The Options Playbook

Featuring 40 options strategies for bulls, bears, rookies, all-stars and everyone in between Ally Invest

Covered Call

Covered Call Strategy

NOTE: This graph indicates profit and loss at expiration, respective to the stock value when you sold the call.

The Strategy

Selling the call obligates you to sell stock you already own at strike price A if the option is assigned.

Some investors will run this strategy after they’ve already seen nice gains on the stock. Often, they will sell out-of-the-money calls, so if the stock price goes up, they’re willing to part with the stock and take the profit.

Covered calls can also be used to achieve income on the stock above and beyond any dividends. The goal in that case is for the options to expire worthless.

If you buy the stock and sell the calls all at the same time, it’s called a ”Buy / Write.” Some investors use a Buy / Write as a way to lower the cost basis of a stock they’ve just purchased.

Options Guy's Tips

As a general rule of thumb, you may wish to consider running this strategy approximately 30-45 days from expiration to take advantage of accelerating time decay as expiration approaches. Of course, this depends on the underlying stock and market conditions such as implied volatility.

You may wish to consider selling the call with a premium that represents at least 2% of the current stock price (premium ÷ stock price). But ultimately, it’s up to you what premium will make running this strategy worth your while.

Beware of receiving too much time value. If the premium seems abnormally high, there’s usually a reason for it. Check for news in the marketplace that may affect the price of the stock. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

The Setup

  • You own the stock
  • Sell a call, strike price A
  • Generally, the stock price will be below strike A

Who Should Run It

Rookies and higher

NOTE: Covered calls can be executed by investors at any level. See the Rookie’s Corner for a more in-depth explanation of this strategy.

When to Run It

Bullish Neutral You’re neutral to bullish, and you’re willing to sell stock if it reaches a specific price.

Break-even at Expiration

Current stock price minus the premium received for selling the call.

The Sweet Spot

The sweet spot for this strategy depends on your objective. If you are selling covered calls to earn income on your stock, then you want the stock to remain as close to the strike price as possible without going above it.

If you want to sell the stock while making additional profit by selling the calls, then you want the stock to rise above the strike price and stay there at expiration. That way, the calls will be assigned.

However, you probably don’t want the stock to shoot too high, or you might be a bit disappointed that you parted with it. But don’t fret if that happens. You still made out all right on the stock. Do yourself a favor and stop getting quotes on it.

Maximum Potential Profit

When the call is first sold, potential profit is limited to the strike price minus the current stock price plus the premium received for selling the call.

Maximum Potential Loss

You receive a premium for selling the option, but most downside risk comes from owning the stock, which may potentially lose its value. However, selling the option does create an “opportunity risk.” That is, if the stock price skyrockets, the calls might be assigned and you’ll miss out on those gains.

Ally Invest Margin Requirement

Because you own the stock, no additional margin is required.

As Time Goes By

For this strategy, time decay is your friend. You want the price of the option you sold to approach zero. That means if you choose to close your position prior to expiration, it will be less expensive to buy it back.

Implied Volatility

After the strategy is established, you want implied volatility to decrease. That will decrease the price of the option you sold, so if you choose to close your position prior to expiration it will be less expensive to do so.

Check your strategy with Ally Invest tools

  • Use the Profit + Loss Calculator to establish break-even points, evaluate how your strategy might change as expiration approaches, and analyze the Option Greeks.
  • View the Option Chains for your stock. Select the covered call option chain, and review the “Static Return” and “If Called Return” columns to make sure you’re happy with potential outcomes. Static Return assumes the stock price is unchanged at expiration and the call expires worthless. If Called Return assumes the stock price rises above the strike price and the call is assigned.

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