What Are Call Options?

Call options offer investors the chance to limit risk, boost returns and diversify their portfolios.

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Welcome to the world of call options, where experienced investors unlock opportunities beyond simply buying and selling stocks and exchange-traded funds. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the mechanics, advantages and strategies associated with call options. By understanding these key aspects, investors can learn how to leverage call options to amplify returns.

What is a call option?

Let's begin by understanding the basics of call options. Call options are a type of derivative, meaning they get their value from the underlying asset, whether that be stocks, bonds, commodities or currencies.

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A call option is a financial contract that grants the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to purchase 100 shares of an underlying stock at a predetermined price within a specified period.

How does a call option work? 

To grasp the mechanics of call options, let's delve into the essential elements that make up these financial instruments:

Buyer and seller dynamics:

The buyer of a call option pays a premium to acquire the right to purchase the underlying asset in the future.

The seller, also known as the writer, receives the premium and assumes the obligation to sell the underlying asset if the buyer decides to exercise their option.

Strike price – the predetermined value:

The strike price is the pre-agreed price at which the buyer can purchase the underlying asset upon exercising the call option.

It is crucial to note that the strike price remains fixed from the inception of the option until its expiration.

Expiration date – why timing is key:

Each call option has an expiration date, marking the deadline for the buyer to exercise their option.

After the expiration date, the call option becomes null and void, losing its value.

Intrinsic value and time value:

The intrinsic value of a call option is the difference between the current price of the underlying asset and the strike price. If the underlying asset's price exceeds the strike price, the call option holds intrinsic value.

Time value accounts for various factors such as market volatility, time remaining until expiration, and interest rates. It represents the additional value of the option beyond its intrinsic value.

Why would you buy call options?

Call options offer a range of advantages that can enhance an investor's strategy. Here are the key benefits to consider:

Risk mitigation and upside potential:

  • Call options allow investors to limit their risk exposure to the premium paid upfront.
  • Simultaneously, call options provide the potential for unlimited profits if the underlying asset's price rises significantly. This feature enables investors to participate in upward market movements while managing downside risk.

 Amplify returns with less capital: 

  • With call options, investors can control a larger number of shares of the underlying asset with a smaller upfront investment.
  • Instead of purchasing a substantial quantity of shares directly, investors can magnify returns by investing a fraction of the amount as a premium for call options.

Portfolio diversification: 

  • Call options offer an avenue to diversify an investment portfolio without significant capital outlay.
  • By investing in call options for different underlying assets, investors can spread their risk and potentially benefit from multiple market opportunities.

Hedge against market volatility:

  • Call options can act as a valuable tool for hedging against market volatility.
  • For instance, if an investor is short a particular stock, they can hedge their short position with long call options – so if the short position goes against them, losses are mitigated by the increased value of the held call options.

FAQs about call options 

  • Are call options suitable for all types of investors? Call options can be suitable for investors with varying degrees of experience. However, it is crucial to thoroughly educate oneself and understand the associated risks before engaging in options trading.
  • Can call options be sold before expiration? Yes, call options can be bought and sold at any time before their expiration. This flexibility allows investors to seize market opportunities, lock in profits or cut losses if market conditions change. 
  • Can call options be exercised without owning the underlying asset? Indeed, call options can be exercised without owning the underlying asset. Investors can purchase the asset at the strike price and immediately sell it at the market price to realize a profit.
  • What happens if the underlying asset's price does not reach the strike price? If the underlying asset's price remains below the strike price, it is generally not advantageous to exercise the call option. In such cases, investors may choose to let the option expire, limiting their loss to the premium initially paid.

The bottom line on call options


Incorporating call options into an investment strategy allows market participants to mitigate risk, diversify their portfolio and amplify the potential for returns.

However, options trading is not for the faint of heart, so it is imperative that investors exercise caution, conduct thorough research and seek professional advice when venturing into this corner of the market. 

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Jared Hoffmann
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Jared Hoffmann is a highly respected financial content creator and options expert, holding a journalism degree from San Francisco State University. Formerly a Senior Options and Day Trading Editor and on-air personality at Money Morning, he excels in delivering comprehensive options education, technical analysis, and risk management education to traders.