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Options are among the most popular vehicles for traders, because their price can move fast, making (or losing) a lot of money quickly. Options strategies can range from quite simple to very complex, with a variety of payoffs and sometimes odd names. (Iron condor, anyone?)

Regardless of their complexity, all options strategies are based on the two basic types of options: the call and the put. Below are five popular strategies, a breakdown of their reward and risk and when a trader might use them. While these strategies are fairly straightforward, they can make a trader a lot of money — but they aren’t risk-free.

(Here are a few guides to help you learn the basics of call options and put options, before we get started.)

1. Long call

In this strategy, the trader buys a call – referred to as “going long” a call – and expects the stock price to exceed the strike price by expiration. The upside on this trade is uncapped, if the stock soars, and traders can earn many times their initial investment.

Example: Stock X is trading for $20 per share, and a call with a strike price of $20 and expiration in four months is trading at $1. The contract costs $100, or one contract * $1 * 100 shares represented per contract.

Here’s the profit on the long call at expiration:

Reward/risk: In this example, the trader breaks even at $21 per share, or the strike price plus the $1 premium paid. Above $20, the option increases in value by $100 for every dollar the stock increases. The option expires worthless when the stock is at the strike price and below.

The upside on a long call is theoretically infinite. If the stock continues to rise before expiration, the call can keep climbing higher, too. For this reason long calls are one of the most popular ways to wager on a rising stock price.

The downside on a long call is a total loss of your investment, $100 in this example. If the stock finishes below the strike price, the call will expire worthless and you’ll be left with nothing.

When to use it: A long call is a good choice when you expect the stock to rise significantly before the option’s expiration. If the stock rises only a little above the strike price, the option may still be in the money, but may not even return the premium paid, leaving you with a net loss.

2. Covered call

A covered call involves selling a call option (“going short”) but with a twist. Here the trader sells a call but also buys the stock underlying the option, 100 shares for each call sold. Owning the stock turns a potentially risky trade – the short call – into a relatively safe trade that can generate income. Traders expect the stock price to be below the strike price at expiration. If the stock finishes above the strike price, the owner must sell the stock to the call buyer at the strike.

Example: Stock X is trading for $20 per share, and a call with a strike price of $20 and expiration in four months is trading at $1. The contract pays a premium of $100, or one contract * $1 * 100 shares represented per contract. The trader buys 100 shares of stock for $2,000 and sells one call to receive $100.

Here’s the profit on the covered call strategy:

Reward/risk: In this example, the trader breaks even at $19 per share, or the strike price minus the $1 premium received. Below $19, the trader would lose money, as the stock would lose money, more than offsetting the $1 premium. At exactly $20, the trader would keep the full premium and hang onto the stock, too. Above $20, the gain is capped at $100. While the short call loses $100 for every dollar increase above $20, it’s totally offset by the stock’s gain, leaving the trader with the initial $100 premium received as the total profit.

The upside on the covered call is limited to the premium received, regardless of how high the stock price rises. You can’t make any more than that, but you can lose a lot more. Any gain that you otherwise would have made with the stock rise is completely offset by the short call.

The downside is a complete loss of the investment, assuming the stock goes to zero, offset by the premium received. The covered call leaves you open to a significant loss, if the stock falls.

When to use it: A covered call can be a good strategy to generate income when you already own the stock and don’t expect the stock to rise significantly in the near future. So the strategy can transform your already-existing holdings into a source of cash. The covered call is popular with older investors who need the income, and it can be useful in tax-advantaged accounts where you might otherwise pay taxes on the premium and capital gains if the stock is called.

3. Long put

In this strategy, the trader buys a put – referred to as “going long” a put – and expects the stock price to be below the strike price by expiration. The upside on this trade can be many multiples of the initial investment, if the stock falls to zero.

Example: Stock X is trading for $20 per share, and a put with a strike price of $20 and expiration in four months is trading at $1. The contract costs $100, or one contract * $1 * 100 shares represented per contract.

Here’s the profit on the long put at expiration:

Reward/risk: In this example, the put breaks even at $19 per share, or the strike price minus the $1 premium paid. Below $19 the put increases in value $100 for every dollar decline in the stock. Above $20, the put expires worthless and the trader loses the full premium of $100.

The upside on a long put is almost as good as on a long call, because the option premium can increase many times in value. However, a stock can never go below zero, capping the upside, whereas the long call has theoretically unlimited upside. Long puts are another simple and popular way to wager on the decline of a stock, and they can be safer than shorting a stock.

The downside on a long put is capped at the premium paid, $100 here. If the stock finishes above the strike price, the put expires worthless and you’ll be left with nothing.

When to use it: A long put is a good choice when you expect the stock to fall significantly before the option expires. If the stock falls only a little below the strike price, the option may be in the money, but may not return the premium paid, handing you a net loss.

4. Short put

This strategy is the flipside of the long put, but here the trader sells a put – referred to as “going short” a put – and expects the stock price to be above the strike price by expiration. In exchange for selling a put, the trader receives a cash premium, which is the best upside a short put can earn. If the stock finishes below the strike price, the trader must buy it at the strike price.

Example: Stock X is trading for $20 per share, and a put with a strike price of $20 and expiration in four months is trading at $1. The contract pays a premium of $100, or one contract * $1 * 100 shares represented per contract.

Here’s the profit on the short put at expiration:

Reward/risk: In this example, the short put breaks even at $19, or the strike price less the premium received. Below $19, the short put costs the trader $100 for every dollar decline in price, while above $20 the put seller earns the full $100 premium. Between $19 and $20, the put seller would earn some but not all of the premium.

The upside on the short put is never more than the premium received, $100 here. Like the short call or covered call, the maximum return on a short put is what the seller receives upfront.

The downside of a short put is the total value of the underlying stock minus the premium received, and that would happen if the stock went to zero. In this example, the trader would have to buy $2,000 of the stock (100 shares * $20 strike price), but this would be offset by the $100 premium received, for a total loss of $1,900.

When to use it: A short put is a good strategy when you expect the stock to rise above the strike price by expiration. The stock needs to be only at or above the strike price for the option to expire worthless, letting you keep the whole premium received. Your broker will want to make sure you have enough equity in your account to buy the stock, if it’s put to you. Many traders will hold enough cash in their account to purchase the stock, if the put finishes in the money.

5. Married put

This strategy is like the long put with a twist. The trader owns the underlying stock and also buys a put. This is a hedged trade, in which the trader expects the stock to rise but wants “insurance” in the event that the stock falls. If the stock does fall, the long put offsets the decline.

Example: Stock X is trading for $20 per share, and a put with a strike price of $20 and expiration in four months is trading at $1. The contract costs $100, or one contract * $1 * 100 shares represented per contract. The trader buys 100 shares of stock for $2,000 and buys one put for $100.

Here’s the profit on the married put strategy:

Reward/risk: In this example, the married put breaks even at $21, or the strike price plus the cost of the $1 premium. Below $21, the long put offsets the decline in the stock dollar for dollar. Above $21, the total profit increases $100 for every dollar increase in the stock, though the put expires worthless and the trader loses the full amount of the premium paid, $100 here.

The maximum upside of the married put is theoretically uncapped, as long as the stock continues rising, minus the cost of the put. The married put is a hedged position, and so the premium is the cost of insuring the stock and giving it a chance to rise with limited downside.

The downside of the married put is the cost of the premium paid. As the value of the stock position falls, the put increases in value, covering the decline dollar for dollar. Because of this hedge, the trader only loses the cost of the option rather than the bigger stock loss.

When to use it: A married put can be a good choice when you expect a stock’s price to rise significantly before the option’s expiration, but you think it may have a chance to fall significantly, too. The married put allows you to hold the stock and enjoy the potential upside if it rises, but still be covered from substantial loss if the stock falls. For example, a trader might be awaiting news, such as earnings, that may drive a stock up or down, and wants to be covered.

Bottom line

While options are normally associated with high risk, traders have a number of basic strategies that have limited risk. And so even risk-averse traders can use options to enhance their overall returns. However, it’s always important to understand the downside to any investment so that you know what you could possibly lose and whether it’s worth the potential gain.

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Editorial Disclaimer: All investors are advised to conduct their own independent research into investment strategies before making an investment decision. In addition, investors are advised that past investment product performance is no guarantee of future price appreciation.