How to Profit With Options (2024)

Options traders can profitby being option buyers oroption 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. As long as the prices of assets like stocks, currencies, and commodities are moving, there is anoptions strategy that can take advantage of it.

Key Takeaways

  • Options contracts and strategies using them have defined profit and loss—P&L—profiles for understanding how much money you stand to make or lose.
  • When you sell an option, the most you can profit is the price of the premium collected, but often there is unlimited downside potential.
  • When you purchase an option, your upside can be unlimited, and the most you can lose is the cost of the options premium.
  • Depending on the options strategy employed, a trader can profit from any market conditions.
  • Options spreads tend to cap both potential profits as well as losses.

Basics of Option Profitability

A calloption buyer stands to profit if the underlying asset, say a stock,rises above the strike price before expiry. A put option buyer makes a profit if the price falls below the strike pricebefore the expiration. The exact amount of profit depends onthe difference between the stock price and the option strike price at expiration or when the option position is closed.

A call option writer stands to make a profit if the underlying stock stays below the strike price.After writing a put option, the trader profits if the price stays above the strike price. An option writer's profitability is limited to the premium they receive for writing the option (which isthe option buyer's cost). Option writers are also called option sellers.

Option Buying vs. Writing

There are fundamental differences between buying and writing options. An option buyer has the right to exercise the option, while the option writer must exercise the option. Time decay benefits the option writer and works against an option buyer.


An option buyer begins their trade with a buy (or buy-to-open) order and closes it with a sell (or sell-to-close) order. An option buyer can make a substantial return on investment if the option trade works out. This is because a stock price can move significantly beyond the strike price.

For this reason, option buyers often have greater (even unlimited) profit potential. Alternatively, option writers have comparatively limited profit potential tied to the premiums received. Successful option buyers tend to win trades at a low frequency, but with larger relative payouts than writers.


Option writers begin their trades with a sell (sell-to-open) order and close it with a buy order (buy-to-close), similar to short selling. A writer makes a comparatively smaller return if the option trade is profitable. This is because the writer's return is limited to the premium, no matter how much the stock moves. So why write options?Option writers receive upfront premium earnings, may collect the full premium amount regardless of whether the option expires out of the money, and can trade out of liquid options.

Successful option writers tend to win trades at a high frequency but relatively small profit size compared to buyers.

EvaluatingRisk Tolerance

Here's a simple test to evaluate your risk tolerance to determine whether you are better off being an option buyer or writer. Assume you can buy or write 10 call option contracts, with the price of each call at $0.50. Each contract typically has 100 shares as the underlying asset, so 10 contracts would cost $500 ($0.50 x 100 x 10 contracts).

If you buy 10 call option contracts, you pay $500—this is the maximum loss you can incur. However, your potential profit is theoretically limitless. So what's the catch? The probability of the trade being profitable is not very high. This probability depends on the implied volatility of the call option and the period of time remaining to expiration. In this case, assume it's 25%.

If you were to write 10 call option contracts, your maximum profit would be the amount of the premium income, or $500, while your loss is theoretically unlimited. However, the odds of the options trade being profitable are very much in your favor, at 75%.

So would you risk $500, knowing you have a 75% chance of losing your investment and a 25% chance of making a profit? Or would you prefer to make a maximum of $500, knowing that you have a 75% chance of keeping the entire amount or part of it—but have a 25% chance of the trade being a losing one?

The answer to those questions will give you an idea of your risk tolerance and whether you are better off being an option buyer or writer.

It is important to remember that these are the general statistics that apply to all options, but at certain times, it may be more beneficial to be an option writer or a buyer of a specific asset. Applying the right strategy at the right time could alter these odds significantly.

The Securities and Exchange Commission recognizes risks involved in trading options and encourages traders to educate themselves about the various types of options and how basic options strategies work.

Strategies for Profiting With Options

While calls and puts can be combined in various permutations to form sophisticated options strategies, here are the risks/rewards of the most basic strategies.

Buying a Call

Buying (going long) a call is among the most basic option strategies. It is a relatively low-risk strategy since the maximum loss is restricted to the premium paid to buy the call, while the maximum reward is potentially limitless. However, the odds of the trade being very profitable are typically fairly low.

"Low risk" assumes that the total cost of the option represents a tiny percentage of the trader's capital. Risking all capital on a single call option would make it a very risky tradebecause all the money could be lost if the option expires worthless.

To calculate the potential payoff for a long call, you add the option's premium (cost) to the strike price. So, a $100 strike call with a $1.50 premium would become profitable if the underlying stock rises above $101.50 by expiration.

Buying a Put

This is another strategy with relatively low risk but a potentially high reward if the trade works out. Buying puts is a viable alternative to the riskier strategy of short sellingthe underlying asset. Puts can also be bought to hedge downside risk in a portfolio. However, because equity indices typically trend higher over time, which means that stocks, on average, tend to advance more often than they decline, the risk/reward profile of the put buyer is slightly less favorable than that of a call buyer.

A long put's payoff works essentially the reverse of a call. If the $100 strike put has a premium of $1.50, the position would become profitable if the stock falls below $98.50.

Writing a Call

Call writing (selling) comes in two forms:covered and naked. Covered call writing is another favorite strategy of intermediate to advanced option traders and is generally used to generate extra income from a portfolio. It involves writingcalls on stocks held within the portfolio.

Uncovered or naked call writing involves writing call options without owning the underlying asset. It is the exclusive province of risk-tolerant, sophisticated options traders, as it has a risk profile similar to that of a short sale in stock. The maximum reward in call writing is equal to the premium received. The biggest risk with a covered call strategy is that the underlying stock will be “called away.”

With naked call writing, the maximum loss is theoretically unlimited, just as it is with a short sale. So in the case of selling the $100 strike call for $1.50, you would profit so long as the stock remains below $101.50.

Writing a Put

Put writing is a favored strategy of advanced options traders since, in the worst-case scenario, the stock is assigned to the put writer (they have to buy the stock), while the best-case scenario is that the writer retains the full amount of the option premium. The biggest risk of put writing is that the writer may end up paying too much for a stock if it subsequently tanks.

The risk/reward profile of put writing is more unfavorable than that of put or call buying since the maximum reward equals the premium received, but the maximum loss is much higher. That said, the probabilityof being able to make a profit is higher.

If you sell the $100 strike put for $1.50, as long as the stock remains above $98.50, you will profit.

Options Spreads

Often, traders or investors will combine options using a spread strategy, buying one or more options to sell one or more different options. Spreading will offset the premium paid because the sold option premium will net against the options premium purchased. Moreover, the risk and return profiles of a spread will cap out the potential profit or loss.

Spreads can be created in any number of ways to take advantage of nearly any anticipated price action and can range from the simple to the complex. As with individual options, any spread strategy can be bought or sold.

Reasons to Trade Options

Investors and traders undertake option trading to hedge open positions or to speculate on likely price movements of an underlying asset. For example, they might buy puts to hedge a long position or buy calls to hedge a short position.

The biggest benefit of using options is that of leverage. For example, say an investor has $900 to use on a particular trade and desires the most bang-for-their-buck. The investor isbullish on XYZ Inc in the short term. So, assume XYZ is trading at $90. Our investorcan buy a maximum of 10 shares of XYZ. However, XYZalso has three-month calls available with a strike price of $95 for a cost of $3. Now, instead of buying the shares, the investor buys three call option contracts. Buying three call options will cost $900 (3 contractsx 100 shares x $3).

Shortly before the call options expire, suppose XYZ is trading at $103, and the calls are trading at $8, at which point the investor sells the calls. Here's how the return on investment stacks up in each case:

  • Outright purchase of XYZ shares at $90: Profit = $13 per sharex 10 shares= $130 = 14.4% return ($130 / $900).
  • Purchase of three $95call option contracts: Profit = $8 x 100 x 3 contracts = $2,400 minus the premium paid of $900= $1500 = 166.7% return ($1,500/ $900).

Of course, the risk with buying the calls rather than the shares is that if XYZ had not traded above $95 by option expiration, the calls would have expired worthless, and all $900 would be lost. XYZhad to trade at $98($95 strike price + $3 premium paid), or about 9% higher than its price when the calls were purchased,for the trade just to break even. When the broker's cost to place the trade is also added to the equation, to be profitable, the stock would need to trade even higher.

American Options

These scenarios assume that the trader held till expiration. That is not required with American options. At any time before expiry, the trader could have sold the option to lock in a profit. Or, if it looked like the stock was not going to move above the strike price, they could sell the option for its remaining time valueto reduce the loss. For example, the trader paid $3 for the options, but as time passes, if the stock price remains below the strike price, those options may drop to $1. The trader could sell the three contracts for $1, receiving$300 of the original$900 back and avoiding a total loss.

The investor could also choose to exercise the call optionsrather than selling them to book profits/losses, but exercising the calls would require the investor to come up with a substantial sum of money to buy the number of shares their contracts represent. In the caseabove, that would require buying300 shares at $95.

Selecting the Right Option

Here are some broad guidelines that should help you decide which types of options to trade.

Bullish or Bearish

Are you bullish or bearish on the stock, sector, or broad market you wish to trade? If so, are you rampantly, moderately, or slightly bullish/bearish? Making this determination will help you decide which option strategy to use, what strike price to use, and what expiration to go for.


Is the market calm or quite volatile? How about Stock ZYX? If the implied volatility for ZYX is not very high (say 20%), then it may be a good idea to buy calls on the stock, since such calls could be relatively cheap.

Strike Price and Expiration

If you're rampantly bullish on a certain stock, you should be comfortable buying out-of-the-money calls. For instance, assume you do not want to spend more than $0.50 per call option and have a choice of going for two-month calls with a strike price of $49 available for $0.50 or three-month calls with a strike price of $50 available for $0.47. You decide to go with the latter since you believe the slightly higher strike price is more than offset by the extra month to expiration.

What if you were only slightly bullish on this stock, and its implied volatility of 45% was three times that of the overall market? In this case, you could consider writing near-term puts to capture premium income rather than buying calls.

Option Trading Tips

As an option buyer, your objective should be to purchase options with the longest possible expiration to give your trade time to work out. Conversely, when you are writing options, go for the shortest possible expiration to limit your liability.

Lowest Price and Volatility

Trying to balance the point above, when buying options, purchasing the cheapest possible ones may improve your chances of a profitable trade. The implied volatility of such cheap options is likely to be quite low, and while this suggests that the odds of a successful trade are minimal, the option may be underpriced. So, if the trade does work out, the potential profit can be huge. Buying options with a lower level of implied volatility may be preferable to buying those with a very high level of implied volatility because of the risk of a higher loss (higher premium paid)if the trade does not work out.

Understand the Trade-Offs

There is a trade-off between strike prices and options expirations. An analysis of support and resistance levels and key upcoming events (such as an earnings release) is useful in determining which strike price and expiration to use.

Know the Sector

Understand the sector to which the stock belongs. For example, biotech stocks often trade with binary outcomes when clinical trial results of a major drug are announced. Deeply out-of-the-money calls or puts can be purchased to trade on these outcomes, depending on whether one is bullish or bearish on the stock.

It would be extremely risky to write calls or puts on biotech stocks around such events unless the level of implied volatility is so high that the premium income earned compensates for this risk. By the same token, it makes little sense to buy deeply out-of-the-money calls or puts on low-volatility sectors like utilities and telecoms.

Trade One-Off Events

Use options to trade one-off events such as corporate restructurings, spin-offs, and recurring events like earnings releases. Stocks can exhibit very volatile behavior around such events, allowing the savvy options trader an opportunity to cash in. For instance, buying cheap out-of-the-money calls before the earnings report on a stock that has been in a pronounced slump can be a profitable strategy if it manages to beat lowered expectations and subsequently surges.

How Do Options Work in Trading?

Options traders speculate on the future direction of the overall stock market or securities of individual companies. Instead of outright purchasing shares, options contracts can give you the right but not the obligation to execute a trade at a given price. In return for paying an upfront premium for the contract, options trading is often used to scale returns at the risk of scaling losses.

What Are the 4 Types of Options?

The four basic types of option positions are buying a call, selling a call, buying a put, and selling a put. A call is the right to buy a security at a given price. A trader can buy a call if they wish to own the ability to buy at a certain price. A put is the right to sell a security at a given price. Therefore, a trader can buy a put if they wish to own the ability to sell it at a certain price. On the other side of the trade is the option writer, who collects an upfront premium for entering into the contract and selling the option.

When Should You Buy Options?

Options are most useful to capitalize on volatile markets. It doesn't matter which direction the market is going; all options traders need is price movement in one direction or the other. Generally, it's best to enter into an option position when you expect market volatility to increase and exit an option position when you expect market volatility to decrease. This is because low price movement is not beneficial for an options contract (especially if the option is currently out of the money).

How Do Call Options Make Money?

A call option writer makes money from the premium they receive for writing the contract and entering into the position. This premium is the price the buyer paid to enter into the agreement.

A call option buyer makes money if the price of the security remains above the strike price of the option. This gives the call option buyer the right to buy shares at a price lower than the market price.

Can I Sell Options Immediately?

Options contracts can often be bought and sold during normal market hours through a broker on many regulated exchanges. As long as the market is open, you can usually buy an option and sell it the next day (assuming the market is also open the following day).

The Bottom Line

Investors with a lower risk appetite should stick to basic strategies like call or put buying, while more advanced strategies like put writing and call writing should only be used by sophisticated investors with adequate risk tolerance. As option strategies can be tailored to match one’s unique risk tolerance and return requirement, they provide many paths to profitability.

While there is no “one size fits all” strategy, the basic strategies discussed here should give you a good starting point in developing your own unique trading plan.Trading options involves unique risks, so be sure to understand them fully before using any strategy involving options.

How to Profit With Options (2024)


How to Profit With Options? ›

Basics of Option Profitability

Are options a good way to make money? ›

Just as with swing trading profits, options trading can be incredibly lucrative. In fact, any investment style can be. The hard part is being consistent in your strategy and keeping your wins big and your losses small (and infrequent).

Can you make a living off of options? ›

Trading options for a living is possible if you're willing to put in the effort. Traders can make anywhere from $1,000 per month to $200,000+ per year.

Which option strategy is most profitable? ›

A Bull Call Spread is made by purchasing one call option and concurrently selling another call option with a lower cost and a higher strike price, both of which have the same expiration date. Furthermore, this is considered the best option selling strategy.

How did one trader make $2.4 million in 28 minutes? ›

When the stock reopened at around 3:40, the shares had jumped 28%. The stock closed at nearly $44.50. That meant the options that had been bought for $0.35 were now worth nearly $8.50, or collectively just over $2.4 million more that they were 28 minutes before. Options traders say they see shady trades all the time.

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.

Can options make you millionaire? ›

You might very well have the patience and diligence to get rich with options. It will probably take you years to accomplish, but with dedication and effort it is entirely possible to make a lot of money with options on top of your long-term investing.

What is the average income from options trading? ›


Why do option buyers lose money? ›

As options approach their expiration date, they lose value due to time decay (theta). The closer an option is to expiration, the faster its time value erodes. If the underlying asset's price doesn't move in the desired direction quickly enough, options buyers can suffer losses as the time value diminishes.

How much money can you realistically make trading options? ›

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.

Are options really worth it? ›

When options are better. Options can be a better choice when you want to limit risk to a certain amount. Options can allow you to earn a stock-like return while investing less money, so they can be a way to limit your risk within certain bounds. Options can be a useful strategy when you're an advanced investor.

What is the success rate of option selling? ›

The success rate of option seller is around 80 to 90% with a great risk involved compared to option buyers success rate with in 2 to 10% with limited risk of loosing the capital deployed.

What is the success rate of option trading? ›

The success rate for investors who trade options can range from 50 to 75%. There are various strategies that investors employ to aim for success.

Are stock options really worth it? ›

Stock options give employees a share in the potential upside of the company's success. They are high-risk, high-reward compensation. You don't know how much they will be worth when they're first issued. But if the company does well, employees with large option grants stand to gain significantly.

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