I had attempted to sell my contracts off today but was unsuccessful. They are currently OTM options and will expire tomorrow. What can I do to minimize loss and why was I unable to sell?

  • 5
    If you have something that is worthless, or worth very little, how can you "minimize your loss"? There is no way to "minimize the loss" - the price is the price. One thing that may be causing confusion: on the markets people often glibly say the price of MSFT "is" $101. But this is meaningless. Consider a house for sale on your street. Say someone said the price of the house "is" $200,000. You'd know that is a silly statement. It might sell for $1,000, $1,000,000 - or it might simply never sell. Market instruments are like that. There are simply no bids for your instruments.
    – Fattie
    Aug 12, 2018 at 3:10

4 Answers 4


Out-of-the-money options close to expiration often have no bids. If no one is willing to pay even $0.01 for them, you will have to let them expire worthless. Your loss essentially already happened when the underlying failed to surpass your strike; you would at best be fighting to salvage pennies now.


As an analogy, consider people betting on an (American) football game between Team A and Team B. Let's make buying the option analogous to betting on Team A. Then selling it is analogous to betting against Team A. The sale price of the option is analogous to the odds a bookie will offer. The expiration date is analogous to the end of the game. Being OTM is analogous to Team A being behind. If you want to sell an option, then you are betting against Team A, and you are asking the buyer to bet for them to win. If Team A is behind, but it's only the first quarter, then there's still a chance that Team A will have a comeback. But as the game goes on, the probability of that happening (given a constant score differential) goes down. Similarly, if the stock price stays the same, then as time goes on the price of an OTM option goes down. This is known as "theta". If you call up a bookie right before the end of the game and tell them that you have, say, $1000 that you want to put down on Team A losing (so you're asking the bookie to bet that Team A will win), the bookie would have to offer really short odds for it to be fair; for instance, they might have to offer $1 to your $1000. And the hassle of setting up the bet is probably worth more than the $1. So they'll just refuse to take that bet.

Similarly, the expectation value of an OTM option the day before expiration will quite likely be so low that it's not worth people's time to make an offer. There are occasional exceptions, such as if an earnings report is coming out right before expiration.

As for minimizing your loss, there's not much you can do now. In the football analogy, if you put down $1000 for Team A to win, and they're down 8 points with 1 minute to go, you've already lost the $1000. Unless you can find a chump, you're not going to find anyone to bet on Team A to win.

  • 1
    But 99 out of 100 times, acting on an earning report that is coming out later today or tomorrow is insider trading, and that is a crime. XD Aug 11, 2018 at 12:02
  • 3
    @Mindwin: Trading on knowledge of what's in the earnings report would be insider trading, but the answer is not talking about knowing what's in the report, just knowing that a report is coming. If the schedule of said report is public knowledge, not insider knowledge, it's not illegal to anticipate that no matter what the report says, volume and volatility and likely to increase.
    – Ben Voigt
    Aug 11, 2018 at 15:15

You can always sell your calls at the market price (the bid). If the trade did not execute then you are asking for a price greater than the market price.

If the bid is zero then it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to take them off your hands even for mere pennies and you can chalk this one up as a total loss.

The opportunity to minimize your loss occurred some time ago before you entered the rapid theta (time) decay of the last few weeks before expiration.

  • What happens if the bid is zero and you enter an order to sell at market? Will a trade (ever) actually take place with no money changing hands?
    – user12515
    Aug 22, 2019 at 16:11
  • If the bid is zero then the option is OTM and worthless. Why would anyone buy a worthless option, incurring commission costs? Suppose expiration is hours to days away. Even if you could, why would you want to sell a worthless option for nothing when it's effectively a lottery ticket? IOW, if great news hits and share price powers up, a worthless long call could generate a decent gain (not likely but possible). Aug 22, 2019 at 16:33
  • 1
    Well, I assume it would be a market maker that would buy it because a) they are required to make a market, and b) it's free to them since they don't pay commissions. And, like you said, there's a tiny chance it could actually acquire value. But what I don't know is if there is anything preventing a MM from actually executing a trade like this (and of course I'm not planning to deliberately risk such a trade myself just to find out!)
    – user12515
    Aug 22, 2019 at 16:42
  • I would surmise that being required to make a market has something to do with there being a market. Zero bid is not a market. Let's carry it to the extreme. You own shares in a company that goes bankrupt, is delisted and ceases to exist. Would you expect a market maker to buy your shares for zero? For what purpose? The next time that you have a long option that is expiring worthless, see if you can sell it for zero. If that happens, let us know, Aug 22, 2019 at 17:43
  • Yeah I haven't held options in a long time, and when I did I never had to urge to sell a worthless option for nothing on the off chance it would recover some value at the last moment. Hence my hope that somebody else would know. :-)
    – user12515
    Aug 22, 2019 at 19:57

As others have said, the money is almost certainly already lost, with nothing you can do to get it back.

Most options expire worthless and the person who owned them last loses money on the option. Buying options is something that is often done to "hedge," rather than to generate income. That is, the person buying the option often does not expect to make money on the option. Instead, they buy an option for a stock they already own, as protection against sudden swings in the price of that stock. This is sort of like buying life insurance -- you buy life insurance, but hope you don't have a chance to use it.

  • just to note, losses are not limited to the last person who owned the option... they off course suffer the final loss but as the price can fluctuate before that, each seller before that most likely realized either a gain or loss.
    – user12515
    Aug 22, 2019 at 16:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .