Getting Started

 

Before you buy or sell options, you need a strategy. Understanding how options work in your portfolio will help you choose an options strategy.

Choose the Right Strategy

A benefit of options is the flexibility they offer. They can complement portfolios in many different ways. It's worth taking the time to identify a goal that suits you and your financial plan. Once you've chosen a goal, you'll have narrowed the range of strategies to use. As with any type of investment, only some of the strategies will be appropriate for your objective.

A particular strategy is successful only if it helps you meet your investment goals. For example, if you hope to increase the income you receive from your stocks, you'll choose a different strategy from an investor who wants to lock in a purchase price for a stock they'd like to own.

Start Simple

Some options strategies, such as writing covered calls, are relatively simple to understand and execute. Complicated strategies such as spreads and collars require two or more opening transactions. Investors often use these strategies to limit the risk associated with options, but they may also limit potential return. When you limit risk, there is usually a trade-off.

Simple options strategies are usually the way to begin investing with options. By mastering simple strategies, you'll prepare yourself for advanced options trading. In general, more complicated options strategies are appropriate only for experienced investors.

Stay Focused

Once you've decided on an appropriate options strategy, it's important to stay focused. That might seem obvious, but the fast pace of the options market and the complicated nature of certain transactions make it difficult for some inexperienced investors to stick to their plan.

If it seems the market or underlying security isn't moving in the predicted direction, it's possible to minimize your losses by exiting early. However, it's also possible to miss a future beneficial change in direction. That's why many experts recommend that you designate an exit strategy or cut-off point in advance, and hold firm. For example, if you plan to sell a covered call, you might decide that if the option moves 20% in-the-money before expiration, the loss you'd face if the option were exercised and assigned to you is unacceptable. If it moves only 10% in-the-money, you'd be confident that there remains enough chance of it moving out-of-the-money to make it worth the potential loss.

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