How to Trade Options: A Beginner’s Guide

Welcome to the exciting world of options trading! In this article we will explore everything to do with options trading, accessible to even complete beginners. We will go through the key steps and strategies that you can use when trading options. 

  • Understanding Options
  • Why Trade Options
  • Essential Terminology
  • Getting Started
  • Basic Option Strategies
  • Risk Management
  • Practising with Paper Trading
  • Advanced Options Strategies
  • Mistakes to Avoid
  • Final Thoughts

Understanding Options

Options trading

Options are financial tools that effectively let traders make bets about what will happen in the future. This can be on indexes, stocks and commodities. You can think of them as giving you the flexibility to choose whether to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price (the strike price) by a specific date(the expiration date)

Here are two fundamental types of options you should know:

  • Call Options: These give you the right to buy an underlying asset at a specified price within a set timeframe. Crucially, this is not an obligation to buy but an option. You can think of it like reserving the option to purchase a ticket to an event at a fixed price, even if ticket prices skyrocket later.
  • Put Options: On the flip side, put options grant you the right (still not the obligation) to sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price before a specific expiry date. Imagine it as an insurance policy; if the asset’s value drops, you can still sell it for the higher strike price.

Why Trade Options?

Options trading opens up a world of possibilities for you to be more flexible in your investment strategies. But why should you consider trading options as a beginner? Here’s what you need to know:

Limited Risk, Unlimited Potential

A key feature of options is they allow you to participate in the market while taking on limited risk. The maximum you can lose when you take on an options contract is the premium you paid for it. This is in stark contrast to trading stocks, where you could potentially lose lots more. 

For example, say you buy a call option for $200 with a strike price of $50. If the stock’s price plummets to $0, the most you can lose is still just the $200 premium you paid for the option.

Benefit from Market Volatility

Options thrive in volatile markets. When markets are swinging, options can be your best friend. Options can be a way to profit from price fluctuations in both rising and falling markets. This provides you with flexibility and you don’t have to be limited to just buying low and selling high.

Flexibility and Strategic Use

As we touched upon, options can provide various different strategies that can be used in line with your specific goals. They can be useful if you want to generate income, protect your portfolio or speculate on market movements. Each can be used as a different tool for its specific job. This can be exciting for many traders to diversify their portfolio and potentially increase returns.

Essential Terminology

Before we move any further, it’s crucial to have a solid grasp of the key terminology used in options trading. Here’s a quick-reference glossary to help you navigate this terminology maze:

Strike PriceThe price at which the option holder can buy (for call options) or sell (for put options) the underlying asset.
Expiration DateEvery option comes with an expiration date. This is the point in time when the option contract expires.
PremiumThe premium is the price you pay for an option contract, much like the cost of buying insurance.
Underlying AssetThis refers to the security on which the option is based.This could be a stock, index, commodity or another financial instrument.
In-the-MoneyAn option is considered in-the-money when the stock price is above the strike price for call options or when the stock price is below the strike price for put options. 
Out-of-the-MoneyThis is simply the opposite of in-the-money. So an option is out-of-the-money if it has no intrinsic value.
Time DecayOptions are like perishable goods; their value erodes over time. This phenomenon is known as time decay or theta. The closer an option gets to its expiration date, the faster its value can decline.
Implied VolatilityImplied volatility measures the market’s expectations for future price fluctuations. Higher implied volatility often leads to more expensive options because of the increased likelihood of significant price swings.

Now that you’re equipped with these essential terms, we will discuss practical steps to get you started on your options trading journey.

Getting Started

Trading options can be exciting for many traders, but it is essential to set up your trading infrastructure before you start. Follow the steps below:

Choose a Reliable Broker: You must first pick a brokerage platform that fits your specific needs. Look for one that offers options trading services, a user-friendly interface and competitive fees.

Open an Account: Next, you will need to open an account by providing some personal and financial information.

Fund Your Account: Transfer funds into your trading account, which will be used to buy and sell options contracts.

Educate Yourself: An often underutilised aspect is to make sure you take advantage of the educational resources provided by your broker. Many brokers offer webinars, tutorials and articles to help you understand options trading better.

Practice with a Demo Account: Most brokers offer demo accounts, also known as paper trading accounts. These allow you to practise trading options with virtual money, helping you gain confidence without risking real capital.

Develop a Trading Plan: Determine your goals, risk tolerance and preferred strategies. Having a plan in place will keep your trading disciplined and focused.

Start Small: Begin with a small number of contracts and simple strategies. As you gain experience, you can explore more complex options trading techniques.

Basic Option Strategies

Now that you’re familiar with the terminology and have your trading account set up, let’s explore some basic option strategies that can serve as the building blocks of your options trading journey.

Buying Call Options

A simple yet powerful strategy is to buy call options when you believe the price of the underlying asset will rise. This allows you to profit from price increases while risking only the premium you paid for the option.

Buying Put Options

On the flip side, you can buy put options if you anticipate a drop in the underlying asset’s price. Put options act as insurance, allowing you to sell the asset at the strike price, even if its value plunges.

Covered Calls

For those who already own the underlying asset, covered calls are an income-generating strategy. You sell call options on the asset you own, earning the premium as income. If the stock rises above the strike price, you may have to sell the asset, but you keep the premium.

Protective Puts

Protective puts provide downside protection for your investments. You buy put options to hedge against potential losses in your portfolio. This means if the market takes a downturn, some of your losses will be offset by the put option.

Risk Management

Options trading is an exciting venture, but it comes with inherent risks. It’s crucial to understand how to manage these risks effectively to protect your capital. Here are some essential tips for risk management:

  • Diversify Your Portfolio: Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your options trades across different assets and industries to spread risk.
  • Set Stop-Loss Orders: Consider using stop-loss orders to limit potential losses. These orders automatically sell your option contract if it reaches a predetermined price, helping you control risk.
  • Avoid Overleveraging: While leverage can amplify gains, it can also magnify losses. Be cautious about using excessive leverage, especially as a beginner.
  • Position Sizing: You should determine the appropriate position size for your trades based on your risk tolerance and your capital. You should never risk more than you can afford to lose on a single trade.
  • Use Risk-Reduction Strategies: Explore options strategies like protective puts or collars that provide downside protection for your investments.
  • Stay Informed: Keep a close eye on market news and events that can impact your options trades. Staying informed can help you make more informed decisions.
  • Practice with Paper Trading: Before committing real capital, practise your strategies with paper trading. You can look at this as a way to gain experience with no risk.

Keep in mind successful options trading isn’t just about maximising gains, but also preserving your capital. By implementing sound risk management practices, you’ll be better prepared to navigate the ups and downs of the market.

Practising with Paper Trading

Practice makes perfect, especially in options trading. Before you dive into the real market, consider honing your skills with paper trading. Here’s why it’s a valuable step:

  • Risk-Free Learning: Paper trading allows you to experiment with different strategies without risking your hard-earned money. It’s like a flight simulator for traders.
  • Understanding Platform Features: It helps you get comfortable with your trading platform’s features and order types. This familiarity can boost your confidence when you start trading with real capital.
  • Strategy Testing: You can test your strategies in real market conditions, helping you understand how they perform without the emotional pressure of real money on the line.

Top Paper Trading Platforms for Beginners

  • AvaTrade Options Trading: AvaTrade offers a separate options trading platform from its regular spot trading platform. The strength consists of the tools offered making it the best options trading experience for the trader.
  • Plus500 CFD Options Trading: Plus500 offers options CFDs with leverage. The maximum leverage the broker allows on this trading instrument is 1:5 and Plus500 does not charge any commission on these options CFDs. Beginner traders can take advantage of Plus500 free, unlimited demo account and benefit from their beginner-friendly tools such as their Trading Academy, eBook, vast FAQ section, etc.
  • Interactive Brokers: Ideal for traders looking for a more professional-level paper trading experience.
  • CMC Markets Options Trading: CMC Markets offers one single sign-on account for spot trading as well as for options trading, where you can trade exchange-traded options. Options trading with CMC Markets is easy on the eyes with easy navigation.

By spending time on a paper trading platform, you can gain the confidence and experience needed for successful options trading. It’s a safe way to practise your strategies and refine your skills.

Advanced Option Strategies 

While we’ve covered the basics of options trading, it’s essential to note that there are more advanced strategies available for experienced traders. These strategies can provide greater flexibility and potential rewards but also come with increased complexity and risk.

Some advanced strategies include:

  • Straddles and Strangles: These involve buying both call and put options with the same expiration date. They can profit from significant price movements but require precise timing.
  • Iron Condors: This strategy combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It profits from range-bound markets but involves managing multiple positions.
  • Butterflies and Iron Butterflies: These strategies use multiple options contracts to create profit zones with limited risk. They’re often used when you expect minimal price movement.

For beginners we suggest they master the basic strategies and gain experience before venturing into these more complex options strategies. Although these advanced strategies can be powerful tools in the hands of skilled traders, they can also lead to substantial losses if not used correctly.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Options trading can be highly rewarding, but it’s also fraught with potential pitfalls. To ensure your success, let’s explore some common mistakes that you should steer clear of:

  • Lack of Education: Jumping into options trading without a solid understanding of the basics can lead to costly errors. Take the time to educate yourself.
  • Overtrading: Resist the urge to trade excessively. Overtrading can lead to high fees and increased risk. Stick to your trading plan.
  • Ignoring Risk Management: Failing to manage risk can result in significant losses. Always have a clear risk management strategy in place.
  • Neglecting Market Research: Trading options without staying informed about market news and trends is akin to sailing without a compass. Stay updated.
  • Not Using Stop-Loss Orders: Forgetting to set stop-loss orders can expose you to unnecessary risk. These orders help limit potential losses.
  • Chasing High Returns: Be wary of strategies promising sky-high returns with minimal risk. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Emotional Trading: Letting emotions guide your trading decisions is a recipe for disaster. Stick to your trading plan and avoid impulsive moves.
  • Overlooking Liquidity: Trading illiquid options contracts can lead to difficulty in buying or selling when you need to. Stick to liquid assets.
  • Not Tracking Trades: Keep a record of all your trades, including entry and exit points. This helps you learn from your successes and mistakes.

Final Thoughts 

Options trading offers an exciting opportunity for investors to diversify their strategies and potentially increase their returns in the fast paced world of finance. Hopefully you now understand the basics, have learned key strategies and crucially have embraced risk management.

Options trading is not without its challenges, but with dedication and a commitment to continuous learning, you can navigate these financial waters successfully. Remember to start small, practice, and build your expertise over time.

Now, it’s your turn to dive into the world of options trading armed with knowledge and confidence. Begin by opening an account with a reputable broker, practising with paper trading, and gradually executing real trades as you become more comfortable.

As you embark on this journey you should stay curious, stay informed and always keep an eye on your risk. If you keep these principles in mind, you will be trading options successfully in no time.


Sean is currently a student at Coventry University studying a BSc in Economics. He has a strong interest in economics and financial markets, having also studied Economics at A level.

Sean... Continued

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