5 Things To Know About Risk In Options

5 Things To Know About Risk In Options
Image: iLixe48

You must understand the risks of options trading. This understanding helps in making better trading decisions and you need to know five key risk areas. These include market risk and time decay risk, among others. Here’s a brief tutorial on these risk elements:

  1. Market Risk: It’s the risk that the entire market will decline, affecting the value of individual investments.
  2. Time Decay Risk: It’s the risk that the value of options decreases as expiration approaches. This is also known as Theta.
  3. Volatility Risk: The risk arises from the degree of variation of a trading price series over time.
  4. Liquidity Risk: It’s the risk that a trader will not be able to buy or sell quickly at a good price due to low market volume.
  5. Model Risk: The risk of incorrect pricing due to flaws in the theoretical models used to price options.

We are going to cover these in this article.

Main Points

  • Market, time decay, volatility, and liquidity risks are key in options trading.
  • Assess risk tolerance and financial stability before entering options trading.
  • Use defined risk spreads, diversification, and position management to limit risk.
  • Options trading has expiry dates and complex strategies with increased risk.
  • Educate yourself on options operation, pricing factors, and practice before trading.

Main Risks in Options Trading

In options trading, you’re exposed to several types of risks. First, there’s market risk. This risk arises due to changes in the price of the underlying stock. If the stock price moves in a direction that’s unfavorable for your option position, you could end up with a loss.

Second, there’s time decay risk. An option isn’t just a bet on a stock’s direction; it’s also a bet on the stock’s movement within a certain time frame. As the expiration date of the option approaches, the option’s value can erode. This process, known as time decay, can result in losses if the stock doesn’t move in your desired direction quickly enough.

Third, there’s volatility risk. This risk comes from changes in the level of uncertainty or risk about the size of changes in a security’s value. A change in volatility can impact the price of options, potentially leading to losses.

You might face liquidity risk. This risk can be particularly relevant for less actively traded options. If an option isn’t very liquid, it might be hard to buy or sell at the desired price. You may have to accept a less favorable price to complete the trade, which can eat into your profits or increase your losses.

Market risk

What are the main types of risks you’ll face in options trading? Market risk is a big one to remember. Here are four key types you’ll need to watch out for:

  1. Directional Risk: This is the risk that comes from the market moving the opposite way from what you predicted.
  2. Volatility Risk: Changes in market volatility can affect options prices.
  3. Liquidity Risk: This is about how easily you can buy or sell options without causing a big price change.
  4. Event Risk: Unexpected events like economic releases or geopolitical changes can suddenly affect options values.

Understanding and managing these risks is vital for successful options trading strategies. Let’s break it down:

Directional Risk: If you are expecting the market to go up, you buy a call option. But, if the market goes down, you’re at risk. That’s directional risk.

Volatility Risk: This one’s about market volatility. If the market is volatile, options prices can change quickly sometimes in your favor depending on the type of strategy you are using.

Liquidity Risk: Ever tried to sell something but couldn’t find a buyer? Or buy something but there was no seller? That’s liquidity risk. It’s harder to manage in a market with fewer participants (Netpicks has set criteria when it comes to options trading to avoid liquidity risk. Reach out to support).

Event Risk: This risk comes out of nowhere. It could be an economic release, a political change, or a natural disaster. Any event that causes the market to move unexpectedly can be an event risk.

These are complex concepts, but understanding them is something you must do if you want to succeed in options trading.

Time decay risk

Time decay risk is a concern in options trading, impacting options contract values over time. This risk comes from options losing value as they near expiration. Each day that passes, an option’s time value shrinks, especially for out-of-the-money options. Time decay speeds up as the expiration date gets closer.

Traders need to be aware of this risk because it can eat away at the value of their options. Getting the idea of time decay is key when making decisions in options trading. To handle time decay risk, you can use strategies like buying options with longer expiration dates or using spreads to balance out the negative impact of time erosion on option premiums.

Volatility risk

In options trading, volatility risk is a major factor that affects option prices due to market changes. Here’s a breakdown of key points to understand volatility risk better:

  1. Implied Volatility: This is the market’s forecast of future volatility.
  2. Historical Volatility: This uses past price movements to determine an asset’s volatility.
  3. Vega: This shows an option’s response to changes in implied volatility.
  4. Volatility Skew: This displays variations in implied volatility across different strike prices.

Liquidity risk

Liquidity risk is important to know in options trading as it impacts how easily you can buy or sell options contracts at fair rates. This risk pops up when there’s a shortage of market participants ready to trade options or a big price gap between bid and ask prices. With illiquid markets, getting into and of trades can be tough, causing wider bid-ask spreads and possible price slippage.

Options with less trading volume or in less sought-after markets are more exposed to liquidity risk. Traders need to keep this risk in mind when starting positions, as it can affect their ability to quickly and cheaply enter or exit trades. Keeping an eye on market liquidity and looking for options that are frequently traded can help lessen liquidity risk.

Assessing Personal Risk Tolerance for Options

Your risk level must align with your financial goals as this ensures that your choices in trading match your objectives. Take a close look at your overall financial situation. This will give you a comprehensive understanding of the risk level you’re comfortable with.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you assess your risk tolerance:

  1. Identify your financial goals: You need to understand what you’re aiming to achieve. This could be anything from saving for retirement, purchasing a new home, or funding your child’s education.
  2. Evaluate your financial situation: Take into account your income, savings, debt, and expenses. This will help you determine how much you can afford to lose.
  3. Assess your emotional risk tolerance: Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to risk. Some individuals can handle high levels of risk while others prefer more conservative investments.
  4. Align your risk level with your financial goals: Once you’ve determined your risk tolerance level, ensure your investments align with your financial goals.

Assess Your Emotional Risk Tolerance

Gauge your emotional reaction to uncertainty and potential losses to check your readiness for options trading. You need to understand your emotional risk tolerance before entering into the options market. Here’s a four-step guide to help you gauge your emotional risk tolerance:

  1. Look Back on Past Experiences: Think about how you’ve dealt with financial losses or gains before.
  2. Use Risk Assessment Tools: Brokerage firms offer tools to help measure your risk tolerance level. Use ’em.
  3. Run Stress Test Scenarios: Create simulated market conditions to see how you’d emotionally cope with potential losses.
  4. Seek a Financial Advisor’s Guidance: An advisor can assist you in accurately assessing your risk tolerance.

Align Risk with Financial Goals

Before you start trading options, make sure your risk tolerance matches your financial goals. Here’s a step-by-step approach to how to do it.

Step 1: Assess Market Fluctuations

Understand how market fluctuations could impact your investment goals. This involves evaluating potential losses you can handle without risking your financial stability.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Financial Health

Look at your income, savings, and overall financial health. These are factors that determine how much risk you’re able to comfortably take on.

Step 3: Identify Your Trading Objectives

Are you looking for steady account growth? Are you willing to take on more risk for higher returns? Or are you more focused on protecting your capital? Identifying your investment objectives is one of the most important steps.

Step 4: Understand Your Risk Tolerance

Knowing your risk tolerance is key and you must match the level of risk you’re comfortable with to the strategies you use.

Your Risk Tolerance

Before you start trading options, make sure you completely understand your risk tolerance. This will help ensure that your financial stability matches your trading choices. Here’s how to evaluate your overall financial situation:

  1. Income Stability: Look at how steady and reliable your income streams are. It’s not just about how much you’re earning, but how regularly you’re earning it. If your income fluctuates a lot, you mightn’t be able to handle the ups and downs of trading options.
  2. Debt Levels: Figure out how much debt you have and how it might affect your ability to take on risk. If you’re carrying a lot of debt, it might be harder for you to absorb losses from trading options.
  3. Emergency Fund: Check if your emergency savings are enough to cover unexpected financial needs. If an emergency arises, you’ll want to have enough money set aside so you don’t have to dip into your investments.
  4. Investment Experience: Think about your past experiences with investments and how they influence your risk appetite. If you’ve been burned before, you might be more cautious about trading options.

Strategies to Manage Options Trading Risk

To limit risk in options trading, you’ll want to use some key strategies. First, try using defined-risk spreads. This will help you know your maximum potential loss from the start. Next, diversify. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your capital over different underlying, strategies, and expirations. This will help reduce the impact if one trade fails to work.

Manage your position size. Don’t put too much of your account into one trade. A good rule of thumb is to stick to a risk limit of 1-5% of your account per trade.

Planning your trades is important. Don’t just trade blindly. Set clear stop-loss and take-profit levels. This will help you exit at a predetermined point, whether it is for profit or loss. And remember, never risk more than a small percentage of your account on any single trade. It’s all about managing your risk.

Limit Risk with Defined-Risk Spreads

Think about using defined-risk spreads for effective management and limitation of risks. Spreads are the favorite approach to trading options at Netpicks. These strategies involve simultaneously buying and selling options, creating a spread that limits potential losses and still allows for profit potential. Here are four key points to remember when using defined-risk spreads:

  1. Limited Risk: They cap the maximum potential loss, offering a level of protection in volatile markets.
  2. Predictable Profit Potential: They offer a known maximum profit, which allows for improved risk management and strategic planning.
  3. Variety of Strategies: You’ll find various types of defined-risk spreads, such as credit spreads and debit spreads. This flexibility suits different market conditions.
  4. Risk-Reward Ratio: By defining risk upfront, you can assess the risk-reward ratio before entering a trade, which aids in decision-making.

Risk is a constant in trading but by using defined-risk spreads, you’re putting a cap on this risk. You’re not eliminating it, but you’re putting a limit on how much you could lose if a trade doesn’t go your way.

This strategy involves buying and selling options at the same time. This creates what we call a ‘spread’. This spread can limit your losses but still allow you to make a profit.

There are different types of spreads you can use, including credit spreads and debit spreads. The type you choose will depend on the market conditions at the time.

Bull Put SpreadsBear Call Spreads
1Used in a bullish marketUsed in a bearish market
2Sell put option, buy put option at lower strike priceSell call option, buy call option at higher strike price
3Income generated from premiumsIncome generated from premiums
4Risk is limited to the difference between strike prices minus the premiumRisk is limited to difference between strike prices minus the premium
5Profit when stock price risesProfit when stock price falls

One of the biggest benefits of using defined-risk spreads is that they let you know your potential profit upfront. This makes it easier to plan your trades and manage your risk.

Before you enter a trade, you can calculate the risk-reward ratio. This ratio tells you how much risk you’re taking compared to the potential reward. It’s a useful tool to help you make better decisions about your trades.

Diversify Underlyings, Strategies, and Expirations

You can manage risk more effectively by diversifying your underlyings, strategies, and expiration dates.

Diversifying your underlying means spreading risk across different assets. This reduces the effect of a single stock or index’s adverse movements.

You should use a variety of strategies. These can include covered calls, protective puts, or iron condors. Each strategy offers distinct ways to profit or safeguard your positions.

Don’t let all your options expire at once. Spread out your expiration dates. This balances the timing of your trades and adds flexibility in adjusting your strategies.

Manage Position Size, Risk 1-5%

When trading options, you need to manage and limit your risk. This can be achieved by adjusting your position size so it’s between 1-5% of your total portfolio value.

  1. Position Sizing: You’ve got to figure out the right position size. This depends on how much risk you’re willing to take and the value of your portfolio.
  2. Stop-Loss Orders: You can use stop-loss orders. These will automatically get you out of a trade if you’re about to lose a certain amount.
  3. Diversification: Invest in different assets and use different strategies to lower your risk.
  4. Risk Management Tools: There are tools you can use, like options spreads or hedging strategies, to protect your positions if the market moves against you.

Options vs. Stocks: Comparing Risk Levels

Options trading is more risky than stock trading. Why? Factors like time decay and the complexities in options pricing. What’s time decay? It’s a way of saying options have an expiry date. If your option hasn’t hit its strike price by the expiry date, it’s worthless. That’s not a problem you’ll face with stocks – they don’t expire.

Options pricing isn’t straightforward. It depends on a lot of factors, like the price of the underlying stock, the strike price, the time to expiry, and the volatility of the stock. Misjudge any of these, and you’re looking at a loss.

You stand to lose 100% of your investment. That’s a risk you don’t usually see with stocks. If you’re going to use options, you need to be fully aware of what you are doing They can be a good tool to diversify your portfolio, but you need to understand their nuances to manage the risk.

Time Decay: Ticking Clock Risk

When we look at options trading versus stock trading in the context of risk, there’s a key difference related to time decay. Here’s what makes options trading distinct in terms of risk:

  1. Limited Time Horizon: Options come with expiry dates. So, the time value reduces as the expiry date gets closer.
  2. Increased Volatility Sensitivity: Options are extremely sensitive to volatility changes, causing significant price shifts.
  3. Potential Loss of Premium: If your option expires and it’s out of the money, you’ll lose the premium you paid.
  4. Complex Strategies: Options trading lets you use complex strategies. These can multiply your gains, but they can also increase your risk.

These are the risk factors you’ve got to consider when you’re trading options. It’s a bit more complicated than stock trading, but understanding these elements can help you navigate the options market more effectively.

Complexity: Many Moving Parts

Options trading’s complexity comes from its many moving parts, making it different from stock trading when it comes to risk assessment. It’s not like stocks, where risk mainly comes from how the underlying asset’s price changes. Options bring in other factors like time decay, implied volatility, and option Greeks – delta, gamma, theta, and vega. These elements work together in complex ways, affecting options’ value and your overall risk exposure.

To manage risk effectively, understand how each part impacts the trade. Stock trading usually involves a simpler risk analysis. This is based on price changes and the fundamental factors of the underlying company.

On the other hand, options trading needs a more detailed evaluation. That’s because it’s multi-layered and involves various risk factors interacting with each other.

  1. Implied Volatility (Vega): This represents the market’s expectation of how much the underlying asset’s price will move. Higher volatility means higher risk, which can increase the option’s price.
  2. Option Greeks (Delta, Gamma): Delta measures how much an option’s price changes for a $1 change in the underlying asset’s price. Gamma measures how much Delta will change for a $1 change in the underlying asset’s price.
  3. Time Decay (Theta): This is the rate at which an option loses value as time passes, even if the price of the underlying asset remains unchanged. The closer to expiration, the faster the decay.

100% Loss Potential

Understanding the potential for 100% loss in trading isn’t easy, but it’s something you should know. Let’s look at other differences between options trading and stock trading, focusing on risk assessment:

  1. Leverage: In options trading, you can gain higher returns your losses might be bigger.
  2. Risk Limitation: In stock trading, the most you can lose is what you put in. But with options, you could lose more than your initial investment.
  3. Time’s Role: Options come with expiry dates that can drastically affect your loss potential.
  4. Volatility: Stock prices can bounce around, affecting both options and stocks. However, options trading feels this impact more due to factors like implied volatility.

Essential Education Before Trading Options

Before you start options trading, ensure you understand how they operate, their pricing factorstrading strategies, and managing risk.

Study the elements that affect options pricing, such as the price of the underlying asset, time till expiration, volatility, and interest rates. Learn some diverse trading strategies like buying calls or puts, spreads, and straddles, and understand when to effectively employ each strategy.

It’s strongly suggested to practice options trading without risking actual money. Paper trading lets you mimic real market situations and test your strategies without monetary risk. Plus, educating yourself on risk management is key regardless of what you trade.


By checking your comfort with risk, putting risk management strategies into use, and educating yourself about the details of options trading, you’ll be able to tackle trading options with confidence.

Keep up-to-date, keep an eye on market conditions, and make decisions based on knowledge to effectively handle and reduce risks in your options trading pursuits.

Author: CoachShane
Shane his trading journey in 2005, became a Netpicks customer in 2008 needing structure in his trading approach. His focus is on the technical side of trading filtering in a macro overview and credits a handful of traders that have heavily influenced his relaxed approach to trading. Shane started day trading Forex but has since transitioned to a swing/position focus in most markets including commodities and futures. This has allowed less time in front of the computer without an adverse affect on returns.