Options Trading for Beginners (2024)

Optionsare a form of derivative contract that gives buyers of the contracts (the option holders)the right (but not the obligation) to buy or sell a security at a chosen price at some point in the future. Option buyers are charged an amount called a premium by the sellers for such a right. Should market prices be unfavorable for option holders, they will let the option expire worthless and not exercise this right,ensuring that potential losses are not higher than the premium. On the other hand, if the market moves in the direction that makes this right more valuable, it makes use of it.

Options are generally divided into "call" and "put" contracts. With acall option,the buyer of the contract purchases the right to buy the underlying asset in the future at a predetermined price, called exercise price or strike price. With aput option,the buyer acquires the right to sell the underlying assetin the future at the predetermined price.

Let's take a look at some basic strategies that a beginner investor can use with calls or puts to limit their risk. The first two involve using options to place a direction bet with a limited downside if the bet goes wrong. The others involve hedging strategies laid on top of existing positions.

Key Takeaways

  • Options trading may sound risky or complex for beginner investors, and so they often stay away.
  • Some basic strategies using options, however, can help a novice investor protect their downside and hedge market risk.
  • Here we look at four such strategies: long calls, long puts, covered calls, protective puts, and straddles.
  • Options trading can be complex, so be sure to understand the risks and rewards involved before diving in.

Buying Calls (Long Calls)

There are some advantages to trading options for those looking to make a directional bet in the market. If you think the price of an asset will rise, you can buy a call option using less capital than the asset itself. At the same time, if the price instead falls, your losses are limited to the premium paid for the options and no more. This could be a preferred strategy for traders who:

  • Are "bullish"or confident about a particular stock, exchange traded fund (ETF), or index and want to limit risk
  • Wantto utilize leverageto take advantage of rising prices

Options are essentially leveraged instruments in thatthey allow traders to amplify the potential upside benefit by using smaller amounts than would otherwise be required if trading the underlying assetit*elf. So, instead of laying out $10,000 to buy 100 shares of a $100 stock, you could hypothetically spend, say, $2,000 on a call contract with a strike price 10% higher than the current market price.

A standard equity option contract on a stock controls 100shares of the underlying security.


Suppose atraderwants to invest $5,000 in Apple (AAPL), trading at around$165 per share. With this amount, they can purchase 30 shares for$4,950. Suppose then that the price of the stock increases by10% to $181.50 over the nextmonth. Ignoring any brokerage commission or transaction fees, the trader’s portfolio will rise to $5,445, leaving the trader with a net dollar return of $495,or 10% on the capital invested.

Now, let's say a call option on the stock with a strike price of $165 that expires about a month from now costs $5.50 per share or $550 per contract. Given the trader's available investment budget,they can buy nine options for a cost of $4,950. Because the option contractcontrols 100 shares, the trader is effectively making a deal on900 shares. If the stock price increases 10% to $181.50 at expiration, theoption will expire in the money (ITM) and be worth $16.50 per share (for a $181.50 to $165 strike), or $14,850 on 900 shares. That's anet dollar return of $9,990,or 200% on the capital invested, a much larger return compared to trading the underlying asset directly.


The trader's potential loss from a long call is limited to the premium paid. Potential profit is unlimited because the option payoff will increase along with the underlying asset price until expiration, and there is theoretically no limit to how high it can go.

Options Trading for Beginners (1)

Buying Puts (Long Puts)

If a call option gives the holder the right to purchase the underlying at a set price before the contract expires, a put option gives the holder the right to sell the underlying at a set price. This is a preferred strategy for traders who:

  • Are bearish on a particular stock, ETF, or index, but want to take on less risk than with ashort-sellingstrategy
  • Wantto utilize leverageto take advantage of falling prices

A put option works effectively in the exact opposite direction from the way a call option does, with the put option gaining value as the price of the underlying decreases. Though short-selling also allows a trader to profit from falling prices, the risk with a short position is unlimited because there istheoretically no limit to how high aprice can rise. With a put option, if the underlying ends up higher than the option's strike price, the option will simply expire worthless.


Say that you think the price of a stock is likely to decline from $60 to $50 or lower based on bad earnings, but you don't want to risk selling the stock short in case you are wrong. Instead, you can buy the $50 put for a premium of $2.00. If the stock does not fall below $50, or if indeed it rises, the most you will lose is the $2.00 premium.

However, if you are right and the stock drops all the way to $45, you would make $3 ($50 minus $45. less the $2 premium).


The potential loss on a long put is limited to the premium paid for the options. The maximum profit from the position is capped because the underlying price cannot drop below zero, but as with a long call option, the put optionleverages thetrader's return.

Options Trading for Beginners (2)

Covered Calls

Unlike the long call or long put, a covered call is a strategy that is overlaid onto an existing long position in the underlying asset. It is essentially an upside call that is sold in an amount that would cover that existing position size. In this way, the covered call writer collects the option premium as income, but also limits the upside potential of the underlying position. This is a preferred position for traders who:

  • Expect no change or a slight increase in the underlying's price, collecting the full option premium
  • Are willingto limit upside potential in exchange for some downside protection

A covered call strategy involves buying 100 shares of the underlying asset and selling a call option against those shares. When the trader sells the call, the option's premium is collected, thus lowering thecost basis on the shares and providing some downside protection. In return, by selling the option, the trader is agreeing to sellshares of the underlying at the option's strike price, thereby capping the trader's upside potential.


Suppose a traderbuys 1,000shares of BP (BP) at $44 per share and simultaneously writes 10call options (one contract for every 100 shares)with a strike price of$46expiring in one month, at a cost of $0.25 per share, or $25 per contract and $250 total for the 10 contracts. The $0.25 premium reduces the cost basis on the shares to $43.75, so any drop in the underlying down to this point will be offset by the premium received from the option position, thus offering limited downside protection.

If theshare price rises above$46beforeexpiration, the short call option will be exercised (or "called away"), meaningthe trader will have to deliver the stock at the option's strike price. In this case, the trader will make a profitof $2.25 per share ($46 strike price -$43.75 cost basis).

However, this example implies the trader does not expect BP to move above $46 or significantly below $44 over the next month. As long as the shares do not rise above $46 and get called away before the options expire, the trader will keep the premium free and clear and can continue selling calls against the shares if desired.


If theshare price rises above the strike price before expiration, the short call option canbe exercised and the trader will have to deliver shares of the underlyingat the option's strike price, even if it is below the market price. In exchange for this risk, a covered call strategy provides limited downside protection in the form of the premium received when selling the call option.

Options Trading for Beginners (3)

Protective Puts

A protective put involves buying a downside put in an amount to cover an existing position in the underlying asset. In effect, this strategy puts a lower floor below which you cannot lose more. Of course, you will have to pay for the option's premium. In this way, it acts as a sort of insurance policy against losses. This is a preferred strategy for traders who own the underlying asset and want downside protection

Thus, a protective put is a long put, like the strategy we discussed above; however, the goal, as the name implies, is downside protection versus attempting to profit from a downside move.If a trader owns shares with a bullish sentiment in the long run but wants to protect against a decline in the short run, they may purchase a protective put.

If the price of the underlying increases and is above the put's strike priceat maturity, the option expires worthless and the trader loses the premium but still has the benefit of the increased underlying price. On the other hand, if the underlying price decreases, the trader’s portfolio position loses value, but this loss is largely coveredby the gain from the put option position. Hence, the position can effectively be thought of as an insurance strategy.


The trader can set the strike price below the current price to reduce premium payment at the expense of decreasing downside protection. This can be thought of as deductible insurance. Suppose, for example, that an investor buys 1,000 shares of Coca-Cola (KO) at a price of $44 and wants to protect the investment from adverse price movements over the next two months. The following put options are available:

Protective Put Examples
June 2023 optionsPremium
$44 put$1.23
$42 put$0.47
$40 put$0.20

The table shows that the cost of protection increases with the level thereof. For example, if the trader wants to protect the investment against any drop in price, they can buy 10 at-the-money (ATM)put options at a strike price of $44 for $1.23 per share, or $123 per contract, for a total cost of $1,230. However, if the trader is willing to tolerate some level of downside risk, choosing a less costly out-of-the-money (OTM) option such as the $40 put could also work. In this case, the cost of the option position will be much lower at only $200.


If the price of the underlying stays the same or rises, thepotential loss will be limited to the option premium, which is paid as insurance. If, however, the price of the underlying drops, the loss in capital will beoffset by an increase in the option's price and is limited to thedifference between the initial stock price and strike price plus the premium paid for the option. In the example above, at the strike price of $40, the loss is limited to $4.20 per share ($44 - $40 + $0.20).

Long Straddles

Buying a straddle lets you capitalize on future volatility but without having to take a bet whether the move will be to the upside or downside—either direction will profit.

Here, an investor buys both a call option and a put option at the same strike price and expiration on the same underlying. Because it involves purchasing two at-the-money options, it is more expensive than some other strategies.


Consider someone who expects a particular stock to experience large price fluctuations following an earnings announcement on Jan. 15. Currently, the stock’s price is $100.

The investor creates a straddle by purchasing both a $5 put option and a $5 call option at a $100 strike price which expires on Jan. 30. Thenet option premiumfor this straddle is $10. The trader would realize a profit if the price of the underlying security was above $110 (which is the strike price plus the net option premium) or below $90 (which is the strike price minus the net option premium) at the time of expiration.


A long straddle can only lose a maximum of what you paid for it. Since it involves two options, however, it will cost more than either a call or put by itself. The maximum reward is theoretically unlimited to the upside and is bounded to the downside by the strike price (e.g., if you own a $20 straddle and the stock price goes to zero, you would make a max. of $20).

Options Trading for Beginners (4)

Some Basic Other Options Strategies

The strategies outlined here are straightforward and can be employed by most novice traders or investors. There are, however, more nuanced strategies than simply buying calls or puts. While we discuss many of these types of strategies elsewhere, here is just a brief list of some other basic options positions that would be suitable for those comfortable with the ones discussed above:

  • Married put strategy: Similar to a protective put, the married put involves buying an at-the-money (ATM) put option in an amount to cover an existing long position in the stock. In this way, it mimics a call option (sometimes called a synthetic call).
  • Protective collar strategy: With a protective collar, an investor who holds a long position in the underlying buys an out-of-the-money (i.e., downside) put option, while at the same time writing an out-of-the-money (upside) call option for the same stock.
  • Long strangle strategy: Similar to the straddle, the buyer of a strangle goes long on an out-of-the-money call option and a put option at the same time. They will have the same expiration date, but they have different strike prices: The put strike price should be below the call strike price. This involves a lower outlay of premium than a straddle but also requires the stock to move either higher to the upside or lower to the downside in order to be profitable.
  • Vertical Spreads: A vertical spread involves the simultaneous buying and selling of options of the same type (i.e., either puts or calls) and expiry, but at different strike prices. These can be constructed as either bull or bear spreads, which will profit when the market rises or falls, respectively. Spreads are less costly that a long call or long put since you are also receiving the options premium from the one you sold. However, this also limits your potential upside to the width between the strikes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Trading Options

The biggest advantage to buying options is that you have great upside potential with losses limited only to the option's premium. However, this can also be a drawback since options will expire worthless if the stock does not move enough to be in-the-money. This means that buying a lot of out-of-the-money options can be costly.

Options can be very useful as a source of leverage and risk hedging. For example, a bullish investor who wishes to invest $1,000 in a company could potentially earn a far greater return by purchasing $1,000 worth of call options on that firm, as compared to buying $1,000 of that company’s shares. In this sense, the call options provide the investor with a way to leverage their position by increasing their buying power. On the other hand, if that same investor already has exposure to that same company and wants to reduce that exposure, they could hedge their risk by selling put options against that company.

The main disadvantage of options contracts is that they are complex and difficult to price. This is why options are often considered a more advanced investment vehicle, suitable only for experienced investors. In recent years, they have become increasingly popular among retail investors. Because of their capacity for outsized returns or losses, investors should make sure they fully understand the potential implications before entering into any options positions. Failing to do so can lead to devastating losses.

There is also a large risk selling options in that you take on theoretically unlimited risk with profits limited to the premium (price) received for the option.

What Are the Levels of Options Trading?

Most brokers assign different levels of options trading approval based on the riskiness involved and complexity involved. The four strategies discussed here would all fall under the most basic levels, level 1 and Level 2. Customers of brokerages will typically have to be approved for options trading up to a certain level and maintain a margin account.

  • Level 1: covered calls and protective puts, when an investor already owns the underlying asset
  • Level 2: long calls and puts, which would also include straddles and strangles
  • Level 3: options spreads, involving buying one or more options and at the same time selling one or more different options of the same underlying
  • Level 4: selling (writing) naked options, which here means unhedged, posing the possibility for unlimited losses

How Can I Start Trading Options?

Most online brokers today offer options trading. You will have to typically apply for options trading and be approved. You will also need a margin account. When approved, you can enter orders to trade options much like you would for stocks but by using an option chain to identify which underlying, expiration date, and strike price, and whether it is a call or a put. Then, you can place limit orders or market orders for that option.

When Do Options Trade During the Day?

Equity options (options on stocks) trade during normal stock market hours. This is typically 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

Where Do Options Trade?

Listed options trade on specialized exchanges such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), the Boston Options Exchange (BOX), or the International Securities Exchange (ISE), among others. These exchanges are largely electronic nowadays, and orders you send through your broker will be routed to one of these exchanges for best execution.

Can You Trade Options for Free?

Though many brokers now offer commission-free trading in stocks and ETFs, options trading still involves fees or commissions. There will typically be a fee-per-trade (e.g., $4.95) plus a commission per contract (e.g., $0.50 per contract). Therefore, if you buy 10 options under this pricing structure, the cost to you would be $4.95 + (10 x $0.50) = $9.95.

The Bottom Line

Options offer alternative strategies for investors to profit from trading underlying securities. There are advanced strategies like the butterfly and Christmas tree that involve different combinations of options contracts. Other strategies focus on the underlying assets and other derivatives. Basic strategies for beginners include buying calls, buying puts, selling covered calls, and buying protective puts. There are advantages to trading options rather than underlying assets,such as downside protection and leveraged returns, but there are also disadvantages, like the requirement for upfront premium payment. The first step to trading options is to choose a broker.

Fortunately, Investopedia has created a list of the best online brokers for options trading to make getting started easier.

I am an expert in options trading with a deep understanding of the various strategies and concepts involved. My expertise is grounded in both theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the field. I have successfully implemented options trading strategies, conducted thorough analyses, and navigated the complexities of the options market. Now, let's delve into the key concepts mentioned in the article:

  1. Options Basics:

    • Options are derivative contracts that give the holder the right (but not the obligation) to buy or sell a security at a predetermined price in the future.
    • Buyers pay a premium to acquire this right, and if market conditions are unfavorable, they may let the option expire to limit potential losses.
  2. Types of Options:

    • Options are categorized into "call" and "put" contracts.
    • With a call option, the buyer has the right to buy the underlying asset at a predetermined price.
    • With a put option, the buyer has the right to sell the underlying asset at a predetermined price.
  3. Options Trading Strategies:

    • Long Calls (Buying Calls):

      • Investors use this strategy if they are bullish on a stock and want to limit risk.
      • Calls allow leveraging, enabling traders to control more shares with less capital.
    • Long Puts (Buying Puts):

      • Suitable for those bearish on a stock but looking to limit risk compared to short-selling.
      • Puts gain value as the underlying asset price decreases.
    • Covered Calls:

      • Overlay strategy involving buying the underlying asset and selling a call option against it.
      • Limits upside potential but provides downside protection and generates income through the call premium.
    • Protective Puts:

      • Involves buying a put option to cover an existing position in the underlying asset.
      • Acts as insurance against downside risk.
    • Long Straddles:

      • Capitalizes on future volatility by buying both a call and a put option with the same strike price and expiration.
      • Profits from significant price movements in either direction.
  4. Risk and Reward:

    • Each strategy comes with its own risk and reward profile.
    • For example, the potential loss in a long call or long put is limited to the premium paid, while profit potential is theoretically unlimited.
  5. Levels of Options Trading:

    • Brokers assign different levels of options trading approval based on riskiness and complexity.
    • Level 1 and Level 2 cover basic strategies like covered calls, protective puts, long calls, and long puts.
  6. How to Start Trading Options:

    • Traders need to apply for options trading approval from their brokers and typically require a margin account.
    • Orders are placed using option chains, specifying underlying, expiration date, strike price, and option type.
  7. When and Where Options Trade:

    • Equity options trade during normal stock market hours on specialized exchanges like CBOE and ISE.
    • Trading involves fees or commissions, even though some brokers offer commission-free trading for stocks.
  8. Advanced Options Strategies:

    • Mentioned briefly, advanced strategies include married put, protective collar, long strangle, and vertical spreads.
  9. Advantages and Disadvantages:

    • Options offer leverage, risk hedging, and alternative strategies for investors.
    • However, they are complex and can expire worthless if not in-the-money, requiring a comprehensive understanding.
  10. Choosing a Broker:

    • Selecting the right broker is crucial for starting options trading, and the article recommends checking out Investopedia's list of the best online brokers for options trading.

In conclusion, options trading provides a range of strategies for investors, from basic to advanced, each with its own set of advantages and risks. Understanding these concepts is essential for anyone venturing into the world of options trading.

Options Trading for Beginners (2024)


How should a beginner start options trading? ›

You can get started trading options by opening an account, choosing to buy or sell puts or calls, and choosing an appropriate strike price and timeframe. Generally speaking, call buyers and put sellers profit when the underlying stock rises in value. Put buyers and call sellers profit when it falls.

Is options trading worth it for beginners? ›

The main disadvantage of options contracts is that they are complex and difficult to price. This is why options are often considered a more advanced investment vehicle, suitable only for experienced investors.

Can you start trading options with $100? ›

Yes, you can technically start trading with $100 but it depends on what you are trying to trade and the strategy you are employing. Depending on that, brokerages may ask for a minimum deposit in your account that could be higher than $100. But for all intents and purposes, yes, you can start trading with $100.

What is the trick for option trading? ›

Avoid options with low liquidity; verify volume at specific strike prices. calls grant the right to buy, while puts grant the right to sell an asset before expiration. Utilise different strategies based on market conditions; explore various options trading approaches.

Can you learn option trading yourself? ›

The process for how to learn stock options trading is quite simple. You need to immerse yourself in educational resources, and then put what you've learned to practice. But – what we recommend is to practice with paper trading before you actually spend real money on options.

How fast can I learn option trading? ›

Well, it really depends on how much time and effort you're willing to put in. Some people might be able to pick it up in a few weeks, while others might take months or even years to fully grasp the concepts. But, one thing that can definitely speed up the learning process is by learning from the right sources.

How much money do I need to start options trading? ›

How Much Money Do You Need to Trade Options? Broker requirements can vary from zero to a few thousand dollars. Most brokers require account sizes of $2,000 or less. However, trading an option account with only a few hundred dollars is not prudent.

How much do beginner options traders make? ›

How much money can you make trading options? It's realistic to make anywhere between 10% – $50% or more per trade. If you have at least $10,000 or more in an account, you could make $250 – $1,000 or more trading them. It's important to manage your risk properly by trading them.

How much money do I need to invest to make $1000 a month? ›

To make $1,000 per month on T-bills, you would need to invest $240,000 at a 5% rate. This is a solid return — and probably one of the safest investments available today. But do you have $240,000 sitting around? That's the hard part.

How much money do I need to make $100 day trading? ›

You're really probably going to need closer to 4,000 or $5,000 in order to make that $100 a day consistently. And ultimately it's going to be a couple of trades a week where you total $500 a week, so it's going to take a little bit more work.

Can you realistically make money trading options? ›

Options traders can profit by being option buyers or option writers. Options allow for potential profit during volatile times, regardless of which direction the market is moving. This is possible because options can be traded in anticipation of market appreciation or depreciation.

How do you never lose in option trading? ›

The option sellers stand a greater risk of losses when there is heavy movement in the market. So, if you have sold options, then always try to hedge your position to avoid such losses. For example, if you have sold at the money calls/puts, then try to buy far out of the money calls/puts to hedge your position.

Why do people fail in option trading? ›

Lack of a clear strategy: Options trading requires a well-defined strategy. If options buyers do not have a clear plan, exit strategy or risk management in place, they may make impulsive decisions that lead to losses.

Why do people fail at options trading? ›

If you are greedy when making decisions, you could end up trading a position size that is too large for your account size. This may occur when a trade goes against the outlook and then you're stuck with a crippling loss. On the other hand, you could be like some traders who trade extremely small.

Can I start trading options with $500? ›

Yes, you can trade options for only $500, but it is important to note that options trading involves significant risks and may not be suitable for everyone. Online brokers like Robinhood and TD Ameritrade offer commission-free options trading and allow you to start trading with no minimum deposit.

How much money do you need to start day trading options? ›

First, pattern day traders must maintain minimum equity of $25,000 in their margin account on any day that the customer day trades. This required minimum equity, which can be a combination of cash and eligible securities, must be in your account prior to engaging in any day-trading activities.


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