Options Trading Basics For Beginners: Your Guide To Getting Started Safely

Jeremy BiberdorfBy: Jeremy Biberdorf

July 3, 2024July 3, 2024

Imagine stepping into a world where your investment strategies can align perfectly with your risk tolerance, objectives, and interests in specific underlying assets. Welcome to the world of option trading, a fascinating area of finance where versatility meets investor empowerment.

Options trading isn’t just about buying and selling stocks; it’s about strategizing in a way that positions you to capitalize on movements in the market, no matter how subtle they may be.

Option trading covers a range of techniques that can enhance your portfolio beyond traditional buying and holding of stocks. Understanding basic options strategies will provide you with a toolkit for navigating through varying market conditions, allowing you to meet your investment objectives while managing risk according to your tolerance level.

Whether you’re looking to hedge, speculate, or increase income, learning the basics of option trading can significantly expand your investing capabilities. Let’s dive into some option trading basics and how you can harness their potential to better control your financial outcome.

If you are more of a visual learner, consider watching the video below:

Option Trading Basics: Key Takeaways

  • Definition and Rights: An option is a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) an underlying asset at a specific price on or before a certain date.
  • Purpose and Uses: Options can be used for generating income, speculating on market movements, or hedging against potential losses in other investments.
  • Derivative Nature: Options are classified as derivatives since their value is derived from the price of an underlying asset, which can be stocks, commodities, or even currencies.
  • Contract Size: A standard stock option contract typically represents 100 shares of the underlying stock, which standardizes and quantifies the scale of trades in the options market.

Option Trading Basics: Key Terms

As you might already know, any specialized study requires some basic understanding of the terminology used within that field. I will quickly go over some of the terminology you will need in order to understand option trading basics:

Options: Contracts that give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an asset at a specified price within a certain period.

Call: A type of option that gives the holder the right to buy a stock or other asset at a predetermined price before the option expires.

Put: A type of option that gives the holder the right to sell a stock or other asset at a predetermined price before the option expires.

Stock: A share in the ownership of a company, which represents a claim on the company’s earnings and assets.

Strike Price: The specified price at which the underlying asset can be bought or sold when exercising an option.

Expiration Date: The date on which an option contract becomes void and the right to exercise it no longer exists.

Premium: The price paid by the buyer to the seller to acquire the rights granted by an option.

Intrinsic Value: The value of an option if it were exercised immediately; calculated as the difference between the strike price of the option and the current price of the underlying asset.

Extrinsic Value: The portion of an option’s price that exceeds its intrinsic value; this reflects the probability of the price of the underlying asset changing before the expiration date.

Derivative: A financial instrument whose value is based on the value of another asset, such as stocks, bonds, or market indexes.

In the Money: Describes an option that has intrinsic value. For a call, this means the stock price is above the strike price; for a put, the stock price is below the strike price.

Out of the Money: Describes an option that has no intrinsic value. For a call, this means the stock price is below the strike price; for a put, the stock price is above the strike price.

What Are Options?

Options are essentially tradable contracts that allow investors to speculate on the future price of an asset, offering the flexibility to buy or sell the asset at a predetermined price before the contract expires.

These contracts grant the holder the right, but not the obligation, to engage in these transactions. Options are unique in that they provide various strategic opportunities to enhance a portfolio through additional income, increased protection, and leverage.

Options are like having an insurance policy for your investment portfolio. Initially developed for hedging purposes, options serve as a means to mitigate potential losses in a declining market, much like how one would insure a home or vehicle against loss. This aspect of options makes them particularly valuable for managing financial risk.

Investors can access options through brokerage investment accounts, and these tools can be adeptly used to align with an investor’s specific financial goals and risk tolerance. Whether it’s generating extra income through option premiums or safeguarding existing stock positions against downturns, options provide a versatile toolkit for sophisticated portfolio management.

How Options Work- The Basics You Must Understand

Options trading can seem complex, but understanding how options contracts work is essential for anyone involved in investing. Essentially, options provide the trader the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell shares of stock at a set price—known as the strike price—within a specific period of time. The price of these options, or the option premium, is influenced by various factors including the underlying asset’s market prices, the time until the option’s expiration, and the asset’s volatility.

Let me break down the mechanics: If the stock increases, the value of a call option typically rises, whereas the value decreases as the expiration date approaches due to time decay. This decay reflects the reducing probability of the stock moving enough to make the option profitable as time runs out.

For example, a call option set to expire in one year will generally be more expensive than one set to expire in one month, assuming all other factors are equal. This is because the longer duration offers more opportunity for the stock to move in a favorable direction.

In the U.S., options are typically available in contracts that control 100 shares of the underlying stock. Therefore, when you buy an option, the cost involves the premium multiplied by 100.

For those approved for options trading, which usually requires both margin and options approval from a broker, the strategies include buying calls or puts (going long) to speculate on the movement of stock prices, or selling them (going short) to generate income or hedge against other positions.

It’s crucial to remember that while buying options limits your losses to the premium paid, selling options can expose you to much greater risks, potentially unlimited, if the market moves significantly against the position.

However, this comes with its own risks, particularly if the market moves unpredictably. And don’t forget, trading options is often accompanied by trading commissions, which can impact the overall profitability of your trading strategies.

Understanding these fundamentals helps clarify the potential upside and downsides of options, preparing you to make more informed trading decisions in the stock market.

How To Start Trading Options

Before diving into options trading, ensure you have a solid foundation in trading basics and clearly understand your investment objectives. When ready, the process to start trading options includes several key steps:

  1. Open an Options Trading Account: Unlike standard brokerage accounts, options accounts require you to demonstrate a deeper understanding of trading strategies and risks. You may need to provide detailed financial information and investment experience to your broker.
  2. Broker Approval: Your broker will evaluate your trading experience, risk understanding, and financial resources. This assessment helps them determine your suitability for options trading and assigns you a trading level that dictates the types of options strategies you can execute.
  3. Understand Options Contracts: Familiarize yourself with the basics of options, such as calls and puts, and decide which you intend to trade. This includes understanding terms like strike price, option premium, and expiration dates.
  4. Start with a Practice Account: Consider using a paper trading account to simulate options trading. This method allows you to practice without financial risk and refine your strategies.
  5. Choose Your Options Carefully: Decide whether to buy or sell calls and puts based on your market outlook and risk tolerance. Each choice carries different potentials for profit and loss.
Jeremy Biberdorf
Jeremy Biberdorf

About the Author:

Jeremy Biberdorf is the founder of Modest Money. He's a father of 2 beautiful girls, a dog owner, a long-time online entrepreneur and an investing enthusiast.

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