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What is an Option?

Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors.
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Certain requirements must be met to trade options. Before engaging in the purchase or sale of options, investors should understand the nature of and extent of their rights and obligations and be aware of the risks involved in investing with options. Please read the options disclosure document titled "Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options (PDF)" before considering any option transaction. You may also call the Investment Center at 877.653.4732 for a copy. A separate client agreement is needed. Multi-leg option orders are charged one base commission per order, plus a per-contract charge.
An option is a contract to buy or sell a specific financial product known as the option's underlying instrument or underlying interest.
For equity options, the underlying instrument is a stock, ETF or similar product. The contract itself is very precise. It establishes a specific price, called the strike price, at which the contract may be exercised, or acted upon.
Contracts also have an expiration date. When an option expires, it no longer has value and no longer exists.
Options come in two varieties, calls and puts. You can buy or sell either type. You decide whether to buy or sell and choose a call or a put based on objectives as an options investor.

Buying and Selling

If you buy a call, you have the right to buy the underlying instrument at the strike price on or before expiration. If you buy a put, you have the right to sell the underlying instrument on or before expiration. In either case, the option holder has the right to sell the option to another buyer during its term or to let it expire worthless. If you purchase a call or put you are considered long the option position.
The situation is different if you write or sell to open an option. Selling to open an option obligates the writer to fulfill their side of the contract if the option holder wishes to exercise. If you sell a call or put you are considered short the option positon.
Select to close help pop-up The receipt of an exercise notice by an option writer (seller) that obligates him to sell (in the case of a call) or purchase (in the case of a put) the underlying security at the specified strike price.
When you sell a call as an opening transaction, you're obligated to sell the underlying interest at the strike price, if assignedHover to view help pop-upSelect to view help pop-upThe receipt of an exercise notice by an option writer (seller) that obligates him to sell (in the case of a call) or purchase (in the case of a put) the underlying security at the specified strike price.. When you sell a put as an opening transaction, you're obligated to buy the underlying interest, if assigned.
As a writer, you have no control over whether or not a contract is exercised, and you must recognize that exercise is possible at any time before expiration. However, just as the buyer can sell an option back into the market rather than exercising it, a writer can purchase an offsetting contract to end their obligation to meet the terms of a contract provided they have not been assigned. To offset a short option position, you would enter a buy to close transaction.

At a Premium

When you buy an option, the purchase price is called the premium. If you sell, the premium is the amount you receive. The premium isn't fixed and changes constantly. The premium is likely to be higher or lower today than yesterday or tomorrow. Changing prices reflect the give and take between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept for the option. The point of agreement becomes the price for that transaction. The process then begins again.
If you buy options, you begin with a net debit. That means you've spent money you might never recover if you don't sell your option at a profit or exercise it. If you do make money on a transaction, you must subtract the cost of the premium from any income to find net profit.
As a seller, you begin with a net credit because you collect the premium. If the option is never exercised, you keep the money. If the option is exercised, you still keep the premium but are obligated to buy or sell the underlying stock if assigned.

The Value of Options

The worth of a particular options contract to a buyer or seller is measured by its likelihood to meet their expectations. In the language of options, that's determined by whether or not the option is, or is likely to be, in-the-money or out-of-the-money at expiration.
A call option is in-the-money if the current market value of the underlying stock is above the exercise price of the option. The call option is out-of-the-money if the stock is below the exercise price. A put option is in-the-money if the current market value of the underlying stock is below the exercise price. A put option is out-of-the-money if its underlying price is above the exercise price. If an option is not in-the-money at expiration, the option is assumed worthless.
An option's premium can have two parts: an intrinsic value and a time value. Intrinsic value is the amount that the option is in-the-money. Time value is the difference between the intrinsic value and the premium. In general, the longer time that market conditions work to your benefit, the greater the time value.

Options Prices

Several factors affect the price of an option. Supply and demand in the market where the option is traded is a large factor. This is also the case with an individual stock.
The status of overall markets and the economy at large are broad influences. Specific influences include the identity of the underlying instrument, the instrument's traditional behavior and current behavior. The instrument's volatility is also an important factor used to gauge the likelihood that an option will move in-the-money.
Content licensed from the Options Industry Council is intended to educate investors about U.S. exchange-listed options issued by The Options Clearing Corporation, and shall not be construed as furnishing investment advice or being a recommendation, solicitation or offer to buy or sell any option or any other security. Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors.

Content licensed from the Options Industry Council. All Rights Reserved. OIC or its affiliates shall not be responsible for content contained on Merrill's Website, or other Company Materials not provided by OIC. OIC education can be accessed at the OIC web site popup.

Without the Jargon

An option represents a contractual obligation between a buyer and a seller. The contract contains an agreed upon price, time frame, and execution terms. The contract will rise in value when the terms become more favorable than the market is pricing and is reflected in the options price. The contract can be executed upon, sold to another buyer, or expire worthless.
Information not provided by the Options Industry Council
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Certain requirements must be met to trade options. Before engaging in the purchase or sale of options, investors should understand the nature of and extent of their rights and obligations and be aware of the risks involved in investing with options. Please read the options disclosure document titled "Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options (PDF)" before considering any option transaction. You may also call the Investment Center at 877.653.4732 for a copy. A separate client agreement is needed. Multi-leg option orders are charged one base commission per order, plus a per-contract charge.
View definitions for investment terms in our Glossary.
The material was provided by a third party not affiliated with Merrill or any of its affiliates and is for information and educational purposes only. The opinions and views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Merrill or any of its affiliates. Any assumptions, opinions and estimates are as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The information contained in this material does not constitute advice on the tax consequences of making any particular investment decision. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security, financial instrument, or strategy. Before acting on any recommendation in this material, you should consider whether it is in your best interest based on your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice.
For purposes of all the computations discussed in this article, commissions, fees and margin interest and taxes, have not been included in the examples. These costs obviously will impact the outcome of any stock or option transaction. Any strategies discussed, including examples using actual securities and price data, are strictly for illustrative and educational purposes only and are not to be construed as an endorsement, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell securities. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
This material is being provided for informational purposes only. Nothing herein is or should be construed as investment, legal or tax advice, a recommendation of any kind, a solicitation of clients, or an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to invest in options. The information herein has been obtained from third-party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed.

Supporting documentation for any claims, comparisons, recommendations, statistics or other technical data will be furnished on request.
Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.
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Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities.

Asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.
Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

This material is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or investment strategy. Merrill offers a broad range of brokerage, investment advisory (including financial planning) and other services. Additional information is available in our Client Relationship Summary (PDF).

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