A:

The main fundamental difference between options and futures lies in the obligations they put on their buyers and sellers. An option gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation to buy (or sell) a certain asset at a specific price at any time during the life of the contract. A futures contract gives the buyer the obligation to purchase a specific asset, and the seller to sell and deliver that asset at a specific future date, unless the holder's position is closed prior to expiration.

Aside from commissions, an investor can enter into a futures contract with no upfront cost whereas buying an options position does require the payment of a premium. Compared to the absence of upfont costs of futures, the option premium can be seen as the fee paid for the privilege of not being obligated to buy the underlying in the event of an adverse shift in prices. The premium is the maximum that a purchaser of an option can lose.

Another key difference between options and futures is the size of the underlying position. Generally, the underlying position is much larger for futures contracts, and the obligation to buy or sell this certain amount at a given price makes futures more risky for the inexperienced investor.
The final major difference between these two financial instruments is the way the gains are received by the parties. The gain on a option can be realized in the following three ways: exercising the option when it is deep in the money, going to the market and taking the opposite position, or waiting until expiry and collecting the difference between the asset price and the strike price. In contrast, gains on futures positions are automatically 'marked to market' daily, meaning the change in the value of the positions is attributed to the futures accounts of the parties at the end of every trading day - but a futures contract holder can realize gains also by going to the market and taking the opposite position.

To learn more about options see the tutorial Options Basics.
To learn more about futures see the tutorial Futures Fundamentals.

RELATED FAQS
  1. What is Fibonacci retracement, and where do the ratios that are used come from?

    Fibonacci retracement is a very popular tool among technical traders and is based on the key numbers identified by mathematician ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is a derivative?

    A derivative is a contract between two or more parties whose value is based on an agreed-upon underlying financial asset, ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is after-hours trading? Am I able to trade at this time?

    After-hours trading (AHT) refers to the buying and selling of securities on major exchanges outside of specified regular ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Do hedge funds invest in commodities?

    There are several hedge funds that invest in commodities. Many hedge funds have broad macroeconomic strategies and invest ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How do hedge funds use equity options?

    With the growth in the size and number of hedge funds over the past decade, the interest in how these funds go about generating ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can mutual funds invest in options and futures? (RYMBX, GATEX)

    Mutual funds invest in not only stocks and fixed-income securities but also options and futures. There exists a separate ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Active Trading Fundamentals

    4 Stocks With Bullish Head and Shoulders Patterns for 2016 (PG, ETR)

    Discover analyses of the top four stocks with bullish head and shoulders patterns forming in 2016, and learn the prices at which they should be considered.
  2. Chart Advisor

    Uptrending Stocks Dwindle, a Few Remain (EW, WEC, WR)

    The number of uptrending stocks is shrinking, but here a few that remain in uptrends.
  3. Chart Advisor

    Trade Setups Based on Descending Trend Channels (LBTYK, RRC)

    These descending trend channels have provided reliable sell signals in the past, and are giving the signal again.
  4. Chart Advisor

    How Are You Trading The Breakdown In Growth Stocks? (VOOG, IWF)

    Based on the charts of these two ETFs, bearish traders will start turning their attention to growth stocks.
  5. Retirement

    Roth IRAs Tutorial

    This comprehensive guide goes through what a Roth IRA is and how to set one up, contribute to it and withdraw from it.
  6. Chart Advisor

    Breakout Opportunity Stocks: CPA, GNRC, WWE

    After a period of contracting volatility, watch for breakouts and bigger moves to come in these stocks.
  7. Options & Futures

    What Does Quadruple Witching Mean?

    In a financial context, quadruple witching refers to the day on which contracts for stock index futures, index options, and single stock futures expire.
  8. Charts & Patterns

    How To Use Volume To Improve Your Trading

    The basic guidelines to analyzing volume may not apply in all situations, but overall, they can help direct entry and exit decisions.
  9. Options & Futures

    4 Equity Derivatives And How They Work

    Equity derivatives offer retail investors opportunities to benefit from an underlying security without owning the security itself.
  10. Trading Strategies

    4 Common Active Trading Strategies

    Active trading entails buying and selling securities with the intent of profiting from short-term price movements.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Golden Cross

    A crossover involving a security's short-term moving average ...
  2. Warrant

    A derivative that confers the right, but not the obligation, ...
  3. Swap

    A derivative contract through which two parties exchange financial ...
  4. Bull Call Spread

    An options strategy that involves purchasing call options at ...
  5. Board Of Directors - B Of D

    A group of individuals that are elected as, or elected to act ...
  6. Cup and Handle

    A pattern on bar charts resembling a cup with a handle. The cup ...
Hot Definitions
  1. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  2. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  3. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  4. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  5. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
Trading Center