Using Options for a Portfolio Paycheck on a pink background with stacked coins

Can Option Trading Really Give You Safer Retirement Income?

  by Shelley Seagler

Options trading may sound like a risky endeavor, but like most investments, it’s only as risky as you make it. After all, stock investing can be incredibly risky if you’re investing in penny stocks, but few financial advisors would argue against a diversified blue-chip stock portfolio. The key to building income for retirement is using strategies that generate stable, predictable, and low-risk income over time rather than taking on large risks to ‘get rich quick’.  Using option trading for income can help boost your portfolio paycheck in retirement.

In this post, we will look at option strategies that may be appropriate for retirement income, how risky these strategies really are, and why investors should be open to using options.

Why Use Options at All?

Many conventional investment strategies rely on bonds or dividend stocks to generate a steady income during retirement. For example, 20-year Treasury bonds yield about 2.5%, which means that a $1,000,000 portfolio might generate $25,000 per year in income. Similarly, the S&P 500 offers a 1.88% dividend yield that would generate $18,800 per year in income with a larger opportunity for inflation protection throughout retirement.

The problem is that the low-interest rate environment following the 2008 financial crisis has made these investments increasingly risky. With plans to increase interest rates, bond prices could move lower and reduce the value of a bond portfolio over time. The S&P 500 index’s price-earnings ratio – a measure of valuation – stands at about 25x, which is significantly higher than the 16x average (mean), suggesting that equities may be overvalued.

S andP 500 Price-Earnings Ratio Over Time - Source:

S&P 500 Price-Earnings Ratio Over Time – Source:

Options trading provides a way to generate income from stock holdings without taking on additional downside risk. In fact, the biggest risk associated with the most conservative strategies is being forced to sell early if the stock moves higher than expected. Other option strategies provide ways to hedge a portfolio against decline by setting a price floor – a strategy that could be attractive for retirement investors looking to reduce risk.

How Options Generate Income

There are many different ways to generate an income using stock options, but they all take advantage of a feature known as time decay. The basic idea is that an investor sells or writes an out-of-the-money option with no intrinsic value – only time value – and generates an income as that time value decays throughout the life of the option. These positions are usually hedged using long stock positions or other options to limit their downside potential.

Free Download: Option Income Strategies Worksheet

The two most popular option income strategies are:

  • Covered Calls: An investor that owns a long stock position can sell an out-of-the-money call option and receive the premium as income. If the strike price is never reached, the investor would simply keep the premium as income. If the strike price is met, the investor could sell their shares for a profit or pay the difference.
  • Credit Spreads: An investor sells a short-term option and receives the premium as income and then buys a longer-term option for less than the premium amount. If the strike price of the short option is never reached, the investor keeps the premium as income. If the strike price is met, the investor could cover both positions or exercise the long option and deliver the shares to the short option.

Retirement investors often use covered calls to generate an additional income from existing long stock positions. For example, an investor that holds 100 shares of a company stock may write one covered call contract against that position and generate extra income. This lets them, for example, generate a ‘virtual dividend’ on stocks that don’t pay a dividend. By writing calls month-after-month, you can create a monthly paycheck from your portfolio.

How Risky Are Options?

A key feature of stock options is that they have very predictable levels of risk and reward, while stocks and bond prices can experience significant losses or even theoretically fall to zero. For example, a covered call strategy will never lose more money than the underlying stock movement. The only cost associated with the strategy is giving up potential upside if the stock moves higher than expected and the investor needs to prematurely sell or pay the difference.

Covered Call Profit Loss

Covered Call Payoff Diagram – Source: Wikimedia

In addition, stock options enable investors to profit from a decline in stock prices without the risk of short-selling. A bear credit spread, for example, involves two call options with the same expiration but different strike prices. The strike price of the short call is below the strike of the long call, which means that the strategy generates a net cash inflow. The investor keeps all premium income if the stock price remains below the short call’s strike price.

The key risk associated with options strategies is that they require an investor to understand short-term price movements. For instance, investors in covered calls may predict how high a stock price will rise over just a month. The key to success is selecting the right underlying stocks and understanding their historical volatility to ensure that any call options written expire worthless rather than being exercised or offer enough upside to make a difference.

Free Download: Option Income Strategies Worksheet

The Bottom Line

Options trading may seem like a risky endeavor, but there are many low-risk strategies that retirement investors may want to consider. Covered calls offer attractive income potential in a low/rising interest rate environment that has made some stocks and bonds riskier. Investors may want to consider this strategy as part of their overall retirement portfolio to increase yield and provide a steady income over time.

Snider Advisors specializes in helping retirement investors generate consistent monthly cash flow as close to 1% of total investment as possible with no permanent loss of capital. Clients can choose a do-it-yourself approach with basic training and tools or managed accounts where professionals take care of a portfolio over time. Download the Snider Investment Method Owner’s Manual to learn more.

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