Exercising Options: What Is It and How to Exercise Options

In the dynamical world of trading, it is crucial for every investor to understand the notion of exercising option contracts. This in-depth article contains a comprehensive guide on exercising options. We will start with the exercise of options definition and then continue with the methods involved, and the different scenarios in which it may prove useful.

Exercise Options Meaning

Before we proceed to the main topic, let’s revisit the concept of options trading. An option is a financial instrument that represents a contract, granting the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a base asset at a predetermined price known as the strike price. Fore example, Bitcoin can serve as a base asset. This contract remains valid only until a specified expiration date.

Key Takeaways

  • Exercising contracts refers to the act of utilizing the rights provided by an options contract to buy or sell the base asset.
  • Options can be exercised in various ways, including holding, exercise-and-hold, exercise-and-sell-to-cover, exercise-and-sell, automatic exercise/assignment, and early exercise/assignment.
  • Factors to consider when exercising an option include time value, transaction costs, increased chance of risk, and exposure to margin risk.
  • Exercising contracts has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, which must be carefully weighed before making a decision.

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What Does It Mean to “Exercise an Option”?

Exercising a contract means employing the rights provided by an option contract to buy (in the case of a call) or sell (in the case of a put) the base asset at the predetermined strike price. For the purposes of this article, we'll be using Bitcoin as the base asset, with a current price of $20,000.

What Are the Ways to Exercise an Option?

There are several methods to exercise options, each with its unique benefits and drawbacks.


This approach implies that an investor retains the option until its expiration date. If the contract is in-the-money (ITM) at expiration, the trader can exercise the option or let it expire, depending on their strategy. Holding a contract until expiration allows the market participant to take advantage of any potential increase in the contract's value due to market fluctuations.


In the exercise-and-hold strategy, a trader chooses to purchase the base asset, such as Bitcoin, and hold onto it. This may be done with the expectation of a potential increase in the asset's value, which could result in a future profit. This approach is suitable for long-term investors who believe in the growth potential of the base asset.


As the name implies, this strategy involves exercising the option and then promptly selling just enough of the acquired asset to cover the cost of the initial purchase. This allows the market participant to retain some of the asset, ideally for future gains. The exercise-and-sell-to-cover method is advantageous for investors who want to minimize their out-of-pocket expenses while still maintaining a position in the base asset.


Under this method, an investor exercises the option and immediately sells the entire acquired asset. This is typically done to secure an immediate profit, especially if the asset's value is expected to decrease in the near future. The exercise-and-sell approach is suitable for short-term investors or those looking to capitalize on temporary market trends.

Automatic Exercise/ Assignment

In certain cases, options may be automatically exercised or assigned. This usually occurs when a contract is in-the-money at expiration, and the trader has not taken any action to exercise or close out the position. Automatic exercise can be beneficial for investors who forget or are unable to take action before the option's expiration date.

Early Exercise/Assignment

When a market participant chooses to exercise a contract before its expiration date, this is referred to as early exercise or assignment. This can be advantageous in certain situations, such as when the contract's extrinsic value is negligible or when the holder wants to take advantage of dividends or other benefits associated with owning the base asset. Early exercise can help investors capture gains or minimize losses due to rapidly changing market conditions.

Factors to Consider When Exercising an Option

Before deciding to exercise an option, several factors should be taken into account, including time value, transaction costs, and various risks.

Time Value

The time value of an option refers to the portion of the contract's premium that is attributable to the time remaining until its expiration. As the expiration date approaches, the time value generally decreases. That is why the time value factor should be seriously considered when deciding whether to exercise a contract.

Source: Wikipedia

Transaction Costs

The costs associated with exercising an option, such as commissions and fees, can impact the overall profitability of the transaction. Investors should carefully assess these costs before making a decision.

Increased Chance of Risk

Exercising a contract can expose an investor to additional risks, such as the potential for the base asset's price to decrease after exercising the contract. It's crucial to consider these risks when deciding whether to exercise a derivative.

Exposure to Margin Risk

When exercising an option on margin, an investor may face the risk of a margin call if the value of the base asset decreases. This can lead to additional costs and potential losses.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Exercising an Option

When deciding whether to exercise an option, it's crucial to weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages:


  1. Profit Realization. Exercising a contract when it's in-the-money allows traders to realize a profit based on the difference between the exercise price and the current market price of the base asset.
  2. Flexibility. Options offer flexibility, allowing market participants to choose from various strategies to achieve their financial goals.
  3. Limited Risk. When purchasing a derivative, the maximum loss is limited to the premium paid for the derivative. This provides a degree of risk management for traders.


  1. Premium Cost. Options come with a premium cost, which can be substantial depending on the contract's price and the number of contracts purchased.
  2. Complexity. Options trading can be complex, requiring traders to have a solid understanding of the strategies and risks involved.
  3. Time Sensitivity. Options have an expiration date, which means that market participants must make a decision before the contract expires or risk losing the premium paid.

When to Exercise Stock Options

Exercising options may be appropriate depending on a range of conditions. Below, there are several possible scenarios.

Exercising Options After Vesting

Vesting is a process that grants employees the right to exercise their stock options. Once an employee's options have vested, they can choose to exercise them based on their financial goals and market conditions. Exercising vested contracts allows employees to benefit from their company's growth and success.

Exercising Options When You Leave the Company

In some cases, employees may need to exercise their stock options when leaving their employer. This is usually subject to a specific timeframe, as outlined in the terms of the employee's stock option plan. Exercising derivatives upon departure ensures that the employee retains the value of their contracts, even if they no longer work for the company.

Exercising Options Early

As mentioned earlier, exercising options before their expiration date is known as early exercise. This strategy can be advantageous in certain situations, such as when the contract's extrinsic value is minimal or when the holder wants to take advantage of dividends or other benefits.


  1. Capturing dividends or other benefits associated with owning the base asset.
  2. Potentially realizing a profit if the base asset's price increases after exercising the option.


  1. Loss of time value, which could have been realized if the option had been held until expiration.
  2. The potential for the base asset's price to decrease after exercising the contract.

Stock Option Tax Implications

When exercising stock options, tax implications must be considered, as the transaction can result in taxable income. It's essential to consult with a tax professional to understand the specific tax consequences related to exercising options in your jurisdiction. In some cases, exercising contracts early may have favorable tax implications, while in others, it may result in higher taxes.

When Should I Sell My Shares?

Deciding when to sell shares acquired through exercising contracts depends on various factors, such as the trader's financial goals, market conditions, and tax implications. It's crucial to carefully evaluate these factors before making a decision. For example, long-term investors may choose to hold onto their shares, expecting continued growth, while short-term market participants might sell their shares to capitalize on temporary market fluctuations.

Options Obligations

When trading options, it's also vital to understand the rights and obligations associated with each type of contract:

  1. Call options. The holder has the right to buy the base asset at the exercise price. At the same time, the seller has the obligation to sell the asset if the holder exercises the contract.
  2. Put options. The holder has the right to sell the base asset at the exercise price. But if you are the seller, you will be obliged to buy the asset if the holder exercises the contract.

Exercising an Option with Bitcoin

Given that the examples in this article are based on Bitcoin as the base asset, it's worth noting that exercising derivatives with Bitcoin functions similarly to other assets. The primary difference lies in the fact that Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, and its price can be highly volatile. Therefore, traders must carefully consider the inherent volatility of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin when deciding whether to exercise derivatives based on this asset class.


How Can You Tell When to Exercise an Option?

Determining when to exercise a contract depends on various factors, such as the option's intrinsic and time value, market conditions, and the market participant's financial goals. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Analyzing these factors and consulting with a financial advisor can help investors make informed decisions about when to exercise contracts.

How Are Early-Exercise Options Different From Exercise Options?

Early-exercise options refer to the act of exercising a contract before its expiration date, while exercising contracts typically occurs at or near the expiration date. Early exercise may be advantageous in specific situations. However, it often comes with the risk of losing potential time value.

What Is a Cashless Exercise in Options?

A cashless exercise, also known as a same-day sale, is a method of exercising options without the need for upfront capital. In this approach, a trader exercises the contract and immediately sells the acquired shares to cover the cost of exercising the option, taxes, and commissions. This approach allows the market participant to realize any profit from the transaction without initially investing additional funds.

*This communication is intended as strictly informational, and nothing herein constitutes an offer or a recommendation to buy, sell, or retain any specific product, security or investment, or to utilise or refrain from utilising any particular service. The use of the products and services referred to herein may be subject to certain limitations in specific jurisdictions. This communication does not constitute and shall under no circumstances be deemed to constitute investment advice. This communication is not intended to constitute a public offering of securities within the meaning of any applicable legislation.