WHAT ARE STOCK OPTIONS: Types, Examples, and Its Benefits

What are stock options
Image Credit: H & R Block

Stock options have helped a lot of well-known CEOs and business owners in the United States build up a lot of their wealth. Even though not every well-established business gives its employees stock options, it is undeniable that anyone who knows how they work can benefit greatly from them. What are stock options, and how do they influence an employee’s finances? Well, we’ll answer the above questions and also broaden the topic with some examples and detailed explanations of how it works.

What Is a Stock Option?

Generally, we can say that stock options are a contractual right given by an employer to buy a set number of shares of the company’s common stock at a set price (the grant price) over a set period of time (the vesting period).

On the other hand, an investor with a stock option (sometimes called an equity option) has the right, but not the responsibility to purchase or sell a certain number of shares of stock on or before a certain date and at a predetermined price. You can wager that a stock price will go down by purchasing a put option, or you can bet that the stock price will go up by purchasing a call option.

How to Exercise Your Stock Options

Until it is exercised, a stock option is not a binding contract to buy or sell a company’s stock. For example, a worker who has been granted stock options cannot actually use those options until they have vested. To buy shares of the company’s common stock at the grant price, regardless of the stock price at the time of exercise, you must “exercise” your stock option.

In the case of an option purchase, the holder must pay the option price for the underlying stock, regardless of its market price. Therefore, an employee who has the choice to purchase 10,000 shares of stock at $2 per share will have to spend $12,000. This automatically makes you the owner of the stock, and whatever you decide to do with it is your business. This means you might either keep or sell them when you think the price is going down or up. 

Aside from the above direct way of exercising your stock options, there are two other ways to do just that. These are “exercise and sell” and “exercise and sell to cover.”

#1. Exercise-and-Sell

With “exercise and sell stock options,”  the brokerage processing the sale allows you to use the sale proceeds to pay for the purchase of the shares. You simply trade with the money you make from buying options through a broker right away. 

#2. Exercise-and-Sell-to-Cover

The exercise and sell-to-cover stock option is uniquely different from the exercise and sell option. Here, you only sell a percentage of your shares and keep the rest. Using your broker, buy the stock and immediately sell it off just enough to cover the commission.

Stock Options as Part of Employee Compensation Plans

Stock options are a common form of employee remuneration, and their use is growing. If you use the opportunities your stock options give you wisely, you can build an investment portfolio or improve your financial situation.

Stock Options Help Create an Ownership Culture

Stock options can boost employee loyalty because they are often awarded on a predictable timetable with vesting periods spread out over time.

When a corporation gives its employees stock options, it is essentially giving them a stake in the business. Stock option recipients have a personal stake in the success of their employer’s stock. When a company’s earnings go up because its workers are more productive, the stock price goes up.

Types of Stock Options

Generally, stock options can be broken down into two categories based on their tax status. First is the nonqualified stock options, and the second is the incentive stock options.

#1. Nonqualified Stock Options (NSOs)

Commonly referred to as “NSOs,” the nonqualified stock options (NQSOs) are stock options that do not qualify for favorable tax treatment under the Internal Revenue Service’s rules. This simply means there’s no exception to tax payment, and you’ll have to pay tax whenever you exercise your stock options. 

When you cash in on NSOs, you’ll owe taxes to the government. When you use your stock options, the Internal Revenue Service will take out taxes, Social Security, and Medicare on the difference between the fair market value of the stock and the grant price.

#2. Incentive Stock Options (ISOs)

Incentive stock options usually receive special or favorable tax treatment. In order to get the tax breaks that come with incentive stock options (ISOs), the person who has them must hold on to the shares for at least one year after the date they were exercised and for at least two years after the date they were given.

If you sell your shares before the required holding period has elapsed, the sale will be considered a “disqualifying disposition,” and you will be required to pay income taxes on the difference between both the fair market value and the grant price.

The difference between the sale price and the grant price will be liable to capital gains tax (rather than income tax in the case of NSOs) when you choose to sell your shares after the waiting period has passed.

Factors to Consider When Exercising Stock Options

When it comes to exercising options, the primary goal is to make a profit, and as such, there are a lot of considerations to make that will, in turn, determine success. Some of these include;

  • The expiration date?
  • Your strategy’s ground rules.
  • How willing you are to take risks.
  • Possible benefits of holding off in the meanwhile.
  • How optimistic are you about the stock market and its potential for growth?
  • Can you take your time, or is there an immediate urgency to take action?
  • Stock options can be exercised in installments, so you don’t have to use them all at once if you don’t want to. Information regarding specifics will be included in your plan’s rules.
  • That you have the means to meet your present and future monetary commitments. Is this a way to boost your company’s cash flow now, or a long-term investment?
  • Tax liabilities that you have now and those that you may incur in the future. There are monetary ramifications for stock option exercise. Are you expecting to remain in the same tax rate, a higher bracket, or a lower bracket when the time comes to cash in your options?
  • How willing you are to ride out the market’s inevitable swings, or do you prefer a safer bet?

How Do You Make Money With Options?

There are several ways to make money with stock options. The exact amount of profit depends on how much the stock price is above or below the option strike price when the option expires or when the position is closed. A person who buys a call option could make money if the asset, goes up above the strike price before the option expires. A buyer of a put option also profits if the price falls far below the strike price before the expiration.

What Is the Best Strategy For Option?

If the earnings report seems good, the best options trading approach is to buy call options. Profit from a rise in the stock price with little to no risk to yourself by using this approach. If you are trading options and expect a negative earnings report, buying put options is best.

Which Option Strategy Is Most Profitable?

The bull call spread option strategy is one of the most profitable options. To create a Bull Call Spread, one must buy a call option at a higher strike price and simultaneously sell a call option at a lower strike price and the same expiration date. 

How Do I Start Trading Options?

Anyone can start trading options with the following steps;

  • Register for a stock options trading account.
  • Select the appropriate buy/sell options.
  • Estimate the strike price of the option.
  • Figure out the option time frame

How Many Times Can I Buy and Sell Options In a Day?

You can place as many buy orders as you want to buy the same stock more than once in a day, and you can place as many sell orders as you want to sell the same stock in a day. 

What Are the 4 Types of Options?

Generally, options can be traded in four ways; You can take one of four primary positions when trading options: buy a call option, sell a call option, buy a put option, or sell a put option.

What Is the Benefit of Options Trading?

The following are some of the benefits of options trading;

  • Buyers of options face little risk.
  • Options trading provides traders with built-in adaptability.
  • Less expensive than purchasing the shares outright
  • Allows the investor to wait and see what happens.
  • Provide cushion for those whose stock prices take a dive
  • A stock’s price can be set in stone by an investor via options.
  • As opposed to trading stocks, it necessitates less cash upfront.

How Much Money Do I Need to Start Options?

When you have a small amount of capital, it can be hard to trade options because many brokers limit the types of trades that can be made. If you want to start making money trading options, you should have at least $5,000 to $10,000 to invest.

Stock Options and Taxes

Anyone who exercises stock options has to pay tax. The length of time between exercising your option and selling your shares and the type of option you have will determine how your taxes are computed.

#1. Taxes for Statutory Stock Options

Options given through an incentive stock option or employee stock purchase plan are considered statutory stock options.

Taxes are not paid at the time of option issuance for this sort of option. When you cash in on your option, you’ll likely have to pay taxes on the gain. If that’s the case, it’ll show up on your W-2 form at tax time.

The difference between the option’s market value and the amount you paid for it is known as the “bargain element,” and it is subject to taxation if you are required to pay any kind of tax after exercising the option.

When you sell your shares, you’ll also have to pay capital gains tax. Short-term capital gain (or loss) is considered to have occurred if the stock was held for less than a year before being sold, and is subject to taxation at the individual’s regular rate of income taxation. Holding them for more than a year will result in taxation at the lower long-term capital gains rate (either zero, fifteen, or twenty percent, depending on your income and filing status).

#2. Taxes for Nonstatutory Stock Options

Employee stock purchase plans and incentive stock option plans cannot be used to issue nonstatutory stock options. When you obtain the choice, it may be considered taxable income. The fair market value of your nonstatutory stock option will decide how much of the option’s proceeds are deemed taxable income.

When a stock is traded on a public exchange, its value in the open market can be calculated with relative ease. If that’s the case, you have to report the option’s value as income the year you receive it. In this case, your tax rate will be proportional to your total income and tax bracket. You won’t have to report any earnings from the option’s exercise as taxable income.

However, the fair market value of most nonstatutory stock options is not easily ascertainable. The amount won’t be counted as income until either the option is used or it is given to someone else. After doing so, you must include the difference between the fair market value of the stock you receive and the amount you paid in your tax return. Most of the time, this will be taxed as a gain or loss in capital assets.


While it’s true that stock options generally involve a level of risk, it also holds great rewards for those who understand how they work and it’s a great option for diversification too.


  1. investopedia.com
  2. fidelity.com/
  3. nerdwallet.com
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