What You Need to Know About Binary Options Trading in 2024
Binary options are financial instruments that only have two possibilities – profit or loss. Either you win, or you lose; there’s no in-between. Binary options have a short shelf-life, offer little control over potential outcomes, and feature odds that make them more like gambling than investing (the expression “flipping a coin” applies here).
Simply put, binary options are dangerous investments. I’ve created this guide to shine more light on these financial instruments and provide some historical context to help you decide whether these risky investments are right for you.
What are binary options?
A binary options contract is a type of derivative financial instrument. Upon expiration (all binary options contracts have an expiration date/time), the contract will result in one of two outcomes, leading to either a profit or a loss.
Binary options have fewer controls for risk management than standard options contracts, making binary options far more speculative (and much more like gambling).
For instance, with a traditional options contract, the value is marked-to-market throughout the trading day, allowing you to potentially exit a position early with either a profit or loss. On the other hand, if your binary options contract expires on the wrong side of the strike price, you’ll end up losing your money. There is no possibility of exiting early to preserve your funds.
Are binary options legal?
The legality of binary options will depend on several factors, including your country of residence and the regulatory jurisdiction that governs your broker. Many of the world’s most stringent, highly regarded regulatory jurisdictions consider binary options to be highly risky investment products with a tendency to be associated with fraudulent firms. A number of these regulatory institutions have either placed restrictions on the sale of binary options, or banned them outright.
Binary options according to Tier-1 regulatory jurisdictions
The ForexBrokers.com Trust Score database tracks over 100 regulatory jurisdictions and ranks them in a 5-tier system. Tier-1 is reserved for the strictest, most reputable regulatory jurisdictions in the world. Take a look at how some of the most stringent global regulatory jurisdictions view binary options.
In the United States
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) describes binary options as “all-or-nothing options," and has distributed warnings in conjunction with Investor.gov (not to be confused with our sister site, investor.com) about binary options fraud.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) maintains that “many online binary option trading platforms operate in violation of the law,” and that “many times these platforms are operated by offshore companies that are committing fraud.” Check out this video from the CFTC that demonstrates an example of a binary options broker scam.
Check out my guide to the best regulated brokers in the U.S.
In the U.K.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has permanently banned the sale of binary options to retail traders, expressing, “concerns about the inherent risks of these products, and the poor conduct of the firms selling them.” In Europe, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has introduced measures that explicitly prohibit the “marketing, distribution or sale of binary options to retail investors.”
See my guide to the best brokers in the U.K.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) found that a whopping 80% of binary options traders lost their money. ASIC has since banned binary options until 2031.
Click here to see my picks for the best brokers in Australia.
Trying to find a regulated broker in Canada? See my guide to the best brokers in Canada.
In New Zealand
The Financial Markets Authority (FMA) has cautioned that, “binary options are very high risk, even for experienced investors.”
Click here to find my list of the best regulated brokers in New Zealand.
Learn more about Tier-1 regulatory agencies and how we track and rate regulatory jurisdictions by checking out our Trust Score page.
Why are binary options risky?
Binary options are highly risky financial products. Unfortunately, the simplicity of binary options tends to attract novice investors and beginner traders. Here are some of the reasons that binary options present so much risk to investors and traders of all experience levels.
All binary options expire worthless. Binary options are a type of options contract for an underlying asset with a ticking time-decay that approaches a zero-value. Just like any options contract, these will expire as “worthless” when the time runs out (if not exercised).
Binary options are like a coin flip. Traditional options update in value as the underlying price updates relative to the strike price (allowing you to exit early with a smaller profit or loss). For binary options, the payout is solely based on whether the market price is above or below the strike price at expiration. This is where the “coin flip” analogy is relevant.
Hidden costs. One of the biggest problems with binary options is the obfuscation of trading costs. Many of the unregulated (or lightly regulated) brokers that offer binary options build egregious spreads into their pricing. These hidden costs makes it far more difficult for clients to make money, even if their options contracts happen to expire profitably.
Pricing variance. Traditional exchange-traded options use the Black-Scholes Model. In a nutshell, this long-standing pricing model presents a method for tracking the skew of volatility across different strike prices by factoring a handful of variables tied to the price of an option. Conversely, brokers offering off-exchange binary options do not account for the skew (including across non-standard strike prices), which puts investors at a disadvantage. Today, there exists more transparency for the trading costs of exchange-traded binary options, but they are still short-lived investments attached to an “all-or-nothing” risk factor.
Risk management. Binary options provide less control over the risk management process than you would have with traditional options, such as American or European-style options contracts. Though the lack of complexity associated with binary options (compared to traditional options products) can make them appealing to investors, the lack of risk management tools makes binary options more akin to gambling than to investing.
Stay safe by avoiding scams
Binary options scams are commonplace. Choosing a well-regulated broker is a crucial step towards avoiding scams. My educational series dedicated to scams shows you how to identify common scams (like binary options scams) and provides helpful information about what to do if you've been scammed. I also explain how crypto traders can spot common crypto scams.
How do binary options work?
Binary options feature two potential outcomes: a profit, or a total loss. These derivative financial products allow you to speculate on the market without owning any underlying assets (similar to contracts for difference, or CFDs).
Contract prices vary, but in the U.S. contracts are always between $0 and $100. Binary options traders can speculate on a variety of markets, such as forex, commodities, and stocks.
Example of a binary options contract trade
Binary options are similar to event contracts, in which investors speculate on whether a given event will occur.
For example, you might believe that the EUR/USD will trade above 1.0760 by the end of the trading day (1.0760 would be considered the “strike price”). In this case, you might buy a binary options contract that lists the EUR/USD as trading above 1.0760 by a predetermined time (for this example, let’s say midnight).
The EUR/USD rising above 1.0760 by midnight is the event you are betting on. If the clock ticks over to midnight and the EUR/USD is trading above 1.0760, you’ll net a small profit. If it’s trading below 1.0760, you’ll lose your entire initial investment.
Types of binary options
Not all binary options contracts operate the same. Here is some common terminology used to describe the various types of binary options that exist on the market today:
High/Lows: These are call or put options that allow investors to speculate on the rise or fall of an asset relative to the strike price upon expiration.
One-touch/No-touch: These contracts allow investors to speculate on whether a price will be touched within a pre-determined time frame.
Range or Boundary: These contracts allow investors to speculate whether a price will remain within a specific range or boundary before expiration.
Knock-outs: A contract with a knock-out price mimics a stop-loss order. In this case, the contract will close out a trade at a predetermined loss if the price of the option contract moves against you.
Event-driven: These contracts are purely boolean. This is a “yes or no” bet for whether an asset will close above or below the contract’s price within a specified time frame.
Regulated forex brokers that offer binary options
I do not recommend trading binary options. That said, if you feel strongly about trying out this risky investment product, I recommend that you do so with a highly regulated broker. The only brokers I would ever recommend that offer binary options provide such products through a national exchange with proper regulation in place.
In the EU, for example, IG offers binaries in the form of Turbo warrants (also known as “turbos”) through its regulated Multilateral Trading Facility. Check out my IG review to learn about the wide range of investment products available with this broker.
In the U.S., Interactive Brokers offers zero-dated options (0DTE). These exchange-traded options expire on the same day you trade them, allowing investors to speculate on same-day events. Interactive Brokers’ EventTrader platform also allows you to speculate on whether an asset will close above or below a certain price by the end of the day. Read my review of Interactive Brokers to learn more about additional investment products available with this broker.
Note: These highly rated brokers offer a variety of other financial products and instruments, such as forex, CFDs, crypto, stocks, and commodities (availability depends on the broker and your country of residence).
ForexBrokers.com 2024 Overall Rankings
Now that you've learned more about binary options (and why I don't recommend them), check out my overall list of the best forex brokers in the industry. These brokers offer a wide range of financial products and instruments. I've evaluated over 60 forex brokers, using a testing methodology that's based on 100+ data-driven variables and thousands of data points. Check out our full-length, in-depth forex broker reviews.
|Offering of Investments
|Commissions & Fees
|Platform & Tools
|HYCM (Henyep Capital Markets)
|Libertex (Forex Club)
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