoFi doesn’t charge any commission, and also enables you to trade stocks, ETFs, and more. And if you have any questions, SoFi offers educational resources about options to learn more.

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Is writing a call option the same thing as buying a put?

It is important to understand put vs. call options and how they are different. While writing a call option and buying a put option are both bearish options strategies, they are very different in terms of their risk/reward profile. When you write a call option, you collect the option premium upfront but have unlimited risk. Buying a put option has a defined risk of the initial premium that you paid to purchase the put option, which gives you the right but not the obligation to sell the underlying shares.

Does a writer of a call option make an unlimited profit?

No, the writer of a call option does not and cannot make an unlimited profit. When you write a call option, your maximum profit is defined by the initial premium that you collect when you first write the option. As a call option writer, you are hoping that the stock closes below the strike price of your option at expiration. In that scenario, it will expire worthless and you will receive your maximum profit.

How are call options written?

Writing a call option is another way to say that you are selling a call option. When you write a call option, you are giving the buyer the right (but not the obligation) to buy 100 shares of the underlying stock at a given strike price at any time before the options expiration. When you write a call option, you collect an initial premium from the buyer of the option.

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Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.

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