Options Trading 101

An Introduction to Stock Options

Editor's Note: Options are not suitable for all investors. 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. Please see the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options.

Options trading can be an appealing way to build wealth or manage risk, especially if you’re looking beyond just investing in stocks, bonds, and other assets in your portfolio. But options trading can be a complex and challenging endeavor. The key to success in options trading is understanding the basics, including knowing what options are and the risks and rewards involved.

SoFi has created this options guide to provide you with information and resources on the basics of options so you can start to develop a trading strategy that fits your goals and risk tolerance.

Options Basics

What Are Options?

Options are contracts giving the purchaser the right to buy or sell a security, like a stock or exchange-traded fund (ETF), at a fixed price within a specific period of time.

An option is a contract between the holder and the writer. The holder (buyer of the contract) pays the writer (seller of the contract) a price – the premium – for the right to buy or sell the underlying asset. Option holders can buy or sell the underlying security by a specific date (called expiration date) at a set price (called the strike price). If the option holder exercises the contract on or before the expiration date, the option writers must deliver the underlying asset.

How Options Work

As mentioned above, when you buy an options contract, you have the right to buy or sell the underlying asset at a specified price within a certain time frame.

There are two main types of options: call options and put options. A call option gives the holder the right to buy an underlying asset, like a stock, at the strike price, while a put option gives the holder the right to sell an underlying asset at the strike price. In general, if you think the underlying asset price will go up, you would buy a call option. But if you believe the underlying asset price will go down, you would buy a put option.

Options are derivatives, meaning an option contract’s value is derived from the value of an underlying asset, like a stock or bond. Options are also leveraged instruments, which means investors can potentially earn higher returns or experience significant losses using relatively small amounts of capital.

Since options contracts fluctuate in value, many traders can buy or sell the contracts before expiration for a profit or loss, just like they would trade a stock or bond. This process of buying and selling options contracts is known as options trading.

The Greeks

Options Greeks, also known as the Greeks, are important in options trading because they provide traders with a way to gauge the value of options contracts. ​​Here’s a look at the most common Greeks used by traders:

•  Delta is an assessment tool used to measure risk sensitivity. Delta estimates how much an option’s price changes when the underlying asset price changes. Specifically, it measures the option’s price change in relation to every $1 change in the underlying asset.

•  Gamma measures the change in the delta with respect to the change in the underlying asset price. If delta measures how an option’s price changes in relation to the underlying asset’s price, then gamma measures how delta itself changes in relation to a change in the asset’s price.

•  Theta measures the change in the option price with respect to time. It gives investors a sense of how much an option’s price decreases the closer it gets to expiration.

•  Vega measures an option’s sensitivity to changes in the underlying asset’s implied volatility. When an underlying asset of an options contract has significant and frequent price changes, it has high volatility, which also makes the option contract more expensive.

Pros and Cons of Options

Many investors get interested in options trading because it can be a way to generate income, speculate on the price movements of securities, as well as a way to hedge against losses. However, with these possibilities, they are downsides to options trading too. Before diving into the world of options contracts and options trading, it’s essential to understand the benefits and risks of this investment strategy.

Some of the main advantages of options trading are:

•  Options give you the chance to make money whether the market is going up, down, or sideways.

•  Options may be an inexpensive way to participate in the market without tying up as many funds as stock or bond trading requires.

•  Options provide investors with leverage, which can help magnify returns.

Some of the main drawbacks of options are:

•  Options trading is a complex and risky strategy and one that requires a great deal of knowledge and experience to succeed.

•  Options involve a great deal of leverage, which can amplify losses if the trade goes against the trader.

•  Options contracts are not always as liquid as other securities, making them harder to buy and sell.

More on the basics of options:

Key Options Concepts

When it comes to options trading, there is a lot of jargon that investors need to know to navigate this investment strategy successfully. Here’s a look at some popular options trading terminology.

Call Options

A call option is an options contract that gives the purchaser of the contract the right to buy shares of a stock or another security at a fixed price. When an investor buys a call option, the option to buy the underlying asset from the seller of the contract is open for a set time period.

More: What is a Call Option?

Put Options

A put option is an options contract where the buyer has the right to sell shares of an underlying asset at its strike price up until the option’s expiration date. Meanwhile, the seller of the put option must buy those shares from the buyer when the buyer exercises their option to sell.

More: What is a Put Option?

Strike Price

A strike price is the price at which the holder of the option contract can buy or sell the underlying security. An option strike price can also be referred to as an exercise price, as it comes into play when an investor exercises the option contract they’ve purchased.

More: Strike Price, Explained

In The Money vs Out of the Money

“In the Money” and “Out of the Money” refer to the relationship between the options strike price and the market value of the underlying asset. In the money describes a contract that would be profitable if its holder chose to exercise the option today. If this is the case, the option is said to have intrinsic value. Out of the money contracts do not have intrinsic value. If an option is out of the money at the time of expiration, the contract will expire worthless.

More: Differences Between In-the-money and Out-of-the-money Options

At the Money

“At the Money” means a given option’s strike price is identical to the underlying asset’s price. However, in this age of decimal asset pricing, it is rare for an option’s strike price to exactly equal the price of the underlying stock — so the at the money strike price is usually considered the one closest to the asset’s price.

More: What Does At-the-Money Mean?

Options Premium

An options premium is the price of an options contract. The premium is the price the option holder pays the writer for the right to buy or sell the underlying asset. In other words, it is the current market price of an option contract and the amount the writer (seller of the contract) makes when someone purchases the contract.

More: How to Sell Options for Premium

Time Decay

Time decay is the loss of an option’s value as it gets closer to expiration. Time decay accelerates, meaning the time value declines more quickly as the expiration date gets closer because investors have less time to profit from the contract.

More: What Is Time Decay in Options?

Implied Volatility

Implied volatility measures the expected volatility of a security’s price. While implied volatility shapes the price of an option, it does not guarantee that the price activity of the underlying security will indeed be as volatile or as stable as the expectation embedded in its implied volatility.

More: What Is Implied Volatility?

Long and Short Position

Having a long position generally means you expect the price of an asset to go up – you are bullish. An investor in a short position benefits from a decline in the price of an asset, meaning you have a bearish outlook.

More: Short Position vs Long Position, Explained

Intrinsic Value and Time Value

An option’s intrinsic value is the payoff the buyer would receive if they exercised the option right now. In other words: the intrinsic value is how profitable the option would be, based on the difference between the contract’s strike price and the market value of the underlying security. An option’s time value is not as straightforward. Time value is based on a formula that includes the expected volatility of the underlying asset and the amount of time until the option contract expires.

More: Intrinsic and Time Value of Options, Explained

Buy to Open vs Buy to Close

Buy to Open and Buy to Close are options orders used by traders. Investors who want to initiate a new call or put options contract (rather than buy an existing one) use a buy to open. A buy to close order, on the other hand, occurs when an options writer wants to exit an existing option contract and buys the put or call option contract they initially sold.

More: Buy to Open vs Buy to Close

Index Options

Index options are options contracts on an underlying asset whose value is based on a financial market index, like the S&P 500 index or other benchmark indices. Traders of index options are making bets on the direction in which an index will move.

More: What Are Index Options?

Start Options Trading
with SoFi

Trading options can appeal to investors who think an asset’s price will go up or down or want to attempt to offset risk in their portfolio. If you’re up for the challenge and the risk, it’s important to find a user-friendly options trading platform, like SoFi’s. Investors have the ability to trade options from the mobile app or web platform, and they also have access to a full library of educational resources about options.

Pay low fees when you start options trading with SoFi.

Options Strategies to Know

Options trading strategies are the plans that traders use to determine when to buy and sell options contracts. Traders can use several different option trading strategies to make money in the markets, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

More info on options strategies:

Advanced Options Topics

Once you get an understanding of the basics of options trading and strategies, you may be interested in learning more tools and concepts that can help you generate income, hedge positions, or speculate. For more advanced options topics, check out the articles below.

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